August 14, 2013 10:34:09 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
In case you hadn't noticed, Americans are (ahem) gluttons for national food and drink holidays. Oatmeal, wheat bread, Irish coffee ... you name it, and it's got designated day. Lucky for us, tomorrow is National Lemon Meringue Pie Day, and who wouldn't relish a tangy, sweet slice topped with pillowy peaks of airy meringue?
Since medieval times, we've loved our lemon pies and custards. Meringue came along in the 1600s. But it reportedly wasn't until a Swiss baker named Alexander Frehse had the bright idea in the 19th century of combining the two that lemon meringue pies swept onto the culinary landscape.
A bit tricky
Homemade lemon meringue pies are hard to beat, but they can also be temperamental. To achieve a dessert with buttery, flaky crust, a luxuriously smooth lemon filling and light, fine-textured meringue, it helps to know that these pies hate humidity, or to be overmixed, undercooked or overcooked.
The most common complaints are soggy bottom crusts, fillings that don't set properly and beads of moisture forming on top of the meringue (commonly called "weeping"). There are several schools of thought out there on how to avoid these vexing problems, and some contradict each other. We've gathered some advice from several sources, however, that may be helpful.
Award-winning chef and author Nick Malgieri says at dashrecipes.com, "Usually a difference in temperature between the meringue and the filling causes the meringue to "weep" and leak sugary liquid, which might be happening if your crust gets soggy. The meringue and the filling should both be at room temperature when you spread the meringue on the pie. That said, the meringue will only hold up on the day the pie is baked."
Baking expert Carole Walters at finecooking.com agrees.
"Many meringue pie recipes call for the filling to be hot so it cooks the bottom of the meringue and helps it adhere. However, this creates steam between the meringue and the filling, which can break down the filling and cause the pie to fall apart. Both meringue and filling should be at room temperature," she recommends.
Walters helps ward off soggy crusts by sprinkling gingersnap crumbs over the bottom pie crust before filling it; the crumbs act as a moisture shield and subtly complement the lemon flavor.
Answers.yahoo.com suggests we pick a cool, dry day to make our pie.
"If it's humid or rainy, the sugar in the meringue will absorb moisture from the air, making it sticky or spongy and encouraging the beading of sugary syrup on the surface." About eggs, "Start with cold eggs, which are easier to separate. Even a speck of yolk in the egg whites will keep the whites from achieving the volume needed during beating," the site advises.
Some cooks recommend letting egg whites stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before beating, for better volume.
Lemon meringue pies are best eaten the day they're made, says Walters, but leftovers can be loosely tented with aluminum foil and refrigerated for up to three days. (Never cover with plastic wrap, she cautions; too much condensation will form under the wrapping.)
The world of lemon meringue isn't limited to pies, of course. You can make individual tarts in pick-up pastry shells, or sunny, lemony dessert shooters in small Mason jars or elegant parfait glasses. Today's food pages even include recipes for lemon meringue fudge and a lemon meringue martini. Why not pick one and add it to your menu for a late-summer soiree on the patio -- maybe Aug. 31, National Eat Outside Day!
NICK MALGIERI'S LEMON MERINGUE PIE
Pie dough for a 1 crust pie, about 10 ounces
For the filling:
2 cups milk
2/3 cup sugar
3 to 4 medium lemons
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
For meringue topping:
4 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
LEMON MERINGUE FUDGE
18 ounces good quality white chocolate chips
1 bottle pure lemon extract
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups miniature marshmallow
LEMON MERINGUE PIE MARTINI
2 ounces good-quality vanilla vodka (e.g., Absolut, Stoli, Svedka)
1 ounce of Limoncello (a lemony Italian liqueur)
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice from 1/4 lemon wedge
Splash of simple syrup
Meringue cookie for garnish
Lemon zest for garnish
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.