My grandfather turned 91 last month; quite a feat, given the health problems he's struggled with for the last three years.
A week or so before the date, I asked him what he'd like for his birthday. He scowled. "I don't need anything," he said.
"What about another pie?" I asked.
He conceded he might need a pie.
We discussed the matter and decided to forgo apple this time (I made him an apple pie last year) in favour of a surprise. Grandpa loves lemon things--I made him a lemon layer cake for his 89th birthday, and he's always up for any of Costco's lemon-flavoured pastries--so I decided to attempt my very first lemon meringue pie. I turned to Joyce White, as I so often do when I need to bake something unfamiliar, and soon had a promising recipe in hand.
We ate the results after a McDonalds takeout breakfast (gotta love those McGriddles), and a good time was had by all. I enjoyed the pie so much that I'm tempted to make another for my own birthday next month--provided I don't succumb to the siren's song of Joyce White's cocoa cream pie with candied almonds. It's gonna be a toughie.
- one baked single-crust pie crust
- 4 eggs
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1.5 cups granulated sugar for the filling, plus 5-8 tablespoons for the meringue
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1.5 cups boiling water
- zest of one lemon
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/4 tsp cider vinegar or cream of tartar
- 1/4 tsp vanilla or lemon extract
- 1 tablespoon lemon liqueur (optional)
Pastry Ingredients and Directions:
You're free to use your favourite pastry recipe, of course, or to purchase a readymade pie crust. If you're in need of a recipe, though, I'm fond of this one.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp chilled shortening. I like Crisco's golden shortening best.
- 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water
For best results, chill all your ingredients before you use them. Even the flour and salt. Hell, even the bowl and the pastry cutter and the fork. Cold ingredients and materials yield the flakiest pastry.
Once everything's been properly chilled, cut the shortening into the flour/salt mixture with a pastry cutter or two forks until you have nubs the size of small pees. Sprinkle the cold water on a tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork after each dampening. If the pastry is still a little dry, you can add an additional teaspoon or two of water.
Spread a piece of cling wrap on the counter and carefully dump the pastry onto it. Shape the mass into a flat disc within the cling wrap, handling it as little as possible along the way, and chill it in the fridge for half an hour or so.
Roll the chilled disc out on a floured surface until it's nine to ten inches in diameter. (It's supposed to stretch to eleven to twelve inches so it fits in a 9-inch pie plate, but I find the pastry too thin when it's rolled out so large.) Transfer the dough to an 8-inch pie plate. Trim and shape the edges, prick the bottom and sides with a fork, and bake the pastry at 475ºF/250ºC for 8-to-10 minutes. It'll be slightly golden when it emerges, but not quite brown.
Cool the pastry on a wire rack while you get on with the rest of it.
Preheat your oven to 350ºF/175ºC.
Separate the eggs into two bowls. Set the whites aside to come to room temperature.
Combine the cornstarch, flour, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized pot.
Add the boiling water and the lemon peel, whisking to combine. Place the pot over medium heat and stir the mixture constantly until it's thick and smooth. This should take 3-5 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat to add the lemon juice, butter, and liqueur (if using; I didn't). Set it aside.
Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and give them a brisk beating. Add a couple of tablespoons of the hot mixture, whisking all the while, then add about half of what's left in a thin, constant stream. Don't quit whisking.
Pour the egg mixture into the pot with the rest of the hot filling and give it another good whisk. Return it to the heat and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the filling is even thicker. Again, this should take 3-5 minutes.
Once the filling looks right, press it through a strainer and set it aside to cool slightly.
Transfer the egg whites to a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). Fit your mixer with a whisk attachment and beat the egg whites until they're nice and frothy. Add the vinegar or cream of tartar and continue beating the egg whites until they begin to stiffen. Add the 5-8 tablespoons of sugar (I went with 5), whisking well after each addition.
Once the meringue holds firm peaks, fold in the vanilla or lemon extract.
Spoon the lemon filling into the prepared pie crust. If you've gone with an 8-inch crust, you'll likely have enough left over to make yourself a crustless mini pie in a ramekin. Lucky you.
Drop a heaping cup of the meringue over the pie and spread it in an even layer so it creates a seal between the edges of the crust and the filling. Dump the rest of the meringue onto the sealed pie and shape it into a high dome, swirling your spoon through it to add some extra texture.
Bake the pie for 12 to 15 minutes, until the meringue has just begun to toast. Be careful not to overbake it; you want a nice, light brown meringue, not a charred marshmallow.
Cool the pie on a wire rack. Serve cold.