Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lemon Meringue Learning Curve

I believe I've mentioned before that when it comes to my kitchen skills, I rarely stop to consider the fact that I may be about to embark upon a task that I'm not quite qualified for. Generally, this results in disaster. This time, it resulted in two yummy disasters and two perfect products. So, I guess that makes it a win, right?

My mother-in-law brought me a bag of Meyer lemons from her sister's (my aunt-in-law?) tree. I like lemons, but these are much bigger than your average lemon, and I couldn't think what to do with all of them. Lemon meringue pie is one of my husband's favorite desserts (the other is red velvet cake), so I decided to give it a try.

I'd never made lemon meringue pie before. I'd never made anything like lemon meringue pie before. But, in a reiteration of words all too often uttered in my kitchen (and all too often, I find myself eating those words), how hard could it be? To be honest, it was pretty easy, and it turned out that what I did wrong was to follow the recipe exactly as it was written. (Except for the part where the recipe said to bake the pie crust first... somehow I missed that part.) Which leads me to an important lesson I feel I must share: Always read the comments below any recipe you find on the internet. It could end up saving you a lot of trouble (and wasted ingredients).

Now, without further ado, I present my Lemon Meringue Learning Curve (recipe courtesy of and Alton Brown):

Bear in mind, I'm still learning when it comes to food photography!
First, gather all of your ingredients. You'll need:
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter
1/2 cup lemon juice
(it only took one of my Meyer lemons)
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 9" PRE-BAKED pie shell 
(somehow I missed that part for my first two pies)
For the meringe, you'll need:
4 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
2 tbsp sugar
(My modifications-- I didn't use any lemon zest because the Meyer lemons have an un-zest-able rind. [No, I'm sure that's not actually the technical term.] I also didn't add cream of tartar to my meringue because I didn't have any and didn't want to make a trip to the grocery store just for that. Cream of tartar adds stability to your meringue, but mine seemed to be just fine without it.)

I'm not sure why the whites look so yellow. I'll blame it on my camera.
First, separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks, and set the whites aside.
In a medium sauce pan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for one minute.

Believe it or not, this was the best picture I got of this step.
Remove from heat and gradually, one whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture. (I used a tablespoon to add the hot mixture to the yolks, because my whisk wasn't really picking anything up. Either way you do it, make sure you're only drizzling in a little at a time so you don't end up with scrambled egg yolks.)


So far, so good...
Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, "for one more minute." This is where things went wrong. Cooking it only one minute more is not enough. Unless you're going for Meringue-Topped Lemon Soup in a Pie Shell. In which case, go for it! But, if you're like me, you're going for nice, gooey, thick lemon filling. In which case, keep cooking! Let it come up to a boil, and stir it constantly so that it doesn't scald or curdle. You want to let it cook until it looks like lemon pie filling.

What's wrong with this picture? If you guessed "it's lemon soup in an unbaked pie shell," you win!
Pour mixture into pie shell and top with meringue while filling is still warm.

The original recipe says to use a stand mixer, but my stand mixer is missing a beater (and goodness knows where it is, I'm afraid it must have gotten lost in the move somehow), so I used my hand mixer. And really, what's the difference? Either way we're incorporating air into egg whites, right?
To make the meringue, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a bowl, and use a hand mixer to beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then, add the sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Use to top the lemon filling.

Notice how the food photography gets worse as I lose my natural light source. I'll have to file that away under "things to remember."
Bake for 10-12 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the meringue is golden.

Looks pretty, doesn't it? Well, looks can be deceiving.
So, my first attempt at lemon meringue pie was fairly disappointing. All that work... all that precise measuring... all that exact recipe following... and all I got was lemon soup. On the bright side, did you know that when you freeze soupy lemon pie filling it makes a nice lemon sherbet-y kind of thing? So, aside from the wasted pie crust and meringue, at least it wasn't a total failure!

So, taking what I learned from my first pie experience, I decided to make a second. This time I cooked the filling longer so that it was the correct consistency.

Yet, for some reason, I still managed to gloss over the word "pre-baked" when it came to the pie shell.

We scooped the meringue and filling out and ate it like a pudding.
And then, finally, it all came together! Lemon Meringue perfection!

Behold! Cooked crust! Gooey lemon filling! Sweet, fluffy meringue!
I even made a fourth pie after that, because the one above was supposed to be for someone else, but Olette decided to stick her fingers in and help herself while it was in the fridge cooling.

I still have a bunch of lemons left, so I think my next project will be lemon bars. Stay tuned!

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1 comment:

  1. Good job! If only I like lemon pie :( or lemon bars. More of these! Feels like I'm watching a cable show :)