Monday, January 28, 2008

Pucker Up for Lemon Meringue Pie ala Daring Bakers

Normally, I wait to do the Daring Baker Challenge recipe in the middle of the month. I like to wait and read the comments by the Early Bird group to see what I will be up against that month. This month however I was out of the starting gate like Seattle Slew and pounded down the home stretch with the wind in my tail because this month's challenge was Lemon Meringue Pie!

Lemon Meringue Pie (LMP) has a special place in my family lore because it was a lemon meringue pie that brought my folks together.

When my parents were in high school in the late 1950s, my dad was a senior when my mom was a sophomore and they couldn't have been more different than night and day. My dad was jock (co-caption of the football team), class clown (suspended for masterminding putting the Home Ec teacher's car on top of the shop garage with the engine left in the parking spot during the school day), one class from flunking out (not because he was dumb but he didn't apply himself) and literally a kid from "the wrong side of the tracks" (my grandparents lived by the train depot in the small town in Northern Michigan where both my parents grew up).

My mom was a book worm (straight A student), vice president of the sophomore class, member of the Yearbook, and from the "right side of the tracks" (my grandparents lived in a big house on the lake). Needless to say, the chance of the two of them hanging out together, let alone dating, in the late 50s was very slim. One last piece of background that is very important to the story, my dad worked nights at the local bakery making all the pies that would be sold the next day to all the resort restaurants and out of the shop. It was this job that led my dad to become a chef.

But, in the spring of 1959 that is exactly what happened,my parents started dating. My mom was taking Jr. Algebra as was my dad (for the 2nd time) and because their last names started with the same letter they ended up sitting next to each other. All through the first part of the semester my dad tried and tried to get my mom to go out with him on a date. His friends kept telling him she was "out of his league". My mom's friends kept telling her my dad was "a nice guy and fun but not her type". Finally one day, my dad tired of trying to find some common interest my mom and he had that he could then use to get her to go out on a date with him, he asked her what was her favourite pie. She said lemon meringue. My dad said he was going to make her the "World's best lemon meringe pie" and deliver it himself to her house on Saturday. My mom, thinking he was joking told him to come on over at 3pm because the whole family would be home.

On Friday night, my dad stayed late at the bakery to make my mom her pie. On Saturday, after he finished with all the other deliveries he went to deliver the pie to my mom. My mom, being somewhat a joker herself, had told her family (my grandparents and her six siblings) as well as the neighbor that she was having the best lemon meringue pie in the world delivered at 3pm. So at 3pm on a bright sunny April Saturday afternoon, everyone in the family was sitting out on the porch waiting for the pie to be delivered. When my dad pulled up, he saw the whole family sitting out on the porch and got nervous. Getting out of the delivery truck, he got the pie out of the back, straightened his uniform (this was the 50's, all delivery people wore uniforms), and very cocky, walked up the steps to my grandparents porch and....

Promptly tripped on the top step and sent the World's best lemon meringue pie flying through the air to land in the lap of my grandfather.

My mom says it was the look of complete horror on my dad's face and then the look of fear and then his sad brown puppy dog eyes as he surveyed the mess that made her fall in love with my dad that very minute. My dad says it was the fact that my grandfather, after he got over the shock of having a whole lemon meringue pie end up in his lap, took a piece of crust with lemon curd and a bit of meringue out of the mess, ate it and declared it WAS the best lemon meringue pie in the world but that the next time he came over to pick his daughter up for a date, could he try not to trip and to not drive the delivery truck that he knew he was "in".

So, when Jen, The Canadian Baker, our hostess announced our January challenge was going to be LMP, I knew I would be an early bird for this month because you see, I was in Michigan for the Christmas holidays and snowed in with nothing to do but bake. My mom was already back at school (she's a teacher) and my dad, who is retired was puttering around town with his brothers. Since I had already said I would fix dinner that night, I decided to surprise them with a lemon meringue pie for dessert.

I'm going to go on record right here as saying, I have no idea about my dad's lemon meringue pies. He has never to my knowledge made one for the family. BUT, if he did, I suspect he would be using the same recipe as Jen selected because this was one of the most fantastic tasting LMP's I've ever had. The curd was lovely (despite so many fellow Daring Bakers having big problems with it.) It set up nicely and quickly.

The crust was pretty good. I had some shrinkage but that was because I couldn't find my mom's pie weights and didn't have time to try to as I was working on a deadline. So, I used the only dry beans I could find and there weren't enough to fill the whole pie pan.

Once I got the crust baked and curd made, I let them cool in nature's icebox and got started on the meringue.

This meringue was incredible. It got stiff and fluffy very nicely and didn't break down at all. I got "mile high" meringue for pie.

So, what did my parents think? They both declared it some of the best lemon meringue pie not spilled on a porch ever!

Now, go check out my over 400 strong Daring Baker brothers and sisters Lemon Meringue Pies and read them and weep...just like meringue!

Lemon Meringue Pie
(from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver)
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008
Host: Jen (Canadian Baker)

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.