Monday, January 16, 2012

Lemon Meringue Pie

Our next food item is a strange enigma in my family. It's one of those things that, no matter how we tweak the recipe, it never quite turns out. Clearly Aunt Petunia doesn't have that problem:

"They got all the way through the soup and salmon without a single mention of Harry's faults; during the lemon meringue pie, Uncle Vernon bored them all with a long talk about Grunnings, his drill-making company; then Aunt Petunia made coffee and Uncle Vernon brought out a bottle of brandy" (Prisoner of Azkaban 27).

My grandmother made fantastic lemon meringue pie. But somehow, no one ever seemed to get the complete recipe from her. In hopes that I might end the failed pie cycle, I decided to make the recipe found in The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook.

I still kind of failed. I had a beautiful crust, and fabulous meringue on top of a delicious... lemon soup. Thick lemon soup, but still soup. So below, I will add my suggestions for how you might avert failure if you attempt this recipe yourself.

For the Pie Crust, You Will Need:
1 1/4c cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into chunks
4 Tbs vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into chunks
4-6 Tbs ice water (I used 5)

For the Lemon Filling, You Will Need:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 Tbs grated lemon zest
2 Tbs unsalted butter

For the Meringue Topping, You Will Need:
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
14 tsp salt
12 tsp vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar

1. For the crust, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple times to combine.
2. Sprinkle the butter and shortening chunks over the flour and pulse 15 or so times, until the mixture resembles coarse yellow meal.

3. Turn the mixture out into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 4 Tbs ice water, and toss with a spatula until the dough starts to clump together. If the dough is too dry, add more water 1 Tbs at a time.
4. Gather the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 1 hour  or up to 3 days.
5. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into an 11" circle. Fold into quarters and then unfold in your pie pan (not pulling or stretching!). Trim the dough, leaving 1" of overhang, which you should fold under and crimp the edges with a fork. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Place the crust in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread a sheet of aluminum foil inside the frozen pie crust; press the foil into the edges and be sure to cover the rim. Fill with pie weights or dry beans and bake until the crust is dry and set, 15-20 minutes (mine was much closer to 20).

7. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, remove the foil and weights, and continue to bake until the crust is golden brown, about 8 more minutes.

8. For the filling, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and water in a small/medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved.
9. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. You must stir very gently, because vigorous stirring will destroy the thickening power of the cornstarch!
10. Whisk in the yolks and continue cooking and stirring until the mixture is thick and bubbling. This takes a long time. Do not turn up the heat, do not stir too vigorously, and really wait until it's bubbling. I pulled mine off the heat as soon as I saw a bubble because it seemed to be getting too thick (wrong choice).

11. Remove from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and butter. Stir until fully incorporated.

12. For the meringue, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla until soft mounds form. Always be sure with meringue that your beaters and bowl are completely clean and grease free! Slowly add the sugar while beating on medium speed. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the egg whites are stiff and glossy but not dry.

13. To assemble the pie, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the filling into the crust. I recommend chilling the pie at this point. The filling should thicken as it cools, and the Ms. Bucholz' recipe doesn't mention this. After it's chilled/thick, spread the meringue over the filling, taking care to seal the edges to prevent shrinking (spread the meringue all the way onto the crust rim). Make peaks and swirls with a spoon (they'll expand as it cooks).

14. Bake the pie until the meringue browns, about 15 minutes. Cool the pie before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature. 

So, even though my pie kind of turned into soup, it was still delicious. Good luck with your pie, and enjoy!

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