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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lemon Meringue Pie

Seems like I'm on a dessert binge here, but this is a good finale for warm summer days. We have had several weeks recently with lemons on sale (though you can easily use reconstituted lemon juice in a bottle here for even more savings), and eggs have continued to be quite reasonable this summer.

When I have mentioned making lemon meringue pie, a few people have said they like it but find it to be "too much trouble." I guess that's one of the things I like about this recipe: it is easier than it looks, especially if you remember just a couple of things about separating eggs:

  • Egg whites are easy to beat into a meringue ONLY if they have absolutely no fat in them. This means avoiding plastic containers (they are porous enough to sometimes have tiny amounts of fat residue) and being sure that not even a drop of egg yolk is allowed into the whites before beating. If the yolk of one of the eggs breaks while you are trying to separate it, just put that egg aside and use it for another purpose.
  • While eggs separate most easily while fresh and chilled, they beat up to the highest volume when at room temperature. You can use these facts to best advantage by taking the eggs from the refrigerator and separating them as the first step. Then begin to prepare the sugar syrup and lemon juice. By the time you are ready to beat the whites, they should be at an optimal temperature.

There is one other thing to remember in following this recipe: Gradually is a key word, both when adding the cornstarch and water to the boiling syrup and when adding the sugar to the frothy egg whites. Take these steps slowly and you should have no problems.

What about the pie crust? I have a favorite recipe that I mix up when I am in the mood for pies, but there are many times when a premade crust in the refrigerated or frozen sections of the store is no more expensive than homemade. Watch for specials and keep these on hand if it will help you choose a pie for a special occasion dessert. (OR...look below and try your hand at your own homemade crust when the mood strikes and butter or margarine is on sale.)

Classic Lemon Meringue Pie

9 inch baked pie shell
1 1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 c water
1/2 c cornstarch
1/3 c water
4 egg yolks
1/2 c lemon juice
1 t grated lemon peel

Meringue:
4 egg whites
1/2 c sugar

1. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks and put the whites in a large mixing bow; set aside.
2. Combine the egg yolks and lemon juice and stir until mixed; set aside.
3. Combine the sugar and 1 1/2 cups water in a pan and bring to a boil. While it is heating, stir the cornstarch into the 1/2 c water so that it forms a smooth paste. When the sugar syrup is boiling, gradually add this mixture, stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture is thick and clear.
4. Gradually add the egg yolk and lemon mixture to the sugar syrup, stirring constantly, until the mixture returns to a boil. Stir in the lemon peel and allow to cool to lukewarm, approximately half an hour or so.
5. When the filling has cooled, beat the egg whites until frothy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is glossy and forms peaks. Fold a few tablespoons of this mixture into the filling.
6. Pour the lemon filling into the baked pie shell and spread the meringue gently over the top, making sure it touches the crust at all edges. (If you don't "fasten" the meringue to the crust, it will shrink away from the edges during baking.)
7. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, until just starting to turn golden in spots. The pie should be completely cooled before cutting. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Frugal tip: Whenever you buy fresh lemons to use for juice and/or pulp, be sure to save the rind. If you are like me, I sometimes have trouble getting much of the lemon peel off when I try to grate it. If so, just cut away the very top yellow layer of the peeling and then cut into thin shreds. Put the shredded or grated rind in a resealable plastic bag and freeze. You can then break off the amount you need for future recipes.

Homemade Pie Crust

Want to try your own pie crust? This recipe is a large one, which means I can make enough for up to four pie shells at a time, freezing the extras for later use.

Since the only hard fats I keep in the house are butter and, rarely, margarine, that is what I use for my pie crust. Many cooks swear by lard or Crisco, but I will stick with these. As long as you don't overmix (something to remember no matter the fat being used), you'll have good results.

Note that there is no salt in this crust--the butter and margarine will provide more than enough!


Country Crusts

4 c all purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
1 T sugar
1 1/4 c butter or margarine
1 egg
1 T vinegar
1/2 c cold water

1. Blend dry ingredients. Cut in butter until the largest particles are about the size of peas.
2. Combine the egg, water, and vinegar and stir until smooth.
3. Sprinkle the egg mixture over the flour a tablespoon at a time, tossing lightly with a fork to mix. Gather the dough with your hands, so that it cleans the bowl and forms a ball.
4. Chill well before rolling.

Makes four single crust 9" pie shells or two double crust 9" pies.

To freeze: Roll a quarter of the dough into a circle between two pieces of waxed paper and place, flat, in a freezer bag. Several crusts can be stacked in the same bag, as long as they are separated by two sheets of waxed paper between each. Remove from freezer and use just as with purchased frozen crusts.

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