~ My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie ~
Everyone who knows me knows that when given a choice between a chocolate dessert and a fruit dessert I will always choose the fruit dessert. That being said, if lemon meringue pie is one of my fruit dessert choices, I will choose it every time. Even as an child in elementary school, everyday, I picked the Tastykake lemon pie over the two-pack of chocolate cupcakes for my Barbie lunchbox. Then, when I entered Junior high (this was before in-school cafeteria lunch programs and they let us kids out on the streets of downtown Tamaqua, PA to eat in the restaurants) I would walk across the street to Wenzel's bakery and order two lemon Danish. I would meet my school pals, we'd sit on a park bench under a tree, and, while they were eating their pizza or burger, I was eating my lemon Danish.
In my high school years there was Leiby's Restaurant and Ice Cream House. It was founded in 1965 and closed its doors in 2007. It was a family restaurant where kids loved to go, and, as teenagers, a parent-approved hangout. A lot of my friends waited tables there during the high school years. While the food was very good the desserts made the place famous.
I couldn't tell you how many "Atomic" sundaes I "split" with friends over the years (a banana split containing 32 ounces of ice cream), but Leiby's pies were legendary. They were sold out of a "pie room" (containing nothing but pies) and at Christmas, a section of the restaurant was cordoned off just for pie pickup. My favorite: Leiby's Lemon w/Mile-High Merinque!
When I graduated from high school and was driving to business school, early every morning, 3-4 of us would meet at a little breakfast shop for homemade, seasonal pie, coffee and "study group". When lemon meringue pie was being featured, that's what was on my plate for breakfast every time. The reason I give for this love of lemon: it's either inherited or learned behavior because my dad is the EXACT same way about lemon pie!
When I got married and moved to State College, PA in 1974, the very first dessert (besides cookies) that I ever baked from scratch was lemon meringue pie. That's not to say I didn't know how to bake, because I did. It just so happens that I wanted lemon meringue pie, and, I had no family heirloom recipe for one. Mine came straight out of the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking, p. 657, which I bought while I was at home on maternity leave prior to the birth of my son. Everything I cooked from this book was so successful, it just inspired me to cook more!
Even back then, at the ripe old age of 21, I was meticulous about neatly penciling in notes, directly on the pages of my cookbooks, to ensure that I would get the result I wanted, each and every time I cooked that recipe. "Post-it Notes" became available in 1980, and to this day, 32 years later, the same ones are still marking the pages in a lot of my cookbooks... which says alot about the quality of this product!
As you'll see below, I haven't changed the original recipe very much at all. I wanted more lemon flavor, so I doubled up on the lemon juice and zest, and, I added a touch of lemon oil too. I wanted my pie piled high with meringue, so, I double that quantity too!
Part One: Blind-Baking the Pie Pastry
You can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ in Categories 6, 15 or 22!
The second thing you need to do is blind-bake ("prebake") the pastry. In the case of lemon meringue pie, this step is necessary because the pie filling is precooked, meaning: the finished pie will not be in the oven long enough to cook the pastry. You can find my detailed instructions for ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell ~ by clicking on this link.
Part Two: Juicing and Zesting the Lemons
~ Step 2. Using any type of juicer you have on hand, or just your hands, one at a time, slice 5-6 lemons in half and juice them, until you have 1 cup of fresh lemon juice. Discard any seeds:
zest from 1 lemon
Choose any lemon you want, and, just prior to juicing it as directed above, use a microplane grater to remove the thin layer of pretty yellow outside zest. If you end up with more than 1 tablespoon of zest, use it. It will just add extra flavor to the pie filling. Set the zest aside.
Part Three: Making the Pie Filling
8 level tablespoons corn starch, firmly packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice, from 5-6 lemons
1/2 cup cold water
4 large egg yolks, at room temperature, reserve the egg whites for the meringue topping
2 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons salted butter, sliced or cut into cubes, at room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon zest, reserved from above lemons
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon oil
~ Step 2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Whisk them into the sugar/lemon juice mixture. Set aside.
~ Step 4. Over no heat, very slowly, and in a thin drizzly stream, whisking constantly, whisk the boiling water into the sugar/lemon/egg yolk mixture.
~ Step 6. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, to avoid scorching. As mixture begins to thicken reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest and lemon oil.
~ Step 7: Gently pour the pie filling into the prepared pie shell. Place the filled pie on a cooling rack and set it aside for 30-60 minutes, to cool slightly. During this time the pie filling will lose its wet glossy appearance and look "dry". When it comes time to spread the meringue on top of the pie, this "dry surface will help the meringe to ahere to the pie:
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
~ Step 2. Add the cream of tartar. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla extract, beating until just incorporated. Do not over beat.
~ Step 3. Using a large rubber spatula, drop large scoops of meringue evenly over the top of the pie filling. Distribute the meringue around, while at the same time "fluffing" (pulling the side of the spatula upward) to form decorative peaks. Note: Make sure to adhere the meringue to the decorative edges of the crust when distributing it. If it is not adhered to the edges at all points, it will pull away from the crust during the baking and cooling process:
~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 10-12 minutes, until meringue is nicely browned, watching carefully after 8 minutes of baking time, as the meringue can and will go from browned to burned quickly. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours, or longer. Refrigerate, uncovered, untill well-chilled 3-4 hours or overnight (overnight is best) prior to slicing and serving chilled:
Special Equipment List: 9" pie dish, or quiche dish; rolling pin; kitchen shears; parchment paper, or aluminum foil; pie chains, or pie weights; cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; citrus juicer; 1-cup measuring container; microplane grater; 4-quart saucepan; 1-quart saucepan; whisk; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula
Cook's Note: For another one of my beloved lemon recipes, you can find my recipe for ~ When Life Hands You Lemons: Make Lemonade! ~ in Categories 10, 16 or 20. I've been told I make the best lemonade lemon lovers have ever tasted!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)