Thursday, February 4, 2010

mile-high lemon meringue pie

02-16-2009 Lemon Meringue Pie 13

I am a music person. I love to cook and I love to dance, but I really, really love music. Nothing could be as delightful as the first chord of a great country song, the melody of a hymn I know by heart, or the inspirational notes of the Notre Dame alma mater. Sometimes these auditory staples of my existence make me happy and sometimes they make me a little sad, but they never fail to elicit a welcome emotion. Sound is, after all, a powerful thing. I would be remiss, though, if I didn't point out the one incongruity in my daily scheme of sounds. I feel a little thrill of glee every time I hear it, but its melodic structure bears no resemblance -- none -- to the songs previously mentioned. To what am I referring? To the electronic chime of an incoming text message of course!

What is it about the text message that is so appealing, particularly to the under 40 crowd? At this time last year, I maybe sent and received a handful of texts per month, well under my plan limit of 100. But back in November -- like magic! -- unlimited messaging was added to my plan....and it has been downhill ever since. Sooooo many texts. Sometimes my thumbs get tired! (Is there a machine at the gym to fix that?) And on one occasion (OK, two), I woke up on top of my phone because I fell asleep in the middle of a text conversation.

I have my own reasons for explaining why text messages appeal to me. I'm quite to the point -- little patience for pleasantries required in a phone conversation -- so I can appreciate the 160 character limit imposed by the text messaging gods. And of course there are situations where it is simply practical -- noisy bars, updating a friend on your latest date...while you are on it (just kidding...kind of) -- but none of those really explain the enigmatic lure of the text. Why doesn't an incoming phone call make me feel the same way? (And you know it isn't just me. Fingers flying over tiny keys can been seen on nearly every street corner these days.)

02-16-2009 Lemon Meringue Pie 04 02-16-2009 Lemon Meringue Pie 09

I made these lemon meringue pies for Dad using some of Mom's darling mini pie plates (which she uses for salad, not pies). Meringue can be such a tricky bugger. Weeping, waning, collapsing, failing -- words heard all too often in a baker's attempt to conjure that fluffy, pie-topping confection. Not with this recipe though. Good old Martha. Thanks to her, the only words heard in my kitchen were along the lines of, "Whoo!!! Look at my meringue! Look how high I can pile it!!!" Perfect.

Now a couple of finer points about this recipe that you would do well to follow: You must, must, must use cake flour to make the filling. It will not thicken properly with regular flour, and runny pie -- while still tasty -- just doesn't have quite the same appeal. Please use fresh lemon juice. If it comes from a bottle or a frozen tube, I can promise you it won't taste as good. It just won't. And when you are browning your meringue, watch it like a hawk! It goes from brown to black in the blink of an eye, so don't wander away from your oven at this stage of the game. My very evenly browned meringue is the result of Mom and Dad's high-end ovens. If I had owned one at the time, I would have used a kitchen torch to darken the peaks a bit after removing the pies from the oven. Most ovens have uneven heat circulation and hot spots, so this isn't an issue. Finally, don't put your leftover pie in the fridge. Fluffy meringue goodness and thick lemon filling just don't respond well to the chill of the fridge. Loosely covered at room temperature will work fine, though who has leftover pie anyway?

Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie
Yields one 9-inch pie

Pate Brisee
A recipe from
Makes 1 double-crust or 2 single-crust 9-inch to 10-inch pies
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled or frozen and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

A recipe from Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts
1 1/4 cups sugar
2/3 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup cornstartch
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups water
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

A recipe from Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts
8-12 egg large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons sugar

To Make the Crust:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 seconds.

With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube. Pulse until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky, being careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Divide the dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored frozen up to 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out half the dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface, fit it into a 9-inch pie plate, and trim the edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang.

Line pie shell with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 15-20 minutes or until beginning to set. Remove foil with weights and bake until golden, approximately 20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To Make the Filling:
Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. In a bowl over simmering water, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt, and water and cook for 10-20 minutes until the mixture becomes very thick and almost translucent. Remove it from the heat and beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, until thoroughly blended. Return the mixture to the heat and cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth. Rome it from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and rind. Whisk in the butter, a piece at a time, and set aside to cool.

To Make the Meringue:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until fluffy. Add the cream of tartar, vanilla, and salt. Continue beating and add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the mixture every minute. Beat for 7-8 minutes until stiff peaks form.

To Assemble the Pie:
Pour the cooled filling into the pie shell. Mound the meringue over the filling in peaks as high as possible, making sure to cover the filling completely to the edge of the pie shell. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown. Let cool at room temperature for at least 3 hours before cutting. Do not refrigerate.

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