Saturday, October 9, 2010

Lemon Meringue Pie

Last weekend I went to brunch at a friend's place, and she had a burgeoning lemon tree and gave me a bag full of lemons to bring home. I love lemons... And Mr Cake twisted my arm and got me to make lemon meringue pie for dessert (he can't stop nibbling on it, even though it's 11pm as I write this, so I'm going to take that as a compliment!). 

I'm not entirely sure when I first made this but I know that I used to make it for dessert when I was still at school - I remember learning the hard way that you can't whip up your meringue topping way in advance of when you want to use it.

It's not a very complicated recipe - although there are three components so it has the potential to use a lot of bowls - but some key baking techniques come into play here; hopefully I'll manage to explain everything helpfully, tell me if I make no sense!

I went back to the traditional Edmonds recipe tonight, and made my pastry from scratch as well. You can of course buy this if you like - but if you have a food processor (or little blitzer like mine) it's really easy - and so much cheaper.

The key to good pastry (though I'm not claiming to be a pastry master, I'm sure mine leaves a lot to be desired!) is keeping it cold - apart from making short work of blitzing the butter and flour together, a food processor also removes the 'rubbing in' process, which would normally warm the mixture up quite a bit. To pull the pastry together after adding water I had to use my fingers, but if you have a proper food processor you can do it all in that. Once you have your pastry together it needs to go in the fridge for half an hour - this allows the gluten to relax so that the pastry won't shrink back when you cook it... It won't kill your dish if you skip this step but you will notice the pastry will pull away from the edge of the dish. 

When it's well chilled, roll it out to size and lay into the tin. I used a 25cm quiche/flan tin, but you could go freeform on a tray, or make individual ones if you wanted. I greased my tin as it's the first time I've used it, but it shouldn't really be necessary, especially on non-stick - but I like to play safe!

You can see I would be thoroughly ridiculed on Masterchef - look at the splits, the holes, the uneven shape I rolled... Meh, it tasted good. ;-) 

To get the pastry nice and crisp you need to prick it with a fork then bake blind - that is, put a piece of baking paper and then something to weigh it down over the pastry. I used rice, and beans also work well, or you can get fancy ceramic weights specifically for this. If you use rice or beans just pour into a container and use the same stuff again next time you make pastry. If you have ceramic beads I'll assume you already have somewhere to stash them. ;-)

While the pastry is cooking, make the filling and then the meringue. The filling is really easy - you make a sugar/cornflour/lemon mixture, cook until it thickens (and trust me, you will know when it thickens). 

Once it's nice and viscous, add egg yolks and butter. One of the mighty things about this dessert is that it uses equal amounts of egg yolks and whites, so you don't end up with any leftovers. I wanted to show you how I separate eggs, because it can be pretty tricky - and for most of my life I've done it using the two halves of the shell, but a year or so ago someone recommended using bare hands and though it took a bit of getting used to I find I have a much higher success rate now - and it's more effective; I can usually get all the white into the white bowl. You quite simply break the egg, hold the yolk and the remainder of the white in half the shell, then tip into your hand instead of back into the other piece of shell - you can pass it back and forth if you need to, being very gentle, but usually the white slips through your fingers pretty quickly, and the yolk can't be punctured by sharp shell-edge (it can of course still be broken by rough handling, or by the shell at the beginning, and for this reason I'm an advocate of using a separate bowl for the white you're separating and then adding it to the rest, to avoid risking tainting a whole batch with yolks).

Sorry this isn't illustrated very well but it's so quick and easy Mr Cake, who was taking the photos of this part since I was covered in egg, wasn't able to keep up!

Once everything is in there it looks luscious - and tastes pretty good. It's a good idea to taste at this stage to check if it's lemony enough - I like a powerful lemon punch and added extra zest to the recipe after tasting;if you favour a more subtle flavour you might want to only add half the zest to begin with, then at this stage add more if desired.

The last step before assembly is whipping up the egg whites - mine were a bit light on sugar tonight (I have adjusted the recipe accordingly), but you want a nice, glossy, peaky finish. I love those big floppy peaks that you often see on cafe meringue tarts. 

When the pastry is cooked (mine's a bit light, we were a tad impatient!), remove the blind baking stuff and pour in the lemony goodness... 

... then slather on the meringue. Spread it out to cover the lemon then make it peaky by dappling with a spatula (or leave it smooth if you prefer).

Once baked, if you have a loose-bottomed tin (hopefully you do, it makes life a million times easier!), place a cup or glass on the counter, then sit the whole thing on top - you should be able to gently release the sides of the tin, and then you can slide the pie off the flat bottom onto your serving dish. Magnifique!

Lemon Meringue Pie (modified from the Edmonds Cookbook)
155g/1 cup flour
75g butter
80g/1/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp water
55g/1/4 cup cornflour 
225g/1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice (I used 7 lemons - you can top up with water but the flavour will be weaker)
3/4 cup water
3 egg yolks
1 Tbsp butter
4 egg whites
75g/1/3 cup caster sugar

To make pastry, rub butter into flour (or blitz in food processor), until mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add sugar and egg yolk and mix to combine, then add water and mix until pastry holds together. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease a 25cm flan/quiche dish. When pastry is chilled, roll to size, drape over rolling pin and roll onto flan dish. Trim off any excess pastry and bake blind for 20 minutes.

For the filling, whisk together cornflour, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice in a saucepan and put over a medium heat until the mixture boils and thickens. Add the egg yolks and butter and quickly mix in.

For the meringue, beat the egg whites until foamy and soft peaks form. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, and beat until glossy.

Fill the cooked shell with the lemon mixture, then top with meringue. Bake for a further 8-10 minutes. Use a glass as described above to remove the pie from the tin. Can be served hot or cold.
Serves 6.



  1. I still like my lemon meringue pie better. But it is more expensive to make, more involved and needs a blowtorch!

  2. Oh, I would love your recipe! Would be interesting to see the differences. I have a blowtorch! ;-)

  3. That is one good looking lemon meringue pie!! I love separating the yolks with my hands, slippery and squishy fun! :)

  4. I also have a weird fascination with separating egg whites and yolks with my hands.

    I discovered it by accident one day working in a bakery. We ran out of (as I liked to call it) 'egg-in-a-bag', so had to crack dozens by hand every time we needed to bake something. For some reason I reached in and grabbed the yolks out... not that they needed to go anywhere!

  5. Thanks Nessie! :-)

    It is definitely slippery fun - I quite like feeling like I understand the ingredient a little bit more - knowing just how much resistance is in the yolk skin... Hmm, does that sound too weird?

  6. hey just a wee heads up, it says the meringues are made with 4 egg yolks. but thanks for the recipe!

  7. Thanks for the heads up - fixed that now. :-)


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