Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pie in the Sky? Heavenly Lemon Meringue Pie

My mom made amazing lemon meringue pie, and banana cream pie, chocolate cream pie... I've been craving lemon meringue pie for the past few weeks and it's time to get down to baking!

I'm making the lemon pie filling from scratch, lemons and all.  You could use a little box of instant pie filling (my mom did), but try it from scratch and see what a difference fresh makes!  I guarantee you won't want to go back to the box.

I'm adding chocolate cookie crumbs to my crust, for fun and to help keep that crust crisp.  You can also use graham cracker crumbs or just leave the crumbs out alltogether.

This pie serves eight.
Pie dough coated with chocolate cookie crumbs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2  tsp salt
1     tbsp sugar
4     tbsp butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3     tbsp shortening, chilled
4-5 tbsp ice water
1/2  cup crushed chocolate cookies (or use crushed graham crackers)

Lemon filling
1     cup sugar
1/4  cup cornstarch
1/8  tsp salt
1 1/2 cup cold water
6     large egg yolks (you'll use the whites for the meringue)
1     tbsp grated zest
1/2  cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 or 3 lemons)
2     tbsp unsalted butter

Meringue topping
1     tbsp cornstarch
1/3  cup water
1/4  tsp cream of tartar
1/3  cup sugar
4     large egg whites
1/2  tsp vanilla extract

Two versions: the top one
 is coated with crushed
 chocolate cookie crumbs
; the bottom, is plain
Pie dough:
Pulse flour, salt and sugar in the work bowl of food processor, fitted with steel blade.  Scatter butter pieces over the flour mixture, tossing to coat with flour.  Cut butter into flour with five 1-second pulses.  Add shortening and continue cutting in until the flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter bits, no larger than small peas, about four more pulses.  Turn mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle four tablespoons ice water over mixture.  With blade of rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix.  Press down on mixture with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together, adding up to one tablespoon more ice water if it will not come together.  Shape dough into ball, squeezing two or three times with hands until cohesive, then flatten into 4-inch wide disk.  Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days, before rolling.

Remove dough from the refrigerator, let stand at room temperature to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.  When you can squeeze the dough without applying too much pressure, it is ready to roll.  Sprinkle your work surface with two tablespoons chocolate cookie crumbs when rolling out the dough.  Sprinkle more crumbs over the dough itself.  Continue sprinkling additional crumbs underneath and on top of dough as it is rolled, making sure to coat dough heavily with crumbs.  Use approx. 1/2 cup of crumbs in total.  Roll the dough to a 12-inch disk about 1/8-inch thick.  Place the dough in the center of the pie pan.  Press the dough carefully into the pan by gently lifting the dough edges with one hand while pressing around the pan bottom with the other hand.  Trim the edge to 1/2-inch beyond the pan lip.  Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that folded edge is about 1/4-inch beyond the pan lip; flute the dough.  Refrigerate the pie shell for 40 minutes and then freeze for 20 minutes.

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Press doubled 12-inch square of aluminum foil inside the dough shell; evenly distribute pie weights over the foil.  Bake, leaving foil and weights in place until the dough dries out, about 15 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil and weights.  For a fully baked pie shell, continue baking until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Lemon filling:
Mix the sugar, cornstarch, salt and water in a large, nonreactive saucepan.  Bring the mixture to simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally at the beginning of the process and more frequently as the mixture begins to thicken.  When the mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, whisk in egg yolks, two at a time.  Whisk in zest, then lemon juice, and finally the butter.  Bring the mixture to a good simmer, whisking constantly.  Remove from heat, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the filling to keep hot and prevent skin from forming.

Mix the cornstarch with water in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally at the beginning and more frequently  as the mixture thickens.  When it starts to simmer and turn translucent, remove from heat.  Let cool while beating egg whites.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Mix cream of tartar and sugar together.  Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy.  Beat in sugar mixture, one tablespoon at a time (with a 20 second beating between additions) until the sugar is incorporated and the mixture forms soft peaks.  Add the cornstarch mixture, one tablespoon at a time and continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks.

Remove plastic from the lemon filling and return to very low heat during the last minute or so of beating meringue (to ensure the filling is hot).

Pour the hot filling into the  pie shell.  Using a rubber spatula, immediately distribute meringue evenly around edge and then center of pie to keep it from sinking into the filling.  Make sure the meringue attaches to the pie crust to prevent shrinkage.  Use the back of a spoon to create peaks all over the meringue.  Bake the pie until the meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.    Serve immediately or refrigerate.

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