Tonawanda News

February 19, 2013

Trial and error leads to a delicious meringue pie

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — In my more than two years of doing this Curious Culinarian column, I think I’ve finally met my match ... lemon meringue pie. 

For Christmas I got one of those big, fancy professional series Kitchenaid stand mixers, and boy, was I in love. I find that the majority of my kitchen snafus and aborted recipe plans occur because I simply don’t have the correct equipment. I’m relatively young — about to have my third 29th birthday — and I’ve never been on the receiving end of a bridal shower, so my kitchen has some glaring holes in terms of dishes and tools.

For the record, two dozen coffee filters are not a good stand-in for cheese cloth when straining blended vinegar and jalapenos for pepper jelly; yes, the jelly mixture meant to be heated in a large stock pot will boil over and spill all over your stove if a five-quart pot is used; and no, you can’t just force all that muffin batter into one tin because you don’t have two, because you’ll end up with one humongous muffin top attached to a dozen bottoms.

So when Santa brought me that Kitchenaid mixer, I spent the remainder of my Christmas trip to Texas dreaming of all the wonderful recipes I’ve wanted to try and put off simply because I didn’t have the proper equipment.

What to tackle first?

Meringue!

And what’s the quintessential meringue recipe? Lemon meringue pie, of course.

This particular pie and I aren’t currently on speaking terms because of the initial difficulty I had with it. 

My first go-round was a disaster. I used a recipe from Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” as the basis for this particular project, dreaming of a huge pile of fluffy, white meringue atop a tart, sweet and adequately firm lemon filling.

Because I used the recipe from the Food Network website and didn’t actually watch the episode, I missed out on a few techniques he suggests. My meringue was puny. My lemon filling was soupy. 

Actually watching a clip from the episode helped me out a little and my second pie was only marginally better. The meringue was spot on, but the filling was still mostly runny. 

OK, this pie was really starting to piss me off.

Some more independent research and the whole thing is pretty much spot-on now. 

The recipe is actually pretty easy once you get the ingredients prepared. Most of your time is spent juicing lemons and stirring your sugar, water and cornstarch mixture while waiting for it to boil. I can’t imagine tackling a meringue without a stand mixer, though. Using a hand mixer seems tedious at best and when co-worker Barbara Tucker described her mother beating the egg whites by hand, it sounded like torture to me.

Dropping the big bucks on a Kitchenaid stand mixer maybe isn’t a good idea if all you want to do is tackle the odd meringue pie, but you’ll certainly find other uses for this device. I can’t wait.

Lemon meringue pie

1 pre-baked 9-inch pie shell

Meringue

8 room temperature egg whites

2 pinches cream of tartar

4 tablespoons sugar

Lightly whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar together until just combined, then put into bowl of stand mixer.

Beat mixture together in stand mixer on high until it starts to form soft peaks.

Slowly add in the sugar and continue beating until it forms stiff peaks. If you remove the stand mixer whisk from the bowl and turn it upside down, the egg whites should stand up on end with a slight hook.

The meringue should be made immediately prior making the lemon filling because it’s best to put on top of the pie while the filling is still hot from the stove. Give the meringue another 30 seconds right before putting on top of pie.

Lemon filling

4 egg yolks in medium-sized bowl

1/3 cup cornstarch

11/2 cups water

11/3 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Preheat the over to 375 degrees. 

Heat water, cornstarch, sugar and salt over medium heat in a sauce pot, whisking frequently. Bring mixture to a boil and it should begin to thicken at this point. Boil for one minute.

Remove mixture from stove and turn heat on burner down to low.

While mixture is off the stove, slowly temper with egg yolks to prevent yolks from scrambling. Slowly add spoonfuls of the hot mixture to the yolks, while constantly whisking the yolks. Keep adding spoonfuls until about half of the hot mixture has been combined with the yolks. Add yolk mixture back to pot with remaining hot mixture and whisk together.

Return mixture to heat and bring back to a boil, whisking frequently. Keep at a boil for one minute. 

Add butter to mixture and whisk until fully melted and incorporated.

Add lemon juice and zest and fully mix together. 

Pour filling into pre-baked pie shell.

Give the meringue another 30 seconds in the mixer then pile on top of the lemon filling.

Spread meringue out over the pie, making sure to seal the edges.

Put pie in the oven for about 10 minutes or until meringue is golden. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Remove from oven and cool on wire rack. Wait until pie is completely cool before serving.

— Adapted from

Alton Brown’s recipe on

www.foodnetwork.com.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.