Lemon Meringue Pie
I'm a keen baker, but these days I find it extremely hard to find the time to experiment or try new techniques. Most things I bake tend to be basic but successful, because I have experience with flavours and I learned very early on to watch my bakes and not to blindly trust the timings given. This is the best tip I can give you about baking. Yes, it is more of a science than cooking in terms of ingredient weights and ratios, but you should always keep an eye on the oven. Don't just set a timer and sod off.
Inspired by British Pie Week, I decided to push myself a little further with a sweet bake this time. I love making shortcrust pastry, and it's about the only good thing about our Baltic flat in the winter: the ease of pastry-making. The challenge this time would be to make a meringue. A lemon meringue to be precise.
The trick with meringue topped pies is to avoid weeping, deflating or shrinking. Here are a few tips I picked up:
1. Make sure there is absolutely no yolk(fat) in your egg whites, as this can deflate them.
2. Make sure your whites are voluminous before adding the sugar. The oven heat will penetrate an airy meringue much better.
3. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved and your mixture is smooth. Mix at a lower speed, add the sugar slowly, and check for graininess by rubbing some mixture between your finger and thumb. Use superfine sugar for best results.
4. Top your pie while the filling is still hot, so it starts to cook the bottom of the meringue.
5. 'Seal' the meringue to the edge of your pastry crust
6. Don't over bake the meringue. The eggs will shrink and push out water droplets.
225g plain flour
45g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
150g caster sugar
7 tbsp cornflour
5 large lemons, zest and juice
6 free-range egg yolks
100g unsalted butter, melted
5 egg whites
300g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.
Make the pastry by flaking the flour, salt and butter together with your hands until they resemble rough breadcrumbs. (If you have a food mixer, you can also do it the lazy way.) Mix through the icing sugar, then add the egg, and a few drops of water if needed, to bring the mixture together in to a homogeneous ball.
Tip the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to approximately 3mm thickness, then transfer it to line a 10 inch, loose-bottomed tart tin. Be careful not to stretch or tear the pastry as you tuck it into the corners. Cover and place in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Take the tart tin out of the fridge and trim the pastry, leaving a 5mm lip standing slightly higher than the top of the tin.
Line the pastry case with baking paper or tin foil and pack it out with dry rice or flour to blind bake. Bake for about 15 minutes then remove the dry filler and paper, and return to the oven for a further five minutes or so to finish baking 'naked'.
Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 170C/340F/Gas 3½.
For the lemon curd filling, combine the sugar, cornflour and a little water in a large bowl, to make a paste.
Bring 50ml of water and the lemon zest to the boil in a small pan, then gradually pour it onto the cornflour and sugar, whisking all the until smooth.
Beat in the egg yolks, lemon juice and melted butter. Return to the pan.
Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly to avoid it catching on the bottom of the pan, until thickened. (Be patient. You don't want to cook the eggs!) Pour into the blind baked pastry case.
For the meringue, whisk the egg whites in a stand mixer until soft peaks form. Continue whisking, and drizzle in the caster sugar a little at a time until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Add the cornflour and whisk again to incorporate.
Spoon on top of the lemon curd filled pastry case and spread the meringue to completely cover the filling and meet the edges of the case. You don't have to be pedantic about this if you like that rustic meringue look, but you can always use a piping bag or be more artistic about your shaping if you want it to look more polished.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the meringue is lightly golden and crisp on the outside. Allow to cool completely before cutting and serving.
Try not to eat too much in one sitting, else you might feel sick.