So a few days ago was my mom’s birthday, and I told her to pick something for me to make as her birthday “cake”. I knew she doesn’t like frosting, so no traditional layer cake, or cupcakes either. Then, the idea came to me to make a “birthday pie”. Though not exactly traditional, I thought it seemed a good idea, especially for a hot summer day like it was. I handed her my new Martha Stewart Pies and Tarts cookbook (completing my Martha Stewart baking collection) and told her to choose from the 150 pie and tart recipes. She chose Lemon Meringue Pie. I was a bit nervous, knowing I’ve never made a lemon meringue pie before, but I was willing to try it. It sounded easy enough; similar to the lemon bars I often make.
As it turned out, it was quite simple, but a bit time consuming. You have to be willing to spend most of your day stirring custard…if you are indeed willing to spend most of your day stirring custard, it’s worth it. The lemon filling was lip-puckering, but sweet at the same time, giving it that nice tart flavor. It was creamy and delicious enough to eat as is, with a big spoon. The meringue topping was billowy and light and slightly sweet, and contrasted with the bright, zesty filling. The crust was crumbly and pleasantly flaky with a touch of sweetness that rounded the whole pie together. Eaten on a hot, summer day on your porch, together with an iced coffee, it will make you feel as if you were on a vacation in the Bahamas, but without the cost and the sunburns.
Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie (recipe by Martha Stewart, Pies and Tarts)
Pate Brisee (use 1/2 recipe instead of whole):
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
- Pulse flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor (or whisk together by hand in a bowl). Add butter and shortening, and pulse (or quickly cut in with a pastry blender or your fingertips) until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some larger pieces remaining. Drizzle 1/4 cup water over mixture. Pulse (or mix with a fork) until mixture just begins to hold together. If dough is too dry, add 1/4 cup more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse (or mix with a fork).
- Divide dough in half onto two pieces of plastic wrap. Gather into two balls, wrap loosely in plastic, and press each into a disk using a rolling pin. Refrigerate until firm, well wrapped in plastic, 1 hour or up to 1 day. (Dough can be frozen up to 3 months; thaw in refrigerator before using.)
Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie:
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 recipe Pate Brisee, Shortening Variation
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest plus 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 4 lemons)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
4 large egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Mile-High Meringue Topping
- On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 13-inch round. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Tuck overhang under, flush with rim, and crimp edges. Pierce bottom of shell all over with a fork. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Line shell with parchment, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until edges begin to turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove weights and parchment. Bake until crust is golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
- Combine the cornstarch, sugar, zest, and salt in a saucepan. Whisk in the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until bubbling and thick, about 7 minutes (about 2 minutes after it comes to a boil).
- In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until combined. Pour in cornstarch mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking until completely incorporated. Return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it returns to a boil, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in lemon juice. Add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking until each piece melts before adding the next. Let custard cool in saucepan on a wire rack 10 minutes, whisking occasionally.
- Pour custard into crust. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of custard. Refrigerate until custard filling is chilled and firm, at least 6 hours or up to overnight.
Mile-High Meringue Topping:
8 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add sugar. Increase speed and whisk until meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks. Whisk in vanilla.
- Spoon meringue onto surface of the pie until it reaches the crust, then use an offset spatula to create a swirling pattern.
- If desired, use a kitchen torch to toast the meringue, moving flame back and forth until evenly brown. Or brown the meringue under the broiler, but keep an eye on it–a minute or so is all you need.