Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cooking: Lemon Meringue Pie

I recently picked up a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible at Bookman's. For quite some time, I've been waiting for a craving for one of the specific pies in this weighty tome to strike; there's so many absolutely phenomenal looking things in here, there's just no way to choose except to wait for a craving to strike. It finally did, and its name was lemon meringue. I can definitely say that Beranbaum's instructions are quite well written, I never felt like I was at a loss for what to do next. There are three parts to a lemon meringue pie; the crust, the filling, and the meringue topping. The crust she recommended was the Basic Flaky Pie Crust, and then for an especially light meringue that won't weep, an Italian meringue, made by whipping hot sugar syrup into beaten egg whites.

The recipe itself isn't too bad; bake the crust, make the filling and add to the hot crust, make meringue and top the pie, then bake until the top is nicely browned. This time through, everything but the crust has been chalked up to a learning experience. I was going off the visual cues that Beranbaum gave for the cooked filling (thick, smooth, and translucent) and not the temperature the cooked filling was supposed to reach (190 degrees F). Next time, it's getting cooked to 190. When I picked the pie up off the cooling rack, I saw the meringue jiggle around. Uh oh. My fears were confirmed when I tried to pick up the first slice; I made lemon meringue soup.

The meringue also was also much less than perfect; this was my first time doing an Italian meringue, where hot sugar syrup is beaten into whipped egg whites. For what it's worth, this was my first time that I'd done anything involving the culinary napalm that is boiling sugar syrup. I now know for next time to not scrape out the pan when transferring the hot syrup to another vessel. As you may guess by now, there were little chips of sugar flint all through the meringue.

Then there was the pie crust... oh Lord, was there the pie crust. If the pie crust is any indication, I'm going to have people begging me for the recipe once I have the lemon filling and meringue down pat. It was far and away the best pie crust I've ever eaten... it was tender, yet incredibly flaky, and for once it was a blind-baked crust that didn't shrink in the oven! I'd better be careful, I might end up making the pie crust and baking it just to eat it... wow, it was good stuff.