Monday, February 2, 2015

Dreams - Lemon Meringue Pie

I tease my friend D. about his dreams.

This kicked off when we marveled at sea lions in La Jolla Cove, picked up steam when we explored Las Vegas, kept popping up when we hiked in (and admired) the Grand Canyon, and most recently, revived as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot (twice...). You see, D. is a visiting scholar from Italy, here for 6 months then gone, back to complete his Ph.D. in Palermo. He's the adventurous type, and keen on exploring as much of the States as he can reach before returning home. The joke began when he declared, "my dream!" in his lilting Italian accent as we drove out from Riverside for each of our various adventures, and just hasn't let up.

One boy's dream is another girl's project. If his (English) word is dream, then mine is project. From trekking around the Riverside hills to my Ph.D., each one of my own dreams seems much more achievable when I call them projects and break them into steps. To me, dreams are those far-away wishes that you make, eyes half-closed, when you can't quite see how to make them true. Projects require work. Projects are real. Projects can be kneaded and folded and baked.

One such project is lemon meringue pie, but I seemed to be perpetually short of lemons, eggs or both. Turns out, though, D's favorite dessert is lemon meringue pie. The surest way for me to finally! accomplish something is a promise to another, and his birthday was in November (I'm sorry, blog!). I made it a point to pick up lemons and extra eggs the next time I went to the grocery store, and in one fell swoop, I managed to bring happiness to my friend and fulfill one of my own dreams. Then, two weeks ago was our adviser's birthday, and I could not bring myself to accept one of the too-sweet, mass-produced things from the grocery store bakery as the treat. As I muddled about in indecision, D. finally suggested lemon meringue pie again.

After making our adviser nervous about a sudden lab meeting that had been called, where none of his students would tell him the reason, we managed to surprise him with a small party. He then turned the tables by raising the stakes for next year. Apparently, when he was a grad student, someone in the lab programmed one of their research robots to drive up to his adviser with the cake. The gauntlet, it has been thrown!

The next morning, I received the news from D. that the solitary leftover slice had been a satisfactory breakfast. Dreams achieved.

Lemon Meringue Pie, adapted from use real butter
Makes one 9" pie

Pie (crust, borrowed from Chez Pim)
1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold salted butter
2 tbsp water

You'll need a large, flat surface, a rolling pin, two pieces of plastic wrap (optional, but they make life much easier..), a sharp knife, a large bowl, a cup and clean hands.

Lay one piece of plastic wrap on your flat surface. Put the water in the cup for easy access.

Dump the flour into a large bowl. Cut the butter into slices and drop them into the flour, then break them apart with your fingers. Coat each piece of butter with the flour. Add the water, mix it about with your fingers, then start to fold the flour and butter onto itself. I like to take half the mixture, dump it back on top of itself, turn the bowl, and repeat. Once you have a cohesive dough, pick it up and place it on the plastic wrap, then cover it with the other piece of plastic wrap. Start to roll it into a rectangular shape, so that you can keep folding it a few more times. If the plastic wrap starts to stretch, remove it, dust the dough with flour, replace the wrap and turn it over. Keep folding until you have a smooth, workable piece of dough. It's simpler than it sounds, and better instructions (and pictures!) are found on Ms. Pim's lovely website.

Once you have your crust, roll it out and transfer it to your pie pan. Form your edges, then put it in the fridge or freezer. At this point, preheat your oven to 350F. Once the oven is 350F, prick the pie crust and parbake for 15 minutes. This step is to prevent a soggy crust. If you have your egg whites handy, you might wish to save a few drops in a separate bowl, then brush the saved egg whites onto the crust when it comes out of the oven. This tip is borrowed from Dessert First.

Lemon (filling)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
Pinch salt
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. In a saucepan, boil the water. Turn the fire off, then whisk in the sugar, cornstarch and salt and turn the fire back on. It will immediately thicken and turn somewhat translucent. When the pudding mixture starts to boil, temper the egg yolks by whisking in a bit of the pudding at a time. Pour the egg yolks and pudding back into the pan. Cook until it begins to bubble again, a bit alarmingly. Turn off the fire again and whisk in the butter, lemon juice and vanilla. Pour this into your half-baked pie crust.

Meringue (topping)
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
Pinch salt
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

You need a clean whisk for this. In a stand mixer or a large bowl, whisk the egg whites, cream of tarter and salt until it forms soft peaks. Pour in the sugar and whisk until it forms stiff peaks. Top the lemon filling, preferably touching the pie crust with the meringue. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes, until a nice, light brown. Alternatively, if you are cooler than I, and possess a propane torch, please use that (and send me pictures!).


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