Whoever first observed that the devil is in the details might have tried to make a lemon meringue pie.
Twenty-five years ago, my first attempt took four hours. The process still takes more time than I care to admit, but I still enjoy the challenge. While attending the University of Missouri-Columbia, Joy of Cooking was my main resource for acquiring culinary acumen. I called my parents when Joy left me joyless.
One of the cookbook’s recipes was for a lemon meringue pie. Making it would be a life-altering, albeit slow-altering, experience. Preparing homemade (or real) food was my goal. Not that my actions always followed suit. There have been some horrific frozen pizzas in my freezer on more than one occasion.
I don’t whip up lemon meringue pie often. Just once in a while. My friend David insists the occasions are too few and far between. Which means I do not indulge his fondness for lemon meringue often enough.
With spring soon arriving and daffodils already in bloom, the tartness of lemon has increased appeal to me. It had been a while since I’d tasted lemon, so I decided to make a pie and share with friends. Find my recipe.
The first step in the process is making—and baking—a crust, which will need to cool completely before the lemon custard filling is added. I use a basic recipe, but find that a 100% substitution of cake flour for regular flour produces a lighter crust.
Custard-making is the time-consuming step. Properly cooking the ingredients is essential, and heating them at higher temperatures will just burn the custard. My recipe requires a double boiler, but some recipes omit that utensil and call for cooking the custard over direct heat.
Whichever method you choose, the lemon custard must be stirred between frequently and constantly while cooking and during the cooling stage. Not stirring enough will allow a layer of film to coat the custard.
Only when cooled to room temperature can the lemon custard be poured into a pie crust. A hot enamel-covered cast iron pan will hold heat for a very long time. To speed cooling, I pour the hot custard into a room-temperature mixing bowl.
A messy kitchen is bothersome to me. So once the custard is in the crust, I take a moment to tidy my workspace. Then I make the meringue layer.
The first caution is to make sure the mixing bowl is clean, clean, clean. I
always wash the bowl before using it, as it could have gathered dust in the pantry. At the grocery store, I purchase jumbo eggs. But when I purchase eggs at the auto repair shop, I use the largest ones in the carton. I love the charming variety of color and size among those eggs, and the fact I purchase them where I do appeals to my quirky nature.
The second caution is beating the egg whites to just the right consistency. If you go overboard, the meringue will taste fine, but will have an odd, rough texture. Once the meringue has formed soft peaks, spread it over the custard so it touches the crust. Brown the meringue in the hot oven. Then cool, slice, serve, and enjoy.