Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mmm, Pie!

I made my first attempt at lemon meringue pie for Thanksgiving, and it turned out to be an epic battle. 3 pie crusts and 2 lemon curd attempts later, I had a winner.

My first crust was Martha Stewart's Favorite Pie Crust. It was just too thin for me. It was flaky, but not very tender. Strike 1.

The second crust was Alton Brown's Pie Crust. I actually didn't taste it (duh) but it was also too thin for me. Not what I was going for. Strike 2.

My third crust was Sylvia's Perfect Pie Crust. And man, was it perfect. It was tender and flaky, and just the right thickness. It was sturdy enough to hold together when lifted out of the pie pan with that heavy curd in it. And it was SO EASY. Home Run!

The lemon curd recipe I used was Alton Brown's and with a few adjustments it turned out to be amazingly delicious. The first attempt was just plain soup. It didn't set right. And I followed every word in the instructions to a T. So, we made a couple of adjustments. I added an extra couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, and I made sure to simmer each step an extra minute.

In the end, everything was as it should be. Lemon meringue pie that was sweet, tart, and lemony, with tender, flaky crust, and just the right amount of meringue. Life is good.

Sylvia's Perfect Pie Crust


1 1/2 cup Crisco (vegetable Shortening)
3 cups All-purpose Flour
1 whole Egg
5 Tablespoons Cold Water
1 Tablespoon White Vinegar
1 teaspoon Salt


In a large bowl, with a pastry cutter, gradually work the Crisco into the flour for about 3 or 4 minutes until it resembles a coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat an egg with a fork and then pour it into the flour/shortening mixture. Add 5 tablespoons of cold water, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir together gently until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

Separate the dough into thirds. Form 3 evenly sized balls of dough and place each dough into a large Ziploc bag. Using a rolling pin, slightly flatten each ball of dough (about ½ inch thick) to make rolling easier later. Seal the bags and place them in the freezer until you need them. (If you will be using it immediately it’s still a good idea to put in the freezer for about 15 to 20 minutes to chill.)

When you are ready to use the dough to make a crust, remove from the freezer and allow to thaw for 15 minutes. On a floured surface roll the dough, starting at the center and working your way out. (Sprinkle some flour over top of the dough if it’s a bit too moist.) If the dough is sticking to the countertop use a metal spatula and carefully scrape it up and flip it over and continue rolling until it’s about ½ inch larger in diameter than your pie pan.

With a spatula, lift the dough carefully from the surface of the counter into the pie pan. Gently press the dough against the corner of the pan. Go around the pie pan pinching and tucking the dough to make a clean edge.

* For prebaking, prick the crust with a fork several times, then put some parchment paper on top of the crust and fill it with beans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, and then remove the parchment and beans and bake an additional 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

* If you want, you can also tent some aluminum foil around the edges of the crust to prevent from browning too quickly.

Lemon Filling

4 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest


Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Whisk egg yolks in medium size mixing bowl and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, water, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Turn heat on medium and, stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and gradually, 1 whisk-full at a time, add hot mixture to egg yolks and stir until you have added at least half of the mixture.

Return egg mixture to saucepan, turn heat down to low and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 more minutes, until very thick. Remove from heat and gently stir in butter, lemon juice, and zest until well combined. Pour mixture into pie shell and top with meringue while filling is still hot. Make sure meringue completely covers filling and that it goes right up to the edge of the crust. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until meringue is golden. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Make sure pie is cooled completely before slicing.

Meringue Topping

4 egg whites
1 pinch cream of tartar
2 tablespoons sugar

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Use to top lemon filling.

Yield: topping for 1 (9-inch) pie

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