Goodbye Pie

For the last few years, every single special event in my life or the lives of my friends has been celebrated with a pie.  No question.  It’s become so ingrained in our lives that I don’t find it strange to receive texts in April insisting that I make a pecan pie for Victoria’s birthday.  Which is in June.  She asked me last week for a banoffee pie (which I’ve never made) but this year didn’t even bother to connect it to her birthday.  I’ll be making it in a few weeks.

Of course with my desire to make pie vying with the dearth of birthdays most months, I had to find other ‘special events’.  One of those made up occasions that’s turning into a tradition of its own is travel.  Whenever someone leaves for more than a week (including me), and then when they get back, they get a pie of their choice.  This way I have a guaranteed chance to get that one last glimpse before they jet off and first dishing on what exactly went down in Nantes.

Gabrielle has been the most recent recipient of Goodbye Pie.  She has gone off to travel Europe for two months, leaving me alone to lurk in my unemployed-recent-college-graduate soup of inactivity.  So before I was left completely to my own devices, she chose her goodbye pie.  In between loads of laundry, emergency glasses repair, and frantic itinerary checking, she stopped by my place for one last slab of dessert.  Her choice was made without hesitation: lemon meringue.

For years, I thought I hated lemon meringue, and Gabrielle agreed with me, actually.  I still hate commercial lemon meringue.  The topping is always rubbery and sad, the filling sickly sweet and artificially colored.  But one night I was actually making it for my stepfather’s birthday (special occasion = pie) because it’s his hands down favorite and he can’t imagine a birthday without it.  There was an extra slice for Gabrielle – as there almost always is – and suddenly she looked at me.  “I just now remembered why this was once my favorite.”  I took a bite and it was indeed a true revelation.  This version is tart-sweet and brightly flavored, with a fluffy meringue whose tiny air bubbles pop and melt on your tongue in a happy celebration of pie.  Even I had a second piece that night.

So I sent Gabrielle off with lemon meringue lingering on the palate.  Truthfully I think I do this so that she’ll come back.  After all.  There’s Welcome Back Pie, too.

Are you SURE you want to leave?

Lemon Meringue Pie

You can make the lemon filling part of this ahead of time, but do NOT make the meringue until you are ready to eat it.  It keeps, yeah, but it can get weepy and the nice toasted top will happily peel onto the cling wrap… And if you can resist a perfectly done meringue pie… I applaud your will power. Final note – please please please use freshly squeezed lemon juice.  I am a huge fan of the plastic lemon for general ease, but really.  The lemon is the whole reason for the pie.  The plasticky, acid bite of bottled lemon juice, however high class will just not deliver the tears of gratitude that I seek with every pie.  Now. The recipe.

I am entirely grateful for this juicer. Usually I have to use brute force.

You’ll need one fully prebaked pie shell.  See this post for the crust recipes and this post for instructions on that particular endeavor.

Let me reiterate two things, however.  1: Freeze that sucker for fifteen minutes before prebaking.  It will help prevent shrinkage. 2: Poke some holes in it with a fork after you remove the foil and weights but before you stick it back into the oven to finish it off.  Otherwise it will puff up.  And go check on it from time to time, because it will want to puff up anyways, no matter what precautions you may have taken.  The fat is producing a lot of steam, happily making your flaky layers.  But you need it to give it somewhere to go, afterwards.


Let that cool off on a wire rack.  Now.  Let’s get cracking on the lemon part.

The pie bible is getting sadder and sadder.

Filling ingredients:

1 1/3 c sugar

1/4 c and 2 Tbsp cornstarch

1/8 tsp salt

2 c water

1/2 c fresh lemon juice (I’m serious about the fresh thing.  I needed three lemons.)

1 Tbsp grated lemon zest (Don’t try to tell me that dried zest is worth anything at all.)

4 egg yolks (set the whites aside for later)

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a large-ish saucepan, combine the dry ingredients and give them a quick whisk to combine.  I find it fun and mystical when the cornstarch smokes up a little at this point.  It’s as if my kitchen knows that something tasty is going down and wants to give me a little dramatic flair.  Dump in the rest of the ingredients and whisk it really well, so that everything is one smooth (enough) texture.

Humble beginnings

Cook over medium heat, whisking all the while, until it comes to a boil.  My book says this should take 5-7 minutes, but that’s a load of bull, at least on my stove.  Mine usually takes about fifteen.  When it has come to a boil, you’ll feel the mixture getting thicker and resisting the whisk.  Keep stirring at a boil for a minute and a half – the filling should be super thick and delicious looking.

Now.  I always forget this part.  Take the lemon filling off the heat and drop in the butter pieces, one at a time stirring them in.  The small amount of butter will make it glossy and rich.  This kind of step is why I make it a habit to put away every ingredient after I’ve used it.  Because I turned around to survey the kitchen and saw the butter sitting there and went…uh oh.  Surreptitiously I turned back to the pie, plopped it on top and took a spatula to my pie.  No one noticed.

Press some cling wrap into the filling of the pie, making sure to not leave any air bubbles or gaps.  This will prevent an icky skin from forming and the lack of bubbles will prevent steam from collecting and condensing.  Let cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then refrigerate for up to a day.

Go ahead and snitch some filling before putting it away.  That whisk is a good place to snitch from.

Meringue Ingredients

4 egg whites (room temperature)

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Big pinch of salt

1/2 c sugar (superfine is good, but I never have it. No biggie)

1/2 tsp vanilla (I like using vanilla powder because it’s white)

Preheat your broiler.  Beat the egg whites on medium high until they hold soft peaks.

Beat in the cream of tartar and salt, then Gradually add the sugar in one tablespoon at a time.  When the meringue is thick and glossy, beat the vanilla in briefly.

Scoop all the meringue onto the chilled pie filling (remove the cling wrap first) and heap it into a dome, making sure that it is flush against the crust and completely covers the lemon.  If you’d like, take the back of a spoon to the meringue in places to pull up little peaks.

When you are finished being artistic, slide the pie under the broiler, rotating it to get it evenly browned.  This happens very quickly, so keep an eye on it all the while.  Do NOT leave it unattended.  Pull it out, slice and enjoy.


1 Response to “Goodbye Pie”

  1. 1 Gabrielle May 4, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    I had a piece of lemon meringue pie at a restaurant in Angers today. It was…enjoyable, but yours is better. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that when I get back home, there will be pie. 🙂 Miss you!

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Hey, I'm Desa. I've been bouncing between the Pacific Northwest and Sevilla, Spain in the last few years and from tiny apartment to tiny apartment. I cook mainly for one, which means some potentially boring meals, but here I'll be sharing the food that excites me. Feel free to offer suggestions, commiseration, or desires. And thanks for coming by!


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