Lemon meringue pie is the quintessential spring dessert. The sweet tart lemon filling tastes like sunshine, and there's no better use for the eggs that are now suddenly in abundance now that the chickens are happily producing in these longer days of light.
Admittedly, spring weather is in short supply right now. As the East Coast shovels out from under it's fourth nor'easter – or it's fourth nor'Easter as the wits are wagging – this month, I look citrus flavors seem the most likely to cheer me up and remind me of sunshine.
My family shares the feeling, and my son's March birthday is most commonly honored with a lemon meringue pie. Of course, these days I make my crusts with lard. Having spent the past two years researching and developing recipes that make use of animal fats (my book The Fat Kitchen will be out in November), I am now enamored of the flaky, crisp crusts that lard yields and well aware that we have been sold a bill of goods about animal fats. Lard, for example, contains 40 percent saturated for (butter contains 50 percent) and about 45 percent monounsaturated fat (the so-called healthy type of fat).
A pie crust made with lard has the advantage of not shrinking when baked, which is especially important when you are making a single crust pie. Butter crusts do shrink – it is inevitable since butter consists of 15 percent water, which evaporates out when the crust is baked. Once filled and baked, lard pie crusts resist becoming soggy, unlike butter crusts. But leftovers with this pie would be a highly unexpected event.
Serves 6 to 8
• 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 3/4 tps fine sea salt
• 2 tbsp sugar
• 6 tbsp (2.6 ounces/75g) lard
• 1/3 cup very cold water, plus more as needed
• 4 large eggs, separated
• 1 3/4 cups sugar
• 6 tbsp cornstarch
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 1/2 cups water
• 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
• 1 tbsp plus 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
• 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1. To make the crust, combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl, and whisk until well blended. Cut in the lard with a pastry cutter or two knives or rub in with your fingertips until the mixture has a pebbly, sandy consistency. Stir in the water until well mixed. You should be able to form the mixture into a ball. If needed, add more water, a teaspoon at a time, until the dough will form a ball.
2. Gather the dough into a single ball. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
3. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough with a well-floured rolling pin to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Roll the dough onto the rolling pin to transfer it to a 9-inch or 10-inch pie plate. Fold under and crimp the edges. Prick the bottom and sides of the dough with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Freeze for about 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Remove the unbaked pie shell from the freezer and bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack before filling.
5. To prepare the lemon filling, beat the egg yolks lightly in a small bowl. Set aside.
6. In the top part of a double boiler, combine 11/4 cups of the sugar, the cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Gradually stir in the water and lemon juice. Place the double boiler over (not in) simmering water. Using a whisk, stir the mixture constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture thickens and just comes to a boil. Remove from the heat.
7. Gradually stir a few teaspoons of the mixture into the beaten egg yolks, mixing constantly until blended. When you have added about 1/2 cup, pour the yolk mixture back into the pan, stirring constantly until combined. (This step is called tempering and it prevents the eggs from curdling.)
8. Place the pan over the simmering water again. Whisk in the butter gradually, then 1 tablespoon of the lemon zest. Cook the filing over low heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes, or until it is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat.
9. Stir the filling to cool slightly, then pour into the baked pie shell.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. When all the sugar has been incorporated, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and beat well for 3 to 4 minutes, until the meringue forms stiff, shiny peaks. The egg whites should hold their shape and remain moist.
Spoon about half of the meringue around the edge of the warm filling. Use a rubber spatula to carefully seal it to the piecrust. Pile the remaining meringue in the center, then spread with the back of a spoon to make decorative swirls. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown.
Cool on a rack in a draft-free place. Serve at room temperature. This pie tastes best when eaten within 32 hours of cooling. Refrigerate any leftover pie.
The recipe is adapted from 250 Treasured Country Desserts by Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff. ©2009 by Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff. All rights reserved.
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