I love pie. Fruit pies are my favorite, but I have a special place in my stomach for lemon meringue pies, especially real pie made from real lemons. So when the Daring Bakers, an internet group of amateur bakers which I recently joined, announced Lemon Meringue Pie as their challenge for January, I was very excited. So excited that I actually missed one of Robyn's hockey games to make the pie without any time pressures.
Lemon meringue pie consists of three distinct layers -- pastry, lemon custard and meringue -- and each layer has its unique challenges. Will the crust be too tough? Will it leak? Will the custard set up properly? Will the meringue be firm enough to slice without getting all hard and crumbly?
I had not made a pastry crust in quite a while and it took some time to get my confidence up. It took a couple extra mils of water to get the crust to stick together, but it rolled and shaped well, even if it did puff up a little while baking. My happy pie weights didn't do a complete job this time. Next time I'll bake it a little longer with the weights and make the flutes a little higher since the dough shrunk back quite a bit while baking.
The custard was a lot of fun to make. It thickened up quickly and the flavour was spot on. There was a little extra which I kept in a bowl to test how it set up.
The meringue also went really well, I thought. I don't really know my soft peaks from my firm peaks but it seemed to work find and looked gorgeous before and after baking.
After waiting a loooong 2 1/2 hours for the pie to cool (and Cindy and Robyn to get home from hockey) we dug in. I was stunned that a pie which looked so beautiful had so many problems! Tough crust, runny custard and a meringue that didn't stay together.
I did a little internet research and have a couple ideas as to what to do next time:
crust: Use a little more water early so I don't have to work it so much. Use the pie weights for another 5 minutes or so when baking. I might even go to my traditional pastry crust with shortening for some added flakiness.
custard: chill the pie prior to slicing so it sets up more.
meringue: top the pie while the custard is hot so the bottom of the meringue bakes well. Possibly beat the meringue a little stiffer too; I may have only had medium peaks after all.
In the end the pie tasted really good, even if it didn't look the best. I had enough ingredients to make another pie but life took over and even though my Daring Baker pie was made on January 5 I haven't had the time for another attempt. Maybe in March.
Thanks to the folks at Daring Bakers for the challenge -- I'm looking forward to February already!