Unrecipe: Lemon Meringue Pie or How Not to Make a Lemon Meringue Pie

Yes, unrecipe. I realize this is not a word, but in giving a lemon meringue pie recipe, I want to describe chiefly what NOT to do.  Also, because (as you may have guessed) my foray into the world of lemon meringue was ill-fated and so the recipe did not actually get completed.  This is not due the recipe itself but moreso because sometimes I am an idiot. So here are the following steps on how not to make a lemon meringue pie, followed by the correct way.

1. When cheating on making a pie crust (which I do frequently: Whole Foods has an incredible crust for $4 that tastes homemade) DO NOT just thoughtlessly chuck the crust into the oven to bake it.  The middle will rise up like a hot air balloon and you will be left with a slimy, depleted, pathetic-looking crust.  In desperation I tried to pull up the sides of the crust (which had oozed down the sides to rest in a pool in the middle of the pan), but to no avail.  An emergency call to my husband, Philip, who was at Safeway resulted in a new, albeit inferior, frozen crust (Safeway brand), with which to start again.  Reading the directions on the back, I realized my error the first time around: prick the damn crusts with a fork so that the steam can escape; this will prevent the hot air balloon effect.

2. The next step after fixing the pie crust is to make the lemon custard.  This went reasonably well.  You mix 5tbsp cornstarch with 1 1/4 cups of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of water in a saucepan.  Next you whisk in 5 egg yolks and whisk constantly over low heat for 5 minutes.  Then up the heat to medium, and continue whisking for 5 more minutes.  You will see when the batter suddenly changes and becomes quite thick, smooth, and glossy.  This needs to be strained through a sieve.  Then you stir in a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 tbsp lemon zest, and 2 tbsp butter.  This mixture you pour straight into the pie shell.

This next part is critical in not ruining your beloved pie: do NOT put the pie in the oven!  Nowhere in the recipe does it say to do this and under no circumstances should you believe this to be a good idea.  It is not.  Last Sunday however, the pie went into the oven for 15 minutes, while I happily cleaned up my mess, in anticipation of making the meringue.  The timer went off and I looked in the oven: the pie looked a bit like a yellow swamp, with eggy lily pads floating on top of a murky pond.  I quickly scanned the recipe for instructions on when to take the pie out of the oven.  To my horror I of course quickly realized my error.  In a panic I yanked the pie out of the oven and stared at it, willing it to cool down and just be ok.  After it had cooled enough, I put it into the fridge, in a last ditch effort to reverse the damage.

While I waited for the pie to go back in time about 20 minutes before the oven incident, I calmly prepared the ingredients for the meringue portion of the recipe, which we would take over to our friends’ apartment and finish there (the pie was to be the pièce de résistance at our friends’ Oscars party).  An hour later, Philip and I looked at the pie.  A miracle had occurred! It had thickened up and was no longer swamp-like! I couldn’t believe our good fortune!  We decided a nap would be the best way to celebrate.

Upon waking we packed up for the 15-minute walk to the party.  On the way over Philip noticed that ominously, something was dripping down my leg.  Since I was carrying the pie, we both knew this did not bode well.  He took over carrying the drippy swamp pie and I tried to suck lemon curd out of my mittens.  We arrived at the party, immediately apologizing for the state of our dessert, but thought that we might just get away with a mediocre lemon meringue pie this time around.

The final, critical step in not f-ing up a lemon meringue pie:  when planning on making meringue in your friends’ kitchen, it is essential that you do not forget your egg whites.  When Philip and I got up to go make the meringue, the realization that our egg whites were sitting forgotten in our fridge made my stomach sink.  Our friends had made devilled eggs as an appetizer for the evening and I knew straight away that borrowing 5 eggs was not going to be possible.  The only solution? Serve meringue-less, leaky lemon curd pie.  As we cut into it, a yellow yolky goo oozed out.  Appetizing.  We served it anyway.  Everyone made polite remarks like, “It’s not that bad!” “I think it’s delicious!” but I will say with the utmost confidence that it was that bad and it was not delicious.

In the interest of actually keeping this post somewhat reminiscent of a recipe, here’s how I would have made the meringue, had I remembered the critical ingredient of egg whites:

Whip 5 egg whites with 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar, until foamy.  While whipping, gradually pour in 5 tbsp of sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.  Whisk in 1 tbsp of cornstarch and spoon this mixture onto top of pie.  Bake pie for 10 minutes at 350F.  Consume.

I have no doubt this would have been delicious, as the recipe is from my favourite dessert cookbook, Sugar.  If I actually get up the courage to try this pie again, I will post an update and let you know how it was.

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One thought on “Unrecipe: Lemon Meringue Pie or How Not to Make a Lemon Meringue Pie

  1. Diane says:

    Very funny! Lemon meringue was your Grandma’s favorite and it is not easy to make.

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