Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Unfortunate Lemon Meringue Dam Buster - Or 'Darling I Knew That Filling Was Too Sloppy'

I knew that filling was too sloppy, so why did I choose to pour it into my lovingly prepared, gluten free, blind baked, pastry case? Why did I choose to undertake my Daring Bakers Challenge on Nick's Birthday, on Fin's first day back at school, when I had a million and one other things on my mind? I guess you'll have to ask my therapist that question, because it beats me. I must secretly enjoy the breathless feeling of tumbling through a day, with a list in each hand, screaming, 'not now dear! I just have to do this one thing.....'

Back to the point. I give you dear readers an example of my humanity. As much as I would like you to believe me to be an infallible domestic goddess, I am not. The first step I'm told, is admitting it, so taking one day at a time, today I am not an infallible domestic goddess. Please say you still love me, tomorrow is a new day, I will bake again, just not today.

Anyway, our Daring Bakers challenge this month was Lemon Meringue Pie, that classic tooth rotter. The recipe comes from Wanda’s Pie in the Sky by Wanda Beaver (stop tittering, there's nothing amusing in that name), and you can find the original posted at The Canadian Baker by Jen , who hosted this month's challenge. 'Yay' shouted Nick and Fin in unison when they heard what was coming, and Nick proclaimed lemon meringue one of his favourite pies (actually I think he likes most of them, its pastry love). Thus fortified I set upon my task with enthusiasm. Pastry was made, rested and baked blind and waited patiently for the lemon curd. All good so far, tarts are a cinch aren't they?



Then came the filling, whisking a thick glue like mixture of cornstarch, sugar and water into which I added egg yolks, butter, lemon zest and juice and vanilla essence. Now I'm more of a fan of the Italian style filling which is just insanely lemony, with about twenty eggs and a kilo of lemons, or alternatively; the English style, which is more of an intense lemon custard with cream added to soothe the lemon bite. But this is the Daring Bakers Challenge and as much as one's fingers itch to depart from the printed recipe, it is not allowed and there is something comforting about following a recipe to the letter with no tampering. Still, I was having misgivings about this filling. It tasted good, but didn't really have the body I would like, and there was pints of the stuff oozing gelatinously and asking me what I was going to do with the leftovers.

I poured it into the shell and got on with the vanilla meringue, this time adjusting the recipe down to fit my 8" pie crust. The meringue grew thick, opaque and glossy, but in my warm kitchen, didn't quite want to go the last few feet to stiff peaks. I stretched the electric whisk cable as far as I could to open the kitchen window and whisked the night air into the meringue. Piling it carelessly onto the filling, I said a little prayer to the universe and hoped that the filling would somehow miraculously firm up in the oven. Yet I knew in my heart we were probably in for lemon soup with meringue islands. Hey Ho, I had Vietnamese Pho to make and my marrow bones had been boiling for three hours already, Fin needed supper and Nick would be home from work any minute for his birthday meal......................aaah



It browned quickly, was that a good thing? I'm not a big maker of meringue - it being basically pure sugar with a little egg thrown in; so I don't know how it's supposed to behave. I got it out after 25 minutes because it just didn't want to crisp any further. But it looked good and Fin jumped up and down with excitement to see such an outrageous desert emerge from the oven. He decided to cut out some rice paper letters to spell 'Nick' and plopped these on top of the meringue giving it a slightly unhinged look and crushing some of it in the process, and somehow coming away with a peice of meringue in his hand. No I don't know how that happened either.....



Because Fin really wanted a piece and the baby sitter was on the way already, I unmolded the pie as soon as it was lukewarm. One side of the pastry was drenched with lemon and looked decidedly unstable. I turned my back only for a minute and when I returned, the pie was breaking out of the shell and making a desperate bid for freedom. Fin ran up with a cup and caught the bits as they oozed over the edge of the cake stand, snuffling them up contentedly like a truffle pig. The only thing I could do was stem the flow with tin foil and scoop up a runny piece to offer Fin.

'Offer a piece to the baby sitter' said Nick, just before they arrived.

'Nick, I'd like to - but I don't think my pride could stand it'.



By the time we got back from the cinema the pie had set a little, so we tentatively cut a slice each from the side with still firm pastry, nestling a possibly unnecessary scoop of thick cream beside it. It was ok, a bit too sweet and nurseryish for me. But after a few drinks and a long film in a cold cinema we scooped it up happily and flopped into bed for a good night's sleep.

For other possibly more sucessful attempts at this recipe check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll where all my other merry daring baking chums are listed.