DB#15 or Some Things are not for Granted

I was born in a land where lemon trees grow on their own. Everybody there has a relative, a friend or a neighbor with a lemon tree in the backyard. My parents have a beautiful exemplar that every year gives us tons of sweet bright yellow lemons. They still live in sunny Alentejo (in south Portugal), I live in Lisbon (centre) and my brother moved to the north of the country a while back. Last month, we were chatting on the phone and he said in a shocked tone: you'll never believe what I bought today... Oh well, try me, I said. A lemon - he almost shouted. I bought a lemon! At the time, I laughed out loud but now thinking about it, I don't remember buying lemons myself - I always get them from my parents and keep them through out the year.

Two months ago, I read about the Daring Bakers and couldn't resist to such a funny concept - one single recipe, many bakers, so different results. Yes, I joined the group. Why? Because I want to learn. And I want to be challenged - I want to be taken from my comfort zone! And I would be lying if I didn't say I've joined for the fun - hell yes, girls (and a few talented gentlemen) just want to have fun!

Overly excited about the stunning (and difficult) Yule Log baked for Christmas by the DBs, I was looking forward to my first challenge. I couldn't stop thinking of what recipe our hostess Jen, from The Canadian Baker, would choose. When I read Lemon Meringue Pie, I immediately thought: Piece of cake! Having tons of lemons to use when they're in season, I've made more Lemon Curd jars in my lifetime then I remember and baked LMP at least a few dozen times. In fact, I had just baked a LMP for new year eve when I read about Daring Bakers January challenge. The recipe was quite different from the ones I tried over the years - Alice Waters' recipe being my all time favourite - and when fellow DB reported runny fillings and a few difficulties about the crust and the meringue, I was a little worried but still pretty confident. I did my homework, took notes about hints given by experienced DBs, checked a few measurement conversions to my metric minded self and got to work.

Lemon Meringue Pie
from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie or 6 tartlets

For the Crust:
175 grs - 3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
250 grs - 2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
50 grs - 1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
200 grs - 1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
60 grs - 1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
60 grs - 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
150 grs - 3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

And now you ask: was it runny?

Unfortunately yes, as you can see, but I may have an explanation.

My thoughts on the challenge
- The crust is great! It's crunchy, tasty and very easy to work. I used a food processor to mix ingredients, careful not to over work it - when rolling out the dough it was just perfect. I'll use it in the future for other pies as well, as it's much simpler to make then my usual recipe.
- The reason why the filling was a bit runny is probably because I undercooked it. After reading a lot about cornstarch thickening point and how overcook it would reverse that ability, I think I was too careful not allowing the cornstarch mixture to boil - it probably needed a little more heat... Lesson here: do not try too hard and trust your culinary instincts!!
- The meringue was a nice surprise. I used medium eggs (the recipe doesn't provide any orientation about size) and the same quantity of vinegar instead of cream of tartar (which I couldn't find). It was a nice meringue, with the right sweetness for my taste.
- My overall feeling is that this recipe gives a tangy filling, the meringue is very nice (not too sweet) and the short-crust makes a perfect bottom for the pie.

Will I try this recipe again? Yes, because I'm stubborn! I need to understand what I've done wrong. (Will post the update asap) Would I recommend it? It's a fine recipe once the little details come together. I wouldn't recommend it above Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food lemon curd recipe but as said the crust and the meringue worked fine for me.

I'm a Daring Baker. A Daring Baker!! Hoo-ray!


Pixie said...

Despite it being slightly runny, your pie looks fabulous. Well done, for your first challenge!

sunita said...

I agree with pixie...inspite of everything, your pie looks great...welcome to the group :-)

Aparna said...

Suzana, I am a new DB just like you but have never made a LMP before this.
Your pie looks real good. Lots of us had a little liquid escaping from our pies, anyway.
Btw, I stayed in Portugal for about 2 months five years ago. At Aveiro.

culinography said...

Wonderful first challenge, Suzana! Your pie looks yummy! I'll be interested to see if you have better luck with your second attempt than I did... and, if you do, what you did differently! :)

Jenny said...

Great job! This was a fun challenge. I love the look of the free form pies, I'll have to try those sometime!

Madam Chow said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers! I think you may be right about why your curd was runny - you have to boil it briefly to develop the cornstarch's thickening properties, but not so long that they break down. I just discovered your blog and it's lovely.

Dhanggit said...

oh what a gorgeous job you've done here!!i love the photos...i could virtually eat em..:-)

Susan said...

Runny or not, they look great! Welcome to Daring Bakers.

bbaking said...

aah maybe undercooking was what I did wrong too?
The pies look great!

aamena said...

hey thats so cool.. i think we must have used home grown lemons like once or twice.. they just dont grow at our place :( and welcome to the daring bakers.. am a newbie too.. joined in december!

Joey Biscotti said...

ours was runny after slicing, too... Looks great!!! I miss the lemon tree in my parents backyard back in San Francisco...

chou said...

Beautiful pie, and great write up. I really like your "thoughts on the challenge" section.

Ann said...

They might be runny, but they look lovely!

Tarah said...

My was running as well. You pies look so cute and adorable! Wonderful job!

Dagmar - A Cat in the Kitchen said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers and congrats on your first challenge. How lucky you are to receive lemons from people growing them!

Tablebread said...

Who cares if it was runny! You had a blast making it and that's what we Daring Bakers are all about! :)

Katy said...

really beautiful -- and i'm not surprised at all that alice waters has the best recipe! she is truly amazing. :-)

bbaking said...

I WILL join the runny filling support group!

My name is Beverly and I make runny pie! booohooo!


Brilynn said...

I'm so jealous of anyone who has a lemon tree in their backyard!

I thought it was so weird the first time I bought a zucchini as when I lived at home they always overtook the garden in the summer and we couldn't give them away fast enough.

CB said...

Awesome job! I love the insight about the runny filling. I might have to attempt mine again too.

LP said...

Just wonderful looking, so rustic and delectable!

DK said...

Your pie luks amazing even with the runny filling! But it must have been an awesome feeling to make something which u have been making for a long time as your first challenge :) welcome to the crazy world of DBer's :)

Jessica said...

Looked great!
Thanks for visiting my blog!

Angel said...

A friend warned me about cooking the curd long enough; so i made sure to cook mine and the curd set up perfect. Although Your pie looks so fantastic I don't see it as much of a draw back.
Definitely a delectable success.

Sweet and Savory Eats said...

Congratulations on completing your first challenge. Even though it was a bit runny, your pie looked great.

Peabody said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers. Great job on your first challenge. No worries about the runny filling.

Rachel said...

Fabulous on the first challenge...forget the runny filling!!

Maryann said...

Congrats on your first challenge. Whew! It's over! haha

Mindy said...

Your toasty meringue looks wonderful!

Kim Stone said...

Congrats on your first DB Challenge. Your pie is wonderful. I do have to say I envy you with all the lemons.

Deborah said...

It still looks wonderful, even though it was a little runny! Great job!

Andrea said...

Wonderful job on the challenge! Your tarts look beautiful. And I am so envious that you can get lemons straight off the tree!

Lane said...

My first challenge wasn't what I'd hoped for either, but the stubborn "I'll try it again" attitude is what makes us daring bakers!
I had to laugh at the "I bought a lemon" story. I too live in an area when lemons are abundant. But my tree doesn't always produce (it seems like we get a huge crop every 1.5 years). Unfortunately, I don't have any now, and they're up to $1 in the grocery store. To put that in perspective, last year you could buy 3 for $1.
Anyway, keep on baking!
Jane of VeganBits.com

joey said...

Congratulations on your first challenge! Very well done :) Your tarts look lovely and I can't tell that you had any problems...although I also experienced that runny filling...

How lucky you are to have a supply of free lemons!

Miss Ifi said...

I love your story, I used to have a lemon tree too when I was little, now that I live in Canada I have to buy lemons, but they are never as delicious as the one from my tree.
Congratulations on your first challenge and welcome to the DARING BAKERS!!!

Cris said...

Hey Suzana!!! Congratulations on your first challenge as a Daring Baker! This recipe sounds sooo good!

Dolores said...

Yep, I grew up (in Northern California) with a trio of Meyer lemon trees lining the front of the house... I didn't purchase a lemon until I was well into my thirties, and couldn't believe how much they cost.

Congratulations on your first challenge and welcome. Great job with your tarts...even if the curd didn't meet your expectations.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Congrats on your first DB challenge! I think you did a great job!

Quellia said...

Well done Daring Baker!
No matter the results of what you made, if you learned something then you had a successful challenge.

Lunch Buckets said...

I loved the crust too - think I'll stick with tried and true for the curd though - guess I'm just not that determined!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Suzana: You are a Daring Baker and with the perfect spirit and all the right reasons!
Your pies all look beautiful!
Incredible how we had such different experiences with this one.

Claire said...

Your meringue is just beautiful! So glad you've joined. Hope your next pie is just the way you want it.

creampuff said...

Congratulations on your first challenge! You did a great job!