Monday, September 27, 2010

When Lemon Meringue Goes Bad

I got into a baking mode yesterday.  Sundays tend to be and I find it a great outlet for my creativity when I settle in and bake something special.

It started with us buying a package of 6 ready made graham cracker crust pie shells a couple weeks back.  That means that either I learn to love Graham Crackers or I make six pies. 

A pie in a ready made shell is trivially easy to make.  You can go the route with the boxed pudding or canned fruit and prepare.   Chill and set and you're done.

On the other hand, if you really want to do it right, you need to learn how to make the filling yourself. 

I used to do this frequently back in the 80s.  I had a recipe for a Key Lime Pie from scratch.  I secretly ignored the pie crust instructions, prepared the filling mixture and meringue and popped it into the oven.  I remember those pies were usually a masterpiece of taste.  Toasted meringue, creamy and tart key lime filling served cold after chilling.  They never went bad in the refrigerator because my friends and I would tear into them.  Through a couple moves and a couple decades, I kept the recipe.   It is here in the house... I just can't seem to find it.

I need to.

Yesterday I attempted a new recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie.  This one was from Alton Brown on the Food Channel.  Great, I've done his recipes before and they always turn out fine if you follow things literally at least the first time. 

Lemon Meringue is similar to but distinct from Key Lime.  This recipe is different from what I'm used to since you are using corn starch to thicken a water and sugar mix then adding in the lemon juice and zest.  He says bring it to a boil.  I thought I *had* brought it to a boil, and not being familiar with the recipe, mixed the mess back together, added my lemon juice and then poured it all into the crust.  It will thicken up and set, right?

Lemon Meringue pie filling is a gel.  It is translucent and bright yellow.  It looks bright and almost artificial when you get it in a store and I assumed that they used food coloring.  After making this recipe, I realize all that is natural.  The color comes from the egg yolk and the lemon juice.  The base gel is off white, even grey and translucent.  Add the egg and juice and it turns brilliant yellow.

It also requires that you cook it fully.   Partly from Salmonella since you're making something from eggs, but mostly because the gel that you're making won't set off of the heat.

While the lemon and egg mix was sitting on the stove, I turned around and turned on the big mixer to raise the meringue.  The meringue recipe was much less sweet than I am used to which is not necessarily a problem.  It raised beautifully, if a bit too firm.  That comes from not watching what you're doing.

There's the problem right there.  When you are cooking, pay attention.  Don't take shortcuts when you are doing it the first time.  I got cocky and ended up with Lemon Pudding with a meringue floating on top.

We had a third of it last night, and it was quite tasty, but needed to be in a bowl.  I'm too stubborn to waste food, so it will get eaten.  

With a spoon.

At least the Chocolate Chip Pecan cookies I made turned out perfect.  That was from the home churned butter and cookie recipe I made a while back and left one pound of mix in the freezer.  How can you go wrong with Slice And Bake when the batter is home made?  

If you leave the dough in the freezer long enough, it ends up getting freezer burned, that's how.

I guess this weekend was more cleaning out the freezer than making wonderful treats, but at least I can try again.  Next time I promise to pay attention...  I'll most likely have to make up some of those cookies again.  A Batch makes around 100 cookies, 5 pounds of dough, and it also makes for some very happy folks when I show up with plates of them at a pot luck party.

Now, lets see... how much butter do I have in the refrigerator...

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