11 March 2008
Upside Down Lemon Meringue Pie
The Pi Day Challenge
Pi Day. 3.14. Okay, I get it! Let's make pie to celebrate that day of the year that most closely resembles Pi, numerically speaking. My friend, Alanna at Kitchen Parade, is sponsoring just such a Pi Day Event. Fun! It is all about understanding the chemistry of pie crust, the secret of the circle, part baking magic and part scientific equation. The challenge is to make pie crust and post about it.
Sounds interesting. I think the idea of Pi Day is a bit like my life. Quirky, a little bit funny, of two minds. Like my family, it is about math and baking being joined in blissful accord. It is about the collaboration of numbers and words, of equations and creativity.
My marriage is like that, the conjunction of engineer and writer. My husband’s mind is full of numbers and their relationship to one another. He builds thoughts, constructs ideas and makes plans with numbers. My mind, on the other hand, is full of words, the nuance of their relationships and the way they interact.
I am like that too. I love the science of cooking, the precision, the formula, yet I am also drawn to the creative aspects of the kitchen, to new taste combinations and artisitic presentation.
So Pi Day made me smile and also captured my imagination. Not only did I like the word play, but it was a worthy challenge. I don’t make pie crust. I’m not even sure I want to make pie crust. Yet I appreciate a good pie crust and I am curious to discover what it is all about, what creates the magic.
After a few preliminary efforts at understanding the mystery of pie pastry (read: burned, botched and/or shrunken pastry shells) I decided it was best to start the week slowly and work my way into the Pi groove. First I made a playlist with some favorite Pi or pie related songs to set just the right mood for creating kitchen chemistry.
Then, to build confidence, I set out to make a pie crust that I was pretty sure would turn out as expected. I have worked with meringue before and felt good about trying this variation of a pie shell. With Pi tunes playing on my iHome, the sun shining outside my window and friends coming over after lunch, conditions were right to experiment with a new dessert idea.
This recipe makes a relatively simple crust, that is delicate and easy to break but is also light and goes good with pudding, mousse, fresh berry or ice cream fillings. I chose a lemon filling with the idea of making an upside down version of Lemon Meringue Pie. The meringue crust has a pleasing crunch and the nuts and crumbs add interest to the smooth lemon filling.
Upside Down Lemon Meringue Pie
(adapted from “Aunt Bee’s Delightful Desserts” by Ken Beck and Jim Clark)
3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice or vanilla
½ cup chopped toasted nuts
10 saltine crackers, loosely crumbled
Beat eggs whites with salt and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until peaks are stiff. Fold in saltines and chopped nuts.
Spread meringue mixture in a well greased 9-inch pie plate, shaping it as a pie shell with the sides mounded higher than the middle.
Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.
(from “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Step-By-Step Cookbook”)
1½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour
dash of salt
1½ cups water
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
1/3 cup lemon juice
Mix sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt in a medium saucepan, stirring well so that ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add water gradually stirring until all ingredients are well mixed.
Cook mixture over medium high heat until thick and bubbling across the entire surface, stirring constantly, then cook and stir for another 2 minutes.
Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks. Gradually pour 1 cup of the cooked mixture into the egg yolks, stirring constantly. Immediately pour the yolk mixture back into the cooked mixture remaining in the saucepan and cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly.
Gradually stir in lemon juice until well combined.
Turn filling into prepared pie shell.
Cool and refrigerate.
Serve topped with whipped cream.
Garnish with crushed lemon candies or grated lemon peel if desired. Enjoy!
Note: I found this lemon filling to be very sweet. Next time I will try reducing the amount of sugar and or increasing the amount of lemon juice, to make it more tart, and see how that turns out.