Monday, January 28, 2008

Of Dessert Choices and Dark Horses, or, Live and Let Lemon

It’s been said many times that people who eat dessert fall into one of two categories. Either they love chocolate, or they’re drawn to lemon. I don’t like to limit myself when it comes to dessert, and hold no prejudices against any sweet (except coconut, which I hate more than wet socks). But if I had to make a Sophie’s choice about which I preferred, lemon or chocolate, I’d have to go with chocolate. Seldom does anybody eat a slice of chocolate cake and think, Hmm, I could really go for some lemon right about now. Chocolate is the meal’s coda. After it, you gather up your coat and make for the exit.

My mom, not a big fan of sweets, loves lemon meringue pie, and Z. disclosed that, back in the day, if LMP was on the menu, he’d order it rather than, say, banana cream pie. Knowing this, I’d wanted to try baking LMP for some time. I’d attempted it once, for Thanksgiving, and wound up with a meringue island floating in the middle of a sea of lemony glop. Not exactly what I was shooting for. Thus, my pleasure at learning the January DBC was LMP. (Wow, I’m starting to sound like a programmer with all these TLA [three letter acronyms].)

Ami Silber-Not Scrambled Eggs

First up, the crust. When making crusts, I typically stay with Ken Haedrich’s recipe from his book Pie, but have experimented here and there with other recipes, including King Arthur Flour Bakers Companion, Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my Home to Yours, and Nancy Baggett's All American Dessert Book. None of them was so remarkable or unsuccessful that I vowed it would either be my crust recipe for all eternity nor would I shun it. I do like pie a lot, but sometimes the crust merely serves as a container and minor textural counterpoint to the filling. The noteworthy thing about the crust recipe for the DBC was that it calls for exclusively butter, not the more common combination of butter and shortening. It came together quickly in the food processor, then it chilled, and I rolled it out. Right away, I saw that I’d have more crust than necessary, but not enough left over for a whole other full-sized crust. So I was able to roll it thicker than usual, plus I took the spare dough and made a tiny, free-form crostata of raspberry jam with demara sugar sprinkled on the top edges. (Sorry, no photos of the crostata. Z. and I wolfed it down within minutes of it coming out of the oven.) The dough handled well, also. No tearing or other tantrum-inducing misbehavior. But I got nervous when, after pulling it from the oven to complete the blind-baking, there were little puddles of melted butter on the bottom of the crust. I wound up baking it about ten to fifteen minutes longer than the recipe called for just to ensure a good, golden crust. The butter puddles disappeared and everything seemed dandy.

Filling came next. Holy bejesus, was that sucker thick! The mixture of water, sugar and cornstarch set up quickly, then I added the yolks. I actually wound up bending the tines on my whisk because it was so thick. I decreased the lemon juice to half a cup rather than the three quarters of a cup that the recipe stipulated. I almost didn’t add the vanilla, but it needed the warm sweetness to temper the acidity. Into the crust with ye!

Act three was the meringue. Again, no trouble putting it together, though I wondered whether a cooked Italian meringue might work better so that I might only need to brown it with my kitchen torch and not overcook the whole pie. But I didn’t want to deviate from the recipe, so an uncooked meringue went onto the pie and back into the oven. It browned up beautifully, and I set it out to cool.

Ami Silber-What Lurks Within

As it cooled, the meringue did shrink back from the sides a bit, but not nearly to the terrifying degree of my earlier LMP attempt. Having read other DB posts regarding this challenge, I was concerned about the filling. Many noted that it was watery when sliced. And, lo, when I did slice into the pie, it released a gush of liquid. But the filling was actually set—the mystery liquid having originated from someplace no one at the table could identify. I sopped up the liquid, and Z., his mom and I discovered that the pie was, in fact, delicious. The filling tart, but not punitively so. The meringue ethereal, not rubbery. The real surprise hero, however, was the crust. Since I was able to roll it a little thicker than usual, it took on the delightful properties of a shortbread cookie. In the future, I may use this recipe when baking pies. Let’s give it up for the dark horse crust!

Ami Silber-Lake Lemon

Leftovers did quite well. The crust didn’t get soggy, and, after the initial gush of mystery liquid when first slicing the pie, it didn’t show up again. The lemon filling broke a little bit, but hardly enough to deter Z. and I from polishing off the rest of the pie.

Am I going to make LMP again? Probably not. I satisfied my curiosity and was able to cross it off of my challenge list. I may attempt, at some point, the impressive-looking lemon meringue cake from Elizabeth Prueitt's Tartine cookbook, but, until then, there’s too many other recipes to try, both chocolate and lemon.

Your servant,
Ami S.


Lis said...

Well I already e-mailed you with this, but I gotta tell you again even after reading it a 2nd time, I'm giggling over here! Love this post! Your pie is beautiful. :D

Your photos are fab too.. you guys need to be teaching me how to photograph my food! :)

Can't wait for next month!

Kelly said...

I agree Ami, I'm a chocolate girl first and foremost but the LMP was good in its own way. Love your story on the pie making. I have to admit that the dark horse for me was the lemon curd and not the crust. I tend to like a flakier crust. Crossing our fingers for a chocolatey February challenge!

Susan said...

I'm glad your dark horse crust turned out to be a hero. Lovely pie!

breadchick said...

That lemon curd was stiff wasn't it! Nice job on your challenge this month.

Sheltie Girl said...

You did a wonderful job on your pie and I loved your storytelling. I'm a chocolate girl too...

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

Dolores said...

Ami my dear, you have a wonderful way of spinning a story. Thanks for sharing your experience with the LMP DBC. And keep those TLA's coming. :)

Jasmine said...

Hadn't heard of the choco-lemon divide before. I believe I'm one of those who can go either way.

Really like how the placemat sets off the lemon yellow in the pie...


Princess of the kitchen said...

Great pie. Good job!

Sandicita said...

I'm glad your crust turned out. I tried mine twice and both times it was hard as a rock. Any pointers?

Aparna said...

Lovely LMP and a nice write-up. My pie also seeped a bit on the first slice. I just drained it off. After that it would shed a few tears with every slice but no major problems.