Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sweet successes and tart failures

After last month’s challenge, which I sat out due to total disorganization (I did the challenge but never got around to posting about it), I was excited to get back into the swing of things. I was thrilled by the prospect of this month’s challenge because a) I love lemon-flavored anything, b) I’ve had some meringue disasters in the past and was happy to build some skills in that area, and c) my sister and her boyfriend were visiting so I had some helpers who really like lemon meringue pie. Since it was just the three of us, I decided to make the tartlets and to do half the recipe (except I didn’t do half eggs because I figured half an extra yolk in the curd and half an extra white in the meringue wouldn’t even be noticed). I started with the crust, which was VERY easy to make in the food processor. Here it is after being baking (yes… sadly, my tarts got a tad too golden):
The curd was also very easy to make. I had worked with tempering egg yolks before, so I avoided any scrambled egg fiascos and ended up with delicious curd. The only issue I had in this step was an error in timing. I made the curd while the dough was chilling the first time, not noticing how much longer I had before the crusts would be read. My curd ended up sitting around for a while and was totally cool and VERY thick by the time I assembled the tartlets.

For the meringue, I made sure my whites were at room temperature and the mixer did the rest. My meringue turned out very stable and thick, perfect for piping.

After reading some suggestions from other DBers, I decided to not to re-bake my tartlets. Instead, I used my kitchen torch to toast the meringue to avoid making the lemon curd too liquid.
The final result was beautiful: toasty but firm, with beautiful ridges and nooks.
Audience/My response (Success, then failure):
We all thought the meringue and lemon curd were DELICIOUS but found the crust to be way too hard… so hard that it was difficult to eat. I’m not sure if this was because I over-baked it or because the curd was fully cooled when I spooned it on or because I torched rather than baked the tartlets the second time. I also had a sinking suspicion that my math was off and I had used the full quantity of sugar rather than just half. Overall, the flavor was good and they were easy to make, so I decided to try them again. This time, I think I got too cocky because the tarts were a total failure! The crusts were again very hard (despite baking them for a shorter time and making sure I really did half of the ingredients), and the meringue was too soft (I didn’t wait for the whites to be at room temperature). I also realized that I didn’t have nearly enough lemons to make the curd so I decided to use a jar of lemon curd I had in my pantry. However, when I opened it, it became perfectly clear that it was way past its time (it smelled like goat cheese, which I like but seemed wrong for the curd). In the end, I had to scrap the whole thing. I tried to salvage the meringue by baking it into suspiros (Ecuadorian baked meringues like the mushrooms from last month’s challenge- the name means sighs) but they turned out super-chewy and had to be tossed too. Sad!

What I learned/practiced:

1) Just because a recipe turns out once doesn’t mean it will be perfect every time, especially when you get careless!

2) The temperature of the egg whites is basic to making meringue. Waiting for the whites to get to room temperature may be a pain but it’s the only way for the meringue to get to the right consistency.

3) The sequence and timing of a multi-component recipe is very important. This is something I really struggle with in all of my cooking. I tend to just make things without looking at how long each component will take and end up with some things overcooked or cold before everything is ready. Clearly, the curd should be made while the crust is baking, not an hour before.

4) Dividing an egg yolk or white in half is a pain and pointless, as putting in the extra half made absolutely no difference in either the curd or meringue. This may not be true for cakes and baked stuff, but for custards and such, I won’t bother with half eggs in the future.

The final verdict:
Overall, I think lemon meringue pie is yummy, easy enough, and very impressive (especially if you torch it table-side!) so I will definitely be making it again. I really loved this lemon curd recipe. It’s definitely a keeper. The meringue is pretty standard, although I did learn my lesson about how to make it properly. The crust, however, was a disappointment and I’ll have to find another recipe for it that is much more tender.

Before I end, I just want to thank my sister for her wonderful photographic assistance. I also want to (shamelessly) sneak in a couple of pictures from my Yule Log, since it was a TON of work and I never got to post about it. Also, I thought it came out beautiful. It was hazelnut-flavored with marzipan holly decorations.


Kelly said...

I love being part of the DBers for the things I learn from trying new recipes and from what others experience as well. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned! Your tarts have a great whimsical look and your yule log is beautiful.

Sagari said...

beautiful pies

Marisa said...

looking great!!

chou said...

I really like your "what I learned" section--that truly moves the experience from just for fun to a "this will make my baking better, by golly!" moment. ;)

Dolores said...

I love the artistic way that you piped the meringue. And I appreciate the time you took to explain the lessons you learned... that's such a key part of the process. Great job!

Aparna said...

I have to say that while it is a disappointment when things don't turn out right, its the one way of learning. And anyway,practise will make perfect pies:)
I love your spirit, so that's what being a DB is all about, I think.

Quellia said...

Your tarts look very nice, so it is too bad to hear they weren't to your liking!
PS Nice log!

Lis said...

Awww loverly lil tartlets! I like the ziggles and zaggles of the meringue all toasty golden brown. Next time I'm going to make tartlets too!

And that log? Beauteous! I'm glad you got to make it.. did you like it?