Thursday, December 24, 2020

Grandma's Lemon Pie

You know that episode of FRIENDS where Phoebe reminisces about her great-grandmother's secret chocolate chip cookie recipe, and Monica takes it upon herself to try to recreate said recipe, testing different batters for hours, until finally realizing Phoebe's great-grandma's "secret recipe" is the Nestlé Tollhouse cookie recipe found on the bag of chocolate chips?

Yeah, that's kind of what this is.

My grandma made a delicious lemon meringue pie, with a twist. The crust was meringue, the filling a whipped lemon delight covered in whipped cream; the dessert was gluten free and freaking amazing. I'm not sure if she made it especially for us because we had celiac or if it was always in her repertoire, but either way, she never failed to make it when she saw us. I remember eating it for breakfast after spending the night as little kids, and she always made it when we came to visit as adults.

It's a recipe I often asked for, but she told me she didn't have it written down anywhere. Eventually, I turned to google, only to discover that it's basically what Martha Stewart calls an "upside-down lemon meringue pie", or an Angel Pie.

Grandma in 2015; me in 2019.
This may not be an original family recipe, but I will always associate it with my grandma, who passed away in November 2019, and I intend to make it every year in her memory.

Each time I make it, I can't help but comment on the fact that it really only has four ingredients, but a LOT of each: lemons, sugar, eggs, and heavy cream. 

This pie is incredibly light and delicate, a little tart and very sweet. It's the perfect treat after a heavy holiday meal.

This year, I thought I'd share the recipe.

Tip: to quickly bring eggs up to room temperature, submerge them in warm water for 10-15 minutes. They separate more easily when warm, too. 2021 note: try 5 whites for a thicker crust.

This recipe is completed in four big steps and is pretty time-intensive, but there's lots of waiting around between steps — including an overnight rest in the fridge — so it's not overwhelming. Plan ahead!

  • Preheat your oven to 300°F. Make sure your rack is placed in the center of the oven.
  • In a stand mixer, beat 4 egg whites until frothy. Add 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks begin to form.
  • Slowly add 1 cup of sugar until thick, glossy peaks have formed.
  • Butter your pie plate. Then, fill it with your meringue. Smooth the meringue up the sides of the dish, but don't cover the edge.
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, then allow to cool in the oven for 1 hour. After an hour, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
  • Your meringue will rise out of the pie plate as it bakes before collapsing in on itself. This can be disconcerting the first time you make it! It will also crack. That's fine. The more slowly it cools, the less likely it will be to crack, but the collapsing bit is necessary.
That rise, baby!
This plays tricks on your eyes, but there is a giant crater in the middle, I swear.
Filling Part 1. I complete this step while my crust is in the oven. By the time the crust is cooled, the curd will be ready to use as well.
  • First, you'll make a lemon curd. To do this, zest and juice 2-3 lemons until you have 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp lemon juice and 3 tbsp zest. Set aside about 1/2 tbsp of zest for garnish.
  • Whisk your room-temperature egg yolks in a cold saucepan (as in, do this off the heat) until they thicken and turn a lighter yellow, about 2 minutes.
Matt helped!
  • Whisk in 1 cup of sugar, your lemon juice, and 2.5 tbsp lemon zest. (I sometimes add more zest because I like a very lemony curd.)
  • Over medium heat, cook the yolk mixture while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot. BE CAREFUL. If the curd burns, your pie will be ruined.
I've done this with a rubber spatula before and the wooden spoon actually makes a huge difference.
  • When the mixture is thickened (about 10 minutes), pour it into a large mixing bowl and press a piece of cling wrap to the surface. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, until completely cooled.
Filling Part 2. Do not do this step until both the curd and pie crust are completely cooled.
  • Fluff up your curd a bit. I just use a spatula for this.
I highly recommend you give this a taste because YUM.
  • In a stand mixer, whip 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
  • Gently fold the unsweetened whipped cream into the curd, working in batches. Don't stir or over-mix, but make sure everything is homogenous and no yellow or white streaks remain.
So streaky!
Much better!
  • Pour the filling into the meringue crust. The crust will look woefully under-filled; that's okay. 
  • Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Topping. To be completed the next day.
  • Whip 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tbsp white sugar until desired whipped cream texture forms. (The original recipe calls for soft peaks but I like a slightly denser topping. Avoid accidentally making butter.)
  • Note: The crust and filling are very sugary, so a lightly-sweet topping is preferred, but if you have a family with an intense sweet tooth — like mine — you can add more sugar to the whipped cream. I use 2 tbsp sugar instead of 1. You've been warned, though. It's a SWEET pie.
  • Smooth the whipped topping over the pie, covering the lemon filling. Sprinkle a bit of your reserved lemon zest overtop to complete.
Perfection! This may be the best I've ever done, because I started it early and was able to take my time.
I like to start this pie two days before I plan to serve it. That way, the curd and filling has plenty of time to set, and I'm not rushing to make whipped cream the day of.
Another year, a different place, the same tradition.
This pie is always a huge hit, and is probably my favorite to serve because it's always so well received.

I know this post will go up after Hanukkah and Christmas, but who said you need a holiday as an excuse to bake a pie? There's nothing stopping you from whipping this up anytime, especially while we're all still trying to find ways to stay entertained during quarantine. 


1 comment:

  1. Just a beautiful pie and tradition! Grandma had her own recipe for lemon meringue pie, which was SO good! She traded out her lovely flaky crust for a meringue crust when you girls developed celiac. No shade toward Martha, but she was not the inventor! Your grandma was the best cook and baker.