The Lemon Meringue Pie Test
If there were a Homemakers Award system with a Home Baking merit badge, lemon meringue pie would be the final exam. This diner dessert requires mastery of a flaky crust, no-fall meringue, and tempered egg filling. These elements must be managed in quick succession so that they come together for a final bake before sogging the crust. Then, the whole thing must chill before service just enough that beads of moisture do not form on the meringue. In my first sitting for the lemon meringue exam, I failed.
First, the sides of my all-butter crust slumped during the blind baking stage. I deduced that the oven was not hot enough. A second crust in a hotter oven retained its shape.
I read the recipe for the filling a half dozen times. The process starts by dissolving cornstarch and sugar into solution and then one tempers egg yolks into the pot. Off the heat, the recipe calls for adding lemon juice and butter before pouring it into the shell.
This all sounded a little fishy to me - every lemon meringue pie I've eaten tastes like the filling is lemon curd and this cornstarch solution isn't part of lemon curd. Yet I persisted. I emptied our cornstarch jar with just a little less than the recipe called for but the yolks tempered beautifully. I timed every step and poured the 'isn't-that-a-little-runny' filling into the crust just as egg whites came to a stiff peak in the mixer.
I scraped the meringue over top, learning that why a piping bag would make that step much more efficient. Again, I followed the recipe to a T, spreading the meringue to touch each edge. I carefully transfered the pie to the oven.
Top browned, I removed the pie, noticing the top quaking like a leaf on a rippling stream. When would that filling set up? Perhaps in the cooling. The pie sat at room temperature and then on our chilly porch for four hours.
Carrying it over to friends', the filling was still a running river. When it was time to serve, our lovely hostess presented a knife. I asked for a spoon.
Of course, because the filling never set, the crust was a soggy mess too. The flavors were all good, so we ate the pie soup. Lil consumed only the meringue top to her piece - a choice I can't fault, as it was the only truly successful part of the dish. We forgot the delightful candied lemon garnish which could have pulled the pie into passing territory.
Someday I'll attempt making lemon meringue pie again. Until then, if you are looking for your Homemakers Award, I recommend anything but this recipe.