Friday, 10 June 2011

Lemon meringue pie

Pâte sablée: difficult, crumbly and messy, and a sore trial for one who may be described as all of the above – and who therefore favours completeness, coherence, truth and resolution in all things, apart from the occasional novel and film and blogpost. But enough about one, and back to the pastry.

It crumbled when slices were cut out, and kept on crumbling as it was eaten. But all that crumbliness made sense in a feisty texture that made all other pastries seem orderly variations on damp cardboard. It was buttery-biscuity-crisp, yet soft and light at the same time.

This was a Dorie Greenspan recipe from Baking (and can be found on her website); she advised against rolling due to the pastry’s fragility, and as one deprived of a marble worktop, I could get behind the suggestion to press it into the tart tin instead. But I was at a loss at the instruction ‘Don’t be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard the crust loses its crumbly texture’ (p444). In trying for a middle ground between firm, even coverage and heavy-handed crushing of the pastry’s crumble, mine was thick where the bottom of the tin met the fluted sides, and tapered to patchy thinness around the edge, and was anyone’s guess in the middle.  

I made a mistake in tin choice – the lemon tart I was following called for a fluted tart tin, but I was adding a meringue layer just because I was intrigued by the idea of using the back of a soup spoon to form little spikes, and so I should have used a pie dish with gently graduating sides and made life a lot easier.

One positive discovery was about sifting icing sugar, an activity I don’t love. I was trying to push rocks of the stuff through with the back of a spoon and not having fun when I had the fairly obvious idea of treating the sifter as a mortar and introducing a pestle to it. It turned out to be a brilliant idea, and I offer it up gratis to the portion of the world that hasn’t thought of it already.

The lemon cream was from a recipe Dorie named ‘The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart’ and that wasn’t hyperbole. The lemon filling differs from the usual lemon curd in that the butter (all 300g) is held back from the lengthy and arm-destroying whisking over the water bath, then added once the mixture has cooled for ten minutes and gone into a blender – hence becoming something more like an emulsion, and lighter and silkier in texture. 

Mine might have been silkier again if I’d strained the lemon zest out, but I left it in, thanks to Dorie’s re-thunk post and the new Microplane superfine zester that is the light of my life and the threat to my knuckles.
 I made a quick meringue that Dorie included with a key lime tart recipe, but was perhaps a little too quick with both the eggwhite beating and the baking in the oven – it was edging towards work time. A pity to rush the last stage of a process that had taken three days – crust sans baking one night and into the freezer, lemon cream the next, and finally baking and putting it all together before work. But the spike-creation was fun.

 Dorie says to serve or refrigerate; I did both, and refrigeration’s the better way to go. The first slice I cut out looked like this. Later ones were more upstanding.

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