This weekend I was contemplating a dessert for my housemate, Corinna’s birthday. Corinna really loves lemony desserts and after looking through my recipes I remembered that I do too! After looking at one luscious, yellow-y, tangy, sweet thing, too many, I was so overcome by my sudden need for a lemon tart, pie, cookie or cake, that I temporarily forgot all about Corinna and her birthday and decided to just throw caution to the wind (read: um, temporarily ‘forget’ my usual aversion to large quantities of sugar or too many eggs) and make this classic lemon meringue pie. As many of you know, there really isn’t a vegan substitute for meringue and well, meringue (as well as lemons, if we are talking dessert) means sugar, I’m afraid. An unapologetic quantity. So, here’s to celebrations. And to pie. And to other people’s birthdays. And most of all, to the sharp, clean smell of freshly squeezed lemons, filling your kitchen and making everything seem simple and right.
oh and p.s. Corinna did get her dessert: a lemon cream cheese tart (more on that another time). Happy Birthday Corinna, we love you!
Lemon Meringue Pie, adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking
Keep in mind that this pie must be cooled and chilled for a total of 6 hours before serving. You can make the crust ahead of time, but the filling and meringue must be made all at once and promptly baked.
1 Flaky Pie Pastry for single crust (see below)
for the filling:
6 Tbs cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
5 large egg yolks
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, strained
2 tsp grated lemon zest
for the meringue:
6 large egg whites at room temp
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
6 Tbs superfine sugar (I did not have any on hand so, I ground some regular sugar in my coffee/spice grinder)
Prepare the flaky crust (below) and refrigerate to chill. Roll out the dough, line a 9-inch pie dish and prebake fully.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F.
To make the lemon filling, in a small bowl combine the cornstarch and 1/2 cup of the water until the starch dissolves. In a saucepan whisk together the egg yolks, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and the remaining 1 cup of water until well blended. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil over medium heat while whisking constantly (this is very important — so you do not scramble your eggs), about 8 minutes. Boil for 1 minute until the mixture thickens and looks clear. Remove from the heat and stir in the zest. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the filling to keep it hot and to prevent a skin from forming.
To make the meringue, in a large bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment or a hand mixer, beat on medium speed until the whites begin to thicken. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat just until soft peaks form. Slowly add the superfine sugar (you should be beating at the about medium speed at this point, and adding the sugar should take you at least 5 minutes — go slow) and continue to beat until stiff, shiny peaks form.
Remove the plastic wrap from the hot lemon filling and pour it into the prebaked crust (see below). Using the rubber spatula, distribute the meringue evenly over the filling, mounding it towards the center and spreading it to the edge to seal the crust. Use the back of a spoon to form peaks an swirls on the meringue. Bake until the meringue is lightly browned, 12-17 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until cold, at least 5 hours. Serve cold.
Flaky Pie Pastry
This is my non-dairy version of Williams-Sonoma’s classic pie dough. You can use butter if you prefer, but I found that this worked just as well.
5 Tbs Vegan Butter Sticks, cut into Tbs-sized chunks, chilled
3 Tbs Earth Balance Non-hydrogenated shortening, chilled
1 1/3 cups flour (I use a whole wheat pastry/all purpose blend, but you can try using all of one or the other)
1 Tbs sugar (optional – this pie is already quite sweet)
1/4 tsp salt (not optional)
4 Tbs ice water
If you have a food processor, I find that it is the best and fastest way to make pie dough. If not, you can certainly ‘cut’ the butter and shortening in by hand, but just make sure to do it quickly, so the dough does not get too warm.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor, fitted with the blade attachment (it is a good idea to chill these beforehand as well). Pulse 2 or 3 times to mix. Add the Vegan Buttery Sticks and shortening and pulse 8-10 times, until the mixture forms large, corse crumbs ~ pea-sized. Add the ice water a little at a time and pulse about 10 times, just until a dough begins to come together (it should not be clumping in a large ball, but rather hold together when you squeeze it in your hand).
Transfer the dough to a work surface and shape it into a 6 inch disk. Warp it tightly in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or over night.
Remove the disk from the fridge. If it is too cold to roll out, let it sit for 10-20 minutes. Dust a work surface with flour and roll out from the center in all direction, forming a 12-inch round that is about 1/8 inch thick. Lift and turn the dough several time and dust with more flour if needed, to prevent it from sticking to the counter or to your rolling pin.
Carefully roll the dough up around your rolling pin and then center it in the pie pan and unroll it. Gently, but firmly press the dough into the pan without pulling or stretching it. Use a pair or kitchen scissors to trim the edges, leaving a 3/4-inch overhang. Roll the over hang under itself and pinch it together all around the rim, using your thumb and forefinger, to create a decorative edge. Freeze the crust until it is firm ~ 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 F and get your pie weights, or some dried beans or rice ready. Line the inside of your pie shell with foil (it should hang over the sides so you can lift it out later) and weigh it down with plenty of these weights. Bake the shell for about 15 minutes, checking every few minutes to make sure it is not browning to much. Remove the foil and weights and bake for another 10 minutes at 350 F. Cool shell completely on a wire rack before filling.