Sunday, 10 May 2015

Lemon & Yuzu Juice Meringue Pies

I have always had a soft spot for Lemon Meringue Pie (or LMP); on the one hand it looks  frivolous and decadent in a very retro way but, on the other, when made well with REAL lemons, it is full of beautifully balanced flavours and textures. We have the good ol’ U. S. of A to thank for this wonderful pie; this is not some effete and delicate piece of French patisserie but rather a confection that shouts ‘look at me’! Whilst meringue-topped lemon pies do have their origins in French cookery, they are not the pies that I’m thinking of here. No! LMP is brash, it’s ostentatious and I love the big, bold beauty of it with the soft meringue piled mile-high on top of the set lemon custard enriched with butter and egg yolks which also serve to intensify the golden yellow colour.
 
America may claim Apple Pie as its national pie but for me I always associate LMP with the States as it was in a 1960s magazine article celebrating American Independence Day that my grandmother first came across the recipe that she used to make it from, from that day forward… and believe me she was regularly asked to make it for family occasions and get-togethers. Her LMP was legendary and much beloved by friends and family.
 
After the austerity of the post-War period in much of Europe, LMP must have seemed so extravagant and hedonistic but, that’s exactly what I find so appealing; it IS over-the-top and it is definitely self-indulgent but it also tastes so darn delicious! For a lemon lover like me there can be no better dessert.
 
Although I usually prefer to make one large single pie, here I have made 6 smaller but generously sized individual pies – there’s just something so nice about being served something that’s all for you!
 
I was recently given a bottle of yuzu juice, possessing an intensely citrus flavour which is hard to describe (somewhere between that of grapefruit and mandarin mixed together) and decided to add some of this to the pie filling. I loved the resulting flavour combination which somehow managed to make the lemon taste more of lemon, but with a background fragrance that hinted at the exotic. I would have loved to have used freshly squeezed yuzu juice, but unfortunately it is a fruit which, originating from Japan is somewhat challenging to source on this side of the world. If you don’t have yuzu juice you can of course leave it out and you will still have the most delicious Lemon Meringue Pie(s).

Ingredients:

Pastry:
200g plain flour
50g icing sugar
85g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2 tblsp cold water
Filling:
2tblsp cornflour
100g caster sugar*
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
125ml lemon juice
50ml yuzu juice (optional) or use same amount of lemon juice instead*
150ml water
85g butter
1 large egg
3 egg yolks
Meringue:
4 egg whites
200g caster sugar
2tsp cornflour

*If using lemon juice instead of the yuzu juice increase the sugar for the filling to 115g
 

Method:

Pastry:
1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and using your fingertips, rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and cold water. Using a fork, mix everything until it comes together and forms a dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to shape into a ball. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To blind-bake the pastry:
3. Preheat oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
4. Roll out the pastry to about ½ cm thick and use to line 1 x 23cm round fluted flan tin with removable base or 6 x 10cm individual tins (about 4cms deep). Trim and neaten the edges and pr1ck the pastry base(s). Fill with crumpled non-stick baking parchment and then fill this with baking beans.
5. Place the flan tin(s) on a large baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, before carefully removing the baking parchment and beans and baking for a further7-8 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
6. Lower the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
To make the filling (do this while the pastry is blind-baking):
7. Place the cornflour, sugar and lemon zest into a medium sized saucepan and gradually add the lemon juice. Add the yuzu juice (or more lemon juice) and the water and place over a moderate heat.
8. Stir the mixture constantly until it starts to simmer and begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and add the butter, mixing it in until it is fully incorporated. Next, add the whole egg, the egg yolks and mix in thoroughly with a small whisk. Return the mixture to a low heat and stir until the mixture begins to thicken significantly.
9. Remove from the heat and set aside while you make the meringue.
To make the meringue:
10. Place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean, large mixing bowl and whisk to the soft peak stage using a hand-held electric mixer. Add the sugar gradually whisking well after each addition. Sift in the cornflour and whisk this in also until completely incorporated.
To finish:
11. Pour the lemon filling into the baked pastry case(s). Top the lemon filling with the meringue – either spooning it on or piping it - starting at the outside edge and moving towards the centre. Return the pie to the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the meringue is a very pale golden colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a couple of hours before serving.

Makes 6 individual small pies or 1 x 23cm pie.