Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lemon Meringue Pielettes

I was recently introduced to small-batch baking. I wanted to make a special dessert for Darren, but I didn't want a whole cake or 3 dozen cookies, so I started searching the internet for recipes that make just enough for a few servings.

I found a few different places that had recipes or references to the book Small-Batch Baking: When Just Enough for 1 or 2 ... Is Just Enough! by Debby Maugans Nakos. I decided to order the book, and a few small baking utensils: layer cake pans, pie pans, and angel food pans. If you get the same goods I got, you'll also qualify for free super saver shipping, but I digress.

I made the chocolate chip cookies from the book last week. They were good cookies, and the eight cookies lasted us three days, I think. They are a good basic chocolate chip cookie, and I didn't need any special equipment. I also just mixed them with a wooden spoon, and didn't bother to get out the mixer. One bowl, one cookie sheet, and about half an hour of time, and we had fresh, homemade cookies!

This week, I wanted a citrus dessert that would be refreshing. I looked up recipes for lemon meringue pie in the book and on the internet, and I used some of a few different recipes to come up with my recipe. Darren loves lemon desserts. One layer of our wedding cake was lemon, and our awesome baker, Aurora at Lovely Little Cake Shop made us a 6" lemon anniversary cake a few months ago. She even decorated it like our wedding cake!

Looking at recipes for lemon curd and ingredient lists on jarred lemon curd, it seemed to me that the best stuff uses only the yolks, which is perfect for lemon meringue pie!

I started with butter and flour to make the crust.

After mixing with a fork, I added the sugar and mixed than in until the crust bits were fairly homogeneous.

I added the vinegar and one tablespoon of water.

I ended up adding a second tablespoon of water to get a ball or dough, then I split the dough ball in half, formed two disks, wrapped each in plastic wrap, and put them in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

While the dough was chilling, I made the lemon curd. I started with softened butter, and creamed it with sugar.

Then I added the egg yolks one at a time. I put the egg whites in a bowl and placed them in the refrigerator to save for later.

Then I zested one lemon and juiced two. I drizzled the lemon juice into the butter-sugar-egg mixture while beating, and then added the lemon zest. I couldn't take a picture of this because I can't mix and pour and photograph simultaneously with only two hands. I transferred the curd to a small sauce pan and cooked it for about 12 minutes until it was thick. In the future, I will likely mix the ingredients in the sauce pan to avoid dirtying another dish. After removing from the heat, I added a little vanilla bean paste.

Then I transferred the curd to a bowl and put plastic wrap over the top, touching the surface of the curd. I let it chill for a bit while I did some other things.

Once the dough was ready, I put each disk into a well buttered 4" pie plate and used my hands to press it up the sides. I pricked the bottom and then baked the shells for about 20 minutes until they were lightly golden.

When I was ready to assemble the pies, I put half of the curd into each pastry shell. Then I beat the egg whites until peaks began to form. I added some sugar and vanilla, and continued beating until stiff peaks formed. Then I spread the meringue on the pies and baked them until lightly browned. I topped one pie with a lot of meringue and one with only a little, because I really like meringue, and Darren doesn't care about it. 

The lemon curd is sweet and tart and delicious. The crust tastes almost like shortbread. These are a great dessert, and could serve 2-4 people. Based on this recipe, you could also make a single 6" or 7" tart or pie. Just remember that meringue absorbs water and gets soggy, so you'll want to serve this dessert the day you make it. The curd and crusts can be made a day or two in advance and the egg whites can be stored in a tightly sealed container for a day or two also. Feel free to use a graham or vanilla wafer crust, if you like those better.

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