Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lemon Meringue Pie

When in history did the versatile lemon receive a bad rap? Akin to vanilla (as boring as vanilla ice cream; as plain as vanilla), negative lemon phrases pop up more than we might think: You’re being a sour lemon; When life gives you lemons, make lemonade; That car is a real lemon; You’re standing around like a lost lemon. What did this sun-bright fruit do to receive such sad associations? Why hasn’t the lime, an equally sour menace, gathered similar treatment? How did the sweet orange elude all the sour of its citrus brethren?

Many believe the first citrus the people of the Mediterranean tasted was the lemon-- Which makes sense since it pops up in many Middle Eastern dishes. But its origin probably stems further East than that (many suggest India is where the egg-shaped citrus first came into being). Today it’s grown in almost any climate warm enough to sustain it and almost everyone enjoys its sweeter sensibilities: from lemonade and limoncello to lemon oil and lemon curd. Life would have a lot less zest without it.

Imagine the world without mass transport and an excess of refined sweeteners. Where lemons weren't flown into the market willy nilly and that golden glow remained in flowers, not fruit. What was that first sip of pure summer like? Lemonade, with its sweet sourness. How much of a treat do you suppose the lemon once was to some? How much we take it all for granted, our availability of something so simple, once so foreign.

To pucker up to the lemon, try this (sweeter) dish: Lemon Meringue Pie. This pie’s cloud of meringue could barely fit into the oven—royal treatment considering the lemon’s often lowly placement as a mere garnish. D and I found this recipe in the epicurious.com archives as we searched for a perfectly light, refrigerated summer cake. This is the perfect treat with a hint of the tropics and much less painless than it sounds. (This is essentially the recipe from epicurious—the only difference being I used a graham cracker crust.)

Serving Size= 10 people. Active time= 40 minutes. Cook time= 1 hour 14 mintues. Inactive time= 4 hours
* 1 cup plain graham crackers (about 6 full crackers)
* ½ stick unsalted butter
* ¼ cup coconut

* 1 cup sugar
* 2 tablespoons cornstarch
* 6 large egg yolks
* 4 large eggs
* ¾ cup fresh lemon juice
* Pinch of salt
* ¾ cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

* 6 large egg whites
* 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
* 1-1/3 cups powdered sugar
* 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, lightly toasted

For crust:
1) Preheat oven to 350F. In a small saucepan (or in the microwave), melt the ½ stick of butter.
2) Using a food processor (or by hand crushing them with the back of a spoon), pulse the graham crackers into small crumbs. Once pulverized, add butter and ¼ cup coconut; mix until evenly distributed.
3) Put crumbs into 9 inch pie tin. Line the tin, pressing firmly against the bottom and sides.
4) Bake for 10 minutes. Once done, set aside to cool and continue on the filling:

For filling:
1) Preheat oven to 300°F.
2) Whisk sugar and cornstarch in heavy medium saucepan to blend.
3) Whisk in yolks, whole eggs, lemon juice, and salt. Whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens and just begins to boil around edges, about 6 minutes.
4) Add butter; whisk until smooth. Cool 10 minutes. Pour warm filling into crust.

For meringue:
1) Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl until foamy.
2) Add cream of tartar and 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and beat until soft peaks form.
3) Beat in remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, then beat until stiff glossy peaks form, about 7 minutes.
4) Gently fold ¾ cup toasted coconut into meringue.
5) Spread coconut meringue over warm filling, covering completely, sealing meringue to crust edges and mounding in center.
6) Bake pie 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 275°F; bake 30 minutes longer.
7) Sprinkle remaining ¼ cup toasted coconut over pie; continue to bake until meringue is light golden brown and set when pie is shaken slightly, about 15 minutes longer. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate uncovered.)

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