There aren't many people who would politely decline the offer of a small slice of lemon meringue pie.
One of the all-time favourite sweet recipes, evolved from the Pavlova dessert of Australian origin, lemon meringue pie consists of all the best from home cooking rolled into one.
What could be more tempting than a base of mouth-watering crisp and crumbly shortcrust pastry, with a layer of tangy lemon curd-like filling spread on top and finally crowned with a thick cover of golden brown crisp meringue with a sweet and chewy centre?
Looking at a lemon meringue pie, you would assume that making one would be quite a chore and not the easiest of tasks, however the pie is made in stages, concentrating on one layer at a time and is actually fairly easy, so long as you stick to the basic rules of good pastry, filling and meringue making.
The first layer to tackle is the pastry. Remember to use chilled ingredients and to work as quickly as possible when blending or rubbing the fat into the flour and then forming the dough.
The pastry case must be pre-baked for 15 - 20 minutes in a preheated oven, set at 400°F, until it has dried and set slightly, before any filling is to be added. Line the pastry tin with the pastry, trim the edges and prick the base of the pastry case all over with a fork before placing it in the oven. Once the filling and meringue topping have been added, the pastry will finish cooking as it goes into the oven for a second time.
Next, the filling is made. The filling ingredients are blended together and heated to boiling in a saucepan, stirring continuously. The mixture is then simmered over a medium heat until it thickens, egg yolks are added and further cooked, all the while stirring continuously. Finally the pan is removed from the heat and an amount of butter is stirred into the mixture. The crucial factor when preparing the filling, is to stir, stir and stir.
Cornflour is used, in this case, to thicken the filling so that when the pie is cooked the lemon middle sets into a thick layer that is easy to cut and does not run.
Care must be taken, as the acidity of the lemon juice may interfere with the cornflour and prevent it from setting and thickening. However, the sugar and egg yolk should form a protective cover around the cornflour and prevent this from happening.
Finally, the meringue is prepared right at the last moment and positioned on top of the previous layers. Do not over-whisk the egg whites, as this will cause them to separate into a lumpy mixture. Also remember to add the sugar; only once soft peaks have been formed after whisking the egg whites for several minutes. The sugar must be added, a little at a time and then whisking continued until stiff and glossy peaks are made.