Mini Lemon Meringue Pies

Remember that post I made about biting off more than you can chew? I think I did that again today. I’ve pretty much mastered the art of a lemon meringue pie, but to make these minis nearly did me in! The actually curd and meringue weren’t that much different, but I’m used to just dumping it into a pie shell, topping it with the meringue and being done with it. Good thing I enjoy a challenge every now and then!

The recipe I used today was not actually my go-to for lemon meringue pies. I normally go with Anna Olson, who can do no wrong when it comes to baking. In straying from my usual recipe, I was a bit out of my comfort zone. This new recipe I found, because it was for making the mini pies and not just one big pie, had a few things in it that I wasn’t so sure about, but decided to try them anyway. Fewer eggs, something different with the meringue, things that the other chefs wouldn’t have done. The point is, I had to stretch myself a little in order to make them. Stretching means growing, and I did learn a few things I hope I can share with you today.

I wanted to make sure I was ready with all the ingredients because lemon meringue pie waits for no woman once you start it.

Below the picture is a link to the blog where I got the recipe displayed on my laptop there. I’ll go ahead and post the recipe, and then I’ll walk you through what I did.

For the cornstarch paste:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water

For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup butter, melted
¼ cup granulated sugar

For the filling:
2 to 3 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
1/2 cup lemon juice (squeezed from 2 to 3 lemons)
4 egg yolks
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the meringue:
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

I actually started with the pie crusts – mixing the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter in a bowl, then scooping it into the tiny cupcake papers. It took me a couple tries to decide how to get them in there, and I settled on the 1 tsp scoop.

I placed a scoop in each paper, and used my finger to flatten it out.

This next step was something that I have not seen in a meringue recipe, so I was quite curious what it would do. Mix water and a bit of corn starch to make a paste, cook it, and add it to the egg whites AFTER they reach stiff peaks. I’ve never seen a recipe where you add something to egg whites at that point, but we’ll see how it goes. There was so little of either ingredient that it hardly covered the bottom of my smallest pan. Once I started stirring it, there was a gap in the center.

Once you start seeing the cornstarch and water look a little translucent (the image on the left), you know you’re getting close. The one on the right shows it almost done. It’s really a strange sight to see something go from a liquid to a solid while you stir it, but that’s how corn starch works!

Once you start on the curd for the lemon meringue pie, you really can’t get distracted by anything. You must keep with it until it’s finished. You can’t get distracted by your kid hanging on your leg, or wanting you to put him on a stool so he can watch. Nope, can’t do it. Ok, I did it. This is the start of the curd. More corn starch, water, and this time some sugar. Keep stirring it until you see little floating bits of the translucent corn starch. It looks a little startling at first, and you may think something’s wrong, but really, it’s supposed to look like that.

See along the edge on the right there are some little clumps of discoloration? That’s the corn starch starting to thicken.

You can also tell when you start to see it sticking to your whisk. Don’t you love those colors?! It’s not just a plain silver whisk. It keeps things interesting, and it doesn’t scratch my stainless steel pot.

The image on the left is still a bit cloudy, so keep cooking until it’s a little clearer, like the image on the right.

The next step, is to temper the eggs. That means to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs so you don’t get scrambled eggs in your curd. Take a few spoonfuls of the corn starch mixture and add them one at a time to your eggs in a bowl, stirring between each addition.

The recipe I used said to add the lemon juice to the eggs before tempering, so that’s what I did. I realized later that I shouldn’t have done that. You only have to temper the eggs, not the lemon juice. Because there was more cold liquid in the bowl, it was harder to temper the eggs than it would have been with just eggs in the bowl. Lesson number one – don’t temper the lemon juice, only the eggs.

Once the eggs and lemon juice were tempered, I added them to the pot that was on the stove with the rest of the corn starch and cooked it long enough to get it to a boil. Let me tell you, the smell at this point is amazing. It’s at this point that you can now remove the curd from the heat and your kid from the stool or your leg and let them be on their way. They only want to hang around when you need to focus, anyway.

Now, it’s time for the meringue. Pour the egg whites and the cream of tartar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until they’re frothy. It doesn’t always seem to mix the cream of tartar completely into the eggs, but that’s ok. Once they’re frothy, or at least a bit bubbly, start slowly adding the sugar. If you like your meringue a little softer, you can stop at soft peaks, but this recipe said to go for stiff peaks, so that’s what you have in the picture on the right.

The next step in this recipe was to take that bowl of corn starch and water I cooked back in the beginning (that barely covered the bottom of the pot), and add it to the egg whites a tablespoon at a time. I have never seen a meringue recipe where you add something to it AFTER the eggs have reached stiff peaks. There’s a risk your meringue will break and won’t hold its shape anymore if you over mix it. Part of me said, “No, just skip this step. You know it’s a good meringue already.”, but because I’m trying to learn as much as I can, I went ahead and added it. Fortunately, it didn’t break the meringue, but it did leave chunks of that paste stuff because it just didn’t completely incorporate into the whites. I haven’t tasted them, so I don’t know if anything improved while in the oven, so I’ll let you know. Lesson number two: trust your instincts.

Now came the mess and the headache. How to get the curd and the meringue into those tiny little cups. I tried using a piping bag (in the background there), but couldn’t get the tip in properly and it popped out, causing a blob of curd to pop out onto the counter. I gave up and just held the end of the bag with my hand. If you try this yourself, be careful! That stuff is hot. I tried a similar trick with the meringue in a plastic bag and cut off the corner, but because of the chunks of corn starch, it wouldn’t go through and I ended up just using two spoons to scoop it from the mixing bowl onto each little pie. They only took about 20 minutes in the oven and they were done. Because this is such a long post, if anyone local is reading this and gets all the way to the bottom, send me a private message on my Facebook page and I’ll see about delivering a few of those pies to you!

They’re not pretty, but I’m working on my presentation. Because of how I did the graham crackers at the beginning, I had a bit leftover. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to fill a pie pan, so I put it in the bottom of tea cups. Tea cups, you ask?

They made pretty good portions for individual pudding pies.

Waste not, want not. Right?!

So, there we have it. I stepped out of my comfort zone a little and learned a few things. Don’t temper the lemon juice, trust my instincts, and don’t attempt to make mini lemon meringue pies again! I missed spending the better part of a Saturday with my family because I was in the kitchen for so long, but hopefully they’ll taste good enough and it will all be worth it. Hope you enjoyed reading (thanks for making it to the end, I know this was a long one!), and I hope I’ve shown you that by stepping outside of your comfort zone a little, you can learn something that will help your confidence grow.

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