Introducing the fastest photoshoot ever!
Please don’t judge, I have two jobs now (I am a real-life, paid-for-it baker now!) and almost no time. It’s not that I stopped baking at home, I just never have time to photograph the results much less type something up. Well, these little lemon meringue tarts came out so adorable that at the last second before carting them out the door I threw the baking sheet next to the window, and shot off a few pics. No filter for the window light, no cardstock for light bouncing or blocking, didn’t even use a tripod. Needless to say the majority of the photos were garbage, but thankfully a few came out alright if I do say so myself. This means you now get to enjoy what has become a rare treat: a short blog post from Crumb What May. You’re Welcome.
Fun fact: I’ve never made lemon meringue pie before. I don’t know why I am so embarrassed by this fact, maybe because I feel so silly that I fashion myself as a lover of pies and yet have never made a lemon meringue pie before. I have made all of the parts: pie crust, lemon curd, meringue, but had never put them together. Well, now I have… in miniature.
Just to get it all out in the open, here is a list of other traditional “American” pies I have never made:
- Key Lime
- Strawberry Rhubarb
- Pecan (My sister makes a pretty good one so I just leave that up to her, maybe she’ll guest post her recipe someday)
- Coconut Cream
- French Silk the REAL way using a boatload of raw eggs. Yeah, that’s how they make it. Now you know.
(Edit: As of 2019 I have now made all of these! Working in a pie shop will do that)
While I’m coming clean about things I might as well tell you. I used a store-bought crust for these. I know, I know, I despise store-bought crusts, homemade always tastes better and I’m frequently telling people how pie crust really isn’t as difficult as everyone makes it out to be and they should just suck it up and make it. But alas, my time was limited and I wanted pie. Did I mention two jobs?
So now that all my baking shame is on the table, let’s move on to these pies. This recipe is frankensteined from multiple recipes. The curd came from a lemon tart recipe from Pretty Simple Sweet. The meringue came from Rock Recipes. The crust, as you know, was store-bought in shame, but if I were to make it myself I would probably do a basic shortcrust such as the one I used for my spiced ricotta and apple tart last fall.
I loved the lemon curd from Pretty Simple Sweet. The flavor was bright and tart, but still soft and smooth. The secret to this curd is the heavy cream. It really smooths everything out, gives it that melt-in-your-mouth texture, and balances the sour notes of the lemon. The meringue is a pretty standard meringue. I did not follow instructions and bake for 20-25 minutes because I wanted to control the browning on the piped rosettes. Instead, I torched it, then popped it in the oven for about 10ish minutes. It came out nice and silky, not too sticky.
The word “curd” in my opinion is a bit of a misnomer since curdling is exactly what you don’t want. There are a couple of places where things can go wrong here, but if you’re prepared ahead of time you can avoid them and then the curd is relatively simple to make, if just a bit tedious. The first is cooking your eggs before cooking your eggs. Fun fact, lemon juice can actually chemically “cook” eggs without heat. So if you decide to mix up your egg/sugar/zest/juice/cream mixture, then go do a bunch of other things and leave it there, you may find some curdles in your batter before it even touches the stove. So don’t mix it up until you’re ready to cook it. Have your bain-marie prepared before you start mixing.
The second thing to remember is once that batter hits the stove Never Stop Whisking. You stop whisking, the eggs cook unevenly, you get curdles. You don’t have to be crazy vigorous about it, a simple steady stir is fine, but just keep it moving the whole time. The other trick is low heat combined with constant whisking, which means you will be standing there for a while. So get in a good stretch, find a comfortable stance, and commit. In the end, if you have a couple of small curdles, no biggie, that’s what the straining is for.
The other thing that concerns people is the meringue. Just like the curd, the eggs are the issue in this one, but it’s really just about knowing your peaks. The Kitchn has a pretty good visual guide on the levels of whipped eggs white peaks. Just follow the guide and you should be fine. The meringue is ready when it’s shiny and silky, when you taste it or feel it you can’t feel any sugar granules.
The instructions for the curd were pretty clear and easy to follow. The author did a great job of describing the steps and addressing possible hurdles either in the recipe or preceding post. The meringue recipe did leave a little to be desired in how long to beat the eggs during/after the eggs are whipped and what the final result should look like, which is why I included the link to the visual guide to eggs whites above.
The great thing about lemon meringue pie is that you can style it however you want. You can go rustic and just spoon on the meringue. Or, you can make little peaks with the back of a spoon. You can get fancy with a set of piping tips like I did. The possibilities are endless! To recreate what I’ve done here, use 4-inch fluted tart shells for the crust. For the meringue fill a piping bag fitted with a Wilton 2D piping tip. start in the center and pipe in a swirling motion out toward the edge.
If you’re planning to cheat and use store-bought pie crust like me, the total cost was $12.04. Honestly, making the crust yourself would only be a couple bucks cheaper, but would taste much better. The good news is that since I keep my kitchen pretty stocked in baking supplies, I really only had to buy lemons, heavy cream, and eggs (cuz you use a lot of them!).
Time, on the other hand… this is mostly why I bought the crust. The most time-consuming part is the curd, however, since you have to stand there and stir for 10-20 minutes. The meringue whips up pretty quick and the rest is just assembly (making/baking the shells, filling with curd, piping the meringue. I’d say overall it took me an hour. I wanted nice rosettes so I wasn’t in a rush.
So now I can strike one off the list and say with honesty that I have made lemon meringue pie (or tartlets, whatever). I guess I should work my way down the list of shame now. I think it’s important for me to be honest here, though. So many people are intimidated by baking, I hear it every day. People will say things like “I can cook alright, but I can’t bake”, or “cooking you can just throw things in a pan, but baking is so specific, so easy to fuck up.” I’m here to tell you if you can cook, you can bake.
It’s not so difficult as it seems, and the reward is so worth the toil. You CAN experiment, you CAN stray from the recipe, and perhaps most importantly, you WILL fuck it up sometimes and that’s A-OK. In fact, that’s half the fun! I’m in a position now where I spend time with real, professional pastry chefs with formal baking education and years of experience and guess what, they fuck shit up all the time. They also cheat. Like, a lot. And that’s ok too, because your time should be the most expensive ingredient in every dish.
I hope that little pep talk inspired you to pick up a rolling pin and take a risk for something sweet today.