Lemon Meringue Pie

Q: “Would you like pie or meringue?”

A: “No, you’re right, I’ll have the pie.”

In the autumn of 1992, a few of the new first years at Robinson College found this question and answer hilarious.  It wasn’t quite as funny as the  ‘That’s You That Is’ sketch from the Mary Whitehouse Experience, but it was certainly up there.  When the Warden’s wife actually asked the question at the Freshers’ welcome lunch,  she must have been puzzled to say the least at the barely supressed sniggers she received in response.  The poor lady must have thought the latest undergraduates were a very strange lot.  Either that, or they were on something.  She was probably right.

Anyway, I digress.  This week, I made a lemon meringue pie.  I used the recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  I don’t think it’s a traditional recipe – the base is made from digestive biscuits rather than pastry – but, if it’s OK by Mary Berry, it’s fine with me.  Actually, I’m glad I used this recipe, because, on flicking through my books, I found an alternative in The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook that uses a pastry base and, Italian meringue which, quite frankly, sounds terrifying.

First, I made the biscuit base.  I put a few digestive biscuits into a freezer bag and bashed them about a bit with a rolling-pin.  I mixed the crushed biscuits with butter, lined a flan tin with them, covered it in clingfilm, put in the fridge, and made myself a gin and tonic.  It was Thursday evening after all.

I left the base in the fridge overnight.  You don’t have to do this, but Mary says that you can keep it covered in the fridge for up to three days.

In the morning, I started with the filling.  I mixed condensed milk with egg yolks, lemon rind and juice and poured it into the chilled biscuit base.  So far so good.

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Next for the daunting part of the recipe.  The meringue.  I used the KitchenAid to whisk my egg whites.  I had found which screw I was supposed to tighten on You Tube and it seemed to be working a bit better this week.  It managed to whisk at level six without any dangerous shuddering.  The recipe says that the eggs whites should be whisked until they are “stiff but not dry”.  I didn’t find this description particularly helpful.  I have no idea what dry egg whites look like.  I stopped whisking when mine looked like this.

014I whisked in 175g caster sugar a teaspoon at a time and kept whisking until the meringue was very stiff (as required by the recipe) – a much easier concept than “stiff but not dry”.

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I piled the meringue on top of the filling, trying and failing to make it swirl elegantly over the flan tin.  It went into the oven at 170° fan for twenty minutes.  Actually, it may have been a couple of minutes either side. I was busy scraping down the sides of my mixing bowl and eating raw meringue and I forgot to set timer for a few minutes.   I took the pie out of the oven when the top was light brown.  The top was crisp, and the meringue very soft, almost marshmallow-like.  There’s no picture of Mary Berry’s pie in the Baking Bible and I’m still not certain whether I cooked my pie for long enough.  This is what it looked like.

018It tasted great.  A sweet but lemony filling topped with a comfortable, pillow of meringue.  I can’t imagine that a more traditional pastry-based, Italian-meringued pie could taste any better.

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