Conquering Mt Lemon Meringue
I take to the kitchen with increasing rarity these days (sadly), but this last week I happened to see this Fast Ed segment on BH&G and that olde cookery muscle leapt into action. See, lemon meringue is a childhood memory. Mum used to make them for various BBQs and there they would sit in the fridge, golden peaks of meringue begging to be plucked and eaten ahead of time (I didn't much like the tart lemon filling at that age). So, I removed the tips of those golden peaks. Tentatively at first, then what the hell - I'd denuded one peak. The rest must go! The fridge opened and closed a dozen times and soon, each of those carefully oven-golden meringue peaks disappeared. I was sure at that time that Mum couldn't tell. Turns out she could. Who would have thought.
Now, Mum is always the holder of the best recipes. She was known for that lemon meringue (probably more reason the theft of the peaks wasn't appreciated), and I still rate her Yorkshire puds, shortcrust pastry and salad cream (with prawns and avocado) as some of the best. But as an adult I've discovered Italian meringue, and I just can't go back to French. So, after that chance viewing of BH&G, where the lemon meringue appeared to have a perfect curd and lashings of Italian meringue ... well, sold. I plan on taking the big one to Mum's later today as apology for all the ones of hers I ruined. Here's how the making went down.
I cheated on the base. I just used store bought shortcrust. Let's face it - the pastry is just a vessel conveying lemon and meringue. No need to spend hours if you don't have to. Oh, I also don't have a tart tin, so I turned a ceramic loaf shaped tin upside down and baked the case on the outside of that, plus some small roughly hewn miniatures for tasting.
Lemon curd was super easy. I didn't have even a cup of juice out of my citrus (I used three lemons and three limes), but even making up the rest of the 375 mL with water, it was tangy good. Remember to let it cool all the way to room temp before you even think about topping it.
I actually bought a thermometer for the soft ball toffee for the Italian meringue, but in the past I've sat there with a spoon and nerves of crack toffee, dripping it into a glass of icy water. Both work, but the thermometer allows you to drink wine, if that's your fancy. I wouldn't really want to make the Italian meringue with a hand-held mixer, but if that's all you have, remember you're in the service of the lemon meringue goddess and your elbow strength will hold.
Finally, the fun part. I bought a disposable piping bag (I could tell you it was because I foresaw the brilliance of being able to chuck it out rather than washing it, but really it was that I couldn't remember whether I had one or not and was too cheap to buy a $25 proper one. As it turns out, disposability was brilliant here, as I also didn't have an appropriately sized nozzle. Win!). The worst part of any cooking operation (after cleaning the piping bag) is filling the piping bag. But it was done with steely determination. Then comes piping, and BLOWTORCH. Seriously, if you don't have one in your kitchen, why not?
Finally, the moment had arrived. Tasting Mt Lemon Meringue. It was perfection. (I'm supposed to leave the big one alone until later, that's what the little ones are for). So, if you want truly spectacular dessert that invites the swiss army rock face from all assembled, give this one a go. The ingredient list is below (my variations in brackets) - see the YouTube clip for the method.
- 4 Lemons (or 3 Lemons and 3 Limes)
- 100 g castor sugar (regular sugar - doesn't matter if you're putting it in water)
- 2 tbl cornflour
- 375 mL lemon juice (180 mL lemon/lime juice plus water to make up 375 mL)
- 100 g unsalted butter
- 3 egg yolks (extra old eggs work too)
- 1 whole egg
- 4 egg whites (3 from the eggs above, and two more if you forgot to use proper cooking size eggs)
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar (don't leave this out. I stole mine from Rebekah Turner. There's a tart in the mail, Bek :)
- 300 g castor sugar (regular sugar. Seriously, it works just fine. You're melting it)
- 100 mL water
Incidentally, the recipe made a heap more Italian meringue than I needed, even after I'd piped a double layer on the big tart. This prompted some of the best quotes of the day from my husband, such as "Are we going to eat meringue for lunch?" (hopeful tone) and "Couldn't we just shape the leftovers on a plate and make a pavlova?" (determined tone). Evidence of the last one is below. :)