Weep for Joy: A Weep-Free Lemon Meringue Pie

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By Jason Shriner, The Aubergine Chef 

Piping stiff meringue can add depth to your finished dessert Photo Credit: Jason Shriner

Piping stiff meringue can add depth to your finished dessert Photo Credit: Jason Shriner

One of my greatest challenges as a baker came in the form of the humble lemon meringue pie.  But I’m not alone. A simple Internet search for weeping lemon meringue pies reveals a worldwide frustrated community. Unfortunately many “solutions” are just gimmicks. I’ve thoroughly experimented with this recipe, and I can say with confidence this pie won’t weep on you. However since this recipe uses all natural ingredients it will still break down eventually. Expect to start seeing weeping around day three.

There are two sources of weeping. The first is the filling, which is usually made with cornstarch. When cornstarch is heated in a liquid, the starch granules absorb so much liquid they burst releasing long chains of carbohydrates. These chains cool into a tangled network trapping the liquid creating a gelled appearance. Over time the network bonds closer together to the point that the trapped liquid is squeezed out.

To combat this issue I substitute the cornstarch for rice flour. Rice flour doesn’t weep however it doesn’t set exactly the same as cornstarch. So while it is an excellent substitute in this case its texture may not suit all your needs. Keep in mind I use rice flour in this recipe not sweet rice flour also known as glutinous rice flour.

The other major source of weeping is the meringue. Traditionally a French meringue is used to top the pie. French meringues are made with just egg whites and granulated sugar and are very weak. As the meringue sits, the bubbles that make up its structure pop and the syrup coating them, created from the water in the egg whites dissolving the sugar, leaks out.

To solve this I use a Swiss meringue, which is made by cooking egg whites and sugar in a double boiler to 150 degrees F. By adding heat, the overall structure is finer and stronger. A Swiss meringue will hold up for about 48 hours while a French meringue can start breaking down within an hour.

Despite the extra shelf life on this pie it is still best eaten the day it is made. But if we’re going to squeeze a few extra days out of this pie, I’m glad that we’re using all natural solutions.

Jason Shriner owns the baking & pastry blog The Aubergine Chef, which contains free videos and recipes. He also teaches baking classes at the Manassas Park Community Center. You can visit his blog at www.TheAubergineChef.com.

Basic Pie Dough

Makes 4 pie crusts

3 cups of all-purpose flour
2 sticks + 7 tablespoons of unsalted butter, room temperature cut into tablespoons
1 teaspoon of salt
¾ cup ice cold water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

  1. Begin to work the butter, by hand, into the flour.  This is done through a process called the Rubbing method or Biscuit method.  Take your hands and scoop up a handful of dry ingredients and butter.  Press your hands together, flattening the fat, and then rub one hand away from you.  Do not continuously rub back and forth – this will cause the fat to melt resulting in undesirable qualities.  Rotate the bowl 90 degrees in between each cut in.
  2. Repeat until the pieces of butter are flat and are about ½” wide.
  3. Drizzle in some of the water into the mixture and toss like a salad while adding.  Mix till mixture comes together.  Slowly add more water as you need it.  You may not need all the water depending on the humidity.  Look for the bits and pieces of fat and flour on the bottom of the bowl beginning to become less prevalent.  The dough should also become sticky and start to ball up, however it should not have a sloshy water sound.
  4. Shape the dough into a log.  Divide into 4 equal pieces, weighing about 9 ounces each.
  5. Wrap in plastic and flatten into a circular disc (this will help with rolling out later).
  6. Store refrigerated for 2 days or frozen for 6 months.

Lemon Meringue Pie Filling

Makes enough for 1 pie

2 cups of water
The grated zest of 1 ½ lemons
¾ cup of granulated sugar
5 ½ tablespoons of rice flour
2 whole eggs
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces of white coating chocolate, melted
Egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon of water whisked together), as needed

  1. Prebake your pie shell: Roll the dough out to about ¼” thickness and place into a 9” pie plate. Dock your pie shell using a fork, lay down a coffee filter onto the dough, and place another pie plate on top of the coffee filter.  Use baking beans or a ramekin to weigh down the pie plate.  Bake the pie shell at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned and fully cooked.  Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.  If shell is not cooked thoroughly, remove layered pie plate and coffee filter, brush egg wash on the pie shell, and bake again until cooked through.
  2. If using, brush on melted white coating chocolate onto cooled the prebaked pie shell.
  3. For the filling: Zest the lemons (put right into the pot for an infusion) and then juice them (Do not put into the pot, may interfere with starch).
  4. Make a slurry using ½ the sugar, the rice flour, salt, and the eggs.  Be sure to stir the sugar and starch together before adding the eggs to help prevent lumps.
  5. The pot should contain the zest, water, and remaining sugar.  Bring to a boil.
  6. Temper the slurry: Slowly drizzle in the boiled sugar water into the slurry while constantly whisking.  This helps prevent the mixture from turning into scrambled eggs.  Use medium high heat to bring to a second boil to prevent splash back.  Boil for about 1 – 3 minutes until the mixture is thick like pastry cream.  Boiling it for too long may cause the bottom of the pot to burn.
  7. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter, then the lemon juice.
  8. Fill the prebaked pie then refrigerate until set – about 2 hours or overnight.
  9. When set, pipe or spread the meringue on top and use a crème brulee torch to brown.
  10. Serve immediately or store refrigerated for up to 2-3 days.

Swiss Meringue 

Makes enough for 1 pie

¾ cup of granulated sugar
4-5 fresh egg whites, very cleanly separated

1.  Prepare a double boiler with a pot with 1-2 inches of water brought to a simmer.  Use a stainless steel bowl (or your electric mixer bowl if it’s large enough) for the upper part of the double boiler.

2.  Wipe out your electric mixer bowl (or the stainless steel bowl if using) and whip attachment with a paper towel dampened with vinegar.  Combine all of the egg whites and the granulated sugar in the bowl you are using for your double boiler.  Whisk together gently just to combine.

3.  Bring your sugar and egg white mixture to the double boiler and stir gently until it reaches at least 120 degrees F (use 150 degrees F for a food safe meringue).

4.  Remove from the heat and place on the electric mixer with the whip attachment and whip to medium to stiff peaks.

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