I found myself awake and at my kitchen table at 6am this morning – and a Sunday morning, no less. After making coffee and toast, I sat at the kitchen table to read Hallelujah: The Welcome Table, Maya Angelou’s book of recipes and memories. And I read the whole thing – barring, of course, the hour and a half that I’d driven around London (driving lessons in the city, I find, are better when no one else in their right mind is awake and on the roads). So before most of the city was even awake, I’d concocted a plan to make Maya Angelou’s Lemon Meringue Pie.
Having not really made pie many times before, let alone one that involved not only pastry, but lemon curd AND meringue, this was a bold decision to make before 9am on a Sunday. But I loved the story that went with it and I had a desperate desire to know what it tasted like. And that’s good enough for me.
Maya Angelou’s Lemon Meringue Pie
200g caster sugar
3 tbsp cornflour
⅛ tsp salt (I went with a hearty pinch)
350ml hot water
4 large eggs yolks (keep the whites for the meringue)
1 tbsp butter (I actually forgot to put this in… but still tasted nice!)
Zest of one lemon
Juice of two lemons
Shortcrust pastry (No judgement here if you make or buy yours–today I used store bought… Please don’t judge me either! J was doing the ironing – and since he’s the pastry dude in this house and this was a sleepy, lazy Sunday, after all, it just seemed easier to buy it.)
4 large eggs whites
⅛ tsp salt (again, a hearty pinch)
1 tsp lemon juice (originally: 1 tsp cream of tartar**)
4 tbsp caster sugar
*I used the soft white insides of a little french stick. This worked really well, although I did need to strain the mixture part way through to get rid of the odd lump. Incidentally, I then blitzed the french stick in the food processor to make breadcrumbs for fried green tomatoes (recipe to follow).
**Ordinarily cream of tartar is used to stabilize the egg whites for making meringue, but with this being unavailable to me on a Sunday morning in my neighbourhood, I went with 1 tsp of lemon juice, which works in much the same way. And saved me some money, to boot!
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas Mark 6).
The recipe calls for a double boiler – this is essentially a bain marie, so place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.
But before you position it above the water, mix the sugar, cornflour and salt in it and stir to combine. This will eventually be the “lemon” part of your lemon meringue pie. Add your hot water and stir it all together until smooth, then add the breadcrumbs. Now place the bowl over the boiling water. Keep stirring; the mixture is going to start thickening in a very satisfying way. (If you, like me, manage to still have lumps at this point, just strain it through a sieve into a separate bowl, pressing the mixture through with the back of your spoon, and then pouring the lovely silky mixture back into the pan on the stove.)
In a separate, smaller bowl, beat the egg yolks together and add a few spoonfuls of the silky smooth cornflour/sugar/water mixture, stirring to combine. Then plonk the whole thing back into the ‘master’ bowl that’s sitting over the water.
Stir this slowly but firmly for 2-3 minutes, then add the lemon zest, lemon juice and butter. Stir and then take the bowl off the heat so it cools slightly while you make your meringue.
For the meringue: put the eggs white into a fairly sizeable bowl (to allow for vigorous whisking) with a pinch of salt and get whisking. If you have a machine that will magically do this (or a willing partner to sub in for you every now and again), then have at it.
Once the eggs start to look frothy (this shouldn’t take too long), slowly add the teaspoon of lemon juice (or cream of tartar) and sugar. I added the sugar at a slow pour, whisking in between each spoonful, which worked pretty well. Keep whisking until your eggs are shiny and stiff (but not dry). I went with the tell-tale sign of holding the bowl over my head; when nothing fell out, I judged it done.
For the pastry: Make the shortcrust pastry according to your favourite recipe, or purchase store bought. Pop it in your pie dish, line with baking paper and pour in baking beans (or ball bearings, dried chickpeas – whatever you have to hand) and bake for 15 minutes. Then take it out of the oven, remove the beans and baking paper, and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Keep an eye on this though – you don’t want it to burn.
A note on the pastry cooking time: since the fully assembled pie itself only bakes for 10 minutes total, I thought it was a good idea to bake for an extra 5 minutes to make sure the pie crust wasn’t soggy or undercooked. I baked it at 200°C.
Then pour in the prepared lemon curd mixture and spoon over the whipped egg whites. Don’t be tidy about this – haphazardly spooning the meringue results in wonderful tufts and peaks that give the finished pie character and a great golden colour once it’s baked.
Then pop the assembled pie in the oven for 10 minutes (or until golden) and voila! Lemon meringue pie.
You then have to find the fortitude to avoid scoffing the entire thing right then and there. It smells wonderful, and looks cracking. Then again, why not? Who’s going to stop the cook tucking in first?
A white wine with citrussy notes would go wonderfully with this, if you ask me – if only to raise a toast to the late, great Maya Angelou and her wonderful writing and delicious food stuffs.
Header image © Troy Toller/Flickr. All others are mine.