Have you been noticing this logo on foodie bogs? Well, I had been for a few months. Finally I was curious enough to find out what it meant. I found out it's a group of bloggers (and some non-bloggers) who take on baking challenges as a group, with the idea of improving their baking skills. Each month a different challenge is posted, and if you're a Daring Baker you're expected to complete all (or most) of them and post on a given day.
I liked the idea. It reminds me of my former book groups. When I was in a book group, the books I read were more challenging and varied that what I'd read on my own. Sometimes I'd groan about a particular book, but in the end, I'd learn something new or gain a new perspective. I figured the Daring Bakers experience would be similar.
So I signed up in late December and awaited the January challenge with some trepidation. Finally it was announced: Lemon Meringue Pie! My husband was thrilled, because lemon meringue is his favorite pie -- a fact I did not know until I told him about the challenge. I haven't made many pies because they are not my thing (they generally don't contain enough chocolate to suit me). In the rare occasions when I have made pies, I have usually used refrigerated Pillsbury crusts, which honestly, I think are pretty good.
I thought I'd tell you about the challenge from beginning to end.
First, the pie crust. I used my food processor to combine butter and dry ingredients until it resembles "coarse meal." I'm never quite sure when this stage is done. Mine looked like this. I sprinkled with ice water, let it rest, then was supposed to process "very briefly," just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Well, by the time the dough was coming away from the sides of the bowl, it wasn't that brief of a spin. So maybe I messed up somewhere. But I forged ahead, making a disk and chilling it.
When it was time to roll out the dough, I knew this was the step that can bring out my potty mouth. This one wasn't too bad. I had trouble with the sides splitting, but I found that rolling around the outside of the dough toward the cracks took care of that. I got the dough even and thin, and rolled it around the rolling pin to transfer it to the pie plate. I picked the rolling pin up by the handles, and the crust ROLLED OFF OF THE ROLLING PIN AND HEADED FOR THE FLOOR!!!! AHHHHH....... I half-moaned, half-yelled (to the amusement of my husband, who thought I was taking this all too seriously). I made a spectacular midair catche. Whew!
Despite its perilous plunge, the dough made it into the pie plate in one piece. I'm not very good at crimping dough, but it looked ok. All in all, things looked promising. I lined the dough with foil and pie weights and baked as directed.
After the blind baking, I took the crust out of the oven. When I removed the foil and pie weights, I was a bit concerned. The crust had shrunk down about 1/2 inch, and it seemed to be oozing butter. Although I wasn't convinced this was going to turn out well, I had people coming for dinner and this was dessert, so I put it in the oven to finish baking. Luckily, I didn't end up with a pancake-like crust.
I've made lemon curd before, but this recipe was different because the lemon juice (a whopping 3/4 cup) was added at the end of the process. After it was done, the curd seemed a little thin, but the color was pretty. I knew that lemon curd thickens a bit as it cools, so I wasn't all that concerned. This recipe has you cool the lemon curd before putting the meringue on top - something that has a matter of debate among the Daring Bakers.
The final step: the meringue topping. By this stage, my dinner guests had arrived, and in my haste to finish the pie, I'm pretty sure I messed this up. I put the egg whites in the bowl and turned on my KitchenAid mixer to full blast, until they held stiff peaks. Then, when I checked the recipe as I was adding the sugar, I realized I was supposed to FIRST beat the whites until they hold soft peaks, THEN get stiff peaks after adding the sugar. Oopsies. It made a huge mound of meringue and as my dinner guests looked on, I piled it on the pie and did a few random swirls. I popped the baby in the oven to brown the meringue and thought it came out looking reasonably nice.
As I cut into the pie, the meringue sort of disintegrated. I don't think I've ever eaten a pie with a meringue topping, but I imagine it's supposed to be a bit more creamy. And the meringue didn't seem to stick to the lemon curd very well. Even still, all of the dinner guests finished their pieces of pie and said they enjoyed it. One friend said he especially liked the crust. I did, too, because it had a shortbread flavor. The lemon filling was just thick enough to hold its shape and was very tart -- maybe a tad too tart for me. And the meringue probably would have been good if I had done it right.
Later that night, after the guests had left, I found my husband parked in front of the TV, pie plate in front of him, happily consuming the remainder of the pie. That made all my effort worth it. Now that I've tackled Lemon Meringue Pie once, I'll probably try it again, but with a different recipe (there's one that looks promising in this month's issue of Gourmet). So I'm going to call my first Daring Bakers challenge a success. And now I'm waiting -- with a equal parts trepidation and excitement -- about what challenge awaits me next month.
Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie
For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water
For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar
To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.
Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.
To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.
To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.