Lemon Meringue Pie: Beginner's Luck edition
November 25, 2013 4:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm making a lemon meringue pie for Thanksgiving, and it's my first time 1) making a pie 2) making meringue and 3) transporting it in my car for a hour. My grandmother's signature dessert was a lemon meringue pie that she made from a recipe she'd memorized and no one ever wrote down. She's been gone for about ten years, and we're all still missing her cooking. I decided to make a lemon meringue pie this year, one that my father (who has celiac disease) can eat too.

I really meant to do a trial run, but procrastination got the better of me. Now I'm asking for your tips and tricks. My specific anxieties are the meringue and separating the eggs--whether it's okay to use a mixer to beat the egg whites, or if it's better to do it by hand. Also, will the pie and the meringue be okay in my car for an hour while I drive to dinner?

I'm an unremarkable cook, so if I really tank, no one will be too surprised, but I'd like to give it my best effort. I'm using a graham cracker crust, which I know isn't standard, but it's a crust that my dad can eat. I'm using the recipe from How to Cook Everything, using the creamier filling variation.
posted by gladly to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Separating eggs is easier if the eggs are cold. There's a lot of ways to do it - you can even just crack the egg into a bowl and then reach in with your fingers and take the yolk out. I usually pour the yolk back and forth between the halves of the shell, letting the white slide off into a bowl. But regardless, it's a somewhat failure-prone process. Since the presence of oil will interfere with the structure of the meringue, plan for that failure: have some extra eggs on hand, and separate them into a small prep bowl, which you empty into the main bowl after each egg. That way if you break a yolk, you only lose one egg, instead of all of them.

It takes a lot of beating to make a meringue meringue-y, and if you aren't already a whiz with a whisk I wouldn't suggest doing it by hand. An eggbeater might work okay, but it'll be easier and faster with an electric mixer. If the reason you're asking is that you don't have one, see if you can borrow one from a neighbor or local friend.

I would think it would be okay in your car for a bit. Maybe put it in a cooler to be sure.

Finally: Did you find some special graham-cracker crust that is gluten free? Because normally graham crackers have lots of wheat flour in them (e.g., 1, 2)
posted by aubilenon at 5:08 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

A mixer will be way faster and easier than beating by hand.

Make sure the bowl you're beating the egg whites in is very clean and dry.
posted by Fig at 5:12 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regarding transportation: If you refrigerate your pie before you go, you want to avoid condensation forming on it, so transport it in a container that's not enormous. But if it's still warm, then you do want a larger container so it can continue to cool while you drive (and so that moisture can still escape)
posted by aubilenon at 5:18 PM on November 25, 2013

whether it's okay to use a mixer to beat the egg whites, or if it's better to do it by hand.

For god's sake, use a mixer. Preferably a stand mixer, so all you have to do is dump in the egg whites and let it beat for a while, and then gradually add in the sugar and let it keep doing all the work. (I presume you're making an ordinary (french) meringue and not a complicated one using hot sugar syrup. Either way, the electric mixer is your friend.)

Agreed on the graham cracker crust being suspect vis a vis gluten. Graham flour is typically just a whole wheat flour made using a particular type of milling process.

Bet you could do something awesome with a nut crust, though. The greater internet agrees (search on gluten-free nut crust):

Non-tested, but here's a nut crust

and an almond crust (which i think would go nicely with the lemon, although I'm not sure how I feel about the maple syrup, and I'd definitely leave out the cinnamon)
posted by leahwrenn at 5:19 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Separating eggs is easier if the eggs are cold.

I've been told that beating the egg whites is easier if they're at room temperature, but it should be a non-issue if you're using a mixer.

(It's unusual that Bittman's recipe calls for powdered sugar rather than granulated---I bet your grandma used granulated---but maybe this is why he gets the big bucks. Anyway, it looks like a nice recipe.)

I have heard several places that you want to make absolutely sure the meringue totally covers the other layer of filling---that you need to get all the way out to the edges all the way around---because otherwise the insulating properties of the meringue don't work and you can get weepy filling. or something.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:26 PM on November 25, 2013

Another celiac here: good lemon meringue pie is so awesome I suggest you make it in a nice clear pie dish with no crust and all will be amazed at the pretty colors and happy with the pie. Best wishes!
posted by Jesse the K at 5:26 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't really help with the rest of the pie but your last sentence regarding a Graham-cracker crust and your celiac father aren't compatible. Did you find gluten-free graham crackers? They do exist but I'm not sure they could stand up to becoming a pie crust. Without gluten to 'glue' everything I predict you'll get a very crumbly crust that sort of disintegrates in the mouth when eaten. Not a bad thing flavor-wise----but it might not be what you're hoping for.

I have seen pies using ground up nuts (ie: cashews, almonds, macadamia, a blend, ect.) for the crust rather than flours. This is the method most people following a Paleo/Primal diet go for as it results in a grain-free crust with nutty flavor and the ability to be eaten by anyone (as long as they have no nut allergies).
posted by stubbehtail at 5:26 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you spread the meringue over the lemon filling, make sure you connect the meringue to the crust - it gives the meringue something to anchor onto during transport, otherwise - off it slips on the first bend.

Also in transport - try to make the container something that won't allow the base to slip back and forth inside it. I get nervous transporting Lemon meringue, or other slippery type baked goods - so I normally become the passenger providing stability control for the container.
posted by insomniax at 5:33 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I recently made some cranberry tarts for a work pot-luck where I had to be concerned about a couple of people with gluten sensitivities, and I used Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Flour (which is a potato and tapioca blend) to great success, but I have just discovered that they also make a gluten-free pie crust flour mix that might be worth a try.
posted by briank at 5:34 PM on November 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

and an almond crust (which i think would go nicely with the lemon, although I'm not sure how I feel about the maple syrup, and I'd definitely leave out the cinnamon)

The maple syrup may be necessary to hold it together. Though since the crust is just below if it's extra crumbly nobody will really mind. I agree about leaving out the cinnamon, though I'd be tempted to replace it with ginger.

I've been told that beating the egg whites is easier if they're at room temperature, but it should be a non-issue if you're using a mixer.

Oops, I had intended to mention something about this.
posted by aubilenon at 5:36 PM on November 25, 2013

For separating eggs, my favorite method is to crack the egg, then pour it over my slightly spread fingers. The white will slide through to the bowl below and the yolk will remain in your hand to drop in another bowl. Generally, the yolk is strong enough that you can gently roll it in your fingers and it will be a perfect separation. Might want to wash your hands before and after.
posted by bagelche at 6:01 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you're separating the eggs, use three bowls - one for the white you're trying to seperate, one for the yolks, and another one to decant the "good" whites into. You don't want to pop a yolk on your last egg over your bowl of nice clean eggwhites!
posted by slightlybewildered at 6:03 PM on November 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes, I am using gluten-free graham cracker crumbs. He's had products from Kinnikinnick before and thought they tasted okay. He's not been fond of regular gluten-free pie crusts, just as was said above, they can be sandy and crumbly.
posted by gladly at 6:04 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've made crustless pie and it's delicious, so if a gluten-free crust is too much fuss, go crustless.
posted by theora55 at 6:05 PM on November 25, 2013

For lemon meringue pie, it's really important to cook the filling thoroughly, not just for finicky food-safety reasons but because otherwise an enzyme in the eggs will eat up all the starch and the once-thick filling will turn runny. Here's what kitchen chemist Shirley Corriher has to say about lemon meringue pie:
Pie fillings contain egg yolks, and egg yolks have an enzyme, alpha-amylase, which just loves to gobble up starch. The recipe tells the cook to heat the filling (bring it to a boil) after the yolks are added. But you need to really bring it to a boil to get all of the filling above 170 degrees Fahrenheit. That's the temperature needed to kill alpha-amylase. This is hard to do — the filling is thick and sticking and going blop, blop, blop. But if you don't get it hot enough, it just takes a few little alpha-amylase to gobble away like Pac-Man — and there goes all the starch that was holding your filling nice and firm.
So get that filling to a proper boil and let it blub-blub-blub so your filling will get – and stay! – nice and thick. It's a bit tedious, but it's not remotely difficult. Consider wearing an oven mitt or using a loooooong-handled spoon so you don't get blub-blub-OW burned while you stir it.

Meringue looks fancy but is a snap! As others have said, separate the eggs while they're cold for greater ease. I like to use a small bowl for separating one egg at a time, dumping the whites and yolks into their respective larger bowls. That way, if a bit of yolk gets into the white, that yolk hasn't got into the whole batch; you just set that egg aside for scrambled eggs later, or whatever, and separate another.

Even if you overbeat the meringue, no big deal: just add another egg white (and a proportionate bit of sugar, to keep the sweetness balanced and the beaten whites stable) and beat it in.

Older eggs beat up better than super-fresh eggs. Any eggs you buy from the grocery will do nicely, but if you have gorgeous fresh-laid eggs from the farmer's market, save those for something else.

To be sure the finished pie stays nice and cool, you can wrap a (disposable or reuseable) ice pack in a thick kitchen towel and pack it under the pie in a cooler/cardboard box/whatever for transport. In general, food-safety guidelines recommend no more than two cumulative hours in the danger zone (between 40F and 140F). That means every minute adds up: the time your eggs are at room temp between the store and your fridge, the time they're sitting on the counter before you beat them, the time you spend beating them, and the time the pie sits in your car or on a table. But even without those food safety issues, I'd suggest keeping the pie cold because it will be most delicious and appealing if it's good and cold!

Your graham cracker crust adaptation sounds great. I'm sure you'll make a great pie!
posted by Elsa at 6:22 PM on November 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

FYI, just arrived home from the supermarket with a Mi-Del gluten-free "graham-style" pie crust, disposable pie tin and all. Will be baking some pumpkin custard in it in 48 hours or so.
posted by sesquipedalia at 10:35 PM on November 25, 2013

Probably a repeat of stuff said but here are my tips to helping you achieve meringue success:

1. No fat in the whites or the bowl. Start with cold eggs. Crack at a time in a little bowl so you can inspect each white to make sure no yolk makes it through. Very clean bowl for the whisking. Let the whites sit a bit. Warmer whites fluff a little better.

2. A pinch of cream of tartar will help stabilize the foam.

2. Weeping is a very common problem. Usually caused by putting the meringue over a cold filling. Make sure the filling is warm before applying the whites.

3. The meringue will want to shrink in the oven. When you apply the whites, make sure you swipe it over the crust to anchor it and problem solved.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:05 AM on November 26, 2013

Thank you all so much! I probably didn't beat the eggs long enough, so the meringue deflated a little bit overnight in the fridge, but it tasted very good, no weeping, and it traveled very well. These answers were so helpful.
posted by gladly at 8:03 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

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