lemon meringue pie

When I saw the latest challenge from the Daring Bakers, I did a little skip of delight around the kitchen. We love lemon-flavoured anything around here – cakes, sweets, tarts, muffins, curd, alcohol, you name it – so having to make lemon meringue pie as DB ‘homework’ (set by Jen at The Canadian Baker) was always going to go down well at Bird Towers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite as planned in the end and I would love to find out why.

The pastry came together well, no complaints there (especially easy if using a food processor). And the lemon filling turned out to be a mouth-puckeringly sharp and gorgeous treat – I would certainly make this recipe again as just a lemon tart and I thoroughly enjoyed playing with cornflour as I’d never used it to make a dessert like this before.

Nope, as you’ve probably guessed, my problem was with the meringue side of things. All looked promising as I eased the pie into the oven to cook off the topping – oh, yes, I was writing up this blog entry as a raving success in my head already. I was cruising this challenge. And it looked pretty darn good when it came out of the oven, even if I do say so myself.

But then it all went pear-shaped (or should that be pie-shaped?).

You see that picture above? Notice that little gleam of something around the edge of the pie between the meringue and the pastry? That’s not just the halogen lighting bouncing around the camera lens (curse winter night-time photography). That’s the pie starting to weep. And lo, it continued to weep – clear, unidentified liquid – for the next wee while, until the whole meringue topping was floating raft-like on a puddle of the stuff.

Eurgh. That’s not appetising by any standards.

Eventually, I took the pie over to the sink and carefully drained off the liquid before serving it up to some friends on Friday night. Luckily enough, they’re good friends and are used to having all sorts of food experiments inflicted on them, so they weren’t put off by the weeping meringue. The general consensus was that the pastry was a good ‘un and the filling was perfect – nicely sharp but not cloyingly over-sweet as you sometimes find in store-bought versions (I’m looking at you, Café Leon). Even the meringue, once you tasted it, wasn’t that bad.

So what went wrong? Could any of the following factors have affected the final outcome?

  • My kitchen was extremely warm – I was cooking a big dinner and the pie had to cool down next to the oven on full blast because there was nowhere else to put it. Did it, in effect, start to melt?
  • I think that last point might be extremely wishful thinking, so… did I do something wrong when I whipped up the meringue mixture? Definitely possible.
  • Was there some kind of reaction between the luscious lemon filling and the fluffy meringue topping? I don’t know enough about the science side of things to say, but it’s unlikely – otherwise no one would ever make lemon meringue pie.
  • Was my oven at the wrong temperature? I think this is the most likely explanation. I noticed that the meringue was browning rapidly – too rapidly for it to cook over the allotted 15 to 20 minutes and not come out looking like a charcoal lump with goo on the inside. So I turned reduced the temperature a little bit and kept an eye on it. I think I didn’t get the cooking time right for my oven after I’d fiddled with the temperature, leading to an undercooked, leaky meringue.

But if anyone else out there has any theories on how I made my pie cry, then please leave a comment below. I’d dearly love to know because, overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge and would give it another go if I could work out precisely what went wrong! 

I’ll add the recipe later, but if you want to see all the wonderful and creative versions that the other DB-rs made of this challenge, then take a quick trip over to the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Enjoy 🙂

Update: OK, I’ve found out how to stop the meringue weeping, thanks to Bellini Valli at More Than Burnt Toast. You need to add cornstarch to the meringue mixture because…

“It prevents the egg proteins from overcooking which causes shrinkage, beading or weeping in the meringue. Food stylists use this technique and have used it during photo shoots to produce beautiful pies.”

Aha! Suddenly it all makes sense!