It’s my birthday. Next to Christmas, my birthday is always one of the happiest and busiest times of the year because those are the two occasions I feel inspired to gather family and friends for a homemade feast.
I mentioned last April that I have a tradition of celebrating my birthday throughout the whole month. This includes hosting a dinner party every weekend for a different group of people. This year, I decided to add something different to my birthday activities. Where I live on the West Coast, there are plenty of vendors and food places that offer birthday vouchers to their clients if you sign up for their email list. So I spent a couple hours at my computer signing up for memberships at various food vendors, retail stores, and restaurant chains.
The one item I was looking forward to most was going skiing on my birthday, since I can get a free lift pass at Cypress if I go on the day of my birthday. Where I live, April showers are a regular occurrence, and I was disappointed when the slopes were closed due to heavy rain. So I spent the day claiming some of my other birthday freebies.
My day started with a free breakfast at IHOP. I received a birthday present from RW&Co for 25% off the last ticketed price and went shopping from the sale rack where I bought some great finds! Then I enjoyed free fish and chips from Pajo’s, a food vendor famous for using fresh local ingredients. My personal favorite is the salmon fish and chips, although I am also enthusiastic about the halibut.
This is just the beginning of my adventures! I still have a handful of birthday freebies to claim! I’ll fill you in next time when I share with you my next culinary venture.
As all days end well with dessert, I decided to make lemon meringue pie, a personal favorite of my sister-in-law. I made this pie all in one day which took me about 5 hours, but it is okay to make the pie crust in advance. I was surprised at how well my recipe turned out. My dad-in-law and hubby wouldn’t choose lemon meringue as their all-time favorite, but they both enjoyed this pie made with love. The meringue turned out so smooth, and balanced out the sourness of the lemon.
Stay tuned for my next culinary venture.
For the crust
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tbsp frozen vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 to 4 tbsp ice water
For the filling
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
5 large egg yolks
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 tbsp finely grated and minced lemon zest
1/3 cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice (from 3 lemons)
For the meringue
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 cup castor sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cream of tartar
Make the dough. In a Ziploc bag, combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Shake to mix and freeze for about 30 minutes. Add half of the butter and shortening to the bag and toss to coat.
Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Give it four short pulses and then process continuously for 3 seconds. Add the remaining butter and shortening and pulse again 4 times. Process again for 3 seconds or until the mixture has the texture of a coarse meal with some pea-sized crumbs.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Drizzle 1 tbsp of the ice water around the side of the bowl and use a fork to push the flour mixture from the edges towards the center. Repeat with a second tablespoon of ice water. Clusters of dough will form and become larger with each addition of water. Test the dough by pressing a small handful of dough clusters together and then breaking them apart. If they feel dry and crumble easily, add more water, 1 tbsp at a time until the clusters feel moist and bind together.
Gather and press the dough into a ball, flatten into a 5-inch disk, and dust with flour. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour, or until cold but still pliable enough to leave a slight imprint when pressed with a fingertip.
Make ahead: at this point, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 3 months. Simply let stand at room temperature until pliable.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Set aside.
On a floured work surface, roll the dough with a floured rolling pin into a 13-inch circle that is about 1/8 inch thick. Roll the dough around the rolling pin, unroll it over the pie plate, and gently fit it into the plate without stretching it. Trim the dough to a 1-inch overhang, reserving the dough scraps. Roll the overhang under itself and flatten it slightly to cover the rim of the pie plate completely. Chill for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Preheat the oven to 425oF with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Use a fork to prick the bottom and sides of the crust at 1-inch intervals without going all the way through the crust. Fit a buttered 12-inch piece of aluminum foil over the crust, buttered side down. Fill 1/2 inch deep with pie weights or dried beans or rice. Do not overfill.
Bake the crust on a rimmed baking sheet until the edges begin to brown (15 to 18 minutes). Let stand on a cooling rack for about 30 seconds, and then carefully remove the foil and pie weights. If any holes or tears appear, patch them by placing small pieces of the reserved dough scraps over the wholes, let stand for a few seconds, and then gently tap them with your finger until they adhere. Reduce the oven temperature to 375oF and continue to bake the crust until deep golden brown all over (about 16 minutes). Cool on a rack at least 15 minutes but keep the oven on.
Make the filling. In a heavy duty 3-quart saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in 1/4 cup cold water until the mixture is smooth.
Whisk in another 1 1/4 cups cold water until combined. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally as a mixture comes to a boil, turns glossy, then thickens into a translucent gel (about 6 minutes).
Whisk briefly to smooth out the mixture, then reduce the heat to low and cook 1 minute more, gently pulling the mixture from the sides to the center with the spatula to prevent scorching. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks. Gently whisk about 1/2 cup of the gel into the egg yolks; repeat with another 1/2 cup of the gel.
Pour the yolk mixture into the saucepan and gently whisk to combine. Cook the filling over medium-low heat, gently pulling it from the sides to the center with a spatula until it begins to boil (you will see a few large bubbles pop).
Continue to cook, stirring as before, until the mixture thickens further (don’t worry if it clumps at this point), about 1 minute.
Remove the pan from the heat and dot the filling with the butter, pushing it under the surface. Let stand for a minute to let it melt.
Gently whisk in the fresh lemon juice and zest until smooth.
Pour the filling over the pie crust and smooth the top with a spatula. Let cool to room temperature before making the meringue.
Make the meringue. Bring 1/2 inch of water to a simmer in a saucepan that will hold the bowl of a stand mixer on a wire rack without letting it touch the water. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the castor sugar 2 tbsp at a time, whisking for about 5 seconds between each addition. Place the bowl of egg whites onto the rack over the simmering hot water. Whisk the egg whites gently but constantly so they don’t cook, and the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Test by lifting a ribbon of whites from the bowl with the whisk and rub the whites between your fingertips – you should not feel any grit from the sugar (about 3 minutes).
Add the vanilla and cream of tartar to the egg whites, and transfer the bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg whites, gradually increasing the speed from low to medium-high over the course of 1 minute, until the egg whites form thick, glossy medium firm peaks. They should hold their shape but curl at the tips (about 4 minutes).
Use a soup spoon to drop some meringue into mounds in a ring around the edge of the filling. With the back of a spoon, gently spread dollops of meringue over the entire surface of the filling and all the way to the crust’s edge. Cover the entire filling with meringue without any air pockets, making sure that the edge of the meringue is anchored to the rim of the crust. Mound the remaining meringue on top and press with the back of the spoon to eliminate any air pockets without deflating the meringue. Make decorative peaks with the back of a spoon.
Bake the pie until the meringue peaks brown (about 7 minutes). Cool the pie on a rack away from drafts to prevent the meringue from shrinking. Let stand at least 1 hour before serving.
To slice, rinse a sharp, thin bladed knife in hot water and shake off excess before making each cut. Lemon meringue pie is best eaten the day it’s made. Keep leftovers loosely tented with aluminum foil and refrigerated for up to 3 days.