Bake: A sweet ray of sunshine
Mini lemon meringue pies are the perfect spring dessert
All chefs face the quandary of how to use up leftover egg yolks on a daily basis, and this is the perfect solution. Photograph: Harry Weir
Some recipes are great for showing off your baking talent. In my classes, I challenge our culinary students to create a lemon meringue pie at the end of their four-week training. During this practical exam, they are tested on three different skills, making sweet pastry, a curd filling and meringue.
There are lots more small tasks involved that the students will be consciously paying attention to. For the pastry, they will line tins and bake blind; the meringue gives them a chance to show off their piping skills. Rather than a classic pie, for the exam our students make mini pies in mini tartlet tins in the style sold in a cake shop. The bright, sunny lemon curd is the star of this recipe so while the students make a crumbly French pastry called pâté sucrée for their exam, today’s recipe has a very simple every-day version of sweet pastry.
All chefs face the quandary of how to use up leftover egg yolks on a daily basis, as they don’t freeze as easily as egg whites. Homemade lemon curd is the business for waste conscious and frugal bakers. Curd is essentially made from egg yolks, sugar and flavouring. Lemon curd differs from custard as it uses a higher proportion of juice and zest to provide an intense, sharp, citrusy flavour (passion fruit is another fruit curd worth trying). While curds made for storing in jam jars usually include butter to give a smooth, velvety consistency, the curd for pies such as lemon meringue pie uses cornstarch to thicken it. Just looking at the middle layer of lemon curd in this pie, bursting with fresh citrusy flavour is like the clouds lifting on a sunny day. For me, it’s the perfect spring holiday dessert.
Mini lemon meringue pies
Makes 6 tarlets
200g plain flour
25g icing sugar
125g chilled butter, diced small
1 egg yolk, lightly whisked
1 tbsp cold water
Lemon curd filling
150g caster sugar
Zest and juice of 3 large unwaxed lemons
3 egg yolks
2 egg whites, room temperature
100g caster sugar
To make the sweet pastry
If making pastry by hand, sieve the flour and icing sugar together into a bowl. With the tips of your fingers, rub in the cubed butter until it is all worked in and the mix resembles fine bread crumbs. Use a knife to work in the egg yolk and water, then bring together to form a dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
(To make pastry in a food processor, add the ingredients in the same order as above.)
Roll out the pastry and use to line six lightly greased 10cm mini tartlet tins. Trim away excess pastry.
Prick the pastry lightly with a fork, then cut squares of parchment paper to line and fill the pastry cases with baking beans or rice. Bake blind in an oven preheated to 180 Celsius (fan oven) for 15 minutes until the pastry is part baked. Remove from oven and remove paper and beans.
To make the lemon curd
Using a heavy based stainless steel saucepan, add in the sugar and cornflour. Over a medium-high heat gradually pour in water, lemon juice and zest and bring to the boil, stirring with a wooden spoon or whisk until translucent and thickened.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks (if the lemon curd is too tart for your taste, add more sugar). Allow to cool.
To make the meringue
Use an electric whisk to beat the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl until you get soft peaks. Gradually fold in the sugar with a spoon until the mixture is glossy and holding stiff peaks.
Spoon the lemon curd over the baked pastry. Pipe meringue on top (or spoon the meringue over the filling).
Bake for 12-15 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven until the meringue is golden.
NB You can buy 10cm tartlet tins in specialist kitchen supply shops, such as Home Store and More. Stockists in Dublin city centre include Sweeney O’Rourke on Pearse Street, the Kitchen Whisk on Wicklow Street, and Stock Design on South King Street. This recipe will fill a 20cm pie dish. Simply increase baking times for a single pie.