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How Can I be Thwarted by Meringue?

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How hard can it be to make a lemon meringue pie?
As it turns out it's very hard. This is my third attempt. First I used a premade short crust pastry, the same one I used for my pumpkin pie. That turned out pretty well I guess.
However, I didn't think it worked to so well with my lemon meringue.

I made quite a few mistakes first time round.
I forgot to grease the pie dish. Never a good thing to do....or not do in this case.
I didn't like the short crust pastry so much. It had a somewhat unpleasant taste so I vowed next time to make the pastry like in the video tutorial I was following.
I think I put in too much lemon but the taste was extraordinary. It was mouth-wateringly sharp and then melted to a creamy kind of flavour.
Most importantly the yolks broke when I was separating them but only a little egg yolk got into the white. I figured it wouldn't matter that much....ha...ha...ha. The meringue was an utter disaster. I had to put in more sugar because it wouldn't thicken and after an hour or so of mixing I just dumped it on the pie. Needless to say it was a mess. The partially mixed part separated from the unmixed part, which sank through the lemon filling and out the bottom of the tin. Due to this leaking and the tin having not been greased it took about another hour to get the pie out of the dish and once it was out it was a disgusting looking pile of slop.
It really doesn't help matters when I'm using a hand whisk I got from Tesco. You know, the ones with the handle you turn? Because I was getting sick of using a regular whisk which is good if you have strong arms I guess, but mine are quite weak. We do have an electric whisk but it's so old and so dusty that I dare not touch it. I think it's older than me.

So. That was the first pie. I figured I'd do better the second time round.
I made the pastry. I wanted it to set faster so I put it in the freezer but that kind of gave it a hard crust and slightly squishy centre so I had to knead it quite a bit to make it pliable again. I didn't have any room to roll it out so I kind of flattened it by hand the put it in the dish and tried to kind of mould it into the dish. It came out okay, tasted great but was a little thick at the edges where I'd tried to push it right in an failed.
I measured the lemon this time and even got a zester for the occasion (I grated the lemon first time round. Oddly enough the recipe calls for grated lemon, not zested. I forgot about that but it's basically the same isn't it? Ah, I guess it depends what side of the grater you use really). It didn't have such a lovely sharp taste this time round which I found a little disappointing.
Oh, I forgot something earlier. We don't have any of those things people use for juicing things like lemons so I have to squeeze the lemons by hand. I get through about 3-4 for one pie.
On the subject of juicing the lemons. One or two pips got into the pie that I didn't notice until we were eating it.
We spent about another hour whisking the egg whites. It just wouldn't fluff up and we couldn't work out why.
Oh. something else I forgot. Generally we use large eggs but most recipes call for medium. Since were the kind of people who'd cook eggs more than we'd bake we prefer large eggs. The pie dough calls for an egg yolk but when I put it in the dough was so sticky that I had to add more flour to make it solid. So we wondered if the size of the eggs was causing a problem with the meringue too, since the amount of caster sugar needed was surely for medium eggs. Last time we got eggs I got medium, since there were few large. so for the third time round I used medium.
In the end we put the whole bag of sugar in and it still wouldn't work. It became hard to whisk and then we noticed odd little black bits in the white meringue. It took me a while to work out that it was from the plastic handle of the whisk and that it was being ground down.
Lemon meringue with added plastic. I dread to think what that did to my insides.
When we'd had enough and thought it would have to do we dumped it on the pie. I remembered to grease the dish this time.
The meringue was too sweet and too heavy and rather ruined the pie. The filling got a little sloppy again but not as bad as the first time.
We concluded that we should whisk up the egg before putting in the sugar. It was hard for me to get it right because the guy in the video had an electric whisk and he only whisked the eggs a little before adding the sugar.

I had another go at it today. It went well. I didn't knead the dough though because I did my nails a few days ago and I was worried about it chipping in the dough or something. I got mum to knead the dough. (incidentally my nails are red (an odd choice of colour for me since red nails makes me think of prostitutes for some reason. I honestly have no idea why. It's not like I disapprove of it or anything.) With a black crackle varnish on top and two top coats. I think it looks a bit like molten lava, it's pretty cool. I put it on after I took off my magnetic varnish because it was rubbing off. I don't usually use a top coat but I have to with the crackle varnish because it's so dry it could peel off.)
I made sure the dish was well greased.
I put the used a tea strainer to separate the juice and pips.
I put the filling in the freezer to cool it quicker because I was ready to get baking.
I whisked the egg whites until frothy and slowly added the sugar.
I used a bowl that was too small (in my previous attempts the meringue didn't grow much during mixing but this one doubled in volume) so I had to put it in a bigger bowl.
A little more of the handle ground into the mixture but nowhere near as much as before. We tried to hold it to the side so the plastic wouldn't end up in the meringue.
I thought it was a bit too much for my pie but mum said I should put all of it on (It's kind of a small round pie dish, not one of those flatter flan dishes you'd usually use for a lemon meringue. That might have something to do with my problems. To be fair it's the only pie dish we have and I only got it last year to make a pumpkin pie for the first time.)
I think it was too much meringue. I took it out, left it to cool while I took the dog out. I tried to break off a little peak to taste it but it wasn't crispy enough. I told mum about this and she put it back in for a bit longer while I took the dog out.
When I got back I was looking forward to my pie but the meringue wasn't properly cooked. I poked a shiny white part of it and it stuck to my finger. The tips were lightly browned though. For lack of a better idea I stuck in under the grill for a while hoping direct heat from above would help. It made a bit of a mess.
Our old oven was very good. It had what you'd expect and a grill at eye level so you could see what you were doing. Then Napoleon said since it was so old it was dangerous, took it out and replaced it with a "new" one. Now I'm not entirely sure where he got it. I think he got it from work. He's a builder in case you forgot. I think maybe he'd been doing a kitchen and the owners had gotten a new oven perhaps so he decided to take the old one. Not quite sure. The knobs turn a different way to the old one. I'm used to it now. For some reason mum can't grasp that you need to turn it further for simmer and not boil. But what she hates most is the grill. It's kind of in-between the oven and the hob. Not sure why. I'm used to it but she can never get it right. It's never been a problem for me until today.
While sliding the pie under the grill I had it tilted at too high an angle and some of the meringue scraped off onto the grill. I had to clean it off before I lit it in case it caught fire.
I left the pie under the grill for too long and the meringue burnt just a little, enough so that you know it's over cooked but not so much as to ruin the taste.
It still didn't get crispy but retained a chewy texture.
Sigh. I really thought it'd be perfect this time. It was in a way. Almost perfect. It's the best one yet but it's still just not perfect. It annoys me. How can I be thwarted by meringue four times? (I say four because one Christmas some time ago I tried to make meringues for Christmas. I think I was using a fork to whisk then. They were too heavy and sugary and I was the only one who could stand to eat them).

Is there something I'm missing here or is making the perfect meringue something of a hit and miss, like cooking beef or a soufflés? I hear those are notoriously hard to cook properly. It shouldn't be that hard. It's just egg white and caster sugar. How hard can it really be to do properly? I would feel like a failure but not really. They were all edible and they got progressively better. My fourth lemon meringue can only be perfect if I remember all my previous failures. Surely the next one has to be perfect.

Updated 07-29-2012 at 02:49 PM by Bluebiird (Do you really have to ask?)



  1. Virgil's Avatar
    I can't help you, but reading this sure made me hungry. Keep trying as they say.
  2. qimissung's Avatar
    You are certainly persistent. There isn't anything, really, like homemade meringue, IF you know how to do it right. I think it's one of those things where you have to follow the recipe exactly, and you do seem to like to experiment, bluebiird.

    I'm sure the next one will be perfect. I only wish I had the werewithal for meringue, but the very idea defeats me (love the title, btw).