Last week my boys and I drove 5 hours due north to a small town on Lake Superior to get a break from the city. The boys just finished school and I had sent off the first pass pages of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We were all in desperate need of a vacation. Friends of ours have a lovely home on a pristine lake; no planes flying over, no street lights, no cars, just peace and quiet and night skies filled with stars.
On the drive up, once you pass Duluth, the road is dotted with small shops selling smoked fish and all kinds of pies. It is our tradition to stop to buy pepper crusted smoked fish and a pie; cherry, blueberry or lemon meringue. When I first moved here 16 years ago my husband and I stayed on the North shore and discovered Betty’s Pies. We happened in one evening for a slice and ended up going back 3 more times in as many days. We still stop there, although they have moved, grown and the pies aren’t quite what they used to be, but the romance is still there for me.
Here is my version of Betty’s Lemon Meringue Pie (made with my rosemary shortbread crust, a bit of lime zest for more zip and a dome of light fluffy Brown Sugar Meringue!)
Graham Cracker Crust (with more than just Graham Crackers)
6 graham crackers
10 rosemary shortbread cookies (or 5 more graham crackers)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (5 tablespoons if using only graham crackers)
Lemon-lime filling inspired by The Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball:
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups cold water
5 egg yolks (reserve whites for the meringue)
2/3 cup lemon juice (and/or lime juice)
1 tablespoon lime zest
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Brown Sugar Meringue by me:
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup (about 5 large) egg whites
1/4 teaspoon white vinegar (or cream of tartar)
To make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the graham crackers and shortbread in a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs. Add the brown sugar and butter and pulse until all of the crumbs are coated with the butter and start to stick together. It will be about 2 cups of crumbs (not packed tight) when finished.
Place the crumbs in an 8″ pie plate (as measured across the bottom). Spread them out evenly and press them tightly. I use a sheet of plastic wrap to keep the crumbs off my hands, which helps me pack it well.
Once they are evenly spread, I go along the top edge and get rid of the feathery edges by lightly pressing them down with my finger.
Chill the crust for about 15 minutes and then bake for 15-18 minutes. It will not color, but will set the crust.
Make the filling:
In a medium saucepan bring to a simmer the sugar, cornstarch, salt and water. Whisk constantly
Until the mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent.
Add the egg yolks one at a time and whisk gently to incorporate well. Repeat with the rest of the egg yolks. Continue to whisk until the mixture is quite thick. If it seems to be getting lumpy, remove from heat and whisk gently until smooth.
Slowly add the lemon juice and zest. Whisk gently.
Turn off the heat and add the butter. Whisk gently until it is all melted and well incorporated. Cover the pot to keep the filling warm.
Make the Brown Sugar Meringue:
In a small saucepan with a Candy Thermometer bring to a boil the brown sugar and water.
While the sugar is coming to the temperature of 238-240 degrees, start to whip the egg whites in a stand mixer on low speed. Once the sugar is nearly done turn the speed on the mixer up to medium-high and get the eggs to soft peaks. When the sugar is to temperature, carefully pure it along the side of the mixing bowl into the egg whites, while the mixer is still on medium speed. (Be very careful not to hit the beater or the sugar will splatter!) Once the sugar is all added, turn the mixer to high and let it beat until the meringue is room temperature, shiny and stiff peaks, about 8-10 minutes.
Pour the warm filling into the pie shell.
Carefully add the meringue to the top. I use a spoon and drop it on gently. Because you are adding it to the warm filling you need to be very careful or you will disturb the surface of the filling.
Once you have half of the meringue on the pie, use a spatula and very gently spread the meringue over the whole surface, all the way to the crust.
Add the rest of the meringue and use the spatula to create the spikes on the top.
Use a propane torch (or the smaller Butane Micro Torch used for cooking) to toast the top of the pie. Let the pie set for at least an hour at room temperature or refrigerate before serving or the filling will be too soft to cut.
*If you don’t have a torch, which I think does the best job, try toasting the meringue under the broiler. After a couple of people reported back that baking it to toast was making the meringue weep, I consulted many sources and found that the broiler is the next best thing to a torch! Just watch it carefully and turn frequently to get an even color.
Slice the pie with a thin bladed knife that has been dipped in hot water and dried.