Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. The day of LOVE! We’ve been so busy in our house lately that I decided a dinner in would be a wonderful way to spend the evening. Not only that, but our daughter, Kirstie, is staying with us right now. Her husband is in New Brunswick (Canada) with the Canadian Armed Forces. Since she’s expecting their first baby this summer and didn’t want to be alone (and we didn’t want her to be alone) she came home this week. So Valentine’s Day involved dinner for three, and we were delighted to share it with her.But love language? Well, Scott’s is definitely “Acts of Service” and so I wanted to do something special for him that would say “I love you” …. and that means a good home cooked meal followed by a fantastic dessert.
The menu was a stuffed rolled flank steak, steamed asparagus, and pomme duchesse. But dessert? Oh the best…. a beautiful, mile high with meringue from scratch lemon meringue pie! Scott’s all time favourite pie is lemon meringue, and I wanted to make him the best he’s ever had! Not only that, but I pre-ordered cupcakes earlier (and picked them up on Valentine’s Day) from The Cocoa Cakery. I got a double order, 1/2 for Kirstie so she’d have a special treat on Valentine’s Day, and the other half for us.
So, let’s start with dinner first, shall we? Seems like the logical place to me! I’m going to skip through this pretty quickly so we can get to the best part… dessert!
Rolled flank steak with sausage. Now, it was made with a mild pork sausage stuffing, but if I were to do it again, I would use a hot Italian sausage and a bit of shredded swiss cheese for the extra oomph of flavour! Regardless, this was delicious. Steam asparagus. Easy-peasie. Pomme duchesse, again easy peasie! Now.. finally we wolfed that down didn’t we? Let’s get to dessert, after all Valentine’s Day is all about the love! And dessert spelled LOVE in capitals letters!
Let’s start with the amazing cupcakes from The Cocoa Cakery. Christine, baker extraordinaire, made these delicious creations – we had 1/2 chocolate and 1/2 red velvet. Both flavours were moist. The icing was creamy and delicate. They were decorated so beautifully that they looked almost too good to eat… but eat we did! Just take a look at these gorgeous cupcakes! I’ve already placed my order for Easter. Believe me, if I could decorate a cupcake like this I’d just make them myself, but Christine does such an amazing job and that frees my time up to concentrate on cooking. Scott and I downed our 4 cupcakes, 2 each, pretty quickly. Kirstie is working through hers… she better hurry or we’ll have to sneak them out of her room and eat them! 🙂
Now the pie….Lemon Meringue Pie! I’ve already gone on record saying that making pastry isn’t my strength. When my extended family came over for Christmas Dinner my wonderful sister-in-law brought me a few pre-made pastry pie shells that she had made. Now, Chris makes unbelievable pastry. It’s light, flaky, and every so yummy. I feel like such a pastry failure next to her. I had to make pastry at school this week. Ugh. We’ll see if I can ever get this right.
Anyway, I took out one of the pastry shells, pricked the bottom in several places with a fork, and using parchment and weights, I pre-baked it in a 400* oven for about 15 minutes. Then I removed the weights/parchment and popped it back into the oven for another ten minutes. When the crust is ‘dry’ looking and every so slightly golden, I removed it from the oven and quickly brushed the surface with egg white. This will cool on the shell and becomes a barrier between the filling and the crust, preventing it from becoming soggy! Oh the things you learn, eh? Let it cool completely.
Meanwhile, let’s get the lemon filling going. You’ll need about 2/3 c of fresh lemon juice. Depending on the size of your lemons you’ll need 4-5 fresh lemons. Zest one of the lemons to get about 1 tbsp of zest. Then use that and the other lemons to get all the juice you’ll need. To get a high yield of juice, roll the lemons between your hand and a hard surface (counter top) before you cut them! Juice and strain to get rid of any crazy seeds!
Start by bringing 1 1/4 c water, 1 cup of sugar, and the lemon zest to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk 1/4 c sugar with 6 1/2 tbsp corn starch. Whisk in the fresh lemon juice (the whole 2/3 cup) and 5 egg yolks (keep the whites, you’ll need them later). Pour the simmering lemon water over the egg mixture and whisk. Return the entire thing to the pot and simmer again over medium heat until it thickens and just starts to bubble… actually it kind of sounds like… “blurp blurp blurp”… really, it does! It takes about 4 minutes or so. Take it off the heat and stir in 2 tbsp butter. Here’s where you can strain it (gets rid of the zest, but it’s really not necessary!) Pour it into a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap (placed right on the lemon filling… keeps the filling from developing a ‘skin’.) It should cool to room temperature. Now, this is where it’s different from any other lemon meringue pie I’ve made before. Usually you pile the meringue onto the hot filling, not in this case! But, follow it through and trust me you’ll be very happy with the results!
So, the filling is cooling to room temp. The pie shell is cooling to room temp. What’s next? The BEST PART, the meringue! Here we go….
Preheat the oven to 375* – it won’t take long because it should still be relatively warm from baking the pie shell. Fill the pie shell with the cooled lemon filling and set it aside for a few minutes while you’re doing this.
Whip the 5 reserved egg whites with 1/4 c sugar and 1 tsp cream of tartar until it reaches about a medium peak – ya, ambiguous, I know – not soft, not stiff, somewhere in between ok? Then, and seriously this is THE key to the meringue, take 1/4 c water and 3/4 c sugar and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Don’t stir it. DON’T. DO NOT. Using a candy thermometer, bring the mixture up to a temperature of 240*F (115*C). While you are boiling the sugar occasionally brush the sides of the saucepan with water. I learned that trick from Canadian baking whiz, Anna Olson.
Now, carefully pour the hot sugar slowly down the side of the mixing bowl with the egg white mixture, with the mixer on med-high. Don’t pour it directly in the middle because it will ‘deflate’ the eggs. Just pour slowly, be patient. Whip it up on high speed now until the meringue cools. The whipping will add the air into the mixture which will cool it down. It will take it about 3 minutes or so.
Pile it high on your lemon filled pie being sure that you reach the edges of the lemon. Bake it at 375 for about 5 minutes until the meringue is golden on top. Let it cool!!!! Then slice and serve it. For added ‘wow factor’ garnish with a slice of lemon on the side for those who like a little extra ZING. Your guests (or you) can squeeze a tiny bit of lemon on top for that hit of tart yumminess…. but you probably won’t need it!
I think one of the best parts of this meringue is that the meringue didn’t weep! This type of meringue is known as Italian Meringue and is the most stable of the three types of meringue; common Swiss, and Italian. It’s more stable than common meringue and a little sweeter. Apparently the cooked sugar stabilizes the meringue and keeps it in place. It also prevents it from weeping. The test? Well, today, when I looked at the leftovers, there was no weeping of the meringue. It still looked as beautiful and fresh as it did on Valentine’s Day! And seriously… when’s the last time you saw meringue this high and delicious looking? Score one for me!
Oh… and Scott? Yep, he was wowed. Great dinner, and TWO desserts. You know what they say, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!