Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ann's February Pie - Clementine Meringue

Sometimes you choose a pie for the month to fit a theme - so I had been planning to do something with raspberries or strawberries for February because that seemed cute and red and romantic. However, with no one to share said romantic pie with, I went with frugality - I had a box of clementines that was a little past its prime. I'd had my eye on a recipe for a tangerine meringue pie from a book from the library, Patty Pinner's Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie, (it just seemed too weird not to try!) and I wondered if these clementines would work for the recipe instead. The clementines themselves were fine, but they just were a little too withered to be good for eating on their own. To double check, I called my dad to see what he thought about the substitution. He thought it would work, but as soon as I told him I had these old clementines to use, he was adamant that I use them instead of going out to buy new tangerines. He has a soft spot for using up things - but then again, he also loves throwing things away just to get rid of them. Hmmm.... For the record, he looks like a cross between Robin Leach and Neil Diamond. And he cooks, too!

We're coming to America for champagne wishes and caviar dreams...today!

Anyway, I had my friends Marcue and Control coming over to watch A Bit of Fry and Laurie with me while I baked. The night before, I made a crust - my first pastry crust! I made an all-shortening crust from Ken Haedrich's Pie book, which I used for last month's pie. My reasoning was two-fold: the crust recipe in Patty Pinner's book called for very little liquid, and after watching the Holiday Pies episode of America's Test Kitchen with Listle at Thanksgiving, I knew that the whole "use as little liquid as possible" thing was a myth. I think this recipe called for 2 tablespoons of water or something crazy like that. And we wonder why people are afraid of pie crusts? The other reason I went with the shortening crust was that I didn't have any butter and couldn't get to the store that night. Thus...my decision was made. This recipe was also cool because it included directions that used a hand-held mixer! I couldn't lose, especially when starting a pie crust at 1 am.

I let the crust sit in the fridge overnight until the pie-baking extravaganza (can one pie warrant an extravaganza?). It was relatively easy to roll out the crust and to form it into the pan. Since I was making a meringue pie, it seemed silly to try to do a fancy edge, but I thought it came out looking nice. Here I am forming the crust.
Those scraps made some lovely Tea Party later. (Did anyone else eat that as a kid? Leftover pie crust edges sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and baked?) And here is the finished crust! I did it!

Next, I made the filling with the clementines. My main concern was that they'd be too sweet, and oh yes, they were. I tasted the gooey, bright orange filling and it just tasted cloying, with no citrusy tang. I had even reduced the amount of sugar to try to compensate for this, but to make it more palatable, I added the juice of two lemons. This made the filling taste much better, but perhaps too much like a basic lemon filling. I was willing accept this over the cringingly sweet pure clementine version.

So, after baking the crust (which shrank a bit - something to learn more about) and adding the filling, the recipe said to set the pie aside while I made the meringue. I really like to make meringue - it's fascinating to watch sugar and egg whites transform from a thin foam to thick, pure white ribbons that hold every fold and ripple. Eating meringue isn't as much fun for me - often there is too much for my taste. With anticipation, I waited to see what the pie to filling ratio would be! Imagine the drama!

Look at those stiff peaks!

Okay, so here I found something I really didn't like about the recipe. It told me to set the filled pie aside while I made the meringue, and then cover the filling with the meringue. However, when I did this, the meringue kind of just sank into the filling. It would have worked better to cool the filling for a while and then put the meringue on top so that it wouldn't displace the fillings as much. It still worked out so that it looked nice, and then it went into the oven. Hooray!

Behold, the finished pie:

I shared this pie with my roommate and Marcue and Control. We all liked it, but it was quite close to a lemon meringue pie because of the lemon juice I added to cut the sweetness. I'd like to have tasted a more significantly orangey taste, but I can't really blame the recipe for that because I didn't follow it as written when it came to my citrus choices. However, I was disappointed that the meringue sank so much into the filling as I formed the pie. As a result of this, there were parts of the meringue that were extremely thin while other parts had sunk almost to the bottom crust. A completely cooled filling would have helped with this, I think.

Final verdict: there wasn't anything wrong with the flavor (it was quite good, in fact) and the color (a deep and bright yellow with flecks of cheerful orange zest) and the texture were lovely. The crust was also nice, if perhaps a bit overbaked, and I can now see that butter in the pastry would have added a nice flavor component. I'd be interested in making again with real tangerines and with the minor improvements I mentioned. But not bad work for my first real pastry crust and a carton of past-their-prime clementines!

Almeta McCray’s Tangerine Meringue Pie
from Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations, with Pie by Patty Pinner


1 ¼ C sugar
3 Tbs cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
½ C fresh tangerine juice (from 4 to 6 tangerines) – I used clementines and two lemons
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp finely grated tangerine rind
¼ C (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted


4 to 6 large egg whites (depending on how high you want your meringue), at room temperature
½ C sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the pie crust (roll out, form into pie plate) and fully prebake. Set aside on a wire rack.

Make the filling. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually whisk in the tangerine juice until smooth. Whisk in the egg yolks until thoroughly combined. Stir in the tangerine rind and butter.

Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, and gradually reduce the heat as the filling begins to bubble and thicken; this will take 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour the hot filling into the pie crust. Set aside.

Make the meringue. In a medium-size bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat on high speed after each addition until dissolved, then until the egg whites form shiny, stiff peaks. Mound the meringue in the center of the pie, then spread it evenly around the edge of the inner crust. Use a spoon to create a design of peaks and valleys all over the meringue. Place in the oven and bake until the peaks are nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 1 hour, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

Basic Shortening Pie Pastry
from Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie by Ken Haedrich

For a single crust:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ tsp salt
½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
¼ cold water

Electric mixer method:
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the shortening, breaking it into smaller pieces and tossing it with the flour. With the mixer on low speed, blend the shortening into the flour until you have what looks like coarse, damp meal, with both large and small clumps. Sprinkle on half of the water. Turning the machine on and off, mix briefly on low speed. Add the remaining water in 2 stages, mixing slowly until the dough starts to form large clumps. Do not overmix.

Dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Place dough on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten the dough, with floured hands, into disks about ¾ inch thick. Wrap them in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight before rolling. Roll out, form into pie plate, trim and form edges. Cover with foil and prebake with pie weights or beans, then remove beans and bake again to brown. (Unfortunately, I forgot to write down the baking times for the crust before I took this book back to the library - so I'll update this section when I check it out again. I didn't want to neglect posting it until I had the complete information.)