Meringue is something that I really like... in theory. Clouds of fluffy sweetened egg whites, blanketing mounds of silky lemon or chocolate custard, its whipped peaks lightly toasted. Sounds lovely.
The first time I ever made meringue was when I was living in China. It was my third year of teaching, and the year I became friends with three guys from England, two of them brothers. They were tall with charming English accents, and with a scarcity of eligible men at the university (as in, men who were not my students), it was impossible not to crush on all three of them at one point or another throughout that year. My girlfriends must have felt the same way, because two of them ended up marrying the brothers, and a third moved to London to meet her own English man.
But that year, Leland, Jessica, Robin and I became inseparable, and practically lived in each other's apartments all hours of the day and night, when we weren't teaching in our separate classrooms. Leland had a love for all things lemon, and was always talking about how much he would love a lemon meringue pie to remind him of home.
So that spring, when the three of them took a little trip out of town and I stayed in Dalian so I could put the money towards my student loans instead, I decided to make a lemon meringue pie to welcome them back.
The crust and lemon filling weren't difficult, but when it came time to whip the meringue to stiff peaks (by hand, seeing as how I did not have an electric mixer), it took me three tries - and an incredibly sore arm - before I was satisfied that they were whipped correctly. So proud of my pie, I set it in Leland's refrigerator in his apartment to surprise him when they got back. I made something for the girls, too, it's just slipping my mind right now what that was, since the pie was my biggest baking accomplishment at that point in my life's culinary endeavors.
And when they came back into town, the pie sat there. And sat there. And sat there.
After a full week had passed, and the meringue had long since started to droop and bead and look quite unappetizing, I got angry.
"Why haven't you eaten the pie yet?" I asked him.
He looked puzzled. "I was saving it."
Which made me even angrier. "Saving it for what? Until it spoils and can't even be eaten? It's been sitting there for a whole week! I made it because you said you wanted it, and you don't even care!"
To which he proceeded to cut a piece and take a big bite with mock enjoyment. But I was sure that at that point it tasted soggy and disgusting since it was no longer fresh. Annoyed by his condescension, I stormed out of the apartment and spent the rest of the evening sulking that all my hard work had been for nothing.
Now it just amuses me when people are afraid to cut into a cake that's "too pretty to eat", and I have found that I sometimes have to be the person to cut the first piece so that others follow my lead. You see, nothing pleases a baker more than to see people eat and enjoy the treats that they've made. I don't make cakes and pies just to look at - they are meant to be eaten!
All that said, I'll explain what I meant about liking meringue in theory. As pretty as it does look, it's just not my favorite topping. I'm not sure what it is, maybe the spongy texture, but it just doesn't do it for me.
So, if meringue isn't your thing either, then a row of marshmallows, toasted under the broiler or with a brulee torch would be a nice touch on this s'mores pie. Or, my own personal favorite, just some barely sweetened, freshly whipped cream.
One Year Ago: Black and White Marble Cake with Chocolate Curls
Two Years Ago: Sweet Treats for Sunday: A Doughnut Making Adventure
graham cracker crust:
- 1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 6 egg whites
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups skim milk
- 1 cup whole milk, heavy cream or half 'n' half
- 3 egg yolks
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cook's Note: Instead of meringue, the pie can also just be topped with whipped cream, which I actually prefer over meringue. Another alternative to meringue would be marshmallows, which you can toast with a brulee torch, or for a few minutes under the broiler.
Bake the Crust:
Preheat the oven to 325. In a deep-dish pie pan, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt. Drizzle with the melted butter and toss with a fork to moisten. Press the crumbs evenly against the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes and set aside.
Raise the oven temperature to 350.
Prepare the Meringue:
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Cover the bowl and set aside.
Cook the Filling, Bake Meringue, and Chill Pie:
In a saucepan, combine the cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the milk, cream and egg yolks. Over medium heat, slowly bring to a boil, while whisking constantly. Once it boils, continue cooking and whisking for two minutes until very thick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate, butter and vanilla.
Spread the chocolate filling over the crust. Spoon or pipe the meringue onto the hot filling. Bake at 350 until the meringue is golden brown.
Chill pie for 3-4 hours, until filling is set.
Yields 8-10 servings
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen