The Night with the Christmas Trees and Pie*

Christmas lunch/dinner was a low key affair, with the nomnivores joined by Ma and Pa Bluebarry. We served a brined capon and bread pudding (of which, more later). The only really complicated bit was a Lemon Meringue Pie, a favourite of Ma Bluebarry.

We’ve made lemon tarts before, but haven’t tackled the meringue bit. Nonetheless, Bluebarry decided to take the hard way, and turned to Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home for the definitive take on this classic (actually, it’s his lemon meringue bar recipe, repurposed as pie).

The crust, a basic sweet shortcrust, turned out exceptionally well, despite my over-handling it and dropping about 1/4 of the dough onto the floor (no, I didn’t invoke the 5 second rule).

The filling was not what I’m used to putting in a tarte au citron – instead, Keller has us make a zabaglione, which involves the prolonged whisking of sugar, lemon juice, eggs, and egg yolks in a double boiler. Once it’s all been whipped into a foamy sauce (!), butter is whisked in to produce something like this:

This is poured into our pre-baked shell, covered with parchment to prevent a skin from forming, and thrown into the freezer overnight.

The meringue-making, which took place on Christmas morning, was an interesting experience: Keller prescribes an Italian meringue, which, according to Wikipedia, “is made with boiling sugar syrup, instead of caster sugar. This leads to a much more stable soft meringue which can be used in various pastries without collapsing. In an Italian meringue, a hot sugar syrup is whipped into softly whipped egg whites till stiff. This type of meringue is safe to use without cooking.”

Meringue being piped through the corner of a ZipLoc bag.

The decorating was followed by everyone’s favourite step: the blowtorching!

Feel the 'pane, meringue.

The final product looked pretty credible, for a first timer:

The verdict? Overall, too sweet. The meringue, through a combination of pilot error and the nature of the beast, was too sweet. The crust was also too sweet, although it was tender and improbably thin. The filling? Not too sweet, but extremely runny – we haven’t had this problem with traditional lemon curd.

On the whole, we’re more likely to revert to traditional lemon curd-based tarts in the future, with a brulee’d top. Still, it was nice to be able to cater to Ma Bluebarry on Christmas, and she seemed to enjoy it.

* From Eric Cartman’s haunting rendition of O Holy Night.

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