Daring Baker Challenge…Lemon Meringue Pie

I was lucky enough to be able to find the Daring Bakers, which allows me to be challenged to follow a certain baking recipe, as assigned, each month. This first challenge is Lemon Meringue Pie, in which the recipe is pre-assigned. The recipe is simple and straight-forward, but as it makes a full 10″-pie, I knew that my waistline wouldn’t appreciate the challenge. So, I used the recipe, but did a scaled-down version of it (my usual tactic) in order to bake two smaller, individual pies. The results were fantastic!

I really like this recipe because as I’m looking back upon it, I’m realizing how much of it could be done in steps, and simply assembled at this last minute, while having guests for dinner. From start to finish (finish being “in my belly”) it was about two hours. Actual hands-on time, about 20 minutes.

Using all the same instructions [see below], I used a 20% scale of the recipe to make my small pies.

Small-Batch Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes two-3″ pies

For the Crust:
2 Tablespoons cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 oz all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
2 t granulated sugar
pinch of salt) salt
1 tablespoon ice water

For the Filling:
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 teaspoons butter
2 T + 2 t fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon (15 mL) lemon zest
1/4 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
1 egg white, room temperature
1/8 cream of tartar
pinch salt
1/8 t vanilla extract
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

I followed the instructions, making the small-batch using two of my favorite kitchen tools: my KitchenAid Immersion Blender (using the mini-food processor attachment) and my Krups Toaster Oven. Those two tools are irreplaceable when it comes to small-batch baking!

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Below is the original recipe I needed to follow:

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:
Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Cooking for Two…Which Books to Buy?

As it’s just hubby and me, I am seemingly always trying to scale-back recipes or be on a hunt for a recipe that doesn’t make quite as much. I always hear the idea to make the full recipe, and save the leftovers, but that’s really not for me. I enjoy being in the kitchen and cooking, so leftovers are rather a thorn in my side, because they keep me from doing what I love. Over the years, I’ve collected and let-go of many “for two” books, but here are a handful of what I consider “keepers.”

book-cuisinefortwothumbnail.jpg Cuisine at Home has a new 101 recipe magazine/book hot of the press called Cuisine for Two. I love Cuisine at Home — great, simple recipes that can be made at a moment’s notice. This book is different, however, from all their others. Of course, this time the recipes are for two people, but they took a nod from the the typical New Year’s Resolutions and made these recipes much healthier than their traditional recipes. The tag-line on the cover is “Simple, Healthy and Delicious.” There is a great variety of dishes, with recipes for poultry, beef, lamb & pork, vegetarians and a handful of desserts. There is a photo to accompany each recipe along with a recommended side dish. Each recipe also includes a “total time” note. For only $9.95, it’s quite a steal (hint: try the pineapple rice on page 33).

images-1thumbnail.jpeg Aren’t slow cookers great? I mean the idea of throwing in your beautiful roast, farmer’s market carrots and potatoes into a ceramic bowl, going to work, and coming home to… mush? Hasn’t that happened to everyone with a bad recipe for a slow cooker? That’s why I love Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two, by Beth Hensperger. She has written a handful of slow cooker books for different occasions (including entertaining, and such) and all with great results are reviews. However, for the just-the-two-of-us-families, a large slow cooker meal seems out of reach… or it used to. The book covers some of the typical recipes, including meats and stews, but she also expounds into some global favorites, as well as casseroles and vegetarian dishes. If you’re a cook on the run, this is a great book for you (hint: try the Jerked Chicken Drumsticks on page 113).

891db220dca004cc0ee68010_aa240_lthumbnail.jpg If you’ve got some extra time, or if you just prefer more of the traditional home-cooked meal like your mom (or grandmother) used to make, I’d snag a copy of Betty Crocker’s Cooking for Two. This is a review of the 1994 version, which I have and love, but a newer version, called Just the Two of Us, has since come out (May 2007). I personally like the older version better (different recipes which are more my style). As Cuisine for Two, the recipes are laid out with main dish and side dish pairings, but this book also includes dessert selections. I love that the book covers many occasions, not just dinner; it includes options for breakfast, brunches, special occasion dinners and picnics. Of course, there are also a handful of vegetarian-friendly meals as well. My favorite recipes from the book come from the breakfast and side dishes, including yummy favorites like Maple-Glazed Carrots and Apples or Creamy Peas and Corn (page 20) and Baked Egg Casserole (page 78) with Orange-Pecan Muffins (page 66).

imagesthumbnail1.jpeg If its desserts you’re after, I suggest Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans. I received this book as a gift when it was first hot of the presses and I turn to it constantly. The variety of recipes is shocking. The author did a great deal of research and testing to get such excellent recipes, including pies, tarts, cakes, muffins, crisps and crumbles, ice cream toppings, brownies and bar cookies, drop cookies… just about every dessert you find yourself craving. Best part? No leftovers taunting your waistline. I say skip the diet and eat small-batch desserts (hint: try the lemon meringue pies on page 130).

132360681thumbnail.JPG Last, but most definitely not least, if you are a bread-lover, I highly suggest Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day as you mix up nearly 5 lbs of bread dough at once (or, as the authors suggest, you can easily double or halve the recipe) and leave in the fridge for up to 14 days. Any time you have five minutes, you simply pre-heat your oven, cut off a for-two-sized piece of dough and pop in the oven. And voila, you have fresh, easy bread for each meal. There are choices for simple sandwich breads, baguette-styles, along with global favorites, such as Naan. If you prefer dessert bread, instead of as a meal accompaniment, I suggest the Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls (page 187) or the Chocolate Bread (page 211). Of course, if you are a breadivore, then bread for breakfast is only natural, you will love the Oatmeal-Pumpkin Bread (page 100). [See book review for more]

Pasture-fed beef…sort of.

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While listening to podcasts of The Splendid Table, I heard the host and a guest discussing a documentary called King Corn. It seemed intriguing, but unfortunately, it had already left my city before I could get to it. Well, I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I’m weeks behind on my podcasts, so it had come and gone by the time I even heard of it. Nonetheless, the writer made some extremely interesting comments, including how much corn the general public (in the U.S., at least) consumes. My ears perked (ooh, that could be a bad joke!) in interest, as I’m always curious about food and the origin, etc. As he began pointing out corn syrup (yuck!!), corn-fed beef, corn-fed pork, corn-fed chickens, etc, I started musing at the thought.

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Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

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When the low-carb diet came into fad, I shouted for joy because there would be so much more bread for me (since I am such a breadivore). I was raised with the best homemade bread that could be found, so I’d always considered store-bought bread to be, well, useless. However, as I cut the apron strings and moved-on to fend for myself, the $.59 loaf of bread became a staple at my meager dinner table, with flavor sacrificed for time and budget.I would try now and again to make a lovely loaf of bread, but it was surely always devoured in the first 24 hours, not lasting me the full week, as intended. Ironically, I always ended up throwing away parts of the uneaten preservative-filled loaves, weeks after being opened. Go figure.

Over the past few years, I’ve fluctuated on and off making weekly bread. I don’t buy store-bread at all, which means I [sadly] just go without sometimes, depending on my weekly schedule. Until I found this book by Jeff Herzberg and Zoë François.

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Do blondies really have more fun?

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Just a week ago, I took my first stab at blondies…and I cannot stop craving them! So much that I just popped the last square into my mouth from the batch I made only six hours ago. Thank goodness for my toaster oven and the ability to scale down recipes (I made a 25% batch). I’m not a huge brownie fan, so the blondie is an awesome satisfaction for bar-cookie cravings. In lots of ways, it’s nothing more than a super-loaded chocolate chip cookie baked in a cake pan, but the flavor is phenomenal because of the use of brown sugar.

Since I’ve made these two batches (ahem, in one week), I’ve been trying to think of new ways to change it up and make lots of different ingredient combinations. I’ve only come up with a few, though…in the last hour, I mean, while picking at the remains, wondering how I can justify making a few more…

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Have you tried…white pepper?

images.jpegIf you have children, nieces or nephews, you might sometimes find yourself being asked the question, “ewwww! what are those black spots?” Hopefully you’re more patient than I and can abstain from launching into a half-hour lecture of why pepper is essential for flavor and heat (OCD definitely has its moments) and turn it into some cool idea that will make the child want to eat it! Otherwise, enter white pepper. Personally, I can tell a slight flavor difference, but I think I am one of the odd [wo]men out, as most others can’t tell at all. It is simply the black peppercorn, of which the outer [black] shell has been removed, prior to grinding. The advantages are that you still get the heat and flavor, while not having the flecks. It works great in any dish that is lighter in colored, such as macaroni and cheese (homemade, of course!), au gratin potatoes, mashed taters, etc.

Organic Batter Blaster…yay or nay?

When I first saw the Organic Batter Blaster, I really wanted to die. I mean, pancake batter in a jar? Yikes! Then I started researching it a little bit…I have to admit that I’m impressed that the entire container, lid and all, is recyclable and that there is neither corn syrup nor hydrogenated oils. I’d much rather spend five minutes throwing together my own mix of pancake batter (and save about $4), but when pitted against Bisquick or Eggos, I have to admit that the ingredient list is far better.

So, though I’d rather you make your own (most definitely!), given the competition, it’s the best one out there. Again, only if you really can’t possibly spare the time and money to blow…

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I am not a foodie…

some raw thoughts of a KitchenNut

When people ask if I am a foodie, I’m not ever really sure what to say, because bottom-line, I don’t feel like one. Sure, I like food. Okay, I love it. But, my passion is really about cooking, baking, the whys and hows of a kitchen. I’ve met lots of foodies who like food, but don’t know one pan from another…mostly preferring to eat good food at good restaurants and anything that can be snagged and eaten at the local farmer’s market or local co-op. Me, I just want to be in my kitchen. I am a KitchenNut because I can tell you why you want to use a traditional pan over a non-stick (see what is fond?) and my quest that took me to learning about that, but I could never tell you the part of the world that has the best flavored shrimp. In all honesty, I wouldn’t know where to look.

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US Food Holidays

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I found myself terribly distraught this past November when I found that I had missed National Bundt Day! What a fabulous day to eat cake and feel honorable! In order to honor all the quirky National Food Days, I’ve added a fabulous page so that never another day will be missed!

Happy Celebrating!

Baked From Scratch