Comfort Dreams & Lemon Meringue Pie

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I am inspired to write this today after my FB cooking buddy, Lois, posted about dreaming of her dad. Lois took great care of her father and prior to his passing spoke with him on the phone on a daily basis. She had been struggling with her grief until her dad came to her in a dream. They were talking on the phone. Dreaming of a shared experience affirming his life brought her peace.

Lois with her dad, Jerry, and two sons

I had a comfort dream of my own. One year after William’s death, I realized I needed out of my old life…that I would never heal if I did not move on, move away and simply just take care of myself. It was my first brave decision…but one filled with incredible conflict, as I would be leaving our home in Connecticut that was filled with 30 years of delicious memories and the place my son adored.

Imagine me packing up his room. The scent of his cologne still on his pillow. His dirty hand-print on the wall. Touching his things I was transported back to the places we had been, the fun we had had and the plans we had made…. the memories flooded over me.  Preserving these memories would allow me to move forward, but how? On our very first night in the new house now in PA I had the most vivid dream. I got up from my bed and looked out the window and in the driveway was my son looking up at me. It was then I knew he goes where I go. I carry him in my heart.

a bittersweet moment as the peak of my pie hit the oven grate and pulled away

Comfort dreams are moments of light and hope. They are stories of support and faith and what is most precious. To tell the story is a way of moving our grief along, but also is a gift to those we share it with. We all heal in the telling of our stories. It’s an uncomfortable blessing to express our pain, but in doing so there is a release and relief. Thank you, Lois for having the courage to mourn out loud. I’d like to think that your dad was telling you in that dream that he is always with you and that everything is going to be all right.

In honor of Lois’ dad I am sharing a recipe for lemon meringue pie. It was one of Jerry’s favorites and a recipe I have been tinkering with recently. The mile high cloud of meringue featured in the first photo above is an Italian meringue made with roasted sugar. It is light and fluffy with less sticky sweetness than the meringue featured in my lattice recipe design. As much as I love the lattice design the real reason behind it was to use less of the meringue I did not want to eat. Delicious citrus fruit is abundant this time of year, but if you can’t find meyer lemons go ahead and use regular lemons which will yield just a slight more pucker power.

Meyer Lemon Meringue Pie

Crust*

1 ½ cups (6 oz) all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar plus additional for pie edge

½ teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons (4 oz) vegetable shortening, cold

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold water

1 egg white

Meyer Lemon Filling

2 eggs

7 egg yolks

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2/3 cup meyer lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

1 tablespoon meyer lemon zest

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons heavy cream

Lattice Topping**

2 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

For the crust combine the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl; cut in shortening. Add water and mix until just combined. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill 15 minutes. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface and fit into a 9-inch pie dish. Decorate edge with pastry cut-outs. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil and weigh down with dry beans or pie weights. Place pie dish on a baking sheet. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Lightly brush edge of crust with egg white; sprinkle with sugar. Return crust to oven and bake 10 minutes more or until a light golden brown.  Reduce oven temperature to 325F.  Meanwhile, prepare filling. In a medium saucepan, whisk eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and zest. Add butter and stir over medium heat for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens and reaches 170F. on an instant read thermometer. Remove from heat; stir in heavy cream. Pour filling into warm pie shell.  For lattice topping, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and vanilla beating to stiff peaks. Pipe meringue over pie in a lattice pattern. Bake 20 minutes or until meringue is golden brown. Cool and chill pie before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

*ready made pie crust can be substituted for home made crust

** I suggest taking your meringue to the next level with this mile high light Italian Meringue made with roasted sugar. To roast the sugar: spread 1/2 cup of sugar on a piece of foil and place it in a pie plate at 350F for 30 minutes. Then continue with this recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible

1/2 cup sugar (that you just roasted)

2 tablespoons water

4 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

In small heavy saucepan, (I use one that has a pouring spout edge), stir the sugar and water until sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved and syrup is bubbling. Stop stirring and turn heat to lowest setting or remove from heat as you attend to the egg whites. In stand mixer with whip attachment, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat to stiff peaks. Increase the heat of the sugar syrup and boil until thermometer registers 236F. With mixer on high, immediately drizzle syrup into the egg whites avoiding the beaters. Beat for 2 minutes or until the mixer bowl no longer feels too hot to touch. Starting from the edges of the pie and covering the inside edge of the crust with meringue spread the meringue on top of the filling making swirls and peaks with a spatula. Bake the pie for 5 minutes at 350F to set the meringue and then place pie under broiler for 20 to 30 seconds for a deeper browning. You could also torch it.

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Warm, but overcast, yesterday was the perfect day for strawberry picking with my family. Highland Farms in West Chester, PA is the place to go for all sorts of fruit picking throughout the year. The scent of strawberries was in the air as we approached the field.

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photo by Caitlin

Do your littles watch the show Daniel Tiger? Annabelle loves the animated Mr. Rodgers version and on one episode Daniel and his friends go “fruit-picking”. My Annabelle could not wait to try it. She ate as much as she picked and was covered in warm strawberry juice by the time we were done. Want to have some fun? Go pick some berries!

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photo by Caitlin

Fresh picked berries are at their peak of sweetness compared to the more tart berries found in the grocery store, so less sugar is needed for the perfect pie. Make sure your filling is really bubbling (see video below) before you pull it from the oven to insure all the juices gel and don’t leave a soupy mess when the pie is cut. If the crust edge is over-browning then cover it with a pie shield or foil.

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Find a pie dough recipe here. It’s my favorite go to recipe and enough for a double crust, so wrap and freeze half of it for another time or just bake two pies.

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best baking buddy ever

Fresh Picked Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Pie dough for a single crust pie

2 tablespoons gingersnap crumbs

Crisp Topping

½ cup all purpose flour

¼  cup brown sugar

¼ cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

Filling

4 cups of fresh picked strawberries, slice large ones in half

2 cups sliced (1/2-inch thick) fresh picked rhubarb

2 tablespons heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ cup sugar

¼ cup all purpose flour

Heat oven to 400F. Line 9-inch pie plate with dough. Trim and flute edge.  (Roll out dough scraps and cut shapes for decoration. Sprinkle shapes with sugar, if desired.)

Sprinkle cookie crumbs over bottom of pie shell and chill while preparing topping and filling. For topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl working the butter into the dry ingredients until clumps form. Chill it. For Filling: Place berries and rhubarb in a large bowl. Drizzle with heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla; gently toss to coat. Add sugar and flour; toss again. Spoon into pie shell. Sprinkle crisp mixture over the top. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until pie is bubbling and crust and topping are golden brown. Let cool to room temperature or serve just slightly warm. 

 

 

A Good Gift? & Pie

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What is a good gift for one who is grieving? Acknowledgement of how hard it must be for them during the holidays. Just a simple heartfelt statement about how much that person must be missed. It doesn’t matter how long the person has been gone. The longing for them to be at the table or searching for the pickle on the tree or exchanging gifts is the same. Just a simple statement and a warm embrace will make a difference. No festive wrapping paper or bow required.

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The recognition of a person’s grief allows them to relax a bit. It allows them to remove the happy mask and just be themselves. It releases that tension in the jaw and that need to escape to a quiet place where tears can be shed alone. No one wants to be “Debbie Downer” this time of year, so help release the sorrow and fine the joy. Just a few simple words are all it takes. Trust me.

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Happy New Year. I hope so. Out with the old and in with the new. A purge. I usually start by cleaning out my pantry, my fridge and my freezer. A fresh start with a hearty meal to brave the cold weather ahead.

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Here is a recipe I created cleaning out all my holiday leftovers. A most delicious pie I enjoyed a few years back from a local food truck inspires it. A savory combination of beef, cheese and onions in a flaky crust will do nicely with the addition of some mushrooms. The food truck, “Nomadic Pies” enjoyed such success that they were able to open up a brick and mortar store in my sweet town of Kennett Square. If you’re not a baker (you should be) try a Nomadic pie. Every flavor is delicious and makes a great gift if you want to spread a little comfort and joy in the new year.

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A great piecrust recipe is crucial to a great pie. The standard is a mix of flour, salt, fat and water, but I usually try and change it up a bit wanting the crust to enhance the filling. Since I am baking a beef pie I change out the water for beef broth. It offers a subtle flavor and golden color change to the crust I like very much. Before starting make sure all your ingredients are icy cold to insure that flaky crust. I like to grate my butter into the flour and salt mixture.

Savory Pie Crust Dough

Makes enough dough for 4 (5-inch) or 1 (10-inch) double crust pies

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

4 grinds fresh black pepper

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (very cold or frozen)

6 tablespoons low sodium beef broth

Whisk flour, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Grate butter over the top. Toss it well with a fork insuring the butter gets separated into bits and coated with the dry mixture. Add broth, two tablespoons at a time, tossing mixture around with the fork. Using your hands, bring the dough together into a ball. Flatten like a pancake and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes which allows the dough to hydrate evenly. Roll out your dough to fit your pie pans. 

Now for the filling.

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Beefy Mushroom & Gruyere Pie

2 sweet onions, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups sliced cremini (baby bella) mushrooms

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1-cup low sodium beef broth

½ cup heavy cream plus additional for brushing over pies before baking

2 cups diced leftover cooked beef (prime rib, steak whatever you have)

salt and pepper

2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese

2 chopped green onions

finishing salt of your choice (I used The Spice Lab Hickory Smoked)

In a skillet, cook onions in 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes or until golden brown and caramelized. Transfer onions to a bowl. In same skillet, cook mushrooms in remaining butter until they have released their liquid and brown. Sprinkle with flour, cook 2 minutes, stirring. Stir in broth and cream; bring to a boil. Let mixture reduce until thickened. Remove from heat. Stir in beef. Season well with salt and pepper. Line Pie plate with pastry. Spread half the cheese over bottom of pastry. Top with an even layer of onions. Spoon mushroom-beef mixture evenly over onions. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and green onions. Dab a small amount of cold water on bottom crust edge. Cover pie with top crust. Seal and flute edges. Brush top of pie lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle with finishing salt. Cut slits in top of pie for steam to escape while baking. Bake at 400F for 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling hot.

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Finishing off the crust before baking with a light glaze of cream and salt

The products featured in this blog post are things I actually like and use all the time. I was not paid to feature or endorse them. This is not a sponsored post.

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These pies went into the freezer for future meals. Do not make steam vents or glaze if the plan is to freeze them for later.