Monday 28 January 2008

I "HEART" Lemon Meringue Pie

From the time I could appreciate the niceties of life, Lemon Meringue Pie has been one of my most favouritest things! (Yes, I know, that's really not a word) I have fond memories of racing home from school at lunch time, absolutely starved, and discovering to my delight that my mother had made a delicious Lemon Meringue Pie for our dessert. Anything else on the menu paled in comparison. Served ice cold and sitting on our plates in lovely thick slices, it's delicious lemony filling all covered in a sticky, sweet mountain of lucious browned merigue, it was all we could do to wait until dessert to dig in. This was a real treat for us, as we usually only had dessert for special occasions. Mind you lemon pie made any occasion special in our books!

Until I became an adult and ventured out into the world, this was Lemon Meringue pie to me. Yes, I'm ashamed to say . . . it came in a box. This was the only kind my mother ever made. I didn't know there was any other kind. When she made it, it was a rare treat, and oh how I loved to be invited to scrape the pot clean when she was done! (A very rare occurence when you are one of three children vying for the honour!) My brother, being the youngest did not get his in a pie. My mother thought that pastry was too hard for a young stomach to digest, and so he got a bit of the filling mixed with some milk into a creamy pudding and served up in a little coloured melamine bowl.

As a young newly wed, I can remember making a Lemon Meringue Pie for my dear husband for the very first time. I was so proud of it . . . and so very dissappointed when, after one bite, he declared to me that this was not lemon meringue pie! What the heck???? His mother had always made her lemon pies from scratch and this was definitely not it! Thankfully, my mother in law was kind enough to write down all her recipes for me in a little pink flowered notebook, so I was soon able to produce a lemon pie for him that fulfilled his idea of what a Lemon Meringue Pie was, but sadly . . . it did not fit in with my recollections or fill my desires for a lemon pie. Her's , while nicely flavoured with lemon, was far too sweet for my tastes. There was none of that delightful lemony tang that I loved so much. It was back to the mixes for me, although I did make an occasional one like my mother in law's just to please the other half of the equation.

I was delighted this month to find out that the Daring Baker's Challenge for the month was Lemon Meringue Pie, but could it, would it, how could it possibly come even close to the one my mother used to create from that lovely little yellow and blue box?

As usual I left the challenge to the last minute. I kept buying lemons and then they would get used for something else . . . or I would be so busy at work that I didn't have enough time to spend at home to make one. Finally today I had the whole day to spend, and enough lemons in the house to do it, and so I got stuck in to the challenge. I have to say I am more than pleased with the results! This pie is fabulous! I'm not sure if this is an insult or not, but it is very close to the ones my mother used to make. Actually, if anything, it's even better!!! (and that is saying a lot!)

The recipe was very easy to follow and I really enjoyed making it. To be perfectly honest the glutton in me could not even wait for it to cool down before digging in to it's lucious lemon goodness! As you can clearly see I chose to make four individual pies. (In all truth each one was quite enough to satisfy two appetites as, I could barely get past half of the one I started and had to give it to Todd to finish)

Many thanks to Jen of The Canadian Baker for this most delicious and satisfying challenge. They say the proof is in the eating . . .

I think I'd rate this one a success! Thanks Jen for a most enjoyable way to spend a cold sunny day in January . One down, only three pies to go . . . now where's my fork?

*Lemon Meringue Pie*
from "Wanda's Pie in the Sky" by Wanda Beaver
Daring Bakers Challenge #15: January 2008
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie or 6 tartlets

For the Crust:
175 grs - 3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
250 grs - 2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
50 grs - 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
200 grs - 1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
60 grs - 1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
60 grs - 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest1 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) salt1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
150 grs - 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. (I confess, I did not do it this way. I brought the water to a boil in the kettle. I mixed the cornstarch and sugar together in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Once they were well mixed I whisked in the hot water, and then proceeded as stated in the rest of the recipe instructions)

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.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Do you Believe in Fairies?

I have long carried on a love affair with small whimsical beings called Fairies. As a child I would devour and read any book about them that I could find, most of them having been written by Enid Blyton. I truly believed that fairies hid underneath every dry leaf and every flower in our back garden and was always on the look out for the tell tale signs of their having been around. They lived in a mysterious world of enchantment that, as humans, we were only allowed an occasional furtive glimpse into. The sight of a fairy ring of toadstools on the mossy floor of a forest has always fueled my deepest imaginations, and indeed if you were to look across the rolling fields behind our cottage on a warm summer's day the air will be filled with little fairy wings dancing in the soft breeze. Some would say seed pods on their airborned journey, but I say differently.

As a lover of Fairies, my home is full of them. They peek out at every corner . . . especially when you least expect them. There are wood nymphs, and tiny beings with feathery whispy wings tucked in every nook and cranny. There is even one peeking out of a glass bubble which hangs over my kitchen sink. She watches me as I wash the dishes and somehow the chore seems easier to manage . . . Some are very magical looking, others are somewhat mystical, and still yet others are a bit dangerous looking. All are beautiful.

I was shopping the other day and discovered yet something else which captured my fancy. A small tin amongst others, but still this one caught my eye . . .

How can one fail to be entranced by a tin with the tell tale words "Fairy Dust" whispering across it's pink,and gold splattered lid.

A tiny, tiny princess
came to earth one day,
And if one listens closely,
we can hear her say,
A morning star in the East
still rises, still
today,The stillness touched
in solitude,
Amidst the breaking
of the waves.

I am in love at first glance. I cannot wait to get it home and see what magic resides inside . . .

As I open the lid a beautiful smell wafts up to my nostrils. It is at once magical and mysterious. It smells like cotton candy and babies . . . and the special way my mother used to smell when she was all dressed up on a Saturday night before going to a dance with my father. It is comforting and ethereal and whimsical. Look . . . there are lovely pink rocks peeking up at you from it's melted glassine surface. Only fairies can have pink rocks like that. It must be true . . .

Once lit, it's perfumed magic weaves it's spell around me and I am in another world. A world where it's ok to dream, and mystery abounds . . . where apple trees are full of blossom all year round and nature rings out with it's supernatural powers of seduction, in a world which parallels our own. If we but look to find it, we shall . . .

I am filled with the need to bake a cake, a fairy cake, sweet and pretty, and covered in speckles of pink fairy dust. Afterwards I shall sit in my chair, all in darkness save the soft light of my fairy candle, it's mystical fragrance surrounding me. I shall eat it and dream of magical kingdoms and hidden worlds . . .

Saturday 12 January 2008

A winter's afternoon

After a week full of nasty rainy weather the sun is shining brilliantly down on Casa D'Oak Cottage this fine Saturday afternoon. Our hearts are lifted by the sight of it's golden rays and the sky is a brilliant blue, a colour that is never more appreciated than after a weeks worth of dismal windy days full of rain, rain and yes . . . more rain.

Winter in England is often beset by day after day of rain and wind and this week has been quite typical. It can get even the strongest of hearts down and feeling a bit gloomy. At times one wishes that it were snow, for at least that has a magical quality about it and can cheer the heart somewhat.

My first year over here became known as the wettest autumn and winter on record, and I do confess I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into, for it rained indeed every day those long, long months.

In winter the nights are long and the days quite short, but we have noticed, just this past week, that the days are indeed beginning to draw out just that little bit each day, and even those few minutes extra bring a little spring in the step and a bounce in the heart.

Sitting in the sunlight on our kitchen window sill, even Penelope Pig, our old pottery cookie jar, appears to smile at us and bid us a cheery greeting. Jess seems restless as she prances about our cottage kitchen, just begging to be taken for a walk through the orchard, with it's bare branched trees, and then over the wet fields. Wellies are in order.

The leaves of the jade plant look towards the window and almost dance with joy and my cookie cutters beckon to me, willing me to pick them up . . . but I cannot . . . I have a million things to do, and my mind dances here and there with activity and the desire to get it all in before the sun begins to set.

Todd goes out into the garden with Jess, taking advantage of the light and the dry day, and is moving some bulbs around in the garden . . . a chore that he has been putting off for some weeks now because of the gloom and dreary wet days. By the back door little snow drops and crocus are peeking their leaves out of the ground and reaching towards what little sun there is on these days, a later winter harbinger of hope and promise. On my window sill, too, a Christmas Hyacinth reaches towards the light and seems to grow inches as we watch on in wonder.

A lamb hot pot simmers away in the oven, a meal I am cooking for my British blog, Marie Cooks Britain, yet another food blog , and I have some nectarines sitting on the counter just waiting for me to roast them. They will be lovely after our dinner, with dollops of Greek Yoghurt and a drizzle of runny honey gracing their tender sweetness . . . but in the meantime . . . I think a nice hot herbal cuppa and a fresh muffin, still warm from the oven, just to take the edge off, are in order. What can be nicer or make the heart feel warmer . . . all seems right with the world when the sun shines . . . does it not?

*Jam Surprise Muffins*

Makes 8

These muffins are truly lovely. A deliciously moist cake surrounds a hidden surprise of fruit jam in the middle and the whole thing is dipped in melted butter and cinnamon sugar coated while still warm. These yummy babies are so good and delicious you will find yourself wondering however did you ever get through life thus far without them!

½ cup caster sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup milk
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
½ cup fruit jam ( I like strawberry or raspberry myself)
½ cup melted butter
½ cup caster sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Pre-heat your oven to 200*C/400*F. Grease a muffin tin that makes larger sized muffins well and set aside. (as you will only be getting 8 muffins from this I suggest you fill the empty holes with water before baking so that you do not burn your pan)

Place the butter into a bowl and cream it with the sugar really well until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the pinch of salt. Add this mixture to the creamed mixture alternatively with the milk. Beginning and ending with the dry mixture.

Spoon half of the batter into the muffins cups. Top each with a teaspoon of fruit jam in the centre, making sure it does not touch the sides. Divide the remaining batter between each of them and top them with it to cover the jam. Don’t worry it if just lays there on top as it will spread when it hit’s the heat of the oven.

Bake in the heated oven for 15 to 18 minutes until well risen and lightly browned, and they spring back when touched very lightly with your fingertips. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before removing them from the baking tin to cool on a wire rack, to where you can just handle them with your fingers without being burnt.

Put the melted butter into a bowl. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in another bowl. Roll each muffin first in the melted butter and then in the cinnamon sugar. Place them on a wire rack until the coating sets somewhat. Serve warm with your favourite hot bevvie!