Lemon trees everywhere: A pie for Berkeley

A lemon pie allows you to use Berkeley’s abundant lemons and let their flavors shine. Photo: Moriah VanVleet

My sister used to refer to Berkeley as the place with giant lemon trees everywhere. And it’s pretty much true, don’t you think? I got my own little lemon tree about a year ago and I’ve been watching it ever since. While my tree can’t compare to the prolific and giant ones around town, I was thrilled to pick its first fruit a few weeks ago: three beautiful, succulent lemons. Intent on turning them into something unusual that would really let their flavor shine, I made rich, creamy lemon curd and nestled it in a crust made of crisp meringue. Here’s the recipe.

Reverse lemon meringue pie (makes a 9” pie; serves 8-10)

If desired, use a pastry bag to pipe meringue around edges. Photo: Moriah VanVleet

For the crisp meringue crust:

– 3 egg whites at room temperature (reserve yolks for filling)
– Scant ¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted
– Scraped seeds from ½ vanilla bean pod or a few drops vanilla bean paste

Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to line a 9” pie pan with at least ¾” overhang on all sides. Butter a 9” pie pan, then press parchment into it, evenly placed. Generously butter the parchment. Preheat oven to 250 F. Using a mixer with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites on high until white and foamy. Gradually sprinkle in the powdered sugar and the vanilla, and keep beating until thick, shiny, opaque and stiff – about 5 minutes.

Spread the meringue evenly into the prepared pie pan (about 1/3 to 1/2” thick). If desired, use a pastry bag to pipe meringue around edges, or make a freeform border using a spatula.  Bake for an hour and 45 minutes, then turn off oven. After another hour, remove crust from oven. Carefully lift crust from pan by pulling up parchment. Gently peel the parchment from the back of the crust; return crust to pan. It will be delicate and light, browned and fragrant with caramelized sugar. Cover and keep away from moisture at room temperature until ready to use (up to 24 hours).

The curd filling can be smooth or more textured depending on your taste. Photo: Moriah VanVleet

For the lemon curd filling:

– 3 medium lemons
– 3 egg yolks
– 3 eggs
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 2-3 dashes salt
– 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
– ½ cup butter at room temperature
– 1 teaspoon pure lemon oil

In a medium saucepan, bring 2-3 inches water to a simmer over low heat. Meanwhile, finely zest the lemons and juice them to make 1/3 cup lemon juice, seeds removed. In a heat-proof bowl sized to sit over the saucepan without dipping into the water, whisk the measured lemon juice, zest, eggs, yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt.  Set bowl over water and whisk constantly for about 10 minutes or until thickened and custardy, about the consistency of sour cream. Remove from heat and keep whisking for a few minutes while bowl cools a bit. Add oil, then butter in two portions, whisking until completely incorporated. (It’s traditional to push the curd through a sieve at this point to ensure it’s smooth. Feel free to do so, or skip this step as I did for a more textured filling).  Cover tightly and chill until set and thoroughly cool, about 2 hours. Keep refrigerated until ready to use (up to 48 hours).

The pie can be decorated with powdered sugar, berries and mint leaves. Photo: Moriah VanVleet

When ready to serve the pie, spread chilled filling into crust. If desired, decorate with powdered sugar, berries and mint leaves. Without delay, slice with a sharp knife (don’t fret if the crust cracks a bit) and devour, savoring every luscious bite. With its crispy shell and creamy, tart center, this unique pie is refreshing in both flavor and texture. Its vanilla crust is full of caramelized flavor, while each sweet bite is both rich and light at once.

[Note: A generous handful of crushed macadamia nuts or unsweetened coconut would be divine folded into the meringue before baking. Likewise, tart berries and plain whipped cream would be scrumptious atop each slice. To evoke the absent traditional crust, you might top this pie with crumbles of shortbread or gingersnaps -- but if you want to keep the dessert gluten-free, be sure to use cookies that are, too.]

Moriah VanVleet is the voice behind Butter Sugar Flowers where this post first appeared.

This story is published on Berkeleyside and on Berkeleyside NOSH, our new food section covering Oakland and Berkeley. Bookmark Berkeleyside NOSH and follow Berkeleyside NOSH on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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  • emraguso

    This looks phenomenal!

  • Moriah

    Thank you, @emraguso:disqus! I do think you would like it.