May 12, 2009
I like finger food at parties; I like eating it, and I like making it. It makes everything seem a little more festive. Also, small food, like small animals, brings out people's parental instincts. They're evolutionarily well disposed toward it. These little lemon meringue pies, for example, were greeted with the admiring cries usually reserved for small babies.
The brown sugar pastry crust is as easy to mix as cookie dough, and as pliant and forgiving to work with. The lemon curd filling comes together quickly in a saucepan. It's all topped with soft Italian meringue and waved under a hot broiler for a few seconds to caramelize. And then, crowded all together on a big plate, they look burnished and beautiful. I wish I had more photos of how pretty they are, but I was running late and the light was failing...the one above was a solitary little guy I rescued from party consumption to photograph the next day (and then eat!).
I made 24 tartlets (the capacity of my mini muffin pan), and could have made at least half as many more, but used my excess for something else I'll show you soon. If you're not excited by the idea of cutting out dozens of squares of baking paper and filling them laboriously with beans, you could make larger tarts, and even one large tart; all that would change is the amount of time the pastry needs to spend in the oven, in the second stage of blind baking. If you need to cook your pastry for longer, then make sure you keep the edges from browning by covering them with strips of tinfoil.
Lemon Meringue Tartlets
adapted from Gourmet and Australian Gourmet Traveller
For the pastry:
100g soft unsalted butter
100g light brown sugar
270g plain flour
For the lemon curd filling:
1 cup sugar
6 tbsp cornstarch/cornflour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp freshly grated unwaxed lemon zest
For the meringue:
110g (1/2 cup) caster/superfine sugar
55g (1/4 cup) golden caster sugar or demerara sugar*
2 egg whites
To make the pastry, beat butter and brown sugar using an electric mixer until pale, about 5 minutes, then add eggs and beat to combine. Add flour, beat until just combined, turn onto a lightly floured work surface, form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.
To make the lemon curd filling, whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in water and milk, whisking until cornstarch is dissolved. In a bowl whisk together egg yolks. Cook milk mixture over moderate heat, whisking, until it comes to a boil. Gradually whisk about 1 cup milk mixture into yolks, and then whisk the entire yolk mixture into the rest of the milk mixture. Simmer mixture, whisking, 3 minutes. Your curd should have thickened by now - if not, continue cooking and whisking until it does. Remove pan from heat and whisk in butter, lemon juice, and zest, until butter is melted. Cover surface of filling with plastic wrap.
Butter a mini muffin pan. Roll pastry on a lightly floured surface to 2mm thick. Cut out circles to fit the tart pan you're using - for my mini muffin pan, that was just over 2 inches. Line the mini muffin indentations with pastry circles, neaten the edges and trim so they're level with, or just above, the top of the pan, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Line pastry-lined muffin pan with baking paper, weigh down with pastry weights, rice or dry beans and bake for 10 minutes, then remove paper and pastry weights and bake for another 10 minutes or until crisp. Cool for 10 minutes, then spoon in the lemon curd, filling each cup level, and set aside.
To make the meringue, combine sugars and 1/4 cup water in a heavy-based saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and cook until syrup reaches 115°C/240°F on a sugar/candy thermometer, then remove from heat. Meanwhile, using an electric mixer, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form, then, with motor running, very slowly add hot syrup and whisk for 5 minutes. Spoon or pipe meringue over lemon curd, forming into peaks. Place pies under a hot grill/broiler for a few seconds until meringue is golden (watch carefully - they could burn very quickly) or use a blowtorch to brown meringue lightly. The tarts keep well in the fridge, but the longer you leave before serving, the softer the meringue and the pastry will get.
* If you don't have either of these sugars, it's fine to use caster/superfine for the whole amount of sugar.