|I split this one with Pop before dinner. It didn't spoil our appetites at all.|
This time of year is the big birthday season, in our family (we have a LOT of Aries' babies, if you're into astrology). As such, the first thing on the agenda is always the birthday cake (for which I have already produced a couple, and will have another constructed, this coming Saturday) …or, in Pop's case, as you may recall, the birthday pie.
I used to enjoy the Bat's divine lemon meringue pie, myself. And then I found out I had that little problem with wheat. So Pop's favorite dessert – and mine – was no longer on my menu. Seriously. Even with the many varieties of GF flours on the market, it just didn't work, because one of us would be left unhappy.
Or so I thought.
This week, I stumbled across a recipe for gluten-free lemon squares in a King Arthur Flour's email, and realized that I could very easily adapt the nut flour shortbread crust to our "ancient family secret" pie recipe. And, since this was an experiment, and I really can't eat a whole pie by myself, I had to spend some time re-figuring the structure and time on this project.
As luck would have it, our kitchen is stocked with several different types of baking pans, among them a mini-cheesecake tin I bought for myself a couple of years ago and had thus far only used for brownie bites. It really makes removing treats from those little wells so easy!
A few things for me to consider, the next time I make these (and I will be doing so fairly frequently, now) :
1. The wells in the mini-cheesecake tin are a little over 4 centimeters deep, and this dough, while tender, is fairly sturdy. I could make the reservoir in the cookie even deeper than I did (they ended up being halfway up, or roughly 2 cm). I like the flavor of the cookie, though, and, with a strong citrus curd, it's not a bad idea to keep it almost effectively a "thumbprint tart". If I do decide to press them to accommodate more curd, I'll break out the wooden tart/tassies press instead of letting my thumbnails interfere in the process. That way, I'll easily produce 12 tartlets, instead of the nine I got this time.
2. In making the meringue, I'll add about 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, and a little zest, too. I accidentally spilled at least a full teaspoon of juice into my egg whites (Captain Coordination strikes again!), and, rather than waste them, I gave it a whirl. The meringue tasted amazing, but, unsurprisingly, fell almost immediately after it came out of the oven, becoming gooier and a spot tougher. However, I've used a small amount of citrus juice before, in making meringue cookies, and, for three egg whites, a hint (1/4 tsp, added in near the end of beating the egg whites & before adding the sugar) is all I need as a substitute for the cream of tartar (to which I am very allergic).
3. Use a wire cheese cutter to slice butter into half-centimeter cubes before tossing them into the freezer for a really good chill.
4. It is possible to make these little bite-sized treats using only the mini-cheesecake pan, but I found that the cookie cups held up very nicely outside the pan, and took on a more attractive hue when browning the meringue. Plus, it's easier to hand-clean the pan elements if there's no meringue baked on.
5. Always make more lemon curd than you think you're going to need. Not that you'll actually need it, but who doesn't want a little custard cup of lemony heaven once in a while?
|That pretty curd is Meyer lemon, this time.|
Here is the recipe, as I attempted to work it today:
Lemon Meringue Bites (gluten-free)
6 Tablespoons butter, diced and hard-chilled
2 cups blanched almond flour (or fine-ground almond meal)
6 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
grated zest of 1 small lemon
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1 1/4 cups boiling water
3 egg whites
6 Tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 small lemon
Preheat oven to 350º F.
Lightly butter the wells of your baking tin.
Make the shortbread cookie shells: In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the cookie shell except the butter. When your dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed, add in the mostly-frozen butter cubes and work into dough using a pastry blender or your fingers. Don't overwork it, but be sure that there are no large clumps of butter in the mixture. It will resemble coarse, moist sand when it is ready.
Fill each cup in the baking tin with the loose mixture, then proceed to press it against the sides and bottom of the cup (yay! building sand castles in the kitchen!).
Place in oven, bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove from oven, allow to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack.
When the cups are cooled, remove them carefully from the pan, place on a cookie sheet or another baking dish.
While the cookies are cooling, make the filling and the meringue.
Make the lemon curd: Prepare a double boiler (or, if you don't have one, improvise one by resting a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan with about an inch of room for the water beneath it). In a medium mixing bowl, beat egg yolks thoroughly by hand. Add in all other ingredients except the water. Mix completely.
Add in the boiling water, pour the mixture into the top of the double boiler, and stir over simmering water until it begins to thicken. Allow to cook another 10 minutes, until completely thick.
Fill each cookie cup with curd. If there is any left over, pour (or scoop, as the case may be) into a custard cup, and save that for later misconduct.
Prepare the meringue: If you were energy-conscious and turned your oven off while the cookies were cooling, re-heat the oven to 350º F.
In a small mixing bowl which has been cleaned thoroughly to make sure there is no residual oil in it, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks begin to form. Add in lemon juice while the mixer is still running, then gradually add in the sugar. When the eggs become glossy and medium-soft peaks can be formed, fold in the lemon zest. At this point, you can scoop the meringue into a pastry bag and form pretty designs on top of your cups, or you can go random with a spoon, the way I prefer.
|Meringue in dollops. Lots of dollops.|
|Waste not, want not. Leftover lemon curd is fine alone, or with a pretty leftover meringue topping.|
Bake at 350º F for 15 minutes, or until golden-browned.
Remove from oven, allow to cool completely (cover & chill overnight if you think you can leave them alone that long).
|Ain't misbehavin'. Savin' my curd for lunch.|
|Sorry about the color. Kitchen table lighting doesn't do the warm golden meringue tips justice, especially on a green dish. But it was what was at hand as the crowd started arriving.|