Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lemon Pie

So it's a little embarrassing that I haven't updated this blog since the end of August, when school started again. Mihai and I have certainly had our fair share of delicious home-cooked meals since then, but despite my best intentions (we even took pictures of them), I just haven't had time to write about them. However, over the last few days there was quite a bit of Christmas-related baking at my mom's house, so I thought I should share some of the results.

First up is a family recipe - lemon pie. This is a somewhat unusual dessert, one that I've never had outside my mom's house, and one that my mom has never had elsewhere either - she got the recipe from one of her aunts many years ago. The unexpected elements (such as using yeast but not having to knead, and putting the pie into a cold oven) all work together well to deliver a not-too-sweet but perfectly tangy dessert that goes very well with a cup of tea. Mihai is very excited that I finally learned how to make this (having made it twice over the last few days), so that now we can have it not just at my mom's house.

Lemon Pie

For the filling:

1 to 1⅓ medium size lemons (if you have Meyer lemons around, so much the better)
1½ cups sugar

For the dough:

¾ cups warm milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet of dry yeast or 1 cake of live yeast
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
200g butter (cold or frozen)

1. Boil a pot of water. Place the lemons in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Pour off the water and repeat two more times. (I know it's very tempting to skip/shorten this step, but don't give into that temptation! This three-peat of hot water is very important to make sure the lemons lose their bitterness.)

2. Cut up the whole lemons into pieces, and purée in a food processor (rind and inside part together). Transfer the purée into a medium or large bowl.

3. Dissolve the teaspoon of sugar in the ¾ cups of warm milk, and then add the yeast. Wait until bubbles form. (Make sure the warm milk is truly warm, not hot, otherwise the yeast will die and the bubbles will never form.)

4. While waiting for the yeast to activate, mix the salt and the flour together in a large bowl. Take the cold or frozen butter and grate it on a box grater into the bowl with the flour, stopping every few grating motions to mix the grated butter with the flour so that it doesn't all clump together.

5. By this point your yeast and milk mixture should be bubbling, so pour it into the flour-and-butter bowl, and mix the dough. Once it is mixed, divide into two halves, and roll out one half of the dough into a rectangle. Transfer the rolled-out dough onto a 9x13 cookie sheet (ideally one with edges). Don't try to make the dough rectangle large enough to fill up the entire sheet - it's actually best if it doesn't.

6. Take the 1½ cups of sugar and mix it with the lemon purée. When you pour all that sugar on top of the lemon purée, it always seems like too much sugar and my mom and I always feel like we should lower the sugar amount - having made this mistake at least once, we now know that with less than the 1½ cups of sugar, the filling becomes much too tart, even for us.

7. Spread the lemon and sugar mixture on top of the rolled-out dough on the cookie sheet, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.

8. Roll out the second half of the dough, making sure it's at least as large as the first rectangle. Transfer this new rectangle on top of the dough+filling in the cookie sheet. Pinch the edges of the two dough pieces together, and tuck underneath the bottom layer to make sure none of the filling can leak out. Once all the edges are secured, use your hands to gently massage the top layer so as to spread the filling closer to the now-sealed edges. Use a fork to prick the top layer of the dough and also to create one small round hole in the middle of the top layer to let air escape.

9. Place the cookie sheet with the pie into a cold oven, and turn it on to 320°F. Bake for 35-40 minutes until it turns a very light golden color. (Baking it further won't damage the dough, but will cook and caramelize the inside lemon-sugar mixture too much.) Cool completely before slicing into diamond-shaped slices and enjoy!


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