For as long as I can remember my favourite dessert (except ice cream, of course) has been lemon meringue. It was always one of those treats that only came along with one of the folks’ birthdays or if some relatives came to visit. When I finally became old enough to forgo the birthday party with obligatory clown cake it became a standard request for the celebratory rituals on the annual remembrance of my egress from the womb. So naturally, when my mom moved to a different town I needed to learn how to make it myself, lest I be starved of my favourite sweet indulgence.
The wife and I just finished the final pieces of the lemon meringue I made on Friday for her birthday and in a surge of sugar-induced altruism I’ve decided to share the recipe for this divine food with you.
Let’s start with the crust. The traditional SA recipe for lemon meringue calls for tennis biscuits. However, you probably won’t find them in other countries. It’s essentially a coconut biscuit, so look for something suitable wherever you are. According to this site, Graham crackers can work, but you should add some roasted coconut to them.
Crumb two packets of biscuits (400 grams/14 ounces). Mix the crumbs with melted margarine until all the crumbs are moist (we usually start with a couple of tablespoons and then add more as needed). Spread the mixture on the base and sides of a large oven-safe dish. Use the back of a spoon to compact the crust to about 5mm thick. (If you prefer, you could of course rather use a shortbread crust.)
For the filling you’re going to need two cans of condensed milk, four eggs and about half a cup of lemon juice (if you use freshly squeezed juice, remove the pulp).
First, you have to separate the eggs. This, I found out the hard way, does NOT mean to put them on opposite sides of the table. You’re going to want the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. There’s a little gadget for this purpose, or you can be adventurous and use the eggshells themselves to do this. If you’re new to the world of baking you should probably get someone more experienced to help as it can be a bit tricky.
I usually get the wife to do it for me (she had home-economics at school) but this time she was at school while I made it so I had to manage myself (and we don’t have the aforementioned gadget!). I’m proud to say I only broke one yolk, but it broke in the shell so I didn’t have to start over (because if even one drop of the yolk lands in the bowl with the whites you can chuck the whole lot out).
Next you add the condensed milk to the yolks and mix thoroughly (IMPORTANT: do not scrape the condensed milk cans completely clean – leave some that you can lick out later). When you have the yolk completely mixed with the condensed milk you can add the lemon juice. Do this gradually, stirring the mixture all the time. You will notice the mixture becoming thicker as you do this. (Basically the cream in the condensed milk is curdling as it comes into contact with the acid in the lemon juice, just like when milk goes sour, but less gross). You’ve added enough lemon juice once the mixture has a nice thick consistency – it should no longer be runny.
Tip the mixture into the dish so it completely covers the crust. (If you like you can leave a bit it the bowl to lick out as well; just remember it contains raw eggs.)
Lastly you need to beat the egg whites (not with your fists) until stiff. If you’re using the same beater/mixer you used for the previous mixture, clean it and make sure it’s completely dry (any water in the egg white will keep it from reaching the right consistency). It should have a fluffy texture when you’re done. (I still struggle to get this part right – I tend to beat the whites too much, causing it to become un-fluffy again.) You can also fold some castor sugar into the white for flavouring (folding refers to a type of stirring – another thing I’m apparently doing wrong, so I’m not going to try and explain that here).
Spread the egg-white over the mixture in the oven dish (this bit is the actual meringue in case you were wondering). You can spread it evenly, make it into pretty fluffy bits that stick up (I can’t do it, but am always thoroughly impressed when I see it), or draw patterns in it with a fork like I did with mine. Stick it in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for about half an hour (or until the meringue has an even golden-brown colour).
This dish is best served slightly chilled, so first let it cool on a counter top and then pop it into the fridge for an hour or so before serving. Sadly, it doesn’t last very long…at least not in this house.