Practically perfect in every way. Except for always being early.

Because You Know Better Lemon Meringue Pie

Many people assume they dislike lemon meringue pie because they’ve never had one done well. Mine, wouldn’t you know, happens to be a prime example of this classic American dessert at its most stately. Why anyone would forgo freshly squeezed lemon juice in favor of a bottled extract is beyond me, yet a disheartening number of diners and bakeries misguidedly boast sickly-sweet, cough-syrup-reminiscent pudding-pie bastard cousins of our refined and tasteful heroine. I consider a graham cracker crust to be essential, but then again, I refuse to acknowledge a marriage between custard and pie crust. If you must go with pastry, at least have the dignity to make a decent pat
é sucrée.

While I take enormous pride in my lemon meringue, I’m duly ashamed of releasing it so inappropriately early in the season. My current craving situation is similar to that of Ray in Ghostbusters when he summons the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man; any dessert I picture materializes immediately (or as soon as I can get to the market and back). I’ve been eating cakes as fast as I can to make room for the new ones that haunt my dreams, and I’ve distracted myself with the previous four posts, but my fever for the Citrus Siren refused to be quelled for another week. I’m a little worried that I won’t properly sate my desire with this particular unit, since I’m making it for a meet-the-baby get-together with some friends, and it’s in rather poor taste to take food back from a new mother. Still, I may be able to sneak away unnoticed into the garage with the plate for ten minutes at some point…

The Crust:
1 1/4 graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp butter, melted

Set your oven to 350. Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Once the butter has moistened all crumbs, press the mixture into a glass pie plate or similarly-sized springform, as far up the sides as is worth the effort. Bake the unfilled crust for about 7 minutes, then let it cool while you prepare…

The Filling:
1 1/4 C sugar
1/3 C cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 C room temperature water
4 lg egg yolks, beaten
1/4 C freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp butter

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan, then stir in the water. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil while stirring frequently. This takes a while, but eventually it will thicken up quickly; just keep stirring and you’ll avoid a bad case of perma-lumps. Once thickened, remove the pan from heat and carefully scoop out a quarter cup of the goo. When I tell you this is hot, I mean that getting even a splatter on your hand will ruin the rest of your day. Whisk that into the beaten yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pan full of goo. This prevents the eggs from heating up too quickly and scrambling disgustingly.

Put the pan back on medium-high heat once you’ve whisked everything into an even consistency and color, and bring it to a boil again to further thicken. Once bubbling, stir in the lemon juice, zest and butter, and keep cooking and stirring for 2 more minutes. Go ahead and pour it into the crust, leveling it around with a rubber spatula. And now we move onto…

The Meringue:
5 lg egg whites
1/4 tsp cream or tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c sugar

Throw the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer and kick it into high. Once soft peaks form, slowly pour in the sugar over the course of about a minute. Once she holds a nice sharp point, pile the meringue onto the lemon filling, and use a fork to fluff it up proudly, as high as your cake-saver will allow. Bake it at 350 for 5 to 7 minutes, until you get a nice golden-brown on just the peaks of the meringue. Chill it for at least 3 hours, but aim for consumption within 24, as meringue tends to seize up unattractively over time.

Weight gain is no longer an issue. By any means.

Mr. P’s New Favorite Cake (Chocolate Mousse Crunch Cake)

Next up in my baking queue, as I spend a good deal of time these days browsing other people’s cooking blogs in search of new pastry horizons with which to appease my incessant cake cravings, was Chocolate Mousse Crunch Cake from Our Best Bites, a site that receives automatic link status in light of this dessert’s attainable yet fancy presentation, as well as its innovative use of standard cake components. I was immediately intrigued by the eggless mousse filling that calls for gelatin, one of those mysterious packet powders I categorize with yeast and pectin. Your stomach will no doubt sink when you see the whipped chocolate “mousse” turn to soup with the addition of the gelatin-water, but I assure you that after thirty minutes in the fridge, all will be right with your first-world once more. Truly impressive is this cake’s ability to shrug off the heat and humidity; while I generally avoid cake mixes (in my opinion, effort is an ingredient), they do practically jump out of the pans themselves. The chocolate ganache frosting was easier than expected – I used semi-sweet baking chocolate squares, roughly chopped, and two minutes in the microwave was all it took to melt them adequately.

Having just finished a heaping plateful of spaghetti and meatballs, I’m taking a post-dishes breather before I face my last 500-calorie intake of the day, but the boys are already hard at work, cramming away their first slices with the occasional “nom” punctuating the silence. I just called over to Mr. P, inquiring if he approves of the crunch element, to which he instantly avered, “yes. Yes I do.” Once again, I followed the recipe pretty much word for word, so I won’t repost it here, since that would be ridiculously redundant as well as fairly lame. Just follow the link above – I’ve taken the liberty of having it open in a new tab so that you don’t stray too far from my wit and charm.

The Cakening

Calgon Key Lime Cheesecake

It’s almost time to start making lemon meringues! To tide me over until the July 4th season opening for cool custard-based desserts, I rolled the dice on the Smitten Kitchen’s Key Lime Cheesecake the night before last. Win! The citrus cuts the heft of sixteen ounces of cream cheese brilliantly, lending a lovely antacid effect and enabling the diner to put away an impressive helping. I’m not much for mini-anything these days, so instead of buying a special pan with a dozen tiny spring-forms, I opted for the nine-inch single unit. It’s less climactic than the individual cakes, since you can’t count on the whipped cream topping and mango slices to keep as long as the headliner, and until she’s done her hair and makeup, she’s not much to look at.

This necessitates one to whip, seal and chill a half cup of cream each morning, as well as maintain a sealed container of mango slices in lime juice to facilitate enjoyment throughout the day. I’m about the only person I know with that kind of time on their hands, so save it for a group you know will leave no leftovers (college students, children of vegan parents, anyone wearing elastic pants – I have temporarily joined this particular group and have to say it opens up a whole new world of comfort and capacity). By last night, the cream was being dolloped as opposed to spread, and you can see it pictured here next to some apricot and mango salad – time was of the essence, and I wasn’t about to waste valuable snacking minutes arranging mango ribbons. Take care not to become too transported; I had yesterday’s afternoon wedge on the porch with my feet in Billy the Kid’s inflatable pool, and as my cabana boy poured water on my ankles with a watering can, a wonderful sense of smugness settled over me in which I basked drunkenly until realizing how similar I am to Steve Martin’s character in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

Cake is hot, people are not.

This-Is-My-Kind-of-Cake Golden Layer Cake

Continuing on my Augustus-Gloop-like cake bender, I recently threw caution to the wind and interviewed a new golden layer cake. Historically, I’ve depended on Betty Crocker’s good old standard, but I was flipping through my Gourmet cookbook the other night, half-heartedly contemplating taking on something involving fruit and/or custard, and realized I’d never tried their version of the Yellow Menace. Was there a void, it has been filled. Light, fluffy, moist but not soggy, and a superb vehicle for Chocolate Buttercream, my barely-altered version of Gourmet’s All-Occasion Yellow Cake produced a literally gourmet version of Betty Crocker’s: a little more class, a little less soul. I think we can all agree which of those virtues is slightly over-rated. If not, might I suggest you’d be more comfortable in Rachel Ray’s world. As soon as I can find an available cake stand, I’ll see what happens when I substitute buttermilk, and while I hope it helps achieve an actually yellow and less anemically white color, that experiment most likely will not warrant publicity.

It’s important to know going in that this cake retains a seriously springy dome even after resting upside down, so you may want to trim the layers flat. I opted for more mass, and found the pillow effect homey and comforting. I might rename this Narcolepsy Cake, but I suspect that after I finish my current term serving as housing for people, my impromptu porch snores will conclude.

Speaking of lodging multiples, I’d like to share a disconcerting tidbit I discovered about human reproduction. It turns out that theoretically, a “lady” can become pregnant with children of multiple fathers simultaneously. Well, only if a) she shoots double eggs, and b) she’s, shall we say, extremely socially active. Here’s the kicker; it’s not even just theoretical. There are enough cases of this not only happening but SOMEONE ADMITTING TO IT that you can hop on Google and there they are. Honestly, it’s not the wantonness or wildly inappropriate honesty that offends me. My generally good opinion of cats has always been marred by the fact that they routinely birth multi-father litters. There’s just something so unabashedly crass, so depraved-Mardi-Gras-pub-crawlish about that particular evolutionary agreement. Now, however, I have absolutely no proof that my cat is not my peer species-wise, and that leads me to question the fare I serve him as well as wonder if I’ve committed a whopping karmic faux-pas in hindering his own, shall we say, social activism.

2 C cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, softened
1 C sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C milk

Set your oven to 350, grease up and flour two round cake pans. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar by hand until blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla and stir until consistent. Dump in the dry ingredients, and start stirring with one hand while pouring in the milk with the other. Once the batter is moist and all flour has been incorporated from the sides and bottom of the bowl, throw it under the mixer and beat on medium-high for 2 minutes, or until lump-free. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans, and bake them side by side for 22 minutes, switching their positions at 12 minutes to ensure even rising. Let the layers sit in the pans for 10 minutes before inverting them onto wire racks, where they should cool completely before being frosted with the previously mentioned Chocolate Buttercream. And try not to think about the cat thing while eating.

No, not really.

Reddish Velvet Cake with Cream-Cheese-Butter-Cream

I was mistaken as I wrote the previous post; my appetite merely stopped by to pick up some things and then blew right back out of town. However, I’m a firm believer that if you’re sick, there’s a pharmaceutical solution, and I’ve been on the top-secret tier of anti-nausea medication for a few weeks now. To all ladies who may one day decide to incubate: if Zofram doesn’t do it for your barfs, demand no less than Promethazine. Remember, they’re loathe to admit it, but your doctors are technically vendors. Dr. G managed to scare the bajesus out of me the last go around, but I’m calling the shots with this one and have taken to severely berating him each time he raises my stress level over “risk.” He’s already been instructed to drop it regarding the chromosomal craps game, and if he mentions weight as an issue over the next four months, the skillet’s coming out of my purse. Once I couldn’t keep applesauce down, I decided to put mom first for the duration, and I’m delighted to find I don’t feel at all guilty about it. Save for my daily wake-up wretch, I’ve been holding food down like no one’s business, and one particular craving has hit me hard: my own cake.

My cake stand has been full and proud for over a week, and it currently showcases my first execution of red velvet with cream cheese frosting. Having a slight skin-crawl reaction to using an entire tablespoon of red food coloring, as suggested by the Guilty Kitchen’s cake recipe, I cut the amount down to a teaspoon, so mine was more of a not-terribly dark brown. I found the cake itself rather adult, with a less-is-more attitude toward sugar. When I sign up for cake, I expect a glucose-induced forehead tingle to punctuate each slice, and I was left chasing mine with Keebler rainbow cookies in a failed attempt to reach the top of candy mountain.  Mr. P, however, has sworn that his eyes sincerely rolled back upon first bite, even after I promised I wouldn’t be angry if he had just been patronizing Preggy. I have to say that a bite of the cake loaded with the frosting (pilfered from the Smitten Kitchen) is impressive indeed, but I’m unable to finish a slice beyond its surface area.

At the end of the day, if you like dark chocolate, I suspect you’ll love this. For those of us who prefer our chocolate well milked, I’ll refer you to my reliably spectacular Black Midnight Cake.

The Cake:
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
3/4 C butter
2 eggs
2 C cake flour
1/2 C plus 2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 C buttermilk
1 tbsp red food coloring if you play fast and loose with your liver
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar

The Frosting:
1/2 C butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 C powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
some milk

Set your oven to 350 and grease/flour two round cake pans. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter and white sugar by hand before creaming in the brown, then beat in the eggs. In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla. Dump the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, then start stirring with one hand while slowly pouring in the milk mixture with the other. Once everything’s moist, quickly stir in the vinegar, then pop the bowl under the mixer and let it ride on high for 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, give the whole thing a vigorous stir, then divide the batter evenly between the pans. Bake the layers side by side at 350 for 22-24 minutes, switching their positions at 12 minutes to keep them level. Set the pans over wire racks and let them sit for 10 minutes before inverting the layers onto the racks to finish cooling.

Cream the butter and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon until the resulting mixture is completely consistent. Add the vanilla, then stir in the powdered sugar in 1-C increments, adding just a few drops of milk with each. Once all the sugar is in, switch to a whisk to eliminate any unsightly lumps. When frosting the cake, give the circumference a few go-arounds to pile it on, and don’t be frugal in between the layers. It’s ant season, so cover it up!

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