Episode 128 – No Weep Lemon Meringue Pie

No weep lemon meringue pie 1 with logoEpisode 128 HD
April 7, 2013
No Weep Lemon Meringue Pie

Alright! Let’s get back to your regularly scheduled programming. (In case you didn’t know somebody crashed their car in my yard on Tuesday April 2nd. Now with the fence repaired and all the glass vacuumed up I can have some level of normalcy again). Back on Monday I told you that I finally got my no weep lemon meringue pie recipe down and it’s taken me a while but I finally have it up. Before you download the recipe let’s look into what weeping is and why weeping occurs.

First and foremost just know that any lemon meringue pie made with all-natural ingredients is sure to weep over time. Ingredients break down. It’s a fact and that’s okay. But what we can do is stave off the weeping for a little while by using a few tricks.

This diplomat cream was made with cornstarch.  This is how much the cream weeped, or expelled water, over 5 days.  It is still safe to eat, but drain the liquid first so it doesn't make your main item soggy.

This diplomat cream was made with cornstarch. This is how much the cream weeped, or expelled water, over 5 days. It is still safe to eat, but drain the liquid first so it doesn’t make your main item soggy.

The first source of weeping occurs in the filling. Traditional fillings use cornstarch or flour as a thickening agent as they are inexpensive, easy to find, and are resistant to high temperatures (with cornstarch being the most resistant). As the starch is heated, the starch granules swell and fill with water and the filling starts to thicken. Eventually as you continue to cook the mixture, some of the granules burst releasing the absorbed water and starch molecules. These molecules are long strands of carbohydrates and they become entangled trapping water within their networks and the filling appears more and more thickened. As they cool, the tangled network of starches relax and create a gelled appearance.

Overtime the starch molecules in that network bond closer and closer to each other – this is called starch retrogradation. As they bond closer and closer together they are creating a stronger structure but are also expelling the water trapped within their network. This changes the texture of the filling making it more gummy and tough. The expelled water either evaporates, as seen in stale bread, or collects around the product, as seen when a product weeps. This can also be called syneresis but weeping is more commonly used. Properly cooked flour and cornstarch mixtures shouldn’t weep until 3 or 4 days later but it’s not a steadfast rule.

It wasn’t until after my interview and episode with Brooke Parkhurst of Triple Oak Bakery where I got the idea on how to avoid weeping in the filling. As the owner of a gluten-free bakery, Brooke is well-versed in flour substitutes including rice flour. Other than using rice flour in a few episodes for making popular Filipino desserts like kutsinta, I hadn’t experimented with using it. I did read in a few places that rice flour is used instead of cornstarch where weeping is an issue and where the product needs to be frozen (cornstarch products don’t really freeze well). So after a few tries I discovered that by using a one-to-one by weight substitution of rice flour for cornstarch that the flavor and thickening power was essentially identical. I also discovered that when left alone (sans meringue) the filling never seems to weep.

The second most common source of weeping comes from the meringue and is actually probably the major source of weeping – and it’s not actually weeping. Meringue is a network of bubbles captured in egg proteins and coated with syrup created by the sugar. Eventually those bubbles pop leaking the water and syrup out. Sometimes the water dissolves the structure as it drips out causing the meringue to collapse. Other times the proteins hold their shape but the resulting protein structure has an unpleasant texture. In all cases though, the water collects in the pie or spill out.

No weep lemon meringue pie 2 with logoAll meringues collapse eventually which is why you need to serve them pretty soon after making them, but there are some meringues that are more stable than others. French meringue (or cold meringue) is the weakest but fastest to make. It is the traditional topping for lemon meringue pies and is also used to lighten mousses and batters. The other two common meringues are Swiss and Italian with Swiss being stronger than French and Italian being the strongest. Despite being more involved, Swiss meringue is still fairly easy to make and is easier to make than Italian. It is also the most common meringue I use for making buttercream – AKA Swiss buttercream.

Swiss meringue is made by heating an egg white and sugar mixture over a double boiler until it reaches at least 120 degrees F (I use 150 degrees F to make it food safe) and then it is whipped up in your mixer. The heat helps strengthen the meringue in a few ways:
1) Some of the water is evaporated.
2) The heat more thoroughly dissolves the sugar which makes more syrup to further stabilize the bubbles. This allows the bubbles to last longer and be finer so the texture is more refined.
3) The heat helps the proteins and sugar bond more to water creating more syrup (as said in point 2) and strengthening the proteins.
4) The combination of heat and sugar helps unfold the egg proteins more and more thoroughly so when they are whipped up the network is finer and stronger.

But the most important point to take away from the Swiss meringue in terms of the pie is that the bubbles will last longer. Much longer than French meringue in fact. A French meringue may see collapsing within an hour while a Swiss meringue won’t start collapsing for about 48 hours – though neither of these are a steadfast rule. But try using a Swiss meringue where ever you use a French meringue and see if you like the results!

But remember the Swiss meringue will still eventually collapse so if you can wait to put the meringue on later then you should. My issue was that I couldn’t possibly eat an entire pie by myself so I would save the pie for dessert for another day and it would be completely ruined. So this recipe should hopefully avoid all that and get you an extra couple days of lemon meringue pie goodness. Though if you talk to older generations about lemon meringue pies they’ll tell you they aren’t really supposed to last for days.

Here’s the recipe for lemon meringue pie which includes the recipe for Swiss meringue topping. The video is below – thank you for watching!

Here’s the basic pie dough recipe if you need it and the basic pie dough blog post is here if you need to see the video on that. You can see how to par-bake a pie crust here.

PS – Sorry about the photo being sort of bland. I’m testing out my new equipment to get a feel for how it all works and a white backdrop was the best way to see what I have to work with. The conclusion in my video is super bright because I haven’t gotten the dimmer on my new lights exactly where I want it to be so bear with me while I figure it all out. I should be good by the next episode!

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  1. […] meringue swans. Second, you can use this concept for tweaking the way you like your meringue on a lemon meringue pie. While I prefer a Swiss meringue on my pie – which is far more stable than any French […]

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