Sunday, May 8, 2011

Lemon Heaven

     I never used to be a big lemon fan. As a little girl I did like them at fairs, cut in half with a soft peppermint stick stuck in the middle. The peppermint stick dissolved up the center and became a straw for the lemon juice which became sweet and minty. I had friends who loved Lemon Meringue Pie and Lemon Squares, but I wasn't into them.  Years later, my friend Jan took me to a local tea room in Maryland for our birthday (we share the same day). The owner made her secret recipe, handed down from her grandmother: Lemon Torte. I wasn't even going to try it, but Jan insisted. It was our birthday.

     It was, first of all, gorgeous. Sitting on a dainty plate, the large serving was three or four inches high, a creamy light-yellow lemon filling, sandwiched between meringue layers and topped with freshly whipped cream. Intrigued, I tried my first taste. Lemony tart and creamy with a bit of crispiness from the meringue, it was exquisite. It's one of those desserts that seems so light that you over-indulge. I loved it. I've loved lemon ever since. For a few years we tried to get the recipe. The owner wouldn't share it. Even after the tea room closed she wouldn't budge! She had made some kind of promise to her grandmother! Hummmph. I tried to reconstruct the recipe and gave up.

     Fifteen years later and I think I've got it! I thought it had to be either an elaborate recipe with perhaps a secret ingredient--or something ridiculously easy, like instant lemon pudding folded with coolwhip (thankfully not the latter). The closest I've found is a combination of the two. I thought maybe a "secret ingredient" might be Lemon Curd, but now I don't believe so. Here's what I think:

     Lemon filling, not unlike that of a lemon meringue pie, is folded with whipped cream, layered between meringue shells and topped with more whipped cream. Heavenly. It is rich, so do not wolf it down as you will most certainly want to. Even if you are not a lemon fan, you will be sold on this.  I have tried a boxed, cooked Lemon Meringue Pie filling but thought it too "chemically." I'm sure you could use your favorite recipe, or one from your basic cookbook. I found both the filling and meringue recipes in "Joy of Cooking" by Rombauer and Becker, the 1979 edition, but I altered them a bit.

Suzy and Jan's Lemon Torte


Beat until Frothy:
6 egg whites, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
Beat in, 1 Tb. at a time:
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
Beat until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised. Do not overbeat or it will start to break up. Place a piece of parchment paper on two baking sheets. Mark a 9 inch circle on each paper. Spread half of the meringue mixture on each circle and spread evenly to create two smooth discs. Bake for about two hours at 225 degrees. The meringues should not brown, and they will become slightly firm. Turn off the oven and leave closed another hour or two until the meringues are crispy. They can be made a day ahead of time and stored in the cool oven.

Lemon Filling

Mix in a medium saucepan:
3 Tb. cornstarch
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (do not use reconstituted)
3 Tb. water
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 Tb. butter
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Mixture will begin to  boil and thicken. Boil very slowly about three minutes. Stir 3 Tb. of the hot mixture slowly into:
3 slightly beaten egg yolks
Add another 3 Tb. of hot mixture and stir. Next, slowly stir the egg mixture back into the hot mixture. Return to heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir gently until cool.
2 cups whipping cream
When firm peaks form as beaters are raised, fold three quarters of the whipped cream into the cooled lemon filling. This is where you can adapt the recipe according to how tart you like it. For a more tart filling, use less of the whipped cream. For less tart, use more.

Place one meringue at the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Top with the lemon filling. Place the other meringue disc on top and press down gently. Cover lightly with plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove the sides of the springform pan and place on a pretty cake plate. Top with reserved whipped cream. Garnish with grated lemon rind.

     For the picture (from my last birthday) I tried making three discs of meringue and did not top with more whipped cream.  It looks elegant, but I prefer two discs like the original, secret, restaurant version. Enjoy! I'm so excited about this I may make it for Mother's Day. But then, there is a Hazelnut Torte recipe that I love, too...hmmm...I'll post that one later!

Happy Mother's Day!

The Abbey Farm