Lemon Meringue Pie, or plain old “Lemon Meringue” as we called it, was a standard feature of all our family gatherings when I was a child. The blind baked pastry case, the “Royal” brand lemon mix which you’d add water to and wait for the delicious lemony smell to fill the kitchen when the flavour capsule burst in the saucepan, and the egg whites and sugar on top for the meringue topping, served on the good china with a blob of whipped cream on the side.
I hadn’t made one for a long time, possibly as I get very lazy about pastry and am too much of a food snob to buy a packaged one these days, but then I happened on this Nigella recipe in her “Feast” book that I had borrowed from my local library. All we needed was a family event.
Luckily, my other half’s birthday was approaching. Our four year old takes birthday celebrations very seriously and as soon as he realised that it was Daddy’s birthday month the big cake debate began. He very subtly asked his Daddy what his favourite cake flavours were (coffee and lemon) and then decided that lemon would make this year’s cut, only after he toyed with the idea of “a lemon flavoured cake in the shape of a coffee cup, to trick Daddy”. I talked him out of that one.
And so we made Nigella’s cake, and we will definitely make it again. Since it was Daddy’s cake the boys had to help out, so the process was more stressful than absolutely necessary and we used one more egg than the recipe suggested as it was dropped, after cracking, on the ground. We made the cake the day before we were serving and were delighted with it. I was surprised how well it kept even the following day.
The recipe itself is easy to follow, but using the stand mixer and food processor puts the washing up off the scale, however, in this case it is absolutely worth it.
If you’d prefer the original version of the recipe without my blather here’s Nigella’s link if not, read on.
125 grams butter at room temperature- I used regular salted butter
4 large eggs (separated)
300g caster sugar (plus 1 teaspoon for the top of the meringue)- weigh it as 100g for sponge and 200g for meringue
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bread soda
zest of 1 lemon
4 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons milk
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
150ml double cream
150 grams good quality lemon curd (now, you could make your own if you wanted to, there’s a gazillion recipes out there- or try local Wexford product “Ciara’s Pantry” which is excellent, naturally, the better the lemon curd, the better the cake)
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the base (with parchment) and butter the sides of two 21cm sandwich tins.
Mix the egg yolks, 100g of the sugar, the butter, flour, cornflour, baking powder, bread soda, and lemon zest in a processor. Add the lemon juice and milk and blitz again.
Divide the mixture between the prepared tins. Nigella gives a cautionary tale of panic that you won’t have enough mixture but maybe it was thanks to her warning that I didn’t panic about this at all. Spread with a spatula until lovely and smooth.
Mixer time: Whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until you have meringue, or in cookbook speak “until peaks form”. Next, put the mixer speed to slow and add in 200g of caster sugar. Then, pour half of the whisked mixture on top of each of the sponge mixture tins and spread it out. You’ll need one finished flat and the other nicely pointy for the top. Then, bake for 20-25 minutes. Nigella then tells us to use a cake-tester, (or wooden skewer in my case) to check it’s cooked, obviously check the flat one so the hole will be hidden in the finished product and use the usual “skewer comes out clean”. Then remove both cakes to a wire rack to cool completely in the tins. When cool, loosen around the edges with a knife, lob the flat one out first onto the cake plate with the meringue side on the bottom.
Whisk the cream (you won’t need to sweeten, I never do). Spread the sponge on the cake plate with with the lemon curd and then put the cream on top of that and finish with the remaining cake, meringue side up.