..........a blog about food, travel, gardening, and living the good life in Arizona.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

L is for lemons, life and love

Though I haven’t written for a long time, I still love life and writing. Here’s the fix. When creativity wanes and life is giving me lemons, I turn to a beloved dessert — lemon sponge pie. It’s sweet, light and comforting. So good, in fact, it may have the magical power to unlock writer’s block (testing this theory).

Today, March 14, is also Pi Day… pie without the e. Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (3/14) around the world (who knew?). Pi (the Greek letter Π) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159. Thus we have, March 14, and the perfect day to make pie and celebrate! Let me be honest here, a deep understanding of mathematics is definitely, not my super power! But pie making? Yea, I got this!

Lemon sponge pie is an old Pennsylvania Dutch favorite. Recipes for it can still be found in most Amish, Mennonite or Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks published these days, attesting to its popularity. 

The sponge part of this pie is created when the egg whites are beaten separately and then folded into the other batter ingredients. This process creates a layer of lemon custard on the bottom of the baked pie with a light, spongy, cake-like layer on the top. 

Recipes vary in the amounts of sugar to egg to lemon juice ratio but are otherwise the same. I make smaller pies so the 2-egg version with 3/4 cup of sugar worked best for me. Some of the older recipes just call for the juice of a lemon or 2 along with the zest. I favor recipes that give exact quantities; i.e., 1/4 cup of lemon juice instead of ‘the juice of 2 lemons’ for the obvious reason that not all lemons are the same size. Here is the version I made for a recent event. It’s sweet and tart, just right and very light. It received rave reviews! The following recipe makes one 8-inch or one 9-inch pie plus one custard cup* (no crust).

Lemon Sponge Pie

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (I used Meyer lemons here, but regular lemons are fine)
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup melted, unsalted butter
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 large egg whites
One 8-inch or 9-inch unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the sugar and flour. Add the lemon juice and zest, egg yolks, butter, and salt. Mix well with a whisk. Stir in the milk. Beat egg whites until firm; fold into batter**. Pour into prepared pie crust. 

For one 8-inch pie plus one custard cup: Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the heat and bake 35 minutes more at 350 degrees.

For one 9-inch pie: Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce the heat and bake 45-50 minutes more at 350 degrees or until pie springs back to a light touch. Cool on a rack then refrigerator for a few hours to firm up the custard. This pie is especially nice in the Spring, for Easter or Mother’s Day or heck, any day you need a little sweetness in your life. Enjoy!

*I like to make 8-inch pies so when there is extra batter, I butter a small custard cup, fill it with remaining batter and bake it alongside the pie. It’s a nice treat for me if I’m giving the pie away with the added bonus of taste testing the baked filling without cutting into the pie.

** If the egg whites are overly beaten, they can become dry and create clumps of egg white that are difficult to incorporate into the batter without compromising the lightness. If this happens, it’s not a disaster, the separate layers just may not be as distinct in the finished pie; it will still be light, airy and delicious anyway. Promise.