Wednesday, April 2, 2008

shaker lemon pie

shaker lemon pie

A little over a year ago, my mother and I leapt at the opportunity to make a whole lemon tart featured in the New York Times and ended up with one of the most caustic, inedible things I have yet to make on this site. And people, with an ever-growing category of “disasters,” that is no small feat.

meyer lemons

We received a lot of comments on that post ranging from sympathy to eye-rolling (as one of this woman’s recipes had previously felled another reader) but the bulk of them came in two veins: You should have used Meyer lemons and you really ought to make a Shaker Lemon Pie next.

As for the Meyer lemons, a milder and thinner-skinned cousin of the lemons we have readily available in the U.S., these comments made me dig my heels in, oh, just a little. Because while Meyer lemons may have yielded a better outcome, this was not my complaint: my complaint had been that the recipe said that Meyer lemons were an option not a requirement and I held the recipe to this and it nearly cauterized a hole in the roof of my mouth.

But there was another reason that I knew that it would take more than Meyer lemons to save this tart, and that, my friends, is a simple matter of proportion. The Evil Tart’s citrus to sugar ratio was eight whole lemons to three-quarters of a cup. The standard Shaker Lemon Pie recipe uses two whole lemons to two cups of sugar. You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure out why that all went to hell in a handbasket.

meyer lemon zestmeyer lemon, beveled

Isn’t it great how long I can stay–pardon the pun–bitter over a recipe? Nevertheless, I digressed. The disaster of last year’s lemon tart had me in no way less curious about making this Shaker Lemon Pie of which so many of you spoke, and yes, I was determined not to test fate and planned to make it only if I could find Meyer lemons. Except, I never did. Maybe I just missed the week they were at the store (they have a notoriously short season) or maybe I just went to the wrong stores, but the Meyers, they never showed up. I even emailed South Texas Organics to ask when their Meyers would come in and do you know what they told me? They’d come and gone weeks prior. And then I sat home and cried and cried until, well, a small miracle came to pass.

paper-thin meyer slices

A couple weeks ago, a reader in San Francisco sent me the sweetest note. She said that this here smittenkitchen made her day (aww) and that she wanted to send me some Meyer lemons from her backyard trees as a thank you. I am really, really not big on accepting free gifts, so I said no a couple times, and she insisted and then I tried to send her something from NYC as a thank you and she said no thank you and then I caved: I really wanted those lemons! I am weak, but I am also lucky.

with sugar, pinch of saltlemon filling, 24 hours later

And so with no further derailments, I was finally onto my Shaker Lemon Pie. What is this, you may be impatient to know 500+ words later? The Shakers, a religious sect whose communal societies spread from Maine to Ohio in their mid-1800s heydey, were a notoriously thrifty bunch, not even wishing to part with the bitter lemon peels when they made a pie. The pie that is their legacy uses paper-thin slices of whole lemons, macerates them in sugar for a good while and mixes them with eggs to form a most-amazing pie filling, part marmelade and part curd.

pie overhang

Though it requires some futsiness–I think a mandoline or the knife skills of a sushi chef are essential here–it really couldn’t be easier to make. It is not for the feint-of-lemon heart, however. This is only for those who like grown-up flavors like candied peels and lingering bitterness in their fruit, and I say this because even though I used a mandoline and the finest of Meyer lemons, I still think I should have shaved the lemons thinner to mellow the rings out a bit. I think using Meyer lemons is essenetial for this recipe, but the good news is that you’ll only need two.

getting "mad air" on those eggs

Nevertheless, whether you’re a lemon fanatic or have come into a supply of Meyers, if you aren’t sure you’re quite ready for this pie, I wanted to round up some of my other favorite lemon recipes on this site. Turns out, we’re quite the lemon junkies around here. Pre-rehab, of course.

fluted crust

One year ago: Summer Berry Pavlova

Shaker Lemon Pie

There are about as many Shaker Lemon Pie recipes out there as there are people who love it, but I have found them all largely the same–except for this one, which I’ve adapted from Saveur Magazine, which uses the same lemon-to-sugar proportion but adds some butter (always welcome), a little flour and insists that you let it macerate for almost a day. I will add to this that you should slice these as thin as your mandoline or adjustable-blade slicer will let you, and don’t be frightened if the rinds are still a bit bitter–it is all part of the pie’s charm.

Makes one 9-inch pie

2 large lemons, preferably Meyers
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
4 tablespons butter, melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 egg white
Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Dough for one double-crust pie [See recipes here and here.]

Thoroughly wash lemons, then dry with paper towel. Finely grate lemon zest into a bowl. Using a mandoline, slice lemons as paper thin as you can get them; remove and discard seeds. Add slices to zest and toss with sugar and salt. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out half the dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface, fit it into a 9-inch (1-quart) pie plate, and trim the edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang.

Mix the macerated lemon-sugar mixture with eggs, melted butter and flour until combined well. Pour in to prepared pie shell.

Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface, drape it over the filling, and trim it, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold the overhang under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp the edge decoratively. Beat one egg white until frothy and brush over pie crust, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Cut slits in the crust with a sharp knife, forming steam vents, and bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350°F. and bake the pie for 20 to 25 minutes more, or until the crust is golden. Let the pie cool on a rack and serve it warm at room temperature.


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