January’s Pie: Grapefruit Meringue

All of this is about to become a pie!

One of my 2011 Challenges is to make a new pie each month. For January, I chose a Grapefruit Meringue.  I started by Googling “Winter Pies” just to see what suggestions I might find.  Piechef.com pointed out that citrus is plentiful during January, unlike other fruits.  I love my Mom’s lemon meringue pie, so why not try Grapefruit?

Here are the ingredients for the pie:

9” Baked Pie Crust or Graham Cracker Crust
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups grapefruit juice
1/2 cup water
4 eggs, separated (whites will be used in meringue)
4 TB butter, cut into small pieces
1 tsp grated grapefruit rind

Pay no attention to the man behind the pie!

I don’t really care for grapefruit.  It’s not a citrus that I’ve been around much.  Growing up, there were always oranges in our stocking at Christmas.  I always enjoyed lemon wedges in my tea or lemonade.  I love to buy clementines during the holidays now to eat at lunch because they are easy to peel.  But grapefruit just hasn’t been a fruit I’ve had much experience with so I think that is another reason I picked this pie.

I also had to seek out Cream of Tartar, something that until watching Paula Deen, I thought was a dip you ate with fish.  Corn Starch is another ingredient that I’ve never used much, except for occasionally as a thickener in soups.  This being my first pie of the year, I also chose to go the easy route and use a premade store bought crust.

Dry ingredients: Sugar, Salt, Cornstarch

The recipe suggests you start by taking inventory of your items, which I did.  Everything is pictured except for the vanilla.  That’s what I get for having the recipe pulled up on the computer in the dining room and having to run back and forth to reference it while in the kitchen.  Note to self – write or print out the recipe so it can be closer to me in the kitchen.  Then there are a few prep steps required before you actually start the cooking and baking process!

One Teaspoon of Zest

I started by measuring out the cornstarch, sugar, and salt and putting them in a sauce pan to dry blend together over no heat. That was easy enough!

Then I zested the grapefruit.  Not much zest is needed, only a teaspoon, so it didn’t take long.  We bought a microplane a while back to zest lemons for making lemoncello.  If you don’t have one, I highly suggest investing in one.  You can find them at Amazon for under $20, or any kitchen supply store.  The recipe at Pie Chef notes that grapefruits can be harder to zest, but I had no problems at all.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t have trouble with the grapefruit in the next step.

Squeezing them!

Too big for the juicer!

1 and 1/4 cups of grapefruit juice is needed, and that’s exactly how much I got out of the two large grapefruits I bought. I was afraid I wasn’t going to even get that much.  They were too big for my manual juicer, and I didn’t want to pull out the big electric one just for such a small amount of juice.  That meant good ole hand power would be required.

I cut each grapefruit in half and then began squeezing like mad.  Only a small amount of pulp ended up in the juice, and not many seeds.

However, I did notice the grapefruit seeds are bigger and break up very easily while squeezing, so I ended up with quite a bit of pieces of seeds in the juice which had to be strained out.  In the end, I was just happy to end up with exactly the right amount of juice.

Grapefruits defeated!

Next, I separated the eggs – whites in one bowl and yolks in another.  This is an easy process for me, but if you have trouble with it, check out the tips at Pie Chef.  I usually start by cracking the egg and peeling away the top part, leaving the yolk sitting in the bottom while some of the white drips over.  Then, I pour it in the palm of my hand, and trade it back and forth between hands until the yolk is all that’s left.  Be careful that it doesn’t break!

Last step left was just to cut up the butter into small pieces!

Now it was time to actually start “cooking.”  You pour the half cup of water and the grapefruit juice into the sauce pan with the dry ingredients. Then you add the yolks and whisk until well blended.  The eggs don’t blend well into the mixture and kind of look like broken up

Last prep steps!

pieces of pulp floating in the liquid.  You’ll also be able to notice if you got any of the egg white in the mixture because it will float on the top like a clear ball of jelly.  I had a tiny bit which I immediately scooped out. The recipe said it should be well blended and of uniform color, but my eggs continued to look broken up on the top until I turned on the heat.

Adding the juice, water, and yolks to the dry mixture.

Over medium heat, you cook the mixture for about 5 minutes until it starts to bubble.  I stirred it constantly, hoping my yolk pulp would eventually disappear.  And it did!  You can definitely tell when the starch reacts with the heat because the mixture suddenly turned into a thick blob of jelly.  It was just one of those reactions that makes cooking fun.  I gave it a few more quick stirs and then took it off the heat.

Ta-Da! Watch how it thickens!

Then, you add in the grapefruit rind and the butter while the mixture is still warm and give it a quick stir to melt the butter. Now you are ready to pour the mixture into the pie crust.  Pie Chef suggests you cover it to avoid it developing a film on top.

Now you are ready to start making the meringue!

Meringue ingredients:

4 egg whites
1 TB cornstarch
1 TB sugar
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar

Start by going ahead and turning on the oven to 350 degrees so it can preheat.  I would also suggest pre-measuring your ingredients and having them close by.  Another step I didn’t do, and instead had to keep running back and forth from the computer to the kitchen!

Paste??

In a small pan on the stove, you combine the sugar, water and cornstarch and stir constantly over medium heat.  It thickens almost immediately and looks a lot like paste.  In fact, didn’t we make paper mache paste this way back in Vacation Bible School??

Next, get that beater ready.  You beat the egg yolks and add in the vanilla, cream of tartar, and sugar until blended.  Then add in your paste mixture and keep beating till thick and frothy.  I suggest using a large deep bowl because this can get quite messy!  It also takes a VERY long time.  You should keep beating – try changing the speeds of the beater from low to high and back – until the meringue forms peaks that keep their shape.  It will also look shiny. I think this took a good 5 to 8 minutes overall.

Almost starting to peak!

Now you are ready to spread the meringue over the pie.  There is a lot of meringue so don’t be afraid to pile it high.  Cover the pie completely, all the way to the edges and the pile it on in the middle.  Use a spoon to make some decorative swirls and curls by tapping the meringue lightly.

Honestly, I thought this meringue seemed a bit complicated.  I gave it a taste test while piling it onto the pie and it tasted a lot like marshmallow.  My Mom’s meringue for her lemon ice box pie consists only of egg whites, lemon juice, and sugar.  It has a much lighter consistency and tastes different, and I think I would have liked it better. I’m not knocking the thick marshmallowy goodness of this meringue, but Mom’s is always better, and a lot simpler too!

Before: Ready to be meringued!

I was afraid I also didn’t get the meringue thick enough.  My peaks weren’t holding like I thought they should, and the way they had before when I attempted to make Mom’s recipe.  But once I got them on the pie and tapped my spoon into it to make some swirls, I thought I did okay.

After: Ready for the oven!

Now you are ready to pop it in the oven.  The recipe says to bake it for 20 to 25 minutes on the middle rack, allowing room for those tall meringue peaks.  I set my timer for 25 minutes and it did fine the whole time.  You’ll want to constantly check the pie during the last 5 minutes to make sure your meringue isn’t burning, especially if you have some really tall peaks.  I had no burning at all for the full 25 minutes.

I took the pie out and let it set to cool for a good two hours or so before cutting it.  I don’t know why but I can never get premade crusts to cut very pretty-like.  Any suggestions?  The first piece always falls apart on me, as did this one.  I used a butter knife to cut into it.  After the first piece fell apart, I switched to a pie cutter to get a second piece that would be a little more photogenic.

Right out of the oven!

But even back home when cutting into Mom’s lemon ice box, they always seem to fall apart on that first cut. Serving it cold would also probably prevent this, but I can never wait!

So, now you probably want to know how it tasted, right?  Believe it or not, all that trouble spent on the meringue itself was totally worth it.  The meringue was light and fluffy and amazing, and didn’t retain a lot of that marshmallowy flavor it had before I put it in the oven.  I misjudged it completely, and even J said the meringue was perfect.

As for the pie itself, it’s okay.  It doesn’t have that bitter acidic grapefruit flavor thanks to the sugar, but instead almost has a light apricot flavor. It’s the consistency of a fruit puree or even a nice creme brulee or jam.  Think lemon bars – or at least that gelatin portion of them.  The mixture cooked up nice, has a good light flavor to it, but you’d get the same experience from eating warm homemade applesauce. J and I both agreed it would definitely be better if served cold.

Want a slice?

Overall, I’m not too impressed with the pie itself.  It’s not something I can say I’d ever make again. There’s nothing here that’s just outstanding to make me say this is a pie worth sharing with friends or families.  You could achieve the same result using orange juice from a carton.  And I can honestly say Mom’s lemon ice box is much much better!

Premade crusts just don't cut well!

But it was fun to experiment with new ingredients like cream of tartar and corn starch to see how they react in the big scheme of things.  Working with something new like grapefruit wasn’t that bad either.

I also learned how to make an awesome meringue which could be applied to all sorts of other pies, so I’m sure you’ll see it again.  After all, I’ve got 11 more pies to go this year!

Since February is Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking about something with strawberries or chocolate.  Good strawberries made me hard to find though, so I may aim more for the chocolate side.  Any suggestions?

Find the grapefruit meringue recipe at piechef.com!

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