little soft sweet white peaks of cloud

lemon meringue

lemon meringue

My grandmother once told me she used to make a sponge cake each year for her own birthday cake when her kids were young. That’s what they all loved to eat, so that’s what she would make, she said over a pot of tea one day. Kind and generous yes, and certainly in keeping with a birthday spirit. But… my 83 year old grandmother doesn’t like sponge cake. She never has.

It was probably never going to be a problem that I would have. Committed to my kids taste buds, of course. I frequently catered to their often under ripe taste buds. But committed enough to make them (me) a sponge cake? Oh hell no, (I don’t like them either.)

Several people offered to make me a birthday cake this year. I said that was so very kind, and then politely declined though. You see, I love making my own cake (or tart as the case may be.) It’s the one time of the year, I can make something exactly to my own taste buds. No chocolate, no lollies, no cream… no sponge cake.

For this years birthday I had lemon meringue pie on my mind, and I’d been planning it ever since the last time I had made it, (with added blueberries for good measure.)

“…but it’s not a proper birthday if there isn’t cake,” declared an unsure little voice.

 “Piffle,” I said confidently, “How exciting will the little soft sweet white peaks of cloud like meringue look in amongst a few candles.” Birthday’s can be anything you want it to be, that’s the wonderful thing about birthdays.” 

I kept that close in mind when I decided I would like wholemeal spelt pancakes, blueberries, mangoes, crackers and cheese for dinner as well…anything I want it to be, right?

lemon meringue

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And as my still fairly recent tradition of making something meringue-y for my birthday continues, so does my recipe list.

Lemon Meringue Pie 2013

Blue Cherry Meringue Tart 2012

Berry Meringue Tart 2011

A Rather Tall Birthday Cake 2010

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a lemon meringue pie to die for

lemon meringue pie- cityhippyfarmgirl

cityhippyfarmgirl

lemon meringue pie- cityhippyfarmgirl

I’m the kind of girl who when reading a menu in a restaurant, goes straight to the dessert list at the back.

I’m also the kind of girl who is happy to squash a nose up against cafe glass in order to see a cake cabinet just that little bit better.

I’m definitely the kind of girl to stare off dreamily, thinking about how I was going to tweak my current Lemon Meringue Pie recipe.

It’s just the sort of girl I am.

Me and Lemon Meringue Pie go way back. Way, way back to the time when as a little girl, I would take just a little longer in the fridge than was necessary, carefully dipping my finger into the lemony mixture of the pie. I’d also watch any baking my mum would be doing using condensed milk, hoping for a quick turn of her back, so I could get into that empty sweet goodness can. As a baby I was known to happily enjoy eating lemon segments in my highchair. You see Lemon Meringue Pie and I, we were always meant to be.

When I first blogged about it with this lemon meringue pie. I thought I had nailed it.

Alas, not so. Not even remotely. How do I know this? I know this as, this is the recipe that I will now take to my grave. Not in a not sharing kind of way, but more, I’d like to be buried with the recipe on me. It’s that kind of love.

Now I know Lemon Meringue Pie is serious business and people generally fall into two categories- you either thinks it ok, or love it to the moon and back, and maybe back again one more time. It’s the latter kind of people who will be scrutinising this recipe and wondering whether this really is the recipe to end all recipes, (and to be buried with.)

I sincerely think it is.

lemon meringue pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

Pastry

180g softened butter

50g icing sugar

2 egg yolks

250g plain flour

In a mixer beat the butter and sugar together until pale, then add the yolks. Gently mix through the flour and a tablespoon or so of cold water to bring it together. Between two baking sheets, roll it out to about .5cm thickness. Into the fridge for about an hour. Grease your pie or tart dish and line the pastry with it. With fork, prick the base all over and bake blind at 180C for about 20 minutes or until light golden.

Lemon Middle

1 can condensed milk

2 egg yolks

125mls lemon juice

zest of one whole lemon

1 tsp cornflour

Whisk in a pot over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Pour into the pie base and set in the fridge until cold.

Italian Meringue

2 egg whites

175g sugar

60mls water

Whisk egg whites to a soft peak form, while you are doing that, in a pot add the sugar and water. Dissolve over a medium heat, using a small wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar particles on the side. Bring the heat up to 121C (hard ball stage) and with the mixer still going high, pour in the sugar syrup in a steady slow stream. Keep beating until the mixture is thick and glossy (about 10 minutes or so, until it becomes room temperature.)

Pipe it on to your pie base.

Eat with enthusiasm and generous helpings.

blue cherry meringue tart and thoughts of 35

This week I turned 35 and with it I thought I would write down 35 thoughts that have flitted by.

1/ Spending a weekend with loved family members that you don’t often see is a pretty wonderful way to kick start a birthday.

2/ Never underestimate the soul filling value of spending hours and hours talking to your brother in a busy cafe.

3/Coffee tastes better with great conversation.

4/ Actually, everything tastes better with great conversation.

5/ Nothing wrong what so ever in decorating your own dining area in a celebratory birthday kind of fashion the night before.

6/ Decorating said area, ensures that come birthday morning when there are school lunches to be made, washing to be put out and and nappies to be changed that this will not be just another ordinary day.

7/ Forget that, I don’t think there are any ordinary days…ever.

8/ Bunting really is well worth the effort.

9/ You don’t have to be a kid to get squealy happy, hand clapping on opening a birthday box.

10/ Husbands need big thank you kisses for giving squealy happy hand clapping birthday boxes.

11/ There is a lot of joy in seeing your eldest child finally shake off a hideous virus, just in time to eat a man size slice of blue cherry meringue tart.

12/ In following days, there is also a lot of joy in left over blue cherry meringue tart with a quiet coffee, a great book and a little quiet time.

13/ Said quiet time is brief these days, VERY brief.

14/ Italian meringue I never knew you were so good! I really didn’t. I scoffed at the seemingly kitchen faffing that you needed in order to get done- The faffing is so worth it though, and I will never do meringue the regular way again…promise.

15/ A good book…is truly wonderful.

16/ A good chiropractor is also wonderful.

17/ Jumping into the world of lenses, aperture, ISO, and bokeh are ridiculously exciting.

18/ Waking up and thinking about lenses as your first thought of the day… does that warrant geek status?

19/ …hopefully.

20/ Asparagus season, I do love you.

21/ Cherry season, I think I love you even more.

22/ Getting a book like Mend it Better is not a whim action, it’s an investment. Little Monkey wears out knees like…well, like a lot.

23/ This time of year makes me think of my grandfather a lot.

24/ It looks like I’m starting a meringue tradition for my birthday, Berry Meringue Tart and A Rather Tall Birthday Cake in the last two years before…I can deal with that. Especially as now I know about Italian Meringue.

25/ I really do like grey overcast days.

26/ I also really like the idea of owning an organic olive farm.

27/ I could sit on my verandah watching the sun set over my olive trees. Dusk cockatoos would fly over head, screeching to each other as they went to seek food elsewhere. (My trees would be carefully netted against said cockatoos- who said day dreams couldn’t be detailed.)

28/ I wasn’t sure how 35 would feel.

29/ Turns out it’s fine and feels remarkably like 34.

30/ Eating homemade sourdough for breakfast never gets old.

31/ The breakfast idea that is not the sourdough. Sourdough does get old and stale eventually, then it’s perfect for making bread crumbs. Supermarket bread goes mouldy, home-made bread just gets turned into something else (pangritata being my favourite at the moment.)

32/ Being able to read is truly a joyful experience, escaping into a book. A story that transports you…

33/ Or just reading about lenses…again.

34/ There are so many wonderful things to do in this world. Learn about, read up on, discover and enjoy. Precious moments that will never, ever be repeated again…

35/ In my 35th year, I’m not going waste one little one of them.

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Blueberry Cherry Meringue Tart is adapted from this recipe. All I did was change the fruit around from Rhubarb and Raspberry, and made up the mixture in a pot rather than oven baked. After six months of planning to make it, and two days of putting it together, (instalments was easier) was it worth it?

Oh my sweet goodness, yes! Recipe here.

birthday thinking and a berry meringue tart

I’ve just celebrated another birthday rolling around. Time spent with lovely people, delicious food and lots of happy moments.

I’ve also been thinking of another that is no longer here.

Thinking of my grandfather who left me with a head full of happy memories, that I frequently bring out and go through. Flicking through those memories like a well worn scrap book, with mental scribbles, loved pictures and happy moments.

Ours was a shared birthday. It was always such a special feeling knowing that our birthday was on the same day. Giving me a loving connection with the grandfather I adored.

A man, who to me always smelt like smoked apple wood, and occasionally raw onions as he loved them on sandwiches.

He had a sweet tooth for certain things, introducing me to sugar coated jubes that would get soft and squishy in the car. There were scoops of vanilla icecream with spoonfuls of his home made jam on top. He also knew answers to more trivia questions than I could ever hope to know in a lifetime. Answers would roll off his tongue like a well rehearsed dialogue. No pause for thought as the reply seemed so easily retrieved.

Big boxes of locally grown apples would be brought by him when ever he came to visit, followed by bulging jars of loose change to be carefully counted and divided amongst the grandchildren. Counting was always my job, as I was the eldest. Every cent was divided up and then we could spend it in any way we wanted.

He was there when I first rode my bike. He was also there, teaching me to dive in the pool during summer. Tuck the feet in, tuck the feet in…

We would go to visit and on his arriving home after a long day, we would hear the sounds of his footsteps coming up the stairs.

Clomp, clomp, clomp

The stairs always lasted forever as he continued stepping on the same few top stairs, making it sound like they were ten stories high. Building up the excitement, my siblings and I giggling with anticipation of him being so close. Long squashed hugs would follow, as we would all scramble for his attention.

In his last year, while he was sick, I got to tell him that I had met the man I was going to marry. This comforts me in a funny kind of way. Even though he didn’t get to be at my wedding or get to know any of his great grandchildren, he at least got a glimpse of the path I was about to head down. A path, I think that would have made him incredibly happy.

As long as I have these special memories and a hundred others, he will always be with me. Not mourned over for his loss, or the unfairness of a life taken away too soon but celebrating in the life that he did have. A life that I got to share a little part of, which I’m incredibly grateful for those years, and those birthdays we did get to share together.

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…and I also think he would have quite liked a slice of this birthday berry tart.

Drawing from  my last years ‘a rather tall birthday cake‘ and also inspired by a gorgeous recipe from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Jamie does…cookbook‘. This little number was the result.

Berry Meringue Tart

Pastry (recipe here) base can be cooked the day before. Pastry pricked all over and then baked blind for 20 minutes at 180C in a greased tart pan (the kind that pops out is good) and then a further 10 minutes uncovered. Pastry should be crisp and golden.

Meringue (recipe here) clusters baked on a tray at 130C until crisp all over, this will take an hour plus. (I used 4 egg whites/220g sugar.)

Mascarpone vanilla bean cream. Whip 300mls cream to soft peaks, then add 1/2 cup icing sugar and one scraped vanilla bean pod. Add 250g mascarpone and gently whip again until mixed through.

Berries- strawberries, blueberries and cherries.

Smooth out several spoonfuls of the mascarpone mixture on to the base of the cooked pastry. This will help the meringue stick a little. Break the meringue up and build a decent sized layer, Spoon the remainder of the mascarpone mixture all over, filling in any meringue holes and then cover with your favourite berries. Dust with a little icing sugar.