Everyone (except me!) in our family has birthdays between March and April. It dawned on me this year that the gift of a homemade cake is the gift I give. It is a labor of love and I care about it deeply. We spend weeks talking about what type of cake the birthday boy(s) want for their special days. Apparently, we’re bringing back the 80’s this year because Kai picked a Pac Man cake and JP wants a Rubik’s cube cake.
Kai’s cake was a 3-layer Neapolitan cake shaped like Pac Man. He picked out bright yellow sprinkles and we used black fondant for Pac Man’s eye. For JP’s birthday he picked a 3-layer white cake with lemon curd and Italian lemon meringue buttercream.
Over the years, I have made many different types of frostings but my favorites are Italian meringue and Swiss meringue Buttercream. The first time I tried to make Italian meringue buttercream I couldn’t get the egg whites to transform into the voluminous mass it was supposed to. I learned how and am now adore meringues. I find them absolutely beautiful, something other-worldly.
There are three different types of meringues: French, Swiss and Italian. This recipe utilizes the French style. It was the first type of meringue I successfully made. It’s a basic meringue of egg whites, cream of tartar and fine sugar. To create the marshmallow-y center that I so love, we add lemon juice and cornstarch. Meyer lemon zest adds just the right amount of brightness and citrus zing to make the whole treat truly amazing.
Successfully making a meringue is actually quite simple. I’ll let you in on the tips I learned:
Let the egg whites sit out on the counter to warm up for at least 30 minutes. This will help the whites reach their full volume. As the whites warm, they will thin out and resemble liquid more than thick gel.
Wash and dry the mixer bowl and whisk. Residual oils can inhibit the whites from whipping.
Whip on high. Turn that mixer up and let it do its thing. Medium speed just won’t do.
Add cream of tartar to keep the egg whites from drying out.
Go slow adding the sugar to prevent it from being gritty. Feel it between your fingers and if its gritty then put it back on high and whip until the meringue is smooth.
Meyer Lemon Meringue Cookies
The crisp outer shell and marshmallow-y center, make these meringue cookies irresistible. Not only are these delicious, they’re also gluten free! These puff up slightly but I fit about 12 on each 11×17 baking sheet.
Yield: 24 meringue cookies
Active time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Cooling time: 1 hour
4 egg whites (120g), room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (200g) fine sugar (or granulated pulsed in a food processor for 25 seconds)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice
Zest of 2 Meyer lemons (about a tablespoon)
Heat oven to 300 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Start on low and mix with the whisk attachment. After 30 seconds start increasing speed until the mixer is at high speed. Continue to whip the egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage – about 3 minutes from start to finish.
Once the egg whites are at stiff peaks, start adding the sugar one spoonful at a time. Go slowly to allow the sugar to be incorporated, about 4 minutes. The meringue will look shiny and thick. Once the sugar is incorporated, stop the mixer and feel the mixture between your fingers to be sure it isn’t gritty feeling. If gritty, continue mixing on high speed and check every 30 seconds.
Once the meringue feels smooth stop the mixer and unhook the bowl from the mixer. Sprinkle cornstarch, Meyer lemon juice, and lemon zest over meringue and gently fold in with a flexible spatula.
Use a tablespoon-sized cookie scoop or spoon to drop meringue on to the cookie sheets.
Bake until the meringues are puffed, firm to the touch, and release from the paper easily. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to let the cookies cool completely, about 1 hour. Once cool remove from the oven and store in an air tight container at room temperature. Meringues will stay crisp for about 4 days.
“Do you want to come with me to a pie contest?” I nonchalantly asked my 10 year old. He answered with an emphatic “yes!” and our mom and son date was set. Once JP knew that he was going, he was excited to help make the coffee coconut cream pies. Coming into the kitchen, he asked if he could crack the eggs. Now it was my turn to answer “yes!” enthusiastically. I had two dozen eggs that needed separated. I had begun this messy task and my hands were cold and covered in a thin film of egg white. Though I like the ease of separating eggs by using my hand, I didn’t think it would be the best option for JP’s first time. We set out two small containers on the table and I gave him a slotted spoon. He tenderly knocked the egg on the table and slowly pulled the shell apart. Gently tilting the egg out of the shell and onto the spoon, he waited nervously while the egg white slowly disentangled itself from the yolk and slipped through the spoon and into the bowl. One after another we worked together to separate the eggs, quickly scooping up any yolk that found its way into the whites. Shards of brown and white shells and dribbles of egg covered the table but it was so much more rewarding to do this task together.
It’s not easy to find common interests with our children. Most of the time either the adult or the child has to indulge the other in order to spend time together. But for JP and I, our interests align when it comes to baked goods. He’s my kindred spirit when it comes to all things dessert related. At the pie contest, we tasted and scored each entry, we talked about flavor and texture and then decided on a score for each of the ten entries. Finally, all the scores were tallied and the winners were announced.
I was pretty sure I knew who two of the winners would be, but I didn’t think that our coffee coconut cream pie would make the list. Don’t get me wrong, I was really pleased with how our pies turned out. I loved the creamy coconut custard and the flaky chocolate coated crust. I especially loved how the coffee paired with the coconut cream. The meringue was beautifully toasted, as well. Yet, I did have some weeping meringue issues. Also, I had only told the organizers that the pie was coconut cream and had left out the coffee part, which meant that all the tasters expected a standard pie. Would everyone hate the addition of coffee when it wasn’t expected? The gently spiced chai masala apple pie was baked to perfection and was awarded third place. The bourbon butterscotch cream pie topped with whipped cream and dotted with pretty chocolate sprinkles came in first. The surprise came when our coffee coconut cream pie was called out for second place. We were so excited! I was so happy to be able to share the experience with my son.
Coffee Coconut Cream Pie
Makes 1 – 9 inch pie
This recipe is based on Stella Park’s Coconut Cream Pie. I added chocolate to coat the crust after baking, infused the coconut milk with coffee beans and threw flake salt on the top of the meringue. I found it easiest to break the steps up into two days and then serve the third day. I added lots of pictures and instructions for each part of the pie.
All Butter Crust
I use Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and make it in the food processor using the dough blade. I find it easiest to have the flour, sugar and salt combined before getting the butter out of the fridge. Bench scrapers make cutting butter a cinch!
This recipe makes a double crust, which I like. Wrap both in plastic wrap and chill the one for the pie in the refrigerator. Toss the other dough ball in a freezer bag in the freezer. This will last for 2 months in the freezer. If the dough is frozen, defrost in the fridge over night before continuing with the recipe.
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, 1/2 inch dice and cold
1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 cup chocolate chips
Combine flour, salt and sugar in small bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine. Attach the dough blade to the food processor and scoop the flour mixture into the bowl of the food processor. Add cold butter and pulse 7 times to cut the butter into the flour. The butter will be distributed throughout the flour and you will be able to see pieces of butter. Add the cold water and pulse for another 7 times or until the mixture starts to come together. Turn dough onto a slightly floured counter and knead quickly to incorporate any dry bits. The dough should feel firm and cold. Cut the dough in half and pat each piece into a ball. I like to weigh mine so that I know that my pieces are even.
Chill for 2 hours or over night. While the crust is chilling, separate your eggs for the coconut cream and meringue (ingredients listed below in filling and meringue recipes).
After the dough has chilled, roll out onto a floured counter. Roll the dough a couple inches larger than the pie plate. Dust the counter and rolling pin with flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Transfer to pie plate and gently press the dough to conform to the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use scissors to trim to 1/2 inch all around. Then fold under so that it is flush with the pie pan. Press the dough firmly with a spoon to decorate if desired. Chill until the dough is firm again – about 30 minutes. Move rack to lower third and heat oven to 350°F. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Coat crust in foil, pressing in all around and covering sides. Pour in two cups of sugar (great tip from Stella!) and bake for an hour in the oven.
While the pie crust bakes, infuse the coconut milk with coffee beans (ingredients listed below in filling recipe). Pour coconut milk into a saucepan and add whole coffee beans. Bring to a simmer on medium heat. Once simmering, remove from heat and cover. Test after fifteen minutes. If the milk has enough coffee flavor to taste subtly of coffee, then use a slotted spoon to remove beans. If not, then cover and continue to steep and test again after another fifteen minutes. Once steeping is complete and the beans have been removed, then set aside to cool.
Once the crust is golden brown, remove from the oven and carefully lift out the foil. Pour chocolate chips onto the crust and let melt for a minute and spread. Cool.
Coconut Cream Filling
I made the mistake of originally buying the wrong coconut milk for this recipe. Look for cans with coconut in the ingredients and NOT coconut extract! Make sure to cool the coconut milk after steeping.
1/2 cup (4 ounces) brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (5 ounces or about 8 eggs) egg yolks – save whites for meringue
3 1/2 cups (28 ounces) unsweetened full fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon whole coffee beans
1 1/3 cups (4 ounces) sweetened flaked coconut (plus more for the top of the pie)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
In a medium sauce pan, whisk brown sugar, granulated sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon. Add coffee infused coconut milk and egg yolks. Continue to gently whisk as the mixture heats on medium-low. Once wisps of steam appear on the sides of the pan and the mixture is piping hot, then increase heat to medium and cook for another 5 minutes. Once the custard is thick and begins to bubble, set a 2 minute timer and continue to whisk. Remove from heat and stir in sweetened coconut and vanilla. Pour in baked and cooled crust and cool until the custard firms and forms a crust, about 30 minutes.
Making meringue is pure joy. Watching the egg whites turn pillow-y and glossy, swirling it on the pie and then watching it puff and toast in the oven is definitely my favorite part of making this pie. Magical. Don’t be shy about cranking up the speed on the mixer. Also, when toasting the meringue in the oven, watch the oven temperature. My oven temp went up to 400°F and caused some weeping and separation on the finished pie.
1 cup (8 ounces – about 8 eggs) egg whites
1 3/4 cups (12 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Shredded coconut (optional)
Flake salt, such as maldon
Fill small sauce pan with 1 1/2 inches water and bring to a simmer. In the bowl of the stand mixer, whisk egg whites, sugar, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla extract. With heat on medium-low, place on top of the pan of simmering water and clip a thermometer to the side. Using a flexible spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as the mixture warms, thins and foams. Heat to 175°F, about 10 minutes.
Remove bowl from heat and using the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, whisk on high. Heat oven to 375°F. Place a wire cooling rack inside a baking sheet. Watch in awe as the mixture thickens, turns glossy and quadruples in volume. It will take about 5 minutes. Look for the meringue to be thick all the way to the outer edges of the bowl before stopping the mixer. It will be soft like perfectly whipped cream.
Dollop meringue on top of the custard and make swirls to your hearts content. Be sure to have the meringue touch the crust. Toast for 10 minutes. Open oven door and quickly coat the top of the pie in coconut and sprinkle with flake salt if desired. The meringue will do best with the least amount of temperature change so it’s best to not take it all the way out of the oven. Bake for another 10 minutes. The meringue will have puffed and be light tan all around with some darker toasted peaks. Remove from oven and cool for 1 hour. Then wrap in plastic wrap and chill another 4 hours or over night. The goal is to have the pie at 60°F. Serve chilled. Run the knife under water after cutting each wedge. The pie will keep for up to a week if covered in plastic wrap. Enjoy!