Bourbon Apple Meringue Pie
The soft, airy white mountain stacked high parts as the heavy fork sinks through it with ease. I separate a bite, lifting the shockingly-light mass up to my eager mouth – I resist the desire to simply mold and sculpt this delightfully feathery structure. As if by magic the moist cotton candy like treat dissolves into thin air as it hits my tongue, leaving a faint sweet taste behind.
I drop my fork back to the ravaged pie dish, ready for another bite, my mouth far from tired of the sweet meringue. Another bite and another magical poof as meringue transforms from airy dessert to nothing. Another bite and suddenly it is all gone.
Crust and filling remain perfect and untouched, the meringue – from the lemon meringue pie – now mysteriously missing. I step back and admire my handy work; I look up to the counter at my father’s birthday pie. Whoops – my adolescent mind now well aware of what trouble will soon find me. Eh. I’ll just blame it on my brother.
Another year and another lemon meringue pie. Another lemon meringue pie and another case of the missing meringue. But wait. What is that? Could it be? My mother is pulling a second lemon meringue pie out of the oven. She delicately sets the golden mountain of a pie down on a tall counter, pushed far to the back, way out of my adolescent reach. I stare up at the cooling meringue, then to the devoured pie strategically distanced from me, then back to my mother. She smiles, never one to get mad, winks and heads out of the kitchen. Gasp. She knows!
To this day I find myself searching for excuses to make meringue – and like cookie dough when I make it I find myself eating half of it before I can get it into the oven. This apple pie is a mix of looking for a twist on the traditional apple pie and a desire to bring together different textures and flavors – including meringue. What I got is possibly the best dessert I have ever made.
Bourbon Apple Meringue Pie: This pie is my new favorite fall pie for two reasons: texture and taste. Not only are the three juxtaposing textures and resulting mouthfeel pleasant and fun, the layers of flavor in this pie play off of each other so well. Soft, crispy apples baked to perfection provide a light snap and the pie crust – a sweeter short dough — provides a cookie like crunch sitting underneath a pillow of delicious, fluffy, light meringue. The subtle sweetness of the meringue plays well with the rich and tart apples. A sweet, cinnamon crust holds everything together and a delicious bourbon caramel sauce ties each layer to each other.
Because the apples are cooked in the sauce before baking, making the sauce doesn’t require extra steps. Pie crust can be a little bit of work but it is straight forward enough – and if you have to you can always substitute it with store bought though I don’t advocate it. Meringues are incredibly easy so long as you watch carefully to make sure you don’t over whip them. Though it takes some time, this pie is quite easy and well worth it.
How worth it? I ate one slice while photographing, one slice after photographing it, one slice for dessert last night and I am having one for breakfast now. Yeah. This pie is good.
Apples: I use a mix of Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples for all my apple pies. The tartness from the Granny Smith gives the pie a scrumptious bite and the sweetness from the Pink Lady adds the delicious, familiar sweet apple flavor. You can use any variety you like though I suggest choosing tart varieties to keep the pie from becoming cloyingly sweet.
Meringue: Meringue is very easy so long as you follow a few tips. Don’t add the sugar until the eggs have increased significantly in volume otherwise they may not build the structure needed to expand. Adding a little lemon juice in the beginning – I mean little: a few drops will do – helps the structure retain its shape as it bakes. Be careful not to over mix the egg whites too. They should look smooth and glossy – and of course hold a stiff peak – not broken apart and clumpy. If you’ve over mixed egg whites you sadly have to start over from the beginning.
Bourbon: Like cooking with wine, liquors in baking add a distinct layer of flavor that few things can mimic. Because their flavors are so strong you should only use good quality products – no you don’t need to buy from the top shelf but you sure as heck should not be guying anything from the bottom shelf. As many great chefs say, only cook with it if you’d be willing to drink it. If you want to omit it you can use apple juice, more cream, or even a little freshly squeezed citrus juice.
If you have bourbon though, or are up to trying something new, I definitely suggest trying the recipe as is. The Bourbon adds a delicious combination of sweet and slightly spicy notes that play with apples wonderfully.
Bourbon Apple Meringue Pie
1 paring knife
1 chef’s knife
1 peeler (optional)
1 large heavy-bottomed pot
2 large glass or metal bowls
1 pie dish
1 stand/hand mixer (optional)
1 pie crust (recipe below)
4 pounds apples (about 8 apples), peeled, cored, sliced
8 ounces butter, unsalted
12 ounces sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
zest and juice from 1 large lemon
1/2 cup cream, heated
3/4 cup good bourbon
6 egg whites
5 ounces sugar
A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Line a pie dish with the rolled out pie dough. Set aside.
2. Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the apple slices and cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes.
3. Add the sugar and cinnamon to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, for another 5 to 10 minutes until the apples become tender, but still firm. If it is boiling rapidly lower the heat. If the mixture isn’t steaming or seems stagnant, increase the heat.
4. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, bourbon and cream and cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes.
5. Strain the apples from the liquid, reserving the liquid. Set the apples aside and place the liquid back in the pot. Bring the pot to a low boil and cook until the sauce thickens a bit, about another 5 to 10 minutes. Stir frequently and watch the heat as the sauce may scorch or burn if left unwanted. Remove the sauce to a bowl and set aside.
6. Place the apples in the lined pie dish. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.
7. 10 minutes before the pie is to be removed from the oven, begin the meringue.
8. Place the egg whites in a large bowl and add the few drops of lemon juice. Begin whipping the eggs at high speed.
9. Once the egg whites have increased about 4 times begin to slowly add the sugar while whipping the egg whites.
10. Once all the sugar is added let the egg whites whip until they form stiff peaks. Watch the meringue carefully as you do not want to over whip the egg whites. They should look glossy and smooth.
11. Remove the pie from the oven. Spread the meringue on top of the pie, spreading the meringue all the way to the crust – this helps seal it to the pie.
12. Reduce the heat in the oven to 350°F and bake the pie for another 10-15 minutes, watching the pie careful as the meringue can burn if left in too long.
13. Let the pie cool before slicing.
Sweet Cinnamon Pie Crust
1 Large Bowl
1 French Rolling Pin
8 ounces bread flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 ounces unsalted butter, very cold,
2 ounces lard, very cold
3 tablespoons water, very cold
1. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl, set aside. Cut the butter and lard into about 1/2″ cubes.
2. Add the cold butter and lard to the bowl. Pinch the butter and lard in between your fingers in the flour. Break apart the butter and lard and lightly mix into the flour until the fat is about pea size.
3. Add the cold water and lightly knead the dough just until it comes together. Don’t over mix. You should see chunks and strips of butter and lard in the dough.
4. Flatten the dough slightly and refrigerate the dough for a couple hours until the dough is firm enough to roll out.