Isn’t it wonderful that in the middle of the freezing, dingy winter, we get the most amazing citrus fruit to brighten and zing up our days! My fruit bowl rarely bursts with fruit (in fact, there’s usually so much room, I store my garlic in there) but at the moment, I have loads of oranges, lemons and limes in store. I made a batch of Seville orange marmalade the other day, and have been having that on sourdough toast with lashings of butter for breakfast every morning… fabulous.
And the other day, I decided to turn some blood orange juice into the most smooth, zingy, curd for a meringue pie. It was so good. The thing I often find disappointing about citrus meringue pies is that they aren’t sharp enough for my taste. I hate curds that have been sweetened so much that you lose the essence of it being citrus fruit. That said, no-one wants sour dessert. I think this recipe gets it just right: the curd is very tangy because it also uses some lemon and lime juice (some might even find it too sharp if you ate the curd alone, though I love it) but together with the sweet crust and sugar-laden meringue topping, it’s a perfect mouthful.
I based the curd on a recipe that I found online, on a forum. So I don’t really know who to credit for the inspiration, but thank you! I adapted the recipe slightly to tweak it to my taste (particularly in terms of sugar and juices), but it follows the same ratio of egg yolks, cornflour and butter.
The colour of the juice kind of gets diluted down in the process – the blood orange juice is a deep almost-red-pink to start with, and once the sugar, eggs and butter are added it turns…well, orange. Looks amazing though.
The pastry in this pie is so incredibly easy to make and use that I can’t believe more isn’t made of this type of pastry every day, everywhere. It’s a ‘press in’ dough, which means you literally press down clumps of the dough into the pie dish to form the pie crust. No chilling, no rolling, no worries. You do chill it for a while after you’ve pressed it in, but that’s fine. The point is, no rock hard pastry to grapple with. And minimal worries about handling it.
So what’s the secret of this pastry? Surely there is dark magic at work, as pastry dough usually hates being touched but human hands… well, the secret is cream cheese. Yes. YES. What can I say? Try it out. It works. It might impart the slightest tang to the pastry but (1) who cares if it does; and (2) this happens to be a tangy pie anyway so it’s just extra tang… fine. You could use this pastry for anything, but I think it goes particularly well with fruit, or it would be great as a quiche base. I got the original recipe from America’s Test Kitchen and adapted it to make a larger quantity for a larger pie. Naturally.
A tip: DRAIN the cream cheese. This is particularly aimed at people from the UK, as I gather that in other countries, cream cheese is not as ‘wet’ as ours and it comes wrapped in paper, like butter. In the UK, our cream cheese swims in liquid and we don’t need it here. I simply weighed out my cream cheese, then gently squeezed it with a paper kitchen towel to soak up the excess moisture.
I’m not going to lie, this pie isn’t exactly quick to make, and it can be a little fiddly in places (time to get out the sugar thermometer again…). It might not make it into your weekly repertoire. But all the steps are easy enough, and there is great pride to be had in creating a golden, towering pie like this. The meringue instructions may seem overly complex, as I recommend you use an Italian meringue for this recipe (i.e. a meringue made by adding hot sugar syrup to stiff egg whites) and that’s a bit of a faff, really. But there is good reasoning behind it- it creates a really stable meringue which is less likely to ‘weep’. Weeping happens when water leaks out of the meringue topping and you don’t really want a puddle when you slice into your pie. (That said, if it happens, don’t panic. Dab up any excess moisture and keep going. It will still taste yummy.) The hot sugar also helps to cook the egg whites, which only get a brief blast in the oven later on.
So this pie may be a bit of a dance, but I think it’s well worth the effort.
This pie really wants to be eaten ASAP after baking (warm or cold) but you can refrigerate it and keep it for several days after making it if you really want to. The meringue won’t stay in tip-top condition but will still be good.
Blood Orange Meringue Pie (with Easy Press-In Pastry)
Sweet, soft, voluminous meringue set on tangy blood orange curd and sweet tender pastry.
Easy Press-In Pastry
- 205 grams Plain Flour
- 30 grams Caster Sugar
- 60 grams Cream Cheese Use full fat
- 125 grams Softened Unsalted Butter
- 1/4 teaspoon Salt
- 1 Egg, beaten
Blood Orange Curd
- 600 millileters Blood Orange Juice
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Juice of 1 lime (Lemon and Lime juice to make 100ml in total)
- 80 grams Unsalted Butter
- 105 grams Caster Sugar
- 4 large Egg Yolks Keep the whites for the meringue!
- 1 large Egg
- 3.5 tablespoons Cornflour (i.e. 30 grams)
- 4 large Egg Whites Keep the yolks for the curd!
- 200 grams Caster Sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
- 1/8 teaspoon Salt
- 100 milliliters Water
Easy Press-In Pastry
In a stand mixer or with a hand-held electric whisk, beat together the cream cheese and butter for a couple of minutes until fully combined.
Add the flour, sugar and salt to the butter/cream cheese mixture. Mix together on a low speed for about 20-30 seconds, until you see the mixture starting to appear like wet sand. Then beat on a faster speed for another 20-30 seconds. Large clumps of dough will form.
Lightly grease a 10 inch pie dish with butter. Take the clumps of dough and arrange them all over the base of the pie dish. With your fingers, press the dough into an even layer all over the base and up the sides of the pie dish.
Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour (and up to three days).
To prepare the pie crust, heat your oven to 190 degrees Celcius / 375 Fahrenheit and 'blind' bake the pie crust. You do this by laying a sheet of baking parchment over the pie and then pouring dry rice or dried beans over the parchment to weigh it down. The rice/beans should be deep enough to come up the sides of the pie crust.
Bake for about 25 minutes until the pie crust is looking lightly baked and golden brown. Remove the pie crust from the oven and carefully remove the baking rice/beans and parchment. If the edges of the pie crust are colouring a bit too much, cover the edges with foil which will help prevent over-browning. Return the pie crust to the oven for 5-10 minutes until the base of the pie crust also looks dry and lightly golden.
Remove the pie crust again and brush a little beaten egg over the base of the pie crust. You probably won't need to use the whole egg, only a couple of teaspoons' worth. Then return the pie crust to the oven one more time, just for a couple of minutes until the egg has had time to set. This step helps to 'waterproof' your pie crust to prevent it getting soggy from the curd filling.
Remove the pie crust and leave it to cool completely. You can wrap it well in cling film and use it the next day if you wish, or use it right away for the rest of the pie.
Blood Orange Curd
Put the blood orange juice in a wide saucepan and simmer it over a medium heat until it has reduced by half (i.e. only 300ml is left).
While the orange juice is reducing, cut the butter into cubes and set aside. In a bowl, mix together the sugar, cornflour, egg yolks and whole egg.
Add the sugar, cornflour and egg mixture to the 300ml of orange juice reduction. Add the 100ml of lemon and lime juice. Whisk the mixture over a low-medium heat until the mixture becomes smooth and it thickens - you will start to see the 'marks' left behind by your whisk. Remove the curd from the heat and stir/whisk in the butter until it has completely melted in and the curd is smooth. Allow the curd to cool in the saucepan for a few minutes while you make the meringue topping. Putting a piece of cling film over the curd (touching the surface) will prevent a skin forming. Once the meringue is made, add the curd to the baked pie crust and top with meringue for baking (see below).
Preheat the oven to 205 degrees Celcius/400 degrees Farenheit.
In a clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until stiff peaks form. The egg whites should be stiff enough that when you pull the whisk out of the bowl, the peaks of egg white stand out horizontally without flopping over. (Note that it is possible to overbeat egg whites. Keep testing for stiff peak stage; if they go too far, they'll become 'broken up' and bitty.)
While the egg whites are whisking, put the water and sugar into a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved into the water and made a syrup. Use a food thermometer to monitor the temperature - you're waiting for 118-120 degrees Celcius (248 degrees Farenheit).
When the temperature has been met, remove the syrup from the heat and with the egg whites whisking on a low-medium speed, pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites in a slow, steady stream. The egg whites will turn into voluminous, glossy meringue. Increase the whisking speed to medium-high and whisk until the mixture is thick, about 4 minutes.
Fill the baked pie crust with the blood orange curd. Dollop the meringue onto the blood orange curd filling, and spread to the edges of the pie so that the meringue touches the pie crust. Swirl the meringue into peaks or a pattern. Bake the pie in the oven for 5-6 minutes, until the meringue has turned a golden brown.
Leave the pie to cool for 30 minutes before eating.
Very Easy Pastry is adapted from America's Test Kitchen's 'Easiest Ever Press-In Single Crust Pie Dough'.
The point of blind baking the pie crust is to ensure the base of the pie crust doesn't puff up, and/or the sides don't shrink down (this is the worst, as it means you can't pour your filling in). So it's a really important step. It also helps to prevent the pie from having a soggy bottom, which no-one wants.