Swing into spring with lemon cream pie

Diane Rossen Worthington Originally Published April 11, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 10, 2013 at 8:53 a.m.
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Springtime may be the time for our first taste of just out-of-the-garden asparagus, peas and fava beans. Sweet strawberries seem to pop up in markets everywhere. What I am particularly aware of is the spectacular array of colorful citrus that I see in yards when driving down the street and, of course, in the markets. Blood oranges, every type of tangerine and my favorite citrus of all: lemon. Lemons are a versatile item for the cook. Just consider how they add brightness to salads, marinades, sauces and desserts. For decorative purposes, a bowl of bright yellow lemons can greatly jazz up even the plainest kitchen window.

I am especially fond of Meyer lemons. They taste like a cross between an orange and a lemon, sweeter than a lemon and tarter than an orange. Imagine how happy I was to attend a dinner party recently where the dessert was this divine lemon cream pie, made with Meyer lemons.

I was excited to learn that it was a recipe from one of my former assistants, Natalie Oliva, who is now a professional chef. Her mom surprised me with this “Seriously Simple” dessert, which derives from the basic key lime pie.

The classic American dessert uses condensed milk, which when combined with citrus thickens and becomes the filling. You can use Meyer or regular lemons for this recipe. Nowadays (for safety reasons), the pie is baked to ensure that the eggs are completely cooked. I especially like the crispy vanilla cookie crust that envelops the silky, citrus custard filling. If you want to decorate the pie, place some colorful berries around the outside edge of the pie.

Natalie’s Lemon Cream Pie With Nilla Wafer Crust

Ingredients:

4 large egg yolks

4 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, regular lemons or Meyer lemons

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 recipe Nilla Wafer Crust (see below)

Directions:

Whisk yolks and zest together for about 2 minutes until mixture is pale yellow. Whisk in condensed milk until smooth; then whisk in lemon juice. Cover mixture and set aside at room temperature until thickened, about 30 minutes.

Prep and bake crust (see recipe below). Leave oven at 325 degrees.

Pour thickened filling into warm, pre-baked crust. Bake until center is firm but jiggles slightly when shaken, 15 to 20 minutes. Let pie cool for 1 hour, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for 3 hours.

Spread whipped cream on top of pie just before serving.

Nilla Wafer Crust

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Nilla Wafer cookies

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Directions:

Adjust oven rack to middle position, and heat oven to 325 degrees. Process Nilla Wafer pieces in food processor until fine, even crumbs form. Pour melted butter over crumbs and pulse to incorporate, about 5 pulses.

Sprinkle mixture into a 9-inch pie plate. Using bottom of measuring cup (or clean fingers) press crumbs into an even layer on bottom and sides of pie plate. Bake until crust is fragrant and beginning to brown, about 13 minutes. Pour in filling while crust is warm.

Whipped Cream Topping

Ingredients:

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk ingredients together until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat!

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including Seriously Simple Holidays, and is also a James Beard award-winning radio-show host. Contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.

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