Tangerine Meringue Pie
Time to clarify a matter of frequent confusion within the citrus family. Mandarins, clementines, and tangerines are NOT the same things. Clementines and tangerines are separate members of the mandarin family (kind of like that whole a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square thing). Clementines are those seedless, easy-to-peel beauties that kids and adults love; tangerines are the similar-looking cousin that you accidentally buy expecting them to be clementines, which only reveal their true identities when peeled, bearing their ~1 million pointed seeds, rendering the eating experience decidedly unpleasurable. I may be speaking from experience.
Don’t get me wrong, tangerines are an important, beautiful, and flavorful member of the citrus family; I just can’t deal with the seeds. Similar to my feelings regarding concord grapes — tasty AF but totally overpowered by those irritating little seeds — my lack of tolerance needed to consume overtly-seedy fruits often drives me to avoid them entirely; that is, until I accidentally buy them.
Rooted in a Depression-era-esque desire to waste-not, I wanted to still put my mistaken purchase to good use. With Pi Day on the horizon, I knew a citrus meringue pie was just the ticket. Time to get my curd on!
Meringue pies, masterfully presented in Season 7 of the Great British Bake-off, are, in my mind, the perfect dessert: a light-tasting, textural menagerie of the perfect combo of sweet and tart (yes, menagerie is a stable in my conversational English, and, yes, I do have friends). Lemon meringue pie is the prototypical meringue pie, but there are an infinite number of citrus fruits that lend themselves beautifully to this purpose. Key limes, non-key limes, blood oranges, non-blood oranges, grapefruits, you name it; all of these scurvy-fighting powerhouses can render that tangy tartness needed for the curd of any meringue pie.
The biggest issue to consider when choosing the fruit for your curd is the inherent sweetness (or lack thereof) of the fruit. Lemons and limes can be straight-up sour, while oranges and grapefruits can be downright sweet; as a result, the amount of sugar you add to the curd may need to be increased or decreased to compensate accordingly.
I based my tangerine curd on this lemon curd recipe from FOOD52; I wanted one that did not rely on butter for its richness (since there’s already butter in the crust), and this one fit the bill. I opted for grapefruit zest in mine, because I don’t really think that the tangerine zest imparts much flavor, and I decreased the sugar, since the tangerines are delightfully sweet of their own volition. The resulting curd was thick, smooth, and exactly what it should be! A layer of plastic wrap placed directly on top of the curd during cooling prevents the top layer from forming into a skin, leaving nothing but pristine, cooled curd, which positively begs for some marshmallow meringue.
Speaking of marshmallow meringue, I’m a big fan. Standard meringues are certainly tasty, and the structural integrity of just egg whites and sugar allows for some truly spectacular showmanship, buuuut, I wanted something a little different for this pie. Some people (ahem, Tom) don’t really care for the airy, at-times-styrofoamish texture of a typical meringue, so I like marshmallow meringue as more approachable version, since the marshmallow somewhat tones down the meringuiness of the meringue.
Toasting the meringue is essential, especially when it’s a marshmallow meringue. There are a few ways to do this, ranging in ease, safety, and extent of toasting. My preferred method is to use a toaster oven big enough to accommodate the pie dish. I leave the door open so that I can watch the toasting meringue like a hawk to ensure that I get the meringue exactly how I want it. A kitchen-grade blow torch also works very well for custom toasting, but there’s a bit of a learning curve for use. A conventional oven broiler works just fine, too, but it’s harder to keep an eye on the degree of browning, and you can’t get the meringue as close to the heat source as you can using the other two methods, and, as a result, the curd and the crust are subject to longer-than-desired heating times. But, it all comes down to the same end: it’s all going to the same place. However you toast your meringue, your pie will be delicious, any way you slice it. Happy Pi Day!
Tangerine Meringue Pie
Crust: [Feel free to sub a ready-made graham cracker crust if you like]
2 cups finely crushed cinnamon pecan cereal (I used Special K)
8 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup freshly-squeezed tangerine juice, strained (~6 tangerines)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs, room temp
3/4 tablespoon cornstarch
Zest of one small grapefruit or large navel orange
Marshmallow Meringue: [Double this recipe if you like a thicker meringue layer!]
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/2 tablespoon unsweetened almond milk or regular milk
1 egg white, room temp
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Prepare crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. In a large non-stick skillet, melt butter. Place cereal crumbs in a large measuring cup or mixing bowl, pour melted butter over cereal, and toss to coat crumbs evenly in butter (reserve buttery skillet for curd prep…”save a dish, ride a cowboy,” as the saying goes). Spray a standard 9″ pie dish with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer mixture to sprayed pie dish, and use a 1/4-cup measure to press the crust into the dish, ensuring even coverage on bottom and sides (see pictures above). Bake for 12 minutes, then set aside to cool while you prepare the curd.
Prepare curd: In the same skillet you used to melt the butter (no need to wash it, the residual butter will only make the curd better!), place the sugar and tangerine juice. Place skillet over medium heat, and whisk until dissolved [NOTE: if you don’t have a heat-safe silicone whisk, use a metal pot to prevent scratching of your non-stick cookware with a metal whisk]. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl, add ~2 tablespoons of the hot tangerine juice, and whisk together until totally smooth and lump-free. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the hot tangerine juice, increase heat to medium, and whisk for 1 minute. Turn off heat. In a glass 2-cup measure, whisk the eggs until smooth. Working with 1 tablespoon at a time, verrry gradually add the hot tangerine juice mixture into the eggs (i.e. temper the eggs), whisking continuously and purposefully to prevent egg-scrambling. Once all of the juice mixture has been whisked into the eggs, return mixture to the skillet, adding in the zest, and heat over medium-low, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom of the skillet, until mixture thickens, ~5 minutes. Curd is done cooking when the hot mixture evenly coats the back of a metal spoon, and holds a clean stripe when you swipe your finger down the back of the spoon (see curd sequence picture above). Pour hot curd into prepared crust, and place a sheet of cling wrap directly onto the surface of the curd to prevent formation of an unappetizing skin as the curd cools. Chill in fridge at least 90 minutes or up to overnight.
Prepare meringue: In a non-stick skillet or pot, place the marshmallows and milk, and heat over medium-low until melted together and smooth, stirring with a heat-safe rubber spatula. Set aside. Use the balloon-whisk attachment for your stand-mixer or the standard beaters for your hand-mixer to whip the egg white to soft peaks. Beat in sugar, then vanilla and salt. Turn mixer to low, and slowly add in melted marshmallow mixture.
Assemble pie: Remove chilled pie from fridge, peel off plastic wrap, and lick the residual curd off of the plastic wrap (you know, for quality-control). Preheat your broiler to HI; if you have a larger toaster oven, you can use the broiler setting on that, otherwise, a conventional oven broiler works just fine. Scrape the meringue out of the mixing bowl into a smooth layer on top of your pie (marshmallow meringue usually doesn’t allow for piping as well as standard meringue). Immediately place under broiler, watching closely, until you achieve your desired level of toasting (for me, that’s ~2-3 minutes using the toaster oven or ~5-6 minutes in a conventional oven). Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 2 hours at room temp before slicing and serving. Leftovers should be refrigerated, but expect some weeping of the meringue to occur (this pie is prettiest on its day of genesis).