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Summer fruit options are winding down a bit, and the looming fall bounty is still a few weeks away. Sure, there are still a few luscious peaches to be found, and I'm excited that the first Concord grapes have appeared (foreshadowing!) Happily, there's still hope for the bakers looking for better options than the bin of tiny, rock-hard pears. For those of us who are unwilling to sacrifice the quality of our pies or let go of summer, we can rest assured that plums will be there to shepherd us into fall.
This week, in my effort to hold onto summer, I began thinking about ways to take classic pies and twist them just a bit, to align them with the seasons. When it comes to meringue everyone usually thinks of lemon, because nothing cuts through the sweet clouds of caramelized meringue quite like the smooth acidity of lemon custard or curd. It stands to reason that meringue would play well with other acidic fruits, such as plums. A few hours later, I'd baked my first non-lemon meringue pie and I had my answer. Meringue pie is perfect with plums!
I'm very picky when it comes to meringue as a pie topping. I'm put off by overly eggy-tasting meringues with fruit fillings, and I love meringue when it's ever-so-slightly chewy on the surface. My favorite way to achieve the right texture and flavor is to make an Italian meringue for the topping, using a high sugar to egg white ratio. Italian meringue is made by whisking 235 degree liquid sugar into the egg whites as they are foaming, and them beating them like crazy until the bubbles are very tiny and even and the meringue holds firm peaks. Italian meringue is more stable for shaping and safer for consumption, because the egg whites are cooked by the hot sugar syrup.
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About the Author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute.