The local farmers’ market has just gotten going seriously for the season. A couple of weeks ago there were only a few stands with limited choices. Now there are several rows of canopies and lots of choices. There are spring vegetables: asparagus, green peas, leaf lettuce, and radishes. The big stars, though, continue to be citrus of all sorts. There are fruits that are seldom seen outside of Southern California. Pomelos as big as grapefruits! (That’s supposed to be a joke. Pomelos are often bigger than grapefruits, and on top of that they are thick-skinned close relatives.), blood oranges, many varieties of clementines, and my favorite – Meyer lemons.
The Meyer lemon was originally found in China and thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It was brought to California and popularized by a guy named – you guessed it – Meyer. When Meyer lemons were found to be symptomless carriers of a virus that destroyed other citrus trees, the lemon trees were chopped down wholesale, not to be grown again until a virus-free strain was discovered. Now they are widely available.
Meyer lemons are beautiful. They are larger than other lemons with a dark yellow-orange skin and a beautiful fragrance. They are sweeter than the usual lemon, but they are still more sour than an orange. They are juicy and usually contain a number of seeds, so they really lend themselves to cooking with the juice and/or zest.
What could be a better use than in a Bavarian cream? Bavarian cream is a classic dessert. Julia Child devotes pages to its many variations. At the same time, Bavarian cream is really just another classic – crème Anglaise – doctored up with flavoring, meringue, and whipped cream all stabilized with gelatin. One more step is to put the Bavarian cream into something to hold it. Charlottes lined with lady fingers are common, but a pie shell works just as well and is a lot easier.
So, that’s what I wound up doing with the beautiful Meyer lemons I found at the farmers’ market.
Meyer Lemon Bavarian Cream Pie
- 1 prepared 9 inch pie shell (purchased or use your favorite recipe) in a glass pie pan
- 2 ripe Meyer lemons, juiced and zested
- 2/3 cup sugar, divided
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 envelope (¼ ounce) unflavored gelatin
- 3 egg whites
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- Bake the pie shell according to instructions and set aside.
- Juice and zest the Meyer lemons, straining and reserving ½ cup of the juice. Set aside the measured juice and zest.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar and egg yolks until well combined.
- In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until it comes to a simmer. Gradually pour the heated milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan over low heat.
- Stirring frequently to avoid curdling of the bottom, heat the mixture gradually over low heat until it thickens enough to coat the spoon. Check frequently with a thermometer to avoid exceeding 170°F. The yolks will curdle at a higher temperature, and you will have to start over.
- Meanwhile, pour the reserved lemon juice into a medium bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let the gelatin bloom for at least 5 minutes. Pour the hot, thickened egg mixture over the gelatin and lemon juice. Stir for several minutes to make sure the gelatin is dissolved.
- Set the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice and water. Stir constantly until the mixture is cool. Then strain through a fine-meshed sieve into another bowl. Stir in the reserved lemon zest.
- Beat the egg whites with a rotary mixer until they form stiff peaks. Stir in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until the sugar is completely incorporated. Fold, by thirds, into the custard mixture. Folding gently, making sure the meringue is completely incorporated.
- Whip the cream into soft peaks. Fold in, making sure the mixture is completely combined.
- Pour the completed custard into the reserved pie shell. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
- Serve plain – or better – with whipped cream.
- The unflavored gelatin is a key part of the recipe: not enough and the Bavarian will not set while too much and it will be rubbery; not properly bloomed and it will never completely dissolve; if it is not completely stirred in, the cream may separate. Gelatin comes in several forms. The most common is granular, packaged in small packets, but there are also liquid as well as sheets that are used by professional bakers. I don’t know what equivalents might be.
- Be patient! Don’t try to rush the custard with high heat. You will end up with scrambled eggs.
- It is very important to strain the thickened custard mixture. No matter how careful you are, there will be bits of curdled yolk that will take away from the smoothness of the finished custard.
- Obviously, stir in the zest after you strain the custard.
- You can add a little liqueur if you like. Limon cello is the obvious choice – 1 or 2 tablespoons.
- You shouldn’t try to rush the chilling; otherwise the Bavarian might not set up properly. Overnight is best; four full hours might work in a pinch.
- The need for bowls and saucepans is intensive. You should definitely set up mis en place for your ingredients and plot out a strategy for cookware. A scanning thermometer is very handy.