Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

This might be the coldest winter we've had in Edinburgh since Judson and I moved here in 2013. It's definitely not the snowiest (last year), but it is cold this year and I don't think the temperature has crested the freezing point in two weeks. It's so bad that last week after catching a late showing of Star Wars at a theatre less than one half mile from our flat, we caught a cab home because it was a straight uphill walk and we didn't want to deal with it in the ice late at night. It's so bad that even when we're just running her out into the garden for a quick outing, we still have to bundle Holtzmann up in her tiny tartan jacket so she doesn't get too cold.

All that cold, alas, has not turned into snow. I still love snow with the relish of a child who grew up in Florida, and despite the fact that I get around solely on foot in this city and am not great at negotiating cobblestones disguised by a layer of ice and snow, it's still worth it when the snow falls on the castle and on these adorably cosy streets. Plus, we really want to see Holtzmann to have a chance to play in the snow. Given the refusal of the temperatures to budge, I'm still holding out hope for a white Christmas.

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

lemon snowflakes

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In the meantime, if it's not snowing outside, at least it can snow indoors... which is how I ended up with a batch of Lemon Snowflakes and Snow Drop Kisses gracing my kitchen this weekend. The Lemon Snowflakes are great- another toasty, nutty cookie that is supposed to be made with pecans and so another chance for me to use pistachios instead (if you're reading this and trying to think of a Christmas gift for me, SEND PECANS!). They're easy and they're supposed to be messy, which takes the pressure off of you if, say, you've spent the last week making intricately decorated wreaths, stars and gingerbreads.

As for the Snow Drop Kisses, these are basically just meringues with fruit mixed in, and the mystifying addition of oatmeal. I'm not very good at making meringues. Probably this is because I had never had one until age 20 when I moved to Paris, but regardless, every time I've tried to make them they've come out tan. Add to this the fact that I'm not really sure what they're supposed to be and you have a recipe for meringues that I enjoy but am too embarrassed to serve to friends. Are they supposed to be crunchy all the way through? Should they have a chewy centre? I don't really know. All I know is that I had a really hard time getting these to be firm on the outside without burning all the fruit in the middle.

Here's where I landed: 15 minutes at 150C/300F gave me a meringue with a soft, marshmallow-y centre with a dry exterior. The meringues were just this side of ivory, but when I bit into one I was pleasantly surprised to find that the oatmeal had become a crisp counterpoint to what otherwise would have been an overpowering soft/sweet mess. The apricots (my supermarket is sold out of mixed candied fruit since everyone is making last minute puddings this week) worked well and added another dimension of flavour, and overall, although these aren't pretty enough to serve to other people, I actually rather like them.

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

snow drop kisses

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The verdict:
lemon snowflakes:

4 spoons out of five. The frosting really makes these, so don't skimp on it! The heavy amount of cornstarch in the dough gives them a silky crumb, and, paired with a zingy bright frosting to cut through the crunch, they're the perfect addition to any holiday party platter.

Snow drop kisses:

3 spoons out of five. I'm really only deducting spoons for the fact that they're not very pretty. If you like your meringues soft and sticky on the inside, make these for yourself asap.

One year ago: crazy crust apple pie
two years ago: Meltaway Cookies & Hot Cider

The recipe:

Lemon Snowflakes

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and butter two cookie sheet.
Cream butter until fluffy.
Gradually beat in ½ c powdered sugar, then the cornstarch and flour.
Chill at least one hour or up to overnight.
Shape into walnut-sized balls.
Spread chopped nuts on waxed or parchment paper.
Place a ball on the chopped nuts and press gently and evenly with the bottom of a glass until a thin disk is formed.
Place cookies, nut side up on prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 12 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to turn light golden.
While cookies cool, make the frosting: beat remaining powdered sugar, melted butter and lemon juice until mixture forms a thick paste.
Line cookies up in rows and pour frosting over the cookies by moving back and forth in quick motions.

the ingredients:

½ c butter, softened
1 ½ c powdered sugar, divided
¾ c cornstarch
1 ½ c flour, sifted
1 c pistachios, very finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp lemon juice

The recipe:

Snow Drop Kisses

the directions:

Preheat oven to 150C/300F and grease two large cookie sheets.
In a very clean bowl, beat egg whites until frothy.
Add vinegar and vanilla and beat a few seconds more.
Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Continue beating until mixture is stiff and glossy and you can no longer feel any grains of sugar in it (this will take at least 10 minutes).
Gently fold in fruit and oatmeal with a spatula.
Using a teaspoon (for firmer meringues) or a tablespoon (for softer ones), drop onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake 15-18 minutes until the outsides are dry but give slightly when you poke them.

Best eaten fresh. May also be served with whipped cream like mini pavlovas.

the ingredients:

3 egg whites
½ tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp vanilla
1 c sugar
½ c diced mixed candied fruit, or dried apricots
½ c oats

Florida Pie

I was born and raised in Florida. Eleanor spent the last half of her life in Florida. My parents spent their entire childhoods in Florida, and honestly, it's a place I still miss on days when I have to put on a scarf and a jacket to go outside in August.

When I was a kid, my parents would drive me around and point out subdivisions and shopping centres and parks around our central Florida town and tell me 'when I was your age, that was all orange groves' or 'when I was learning to ride a bike, that was a construction site and I wiped out on my bike trying to rescue a turtle from there.' As a kid, I did not care and was convinced all these stories made my parents ancient. But now I'm the same age my mom was when I was born, and every time I go back to that city, all I can see is places that used to be orange groves, and subdivisions that used to be swamps, and candy shops where my mom used to take me when I got a good report card.

Maybe Florida is special to me because it's stuck in a time warp since I haven't lived there since I was a kid, or maybe because it's so totally opposite of the city where I live now in climate and culture, but I really love visiting there: hanging out with my family, eating all the seafood I can get my hands on and swimming in the Gulf of Mexico until my fingers are prune-y and my manicure has all but chipped off.

When we had the chance to visit and stay at my family's house on the beach for a week in July, we were excited. A friend of ours from Atlanta who happens to be from the same town came down to stay with us, and we filled our days with sunshine and beach time and our nights with seafood and rainbow-coloured cocktails. Highlights included drinking the most incredibly expensive martinis at the Don Cesar, an all-pink super-fancy Art Deco hotel down the street from our beach house, finding starfish and sand dollars and a whole load of conch shells at Fort DeSoto when the tide was out, eating ice cream from The Candy Kitchen and most of all, visiting Universal Studios and Disney World- you know, all the things you do on a Florida vacation if you're a proper tourist. We finished the trip physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated, hungover and in need of some green vegetables and lots of hydration, but so happy to have gotten to see many of the people we love most in the world.

Crackers can be broken by hand to the size demonstrated here- you want a mixture of small pieces that will blend into the meringue and slightly larger pieces to provide a salty crunch.

Crackers can be broken by hand to the size demonstrated here- you want a mixture of small pieces that will blend into the meringue and slightly larger pieces to provide a salty crunch.

Lumpy meringue base straight out of the oven.

Lumpy meringue base straight out of the oven.

The only downside of living away from the country where we grew up is that our friends are split up all over the globe. Coming back to Edinburgh was bittersweet- bitter to leave some of our best friends but sweet to come back to our adorable dog, our lovely flat and all of our friends here in Scotland.

So of course, my first order of business whenever I'm feeling a little homesick is to head into the kitchen- and this time I knew exactly what I'd make: Florida Pie. This recipe sparked my interest when I came across the handwritten card two years ago as I sorted through the Recipe Box, but it wasn't until I sat down to make it last week that I actually read the ingredients. I anticipated loads of citrus would be included- a tart grapefruit curd or a bright lime custard... or maybe it would be an icebox pie layered with ice cream and meringue, something cold and frozen and perfect to eat after a day in the hot sun. Imagine my surprise when I realised there was no fruit in this recipe, and instead it was just a basic meringue with nuts and Ritz crackers (or, over here, Tuc crackers because good luck finding Ritz in Bruntsfield) mixed in? I was horrified, but it was too late to go back now; I had already decided to make it.

But then something wondrous happened: this pie was incredible. I know I've been on a roll of recipes lately that I assume will be gross and I tell you how weird they are and then I have to spend a whole blog post trying to convince you they are tasty, but this time you're not only listening to my opinion- you're listening to the opinion of all the coworkers who tasted this pie and were equally into it. It's the perfect combination of salty-sweet, crisp and fluffy, and it's served cold- perfect for a summertime dessert. Maybe it is more Florida than I realised.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. I would make this again right now if I had any more Tuc crackers to hand.

two years ago: Simple, Classic Cheesecake

the recipe:

Florida Pie

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Add sugar and baking powder gradually and continue blending until glossy and smooth.
Gently fold in vanilla, crackers and nuts until of uniform consistency.
Spoon into a 9-inch round pie plate and gently smooth the top.
Bake for 20 minutes until crisp.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely at room temperature.
Once cool, beat whipping cream (and optionally 1 tbsp powdered sugar and additional tbsp vanilla) until fluffy.
Top meringue with whipping cream and refrigerate overnight before serving.

the ingredients:

3 egg whites
1 c sugar
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
18 plain Tuc crackers or 20 Ritz crackers, crushed
1 c pecans, roughly chopped
1 c whipping cream
Optional: 1 tbsp powdered sugar and 1 additional tbsp vanilla

Lemon Meringue Pie

I've been excited about making this recipe since I found it in the box when I searched through it for the first time-- this is the oldest dated recipe I've found in the box so far, and it's from April/May 1941-- 75 years ago exactly! I love that Eleanor chose to save this recipe-- it's from an ad for The Brooklyn Union Gas Company, promoting gas-powered refrigerators and stoves, and it's just adorably retro, with info on how to measure the heat on your new gas-powered stove, as well as how functional and useful your new gas refrigerator will be (as a sidenote, I've never even fathomed that a refrigerator COULD BE gas-powered, so maybe that's an innovation we've already moved past?).

What I love most about it, though, is the glimpse into pre-World War II 1940s America that it affords-- the ad seems to be pushing the notion that everything in the US is ok almost frantically, reminding the reader that 'approximately 2,000,000 loaves of bread, plus an even larger quantity of rolls, muffins, cakes, and cookies' are eaten by New Yorkers every day, and hyping the affordability and usefulness of the gas ranges, ovens, and refrigerators available to purchase for only '$5 down!' It feels a bit like protesting too much, which makes sense as it was released at a time when the rest of the world was already involved in a generation-altering war and the US was stubbornly trying to pretend like all was well, despite the persistent economic depression and the rest of the world collapsing around their ears.

Eleanor would only have been 20 when she came across the ad, probably having just moved out on her own for the first time, and I love that it somehow stuck in her recipe box for 51 years, through countless moves, a marriage, two kids, and literally thousands of meals. To me, it speaks of aspiration, hope to grow up and have a kitchen of her own where she could take advantage of her regular paychecks to buy herself a cutting-edge gas-powered refrigerator and make whatever desserts she wanted, and maybe even hope for a time after the war ended, when rations would be gone and she'd have access to all the eggs, fruit, flour and butter she wanted. It's still spotless, though some of the creases have started to tear, which leaves me wondering how often she actually made the fish pie or this lemon meringue pie on the recipe card, but the fish pie was incredible and the lemon meringue pie, though not the easiest recipe I've ever made, was the perfect cool, tart-but-still-slightly-sweet dessert for this time of year.

I always assumed that Eleanor would have made tons of lemon-based desserts once she moved to Florida, where citrus grows wild and she had a giant grapefruit tree in her own backyard, but then I remembered what happens to meringue in Florida, and it's not a pretty sight. Picture 80% humidity, no air conditioner, and a dessert that needs to stay perfectly dry in order to be crisp. It's no wonder I had never tried meringue until I was 28 years old and moved to Scotland. So maybe this wasn't Eleanor's go-to dessert after moving to Florida in the late 1950s, but she had already been carrying this recipe around for nearly 20 years by then, so who knows-- maybe this was her favourite dessert to make on hot New York summer nights when she was a single girl younger than I am now. I may never know the answers to that, but I do know that this pie is delicious and you should totally make it for your next barbecue shindig.

 

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. The pie itself deserves more, but the crust was a bit tougher than I wanted it to be, and making a meringue really stresses me out, even though in this instance it came out just perfectly.

 

One year ago: Perfect, Crustless cheesecake

the recipe:

Lemon Meringue Pie

the directions:
crust:

Preheat oven to 225C/450F.
Sift together flour and salt.
Cut in 1/3 c shortening until mixture is the consistency of coarse cornmeal.
Cut in remaining shortening until particles are pea-sized.
Sprinkle water over dough, 1 tbsp at a time.
Work lightly and quickly with a fork until mixture forms a mass that leaves the sides of the bowl clean.
Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Divide in half, roll on lightly floured board, place gently in pie pan, line with parchment and weigh down with beans or pie weights, and bake 10-15 minutes until golden and cooked through.
(Freeze remaining dough for another occasion).

Filling:

Mix sugar, 1 ½ c water, and salt in a double boiler or over very low heat.
Cook until mixture boils.
Whisk cornstarch with remaining water until smooth, then add to syrup and cook for 20 minutes.
Beat egg yolks in a separate mixing bowl.
Pour sugar mixture slowly over egg yolks, whisking constantly to avoid eggs cooking.
Return mixture to double boiler and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add butter and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes.
Add fruit juice and zest.
Pour into baked shell, place in refrigerator, and prepare the meringue.

Meringue:

Preheat oven to 160C/325F.
Place egg whites in bowl of electric mixer and add salt.
Beat until stiff, but not too dry.
Add sugar slowly, one tbsp at a time, beating at high speed constantly until mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks.
Spread on pie and bake about 15 minutes, until meringue is crisp to the touch and slightly brown at the edges.

the ingredients:
the crust*:

2 c flour
½ tsp salt
2/3 c shortening, divided
2 tbsp water, very cold, approximately
 
 
 

 

the filling:

1 c sugar
1 ¾ c water, divided
1/8 tsp salt
5 tbsp cornstarch
2 egg yolks, beaten well
1 tbsp butter
5 tbsp lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons
 

 

the meringue:

2 egg whites
Very small pinch of salt
4 tbsp sugar
*Crust makes enough for one double- or two single-crust pies.