I don’t recall if I mentioned it before, but the heroine of my second manuscript, More Than Tempting, is actually a baker. I know – wherever did I come up with that? ;) It is a bit outside the norm to have a bluestocking lead in a Regency novel, but I knew she would be the perfect foil for my hero, Richard. Richard is the brother to the heroine in my first manuscript, and I very quickly fell in love with his charm and charisma.
Writing Jane’s character was so much fun—and I’m sure you know why. I could feel her as I wrote. I knew what made her tick, and what baking was to her, and how she could express herself to others. When she was mad, she could pound bread dough into submission. When she was worried, she could retreat to her kitchen to busy her hands with the soothing routines of whisking or chopping. And when she was in love . . . well, that’s when she really came alive. Anyone who tasted her creations couldn’t help but sense the passion behind it.
That passion leads to the creation of a recipe that reminds her of Richard. When I was contemplating what that recipe should be, I went through a lot of research as to what would be available to her in the spring of 1819, both for ingredients and technique. In the end, I came up with something that I had never even heard of, let alone tried. Here is the excerpt:
Last night she had made biscuits baked with a lemon curd filling. They were delicious, and had sold very quickly this morning, but it wasn’t quite right. Biscuits were too sweet. When she thought of Richard, she wanted a little more tartness, something with a more memorable presence. Perhaps an unexpected element or two. After mulling it for most of the day, she finally had it.
Puff pastry on the bottom. Tart lemon custard filling laced with tangy rhubarb. A generous portion of meringue on top. She nearly laughed aloud; it would be perfect.
Well, at least it sounded perfect, lol. In reality, I hadn’t a clue if such a thing would work. Wouldn’t you know it, just last week, I was trolling around Fresh Market, and I happened upon a container of fresh rhubarb, nestled in all its rosy glory amongst the ripe strawberries and raspberries. As I stood in the middle of the produce section, I couldn’t suppress the giddy grin that came to my lips. I’d never had rhubarb in my life. What if I tried the recipe I had invented for my heroine? With my new kitchen just begging for a proper baking challenge, I tossed the package in my cart and went in search of the lemons.
That night, I went to work on the creation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I was seriously doubting the idea. The fresh rhubarb smelled awful. Like celery—which I hate—dressed in pink sheep’s clothing. Resolutely, I kept chopping, hoping I wasn’t about to ruin a perfectly lovely lemon pie. As the filling simmered on the stove, I took the plunge and tossed in the icky pink stalks. As I stirred, the yellow mixture blushed like the first hints of a summer sunset.
Well, if it had to suck, at least it would look pretty.
Once everything had thickened, I spooned it into the waiting pie crust and went to work on the meringue. Spreading the thick, gooey white fluff over the top, I knew that not only would it look pretty, but the topping alone would be worth it. Seriously, there are few things better on earth than a simple, perfectly whipped meringue.
The whole thing when into the oven, and I began to pace. For some reason, I couldn’t wait to see how it would all turn out. It was like a small part of my imagination—my books—come to life, right in my kitchen. I was making the very thing my heroine had invented, a recipe that was meant to capture the essence of her hero. If it was terrible, for some reason I was afraid it would ruin the magic of their chemistry. What if I didn’t know them at all?
When the peaks were gently golden, I slid the pie from the oven and set it out to cool. It actually smelled quite nice. It was a good sign, but I still had to wait for the pie to first cool, then chill in the fridge.
At long last, dinner had been cleared away and the moment of truth was upon me. I pulled my creation from the fridge, cut a slice, and sat down to my plate with fork and hand. The tines glided through the creamy filling as I gathered my first forkfull, took a bracing breath, and popped it in my mouth.
It was absolutely delicious. The rich, tangy filling was like cool silk against my tongue, the tangy, tart flavor cut by the sweet, cloud-like meringue. The crust was beyond perfect, buttery, flaky, and just the tad bit sweet. I would have never known that the hint of rouge in the pie was actually rhubarb—it only added an unexpected…something. I don’t know what, just a suggestion of something adventurous.
Exactly as my heroine had wanted :)
Have you ever connected with a particular character? Either while writing or reading, was there something about them that just spoke to you? Have you ever brought some small part of them to life? If you haven’t, you really should!
So here it is, my Lemon Blush Pie:
Crust (yes, you can use pre-made):
1 cup and 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold shortening (I refrigerated mine for an hour)
1 tsp sugar
3 – 5 tbsp ice water
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt, mix. Add shortening, and cut into flour using a pastry knife or two regular knives until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until mixture clings together. Taking care not to over mix, shape into 1 inch thick disk, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425. Roll out dough on floured surface and fit into 9 inch pie pan. Crimp edges, poke holes in the bottom with a fork, and place in over for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack,
5 tbsp cornstarch
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
1 and 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp lemon extract or 1 tbsp lemon zest
4 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
3/4 cup rhubarb, finely chopped or food processed.
1 tbsp butter
Whisk cornstarch, sugar, and water together in a medium saucepan. Add the lemon juice, extract/zest, yolks and rhubarb. Cook while stirring constantly until mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Either place directly in crust, or strain to remove fibers/zest (I didn’t strain).
4 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
Reduce oven temp to 350 degrees. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Slowly trickle in sugar until completely mixed. Beat until the mixture is glossy with firm peaks. Spread over filling, covering completely. Lift spatula to create peaks. Bake until meringue is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes. Cool on rack, then chill in fridge.