I have been a pie connoisseur since my early years, although I will admit my tastes have changed dramatically. My Grandma Ethel was known for her incredible pies and her extra flaky crusts, which were always made with lard. She made every classic kind imaginable: apple, peach, blueberry, cherry, and always my dad’s favorite, lemon meringue. I will admit to never enjoying meringue as a child; it was either baked into the pie (which always tasted too eggy to me) or else looked very similar to giant, beautiful piles of whipped cream. I was always fooled. The overly-sweet, sort of bubbly meringue I was served instead was often disappointing.
That was until I discovered Swiss Meringue, an incredible light, smooth, balanced meringue that I am now smitten with. It pairs beautifully with chocolate mousse and a flaky crust, making for an incredible bite of dessert. I have used the base of my Black-bottom Chocolate Pie here, but added even more chocolate, and a flaky, forgiving, pat-in-the-pan lard crust that adds clean flavor. Topping this pie with piles of meringue or meringue ghosts is decadent, but delicious.
Lard Makes an Incredibly Flaky Pie Crust
Lard has a lot of advantages in pastry making. It’s ideal for pie crusts (sweet or savory), as it makes a great non-hydrogenated alternative to shortening. It blends into the dry ingredients of pie crust easier than butter, and browns beautifully. Because it has a higher melting point than butter, it’s also easier to work with.
It’s really important to use high-quality lard such as what I use from South Chicago Packing or from your butcher. It will have a cleaner flavor and make the flakiest pastry.
Tips for Making Great Meringue
I always use the Swiss Meringue method, which involves cooking the sugar, egg whites, and salt together. This method of cooking the meringue into a syrup and then whipping it creates a more stable meringue, and I prefer that insurance. Make sure EVERYTHING you are using to make the meringue is very clean (this includes stand mixer bowl, whisk attachment, bowls for separating eggs, spatula, and your hands). Any traces of fat (egg yolk or grease) can prohibit the egg whites from whipping properly.
I always wash all of those items mentioned above thoroughly and then wipe them all with a few drops of lemon juice; the acid helps remove any grease and also helps stabilize the egg whites. Anything and everything I’ve learned about meringue over the years is thanks to Zoe Francois, and she has an excellent post here on the different types of meringue, and also tips on troubleshooting meringue. I recommend reading it, especially if you’ve never made meringue before.
Best Way to Store Chocolate Meringue Pie
Because the chocolate mousse needs to be chilled, this pie needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Meringue is somewhat sticky, even after it sets, especially if it is in the fridge (it will dry out more at room temperature). If my pie is uncut, I usually just put it in the refrigerator with no covering over the top. If it is cut, I will place plastic wrap over and around the cut portions of the pie.
For a Halloween-ish Pie, make ghost meringues!
I made my ghosts the night before serving the pie. I piped them on a baking sheet, let them set overnight at room temperature (I placed the baking sheet in my cool oven), and then gently moved them to the pie the next day. Because I used pasteurized eggs and heated the Swiss meringue to 160F [70C], I felt comfortable leaving the meringue out at room temperature.
The ghosts will not dry out enough to move them if you refrigerate them instead of leaving them at room temperature. If you don’t feel comfortable letting the meringue sit out at room temperature you can pipe the ghosts directly onto the pie. I wanted to arrange and stack the ghosts on the pie, so I did it separately, but piping directly onto the pie will work just fine.
More Pie Recipes:
New-Fashioned Chocolate Meringue Pie with Flaky Crust
Press-In Lard Crust
- 1 ½ cup [213 g] all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup [96 g] South Chicago Packing Lard All-Purpose Shortening
- ¼ cup [60 g] crème fraiche or sour cream
- 1 ½ cups [360 g] heavy cream
- 5 large eggs yolks at room temperature
- ¼ cup [50 g] granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 10 oz [284 g] semisweet or bittersweet chocolate finely chopped
- A few drops of lemon juice
- 2 ¼ cups [450 g] granulated sugar
- 1 cup [225 g] pasteurized egg whites at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
For the crust
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined. Add the lard and mix again on low until the lard is incorporated into the flour and creates a sandy texture. Add the crème fraiche and mix again until the crème fraiche is incorporated and the dough starts to come together into a shaggy ball. (This dough is very forgiving and you don’t have to worry quite as much about overworking it as you do a normal pie dough.)
- Press the dough into a 9 in [23 cm] pie plate. Press and smooth the dough with your hands to an even thickness. Transfer the crust to the freezer until firm, 20 to 30 minutes. Adjust an oven rack to the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400F [200C]. Place a sheet pan on the oven rack (the preheated pan helps crisp the bottom of the pie crust). Remove the pie plate from the freezer and line the pie shell with foil, covering the edges to prevent burning.
- Fill the center with pie weights and bake for 28 to 35 minutes, until the dough is golden brown and no longer wet. Transfer the pie plate to a wire rack and carefully remove the pie weights and foil. Brush the crust with egg wash, and bake for 6 to 12 minutes longer, until golden brown. Transfer the pie plate to a wire rack and let cool completely.
For the mousse
- Heat 1 cup [240 g] of the heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until just warmed. In a medium saucepan off the heat, whisk the egg yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly add the sugar to the egg yolks, then the salt, and then slowly pour in the warmed heavy cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, coats the back of a spoon, and registers 160F [70C]. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and stir in the vanilla.
- In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate, stirring frequently until smooth. Whisk the chocolate into the custard until smooth, then let cool. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, beat the remaining ½ cup [120 g] of heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Whisk one-third of the whipped cream into the chocolate custard to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream.
- Pour the chocolate mousse on top of the baked, chilled cake. Use an offset spatula to even the top. Return the cake to the refrigerator and let chill for 8 hours or up to overnight. After an hour or so of chilling (after the top of the mousse is firm) place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the pie to keep off condensation.
For the meringue
- Pour 1 in [2.5 cm] of water into a medium saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Wipe the bowl of the stand mixer, whisk attachment, and spatula with a few drops of lemon juice (meringue can be compromised if any fat gets into it, and lemon juice helps remove any oils that may be lurking. Make sure all your utensils, equipment, and hands are very clean!) In the bowl, gently stir the sugar, eggs, salt, and cream of tartar with a rubber spatula until totally combined. Place the bowl over the saucepan, being careful not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir with the spatula until the sugar is completely melted and reaches a temperature of 160F [70C], 4 to 5 minutes. As you stir the mixture, scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula (this will ensure no sugar crystals are lurking on the sides of the bowl and will help prevent the egg whites from cooking).
- Remove the bowl from the heat and place it in the stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Whisk on low speed for a minute, then slowly increase the speed to high. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form, 6 to 10 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat on medium-low speed until incorporated. Use immediately.
For a toasted meringue top
- Take the chilled pie from the refrigerator and remove the parchment paper. Working quickly, use a spatula to spread the meringue over the top of the pie. Use a spoon to create curls and peaks in the meringue. Hold a kitchen blowtorch 1 to 2 inches away from the meringue and touch the flame down in between the curls. The curls will toast and brown (if the curls set on fire, you can blow them out). Do this until you are happy with the color. Serve immediately.
For meringue ghosts
- I made my ghosts the night before serving the pie. I piped them on a baking sheet, let them set overnight at room temperature (I placed the baking sheet in my cool oven), and then gently moved them to the pie the next day. Because I used pasteurized eggs and heated the Swiss meringue to 160F, I felt comfortable leaving the meringue out at room temperature. The ghosts will not dry out enough to move them if you refrigerate them instead of leaving them at room temperature. If you don’t feel comfortable letting the meringue sit out at room temperature you can pipe the ghosts directly onto the pie.Take the chilled pie from the refrigerator and remove the parchment paper. Use a spatula to spread 1/3 of the meringue over the top of the pie. If making the ghosts the day before, return the pie to the fridge. If piping ghosts directly onto the pie, do so now. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the remaining meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (mine was .67 inches wide). Pipe ghost shapes onto the paper, leaving about an inch between them. Use your fingers (or a tweezer) to place mini chocolate chips onto the piped meringues for eyes and a mouth. Let the meringues sit out uncovered overnight. Carefully move the ghosts to the pie when ready to serve.The meringues will feel dry to the touch, but still be very soft and will stick slightly to the paper, so lift gently. Decorate the pie with the ghosts, then serve immediately.