Bergamot. What is it? A flavoring, a tea, a perfume. Many people aren’t quite sure. You will love it if you:
- Creak your neck to get a good whiff of the first magnolia blossoms at the end of winter.
- Welcome gleefully any oriental pastry flavored with orange blossom water.
- Love jasmine, and lemons, and lavender flavored soaps.
- Drink Earl Grey tea (that implacable citrus flavoring is indeed bergamot.)
What is it, really? It’s a small, oblong-shaped lemon. It has a funny little nose on one end – the end where it was connected to the tree- and a flatter, rounder surface on the other end.
It is usually more golden in color than a regular lemon. Golden like the color of the sunshine in a Saturday morning cartoon. Golden like the top of a corn bread fresh from the oven.
The true magic of the bergamot is its zest. It has a powerful, perfumed flavor that is unlike anything else (I’ve tasted). The zest can be used to decorate, and delight, anything from a steam-cooked piece of white fish, to an endive salad, to a cup of yogurt with honey. The juice is a bit harder to put into practice, but I find it best in bergamot curd (along with more zest), which I’ve been making by the jarful and dousing onto brioche like there’s no tomorrow (check Riverford Farms for a great, easy, recipe.) David Lebovitz also dissects what bergamots actually are, as the names can vary from country to country.
This pie has been a dream of mine all winter long as I’ve devoured different ways to incorporate bergamot into desserts. In order to concoct it, I used some basic lemon-meringue-pie-principles gleaned from BBC Good Food, Martha Stewart, and Epicurious. I hope you’ll enjoy.
Bergamot-Lavender Meringue Pie
Serves 8-12, depending on hunger and love of bergamots
175g (1 2/5 cup) white flour
100g (about 9/10 of a US stick) cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar
1 egg yolk
1 Tbps to ¼ cup ice water, as needed
3 Tbsp cornstarch
225g (1 cup) caster sugar
zest of 4 bergamots, finely grated (with a microplane is best)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed bergamot juice (5 bergamots in my case)
20 cl (about 4/5 cup) water
125g (about 1 1/10 US stick) unsalted butter
1 whole egg + 3 yolks
4 egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon organic dried lavender blossoms (double if you want it very perfumed)
Start with the crust. Combine the flour and confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of a food processor or standing mixer. On low speed, gradually add the egg yolk and the butter cubes. Once the butter is broken down to a bit bigger than pea-sized, increase speed and add ice water, about a half tablespoon at a time, until the mixture thickens and comes together to form a dough.
Pour the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured countertop and work together until it is solid. Roll the dough out and fill a 23cm (9 inch) fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. The dough may break up a bit – simply push it back together, the butter will hold it in. Trim the edges and fill in any holes with bits of leftover dough. Let it cool in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Pre-bake the crust in the oven at 180C/350F, filled with baking paper and pie weights, 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and continue baking for 8-12 minutes, or until the crust begins to turn golden brown.
As the crust cools, prepare the filling. Start by separating the eggs (combining the leftover white from the yolk used for the crust,) so that you have four egg whites in one bowl, and three egg yolks plus one whole egg in another bowl.
Mix the cornstarch, sugar, zest, juice, and water into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolved and eventually the mixture thickens. Once it begins to bubble, take it off the heat and whisk in the butter. Once the butter has melted add the egg + yolk mixture, and once incorporated, return to heat. Whisk vigorously and constantly for a few minutes, until the mixture thickens and holds to a metal spoon. Take off the heat and cover; set the oven to heat to 160C/320F while you prepare the meringue.
Grind the lavender flowers in a mortar and pestle until fragrant and broken up. Mix the egg whites in a clean bowl with an electric or standing mixer on medium-high speed. Once they hold soft peaks, add the cream of tartar, salt, and lavender, continue mixing until they just barely hold stiff peaks.
Quickly re-heat the filling, then pour into the pie shell. Cover it with the meringue, beginning by the tablespoonful around the edges of the pie and gradually filling in the middle. Push it gently around with a spoon, not for too long, until the topping has a swirl you’re pleased with.
Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until the meringue is crisp and starting to color. Let it sit in the pan for 30 minutes, then cool on a plate for at least 1 hour before serving. Best eaten the same day.