Too much cantaloupe on hand? Try this exquisite meringue pie.
I get it. You’re probably a little er, grossed out right now. I mean, you love pie, and you adore meringue pies. But cantaloupe meringue pie? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. It’s not as common as chocolate or lemon meringue pie, but it is the bomb diggety of unusual fruit pies. And since we grew cantaloupe this year for the first time and found ourselves with a truckload of them, I needed to come up with a way to use them other than fresh eating. Because you can only eat so much fresh fruit, ya dig?
At first I thought I’d just freeze the extra fruit, but my gardening buds said no can do. Melons are mostly water, and they’d simply turn to mush when thawed. When you have cantaloupe, you have to eat it. Right now. No exceptions.
So I went online to look for ways to use this delicious fruit. I found a few cantaloupe recipes for sorbet, and of course I knew I could use it in fruit salads and the like. But none of those spelled dessert to me. Fruit + salad = health food. Nopedy nope, I wanted DESSERT.
And then I found this pie. I’ve always been a sucker for anything with light and airy meringue on top, so with a little tweaking, I came up with a perfect summer dessert for my family, all of whom love cantaloupe.
What is cantaloupe pie anyway?
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This simple meringue pie consists of a most wonderful buttery shortbread cookie crust filled with a soft, lightly sweetened custard and topped with a pillowy, melt-in-your-mouth meringue.
The crust is made of store bought shortbread cookies. Get the good kind because it’s an important player. (I used Keeblers Sandies.) It’s a quick-to-make crust and requires no skill other than patting it into the pie plate.
The filling is cantaloupe puree, sugar, eggs, butter and a few pantry staples. It’s cooked on the stove top before being placed in the pie shell. Easy peasy.
The meringue, made from egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar, is tender and cloud-like.
- Cantaloupe, of course. This is the time to use fruit that’s one step away from being overripe, because that’s when cantaloupe is the sweetest. Just like overripe bananas make the best banana bread, overripe cantaloupe makes the best pie.
- Flour – the all-purpose kind. It’s needed because cantaloupe puree is very watery and needs a little help. There won’t be any flour-y taste, the cooking gets rid of it.
- Granulated sugar. Even though cantaloupe is sweet, it still needs a little assistance, and if your cantaloupe isn’t ripe enough, it’ll need a little more assistance. The amount of sugar required depends on how sweet the fruit is.
- Eggs. Separate them when they’re cold so that the whites have time to come to room temperature before making the meringue. More on this in a moment.
- Butter. Use the real deal. There’s not a lot, just enough to “tighten” the filling, but butter substitutes have water in them which could affect the filling’s texture.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
- Make the crust, bake it and set it aside to cool.
- Peel the cantaloupe and cut it into chunks.
- Heat the fruit on the stove top while mashing it until the juices are released.
- Puree the fruit in a blender or food processor, then return 2 cups of puree to saucepan.
- Stir the dry ingredients into the puree while continuing to cook until thickened.
- Temper the eggs and stir them into the cantaloupe mixture.
- Add butter and vanilla, stirring until butter is melted. Set aside.
- Prepare the meringue.
- Fill pie shell with hot filling
- Top with meringue, and bake.
- Let cool, then chill.
Pie making tips
Custard meringue pies use a few techniques that are easy to master: separating eggs, tempering them, and making (and baking) meringue.
Separate eggs while cold and let the whites come to room temperature. They’ll reach the highest volume that way. Do this before making the crust and they’ll be room temperature by the time you need them. If you forget, put the whites in a metal mixing bowl and place it in a pan of warm water for 10 minutes or until they’ve reached room temperature.
Make sure that the whites don’t come in contact with even the tiniest speck of grease, because oil is a guaranteed meringue-killer. Even the oils on your hands. I always wash everything that’s going to touch egg whites with hot, soapy water and dry with a clean towel before making meringue. This means the mixing bowl (always metal or glass, never plastic, which can trap oils), the beaters, and my hands.
Baking tip: Did you know the best way to separate eggs is with your hands? Just crack the cold egg into one hand (held over a small custard cup or bowl, grease-free of course) and transfer the contents back and forth in your hands until the whites slip completely out. I learned this trick from a French cookbook. It’s the method least likely to break the yolks. If a yolk does break, drop the egg into a separate cup for later use.
This means gradually introducing them to a hot mixture to prevent scrambling. The safest way to do this is to first whisk the yolks in a small bowl. Slowly add a small amount of hot filling to the yolks while continuing to whisk. A few large spoonfuls is sufficient. Pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan, continuing to whisk. Proceed with the recipe.
Meringue will reach its highest volume with room-temperature egg whites. Add the cream of tartar and start beating them on low speed until foamy. This will help the bubbles expand gradually, which stabilizes them and helps prevent that dreaded condition known as “shrinkage.” (More on this in a moment…)
Gradually increase the speed, beating the whites until soft peaks form. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating one minute after each spoonful. When all of the sugar is added, increase speed to highest and beat for another minute. Test the meringue between your thumb and forefinger to make sure no grit (sugar) remains. The meringue is ready when it’s perfectly smooth.
Spread on the hot filling.
Some recipes recommend browning meringue under a broiler, but I find this doesn’t fully cook the meringue. I prefer to bake meringue pies at a lower temperature on a low rack for a longer time. It takes a little more time, but there are several benefits: this method fully cooks the meringue, and it helps prevent shrinkage as well. Plus it makes a prettier meringue with a more even color. Not to mention there’s less risk of “flash burning.” Which tends to happen to my broiled foods more than I care to mention.
Why does my meringue always shrink?
The air bubbles in meringue expand in the oven’s heat and then contract. Baking at a lower temperature for longer helps stabilize meringue by keeping those bubbles from expanding too quickly.
The two most critical steps in making meringue are making sure that 1) the meringue is placed on a hot filling and 2) the meringue is sealed to the pie crust. Why?
- Placing the meringue on a hot filling starts the cooking process from the bottom up, helping to seal the meringue to the pie filling itself and preventing it from slipping off a watery base when cooled and cut.
- As the meringue cools, those air bubbles want to shrink. If the meringue is sealed to the crust, they can’t. But it requires a somewhat firm-ish pressure. Just barely touching the crust won’t work – meringue can be a little headstrong. Gently, but firmly, press meringue to your pie crust, and you’ll show it who’s boss.
How do I prevent my meringue from weeping?
Undissolved sugar crystals are a big culprit to weeping meringue. Adding the sugar gradually while beating helps solve this problem. Beat for about a minute after each tablespoon of sugar is added. When all of the sugar is added, beat for another minute or two. Test the meringue by rubbing a bit between your thumb and forefinger. If you feel grit (undissolved sugar), then beat another minute. The meringue should feel smooth.
Baking meringue on a humid day also contributes. In that case, you can either put up with a few “pie tears” (which are sweet anyway), or not bake the pie at all. Crybaby meringue is a small price to pay for delicious meringue pie any time you want it.
For a more scientific explanation of shrinking and weeping meringues, check out this article from Sunset magazine.
Bake Tip: The crust and filling for this pie make a rather skimpy 9″ pie, so I used an 8″ plate instead. It’s ideal for smaller families, and it makes a cute, full pie.
Cantaloupe Meringue Pie
- 8" pie plate
- hand beater
- 1 3/4 C finely ground shortbread cookies (I use Keebler Sandies and run them through the food processor.)
- 3 Tbsp butter, melted
- 4-5 C cantaloupe chunks (1 medium cantaloupe)
- 1/2 C all-purpose flour
- 1/4 C sugar (Increase to 1/2 cup if cantaloupe isn't ripe enough.)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp water
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 egg whites
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
- 6 Tbsp granulated sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Mix the shortbread crumbs with the melted butter. Add a few more crumbs if mixture seems "wet," or a little more butter if it seems dry.
- Press crumb mixture into an 8" pie plate.
- Bake 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- Set aside to cool.
- Peel cantaloupe, cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut fruit into bite-sized chunks and place into large saucepan.
- Cook the fruit chunks over low heat, mashing with a potato masher until the juices are released and come to a gentle boil.
- Puree the hot fruit in a blender or food processor for one minute until puree is as smooth as possible.
- Take 2 cups of puree and put it back in the saucepan. Set aside any extra for another time.
- Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl.
- Add cornstarch to 1/2 tsp. water in small cup and stir.
- Add flour and cornstarch mixtures to fruit puree and whisk together, cooking over low heat.
- Cook and stir until thickened. This will only take a few minutes.
- Whisk egg yolks together in a small bowl until blended. Whisk a small amount of hot fruit mixture into eggs, whisking constantly. Add egg mixture back into saucepan, whisking constantly.
- Cook and stir filling for 3-5 minutes until very thick and holds a shape when dropped from spoon.
- Set filling aside to stay hot.
- Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy.
- Gradually increase speed to medium high, beating until soft peaks form.
- Gradually add sugar, 1 Tbs. at a time, beating for one minute after each spoon.
- Increase speed to high and continue beating until sugar is fully dissolved. Test between thumb and forefinger. If gritty, beat for another minute. Meringue should be smooth with no grit when tested.
- Pour hot pie filling into cooled pie shell. Transfer meringue to pie, dropping it in dollops around the edge and then in the middle.
- Spread the meringue over the pie surface, making sure to seal meringue to the crust.
- Bake on low oven rack for 12-15 minutes or until lightly brown all over.
- Place on cooling rack and cool for one hour or until pie reaches room temperature.
- Chill 4 hours.
- Store leftovers in refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.
- Pie keeps 3-4 days refrigerated, though the meringue will deflate a little bit.
Notes1) Puree the fruit for at least one whole minute. You want it as smooth as possible, but it will still have a very slight texture. This won’t be noticed in the finished pie. 2) The amount of filling makes a rather smallish pie. A 9″ pie plate would yield a super thin slice, so I used an 8″ glass pie plate instead for fuller, but fewer servings (6 as opposed to the standard 8 per pie). This is the perfect size for smaller families.
Tools to use
More summer desserts…
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