Introduction: Black Forest Meringue Pie

About: I'm a twentysomething baking obsessive, working as a baker and cake decorator, and gradually fattening up my housemates one recipe idea at a time.
Black Forest Meringue Pie: a rich, dark chocolate pie crust, filled with a layer of sharp cherry curd, topped with light meringue rippled with dark chocolate.

Obviously inspired by the infamous Black Forest Gateau, (layers of chocolate cake, sour cherries and whipped cream, with a good dose of kirsch) this uses those flavours for a rather different kind of dessert.

I substituted the traditional whipped cream for the fluffiness of a meringue topping, and gave it the chocolate hit from bottom and top, with cocoa in the pastry and chocolate in the meringue. For a true black forest feel the curd should be made using sour cherries, liquored up with kirschwasser (a legal requirement for the German Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte). As I had neither of those to hand I tarted up my cherries with lemon juice, added a slug of rum in Austrian style, and sneaked in a little maraschino syrup to give some depth to the flavour.

This whole thing does take some time, but the rich flavour of a (small) slice of this pie is definitely worth spending half a day off in the kitchen. 

Step 1: Ingredients and Equipment

For the chocolate pastry:
  • 140 g plain flour
  • 30 g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 15 g caster sugar
  • 85 g butter (cold)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp cold water

For the cherry curd:
  • Approx. 400 g cherries, fresh or frozen
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons, depending on the sweetness of your cherries
  • Couple of tbsp of kirsch/rum (optional)
  • Couple of tbsp of maraschino cherry syrup (optional)
  • Up to 175 g caster sugar, depending on the sweetness of your cherries
  • 1 egg
  • 3 egg yolks
For the chocolate rippled meringue:
  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 75 cup sugar
  • tsp vanilla extract
  • 50 g dark chocolate
  • Pie dish
  • Saucepan
  • Bowls
  • Spoons, knives, spatulas etc.
  • Scales or measuring cups
  • Sieve
  • Juicer
  • Electric mixer, stand or hand held (or the arm muscle to whip up a meringue by hand)
  • Rolling pin
  • Baking beans (or equivalent, dried beans, rice etc.)
  • Baking parchment
  • Whisk
For anyone without scales, a good weight to volume conversion guide can be found here.

Step 2: Chocolate Pastry Crust

Make the chocolate shortcrust pastry:

Sieve the flour and cocoa in to a mixing bowl, and stir in the salt and sugar.

Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour mix. Using you fingertips, rub the butter in until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs.

Whisk together the egg yolk and water (mixing the egg with the water first prevents the pastry from getting streaky).

Pour the egg onto the flour mix, and stir with a butter knife until it begins to clump together. If the pastry is looking very dry and crumbly add more water, but do so carefully. Too much water in pastry can make it tough, cause it to shrink while baking.

Once the pastry begins to come together, get your hands in and press it together into a firm dough.

Step 3: Blind Baking

For a meringue pie the pastry case needs to be blind baked. This means baking the pastry first and letting it cool before adding and baking the filling. This is done to make sure the pastry is fully cooked, and doesn't get soggy from a liquidy filling being poured on top.

Preheat your oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Take the pastry dough and roll it out thinly, to a rough circle a couple of inches larger than you pie tin. Lay the pastry over the pie tin and firmly press it into the base and sides, making sure there are no air bubbles.

Trim off any overhanging pastry form the sides, and if necessary use this to patch any tears or holes in the crust.

Chill the unbaked case for an hour. In this time you can start making the curd (step 4).

Once chilled, removed the pastry from the fridge and prepare it for blind baking. To do this, lay a sheet of baking parchment over the pastry, and then fill the dish with a thin layer of baking beans, which weigh down the pastry, preventing it from puffing up while baking. You can buy ceramic baking beans, or just use dried beans or rice as I did.

Bake the pie crust for about 15 minutes, until the sides of the pastry have cooked. Remove the paper and baking beans, and return the crust to oven for another 5-10 minutes to cook the base through.

Remove the pastry from the oven and leave to cool.

Step 4: Cherry Puree

To make the cherry curd filling, first you need a thick cherry juice to use as a base:

Put the cherries in a small saucepan and mix in the lemon juice (and alcohol and maraschino syrup, if using).

Put the pan on a medium heat and cook, stirring fairly frequently, until the cherries have begun to pop and break down into a thick compote. This will probably take around 10 minutes, longer if using frozen fruit.

Once the berries are well boiled down, remove from the heat and tip the fruit into a sieve placed over a mixing bowl. Use a spoon to push the fruit through the sieve to collect a smooth thick juice. Continue to do this until all that is left in the sieve is the skin and pulp.

Step 5: Cherry Curd Filling

To make the curd, first sweeten the cherry juice to your taste. Whisk in anywhere between 1/4-3/4 cup of caster sugar, depending on the sweetness of your fruit. I used about 1/2 a cup, since I began with fairly sweet cherries, and added a little extra maraschino syrup at this point too. 

Return the sweetened juice to the saucepan.

Beat together the egg and egg yolks, and whisk this into the cherry juice.

Return the pan to the hob on a low heat. Heat the curd, stirring constantly, until it bubbles up and begins to thicken. Once the curd is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, take it off the heat and put it aside.

Step 6: Chocolate Rippled Meringue

For the meringue topping, first melt the chocolate. Either do this in a double boiler or in the microwave in short 30 second bursts. Once fully melted leave it to cool a little while you make the meringue.

For the meringue, put the egg whites in a clean, grease free bowl (if there is grease or dirt in your bowl or on your beater the whites will not whip up properly).  Whisk the whites until foamy. At this point add a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar (this helps to stabilize the whites and helps them whip up nicely).

Continue to whisk the whites until soft peaks form.

Now begin adding the sugar, a little at a time, while whipping the whites. Once all the sugar has been added, whip until you have stiff peaks. At this point, if you turned your mixing bowl upside down the whites would not fall out (supposedly the ultimate test is to hold the bowl over your head, though that is a bit more risk than I like in my kitchen, and to my hair).

Once you have stiff peaks, mix in the vanilla. Now pour in the melted chocolate and very briefly fold it through, keeping the mixture streaky.

Now you are ready for assembly.

Step 7: Assembly

With all components prepared, it's time to assemble the pie:

Preheat the oven to 175C/350F/Gas 4.

First, briefly reheat the cherry curd. Using a hot filling helps set the meringue from the bottom while the heat of the oven cooks the outside, preventing it from pulling away from the sides of the crust when it cools.

Once the curd is warm, pour it into the baked pastry case.

Spoon the meringue on top, and use a spoon or spatula to gently spread it to the sides of the pie, making sure all of the filling is covered in meringue.

Bake the pie for 15-20 minutes, until firm and lightly browned.

Remove the oven and leave until completely cool before serving. Slice with a sharp knife, and garnish with chocolate shavings and maraschino cherries for the traditional black forest look.
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