Kristin + This Pie
January 9, 2009
Sometimes it seems like all I do on this site is fall in love—with a new recipe, a novel cooking method, a city visited for the first time, or that roommate of mine. It’s not all that unlike my middle school years: a new crush practically every week. Except these days, instead of loopy, heart-filled diary entries about the latest gent to catch my eye, I gush about produce and pots and such on this site. What can I say? Cooking is thrilling for me. Maybe because, in the grand scheme of things, I’m relatively new to the endeavor. But, really, I hope it never changes. So I suppose that means that my gushy posts will continue to clutter up your Google Reader.
Today’s recipe had all the trappings of a gushy post—homemade pastry, hand-whisked lemon curd, billowy meringue. Just thinking about making this pie practically sent me into raptures. But (you had to know there was a “but,” no?) instead of becoming my next new heartthrob, this pie was a heartache, through and through. So much so that I could’ve just curled up with a pint of ice cream and some angsty, croony music (which would’ve rounded out the middle school image, quite nicely, I think), except I made the pie on Christmas Eve and there was no time for a pity party.
The crust wasn’t the problem; it was a snap. For Thanksgiving, I made four 9-inch pastry shells (Martha’s recipe) for three pies and tucked the one leftover portion of dough in my parents’ freezer for safekeeping. The day before I got home for Christmas, my mom excavated it from her freezer and let it rest in the fridge until I arrived. So all I had to do was take it out of the fridge, discard the plastic wrap and roll. (Oh, and make a decorative, pinched edge, which is so my favorite part of making a pie.) How easy is that? It’s got me seriously considering blocking off a Sunday afternoon real soon to make a quintuple batch of pastry so I have a moment’s-notice-type stash on hand.
And the lemon curd, too, was a dream. There is something deeply satisfying about taking a ho-hum bunch of ingredients—egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and zest—and transforming them, before your very eyes, into something else entirely. Namely, a satiny, only-slightly-tart, butter yellow curd. I made a double batch (Martha’s recipe, again) and promptly scooped half of it into cute little Ball jars, which I wrapped with ribbon and gave to my grandfather and my stepfather for Christmas (big lemon curd fans, they are). The remainder (aside from a spoonful, savored straight-up, for the chef) went into a tupperware container which traveled in a cooler in our backseat to Minnesota.
That brings us to the meringue, which would be as good a place as any for this thus-far pleasant story to veer off course. But that’s not quite what happened either. I made the meringue with my grandma, who’s a bit of a pie maven herself. She beat the whites while I photographed (she’s getting used to my kitchen photo shoots, I think, but I suspect she still finds them, well, odd). Again, I got to watch the egg whites evolve from a slippery puddle into frothy folds, shiny and white as a fresh snow dune. The gushy post was practically writing itself in my head.
Next, we par-baked the crust, at which point it fell a bit, but I’ve come to expect that by now, so my spirits remained high. I then spread the sunny curd into a smooth layer in the crust. On that went that irresistibly beautiful, glossy meringue, through which I swooped a butter knife to make dozens of tiny peaks and curly-cues. I could’ve died from the preciousness at this point: so. beautiful.
And slipped into the oven, it only got better. The oven’s heat licked the meringue, leaving it golden-browned. At this point, I was smitten. I almost pulled out one of my old trapper keepers (my mom’s got a whole bin full of ’em), just to scrawl “Kristin + This Pie = True Love” across the front. But, instead, I pulled myself together, carried on with the Christmas Eve preparations and let the pie cool. Once cool, I tucked it into the fridge to chill.
After Christmas Eve dinner, I played the proud baker, retrieving the pie from the fridge and showing it the family with a flourish. Amid ooh’s and ahh’s, I slid a knife into the pie to cut the first slice. Down through the crisp meringue, the thick curd, the flaky crust went my knife. And I scooped the piece out, ready to proudly plate up the first piece.
But—and here’s the but—the meringue was weeping. Which is apparently something that meringue is known to do. It was sad, it was messy, it was unappetizing. I broke up with the pie on the spot and promptly began serving the French Silk Pie I’d also made. My parents and grandparents, bless them, ate the weepy pie and assured me it was still good (if a little unsightly).
I don’t know where I went wrong. From what I’ve read, it could be that I didn’t let the pie cool enough. Or that I should’ve kept it at room temperature. Or perhaps I didn’t seal the curd beneath the meringue securely enough. Or it might have been the fact that I re-heated the curd, because so many recipes mentioned topping the “still warm” curd with the meringue. So this post, for once, doesn’t have a happy, swooning ending. When both the baker and the pie end up weepy, I suppose that’s to be expected.