Kristin + This Pie

January 9, 2009

pie

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Pastry recipe is here, and it’s excellent.
Lemon curd recipe is here, and it’s also excellent.
Meringue based on this recipe.

30 Responses to “Kristin + This Pie”

  1. Gin Says:

    Not exactly sure how you define “weeping,” but meringues do form droplets of browned sugar scattered around on top. But from your description of “messy and unappetizing,” I suspect it was more than that. Try this:

    3 egg whites (room temp)
    1/4 cup granulated sugar

    Beat egg whites until they begin to form soft peaks, then add the sugar gradually while beating. Continue after all the sugar is in until the peaks are stiff and lose some of the shiny luster. Bake at 325 until the meringue peaks are nicely browned. I used to add cream of tarter, but found little difference when I forgot it. Now I don’t bother. You can use more egg whites, just increase the sugar. I usually use one Tablespoon per egg white with one or two “extra for the pot.” Don’t refrigerate the pie until it is cool.


  2. Hi Gin: By weeping, I mean that the pie released a clear liquid when it was cut, so it was runny and just kind of ick. Thanks for your tips! I am definitely going to try again …


  3. Still a beautiful post, Kristin. I think we learn more when things don’t go quite as planned, I’m sure you’ll be a master of meringue pies before you know it! And, btw, lemon meringue is on my top 5 dessert list, but I am terrified to try to make it!

  4. radish Says:

    oh man, i am sorry to hear this was all heartache and not heartthrob.. i hate it when that happens, my spirits become so deflated. I have yet to write up my lemon tart recipe — this weekend might be a good time to join in the ‘wtf’ moment.. but i hope you don’t let it prevent you from making the pie again. Sometimes things just don’t work.. they’re finicky. We just have to accept it.

  5. GS Says:

    Keep the faith Kristin! After 4 attempts I FINALLY managed to make chocolate molten cakes that turned out! Beautiful photos by the way!

  6. Mari Says:

    I know I read somewhere what causes meringue to weep, but I cannot remember for the life of me what it was. I understand your heartache though and offer my condolences. It was a gorgeous pie, nonetheless.

  7. Emily Says:

    Kristen, I beg of you: try a Key Lime pie, and post the recipe. I am dying to make one, but I am too much of a coward to use any recipe not endorsed by you or eggsonsunday.

  8. eggsonsunday Says:

    Kristin – what a bummer, though the pie certainly looked crush-worthy in your photos! I have to admit that meringue is not something I’ve really experimented too much with, so I can’t offer any tips, but I’ll be interested to hear what you learn if you do find out why it weeps.

    To Emily above – aw, it’s so nice to be grouped in good company with Kristin.🙂
    –Amy


  9. Andrea: I think you’re right. And it ups the determination too. If this had gone well, I probably wouldn’t have made LM pie again for a long time, but now I’m itching to try again.

    radish: Oooh, maybe your tart can be my heartthrob instead of this pie?

    GS: Can’t talk … too distracted by mention of chocolate molten cakes. Mmmm.

    Mari: It sounds like the culprit could be the filling (not hot enough) or the meringue (not beaten enough, sugar not fully dissolved—anything that would keep extra moisture in the whites). Thanks for your condolences. : )

    Emily: Twist my arm! I would love to try a key lime pie and will try to do so soon. In the meantime, have you tried the Key Lime Bars on this site?

    Amy: A heartbreaker, it was. Agree re: good company. : )


  10. Oh how sad! But I love that you wrote about it – we all have these moments when our beloved hobby betrays us…

    And your story may help prevent further meringue disasters for other bakers. If it makes you feel better, I attempted Martha’s famous pastry crust over the holidays, and failed miserably at that;)

  11. Irene Says:

    You pie really looks so beautiful. I’ve had my own holiday dinner pie failures so I know the angst very well.
    In the past I’ve had success w/ avoiding weeping meringue by making a swiss or italian meringue. For swiss meringue, heat egg whites and sugar over a bain marie while whisking until it reaches 160, then beat on high till glossy. For italian meringue cook sugar syrup until 240 and add to barely beaten whites.

  12. Spike Says:

    This happened to me the last time I made lmp. So disappointing! It looks pretty

  13. Gena Says:

    The picture is beautiful, and I know you are super duper hard on your pies, so i have a feeling it was delicious as well.

  14. Tails Says:

    I know with most merangues you have to leave them to cool for and hour or two in the oven (after you’ve turned it off) before moving it to the fridge…could have been that?

    That aside, it looks fantastic, and your post made me smile🙂

  15. Dawn in CA Says:

    Last year I made a bunch of lemon curd and stashed it in adorable wide-mouth Ball jars for gifts (and to use myself). It was my first foray into home canning, and I loved it – such fun! Your post reminds me that I should try again now that lemons are coming into season.

    As for your disappointing crush… well, looks aren’t everything, in life or in baking. I think an easy, fast, and satisfying fix would be to pour the cool curd into the pre-baked pie shell, then top with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a few curls of delicate lemon rind — maybe even candied if you feel adventurous. No baking, no weeping, no problem! That will show that no-good meringue!😉

  16. thumbbook Says:

    I think it looks great! Things like this sometimes happen. Hope this doesn’t stop you from making this delicious pie again :)I’d like to invite you to take some time to drop by at Foodista and share your delicious recipe with us. We have launched an online food and cooking encyclopedia ala wikipedia. Add a recipe and you can win a $100 gift card to Sur la table. Don’t forget to register first so we know who to thank the recipe for. Thanks!


  17. It looks beautiful. Lemon meringue pie is my mother’s favorite. It doesn’t look weepy to me. I would have eaten a slice. It never is as bad as it seems.

  18. Robin Says:

    The pie turned out so gorgeously homemade! I’ve been itching to make lemon curd lately—I think for that same, bringing out simple ingredients reason. Too bad about the weeping, though I’m sure it *was* actually tasty.🙂

  19. holler Says:

    Well I really enjoyed your post, I was sure you were about to say it dropped on the floor. I was holding my breath as I read the post. I am glad it didn’t and I bet it was still good, but I know how disappointing it is when you making something and you have such high hopes for it and it just isn’t what you hoped for. I think this is worse when you are serving up to friends and family.

  20. Guru Says:

    Hi,
    Your pie looks great anyway! And about the meringue, you may try next time to make the “italian” one which is made by slowly beating hot sugar syrup into stiffly beaten egg whites.
    Greetings from Spain.


  21. Miss Meat & Potatoes: Sorry to hear about the pastry disaster. That’s my go-to recipe, but it’s given me trouble in the past too.

    Irene: I like the idea of using a Swiss or Italian meringue instead. Thanks!

    Spike: I feel your pain!

    Gena: Critical as I might be, it was a mess. Trust me!

    Tails: Glad I made you smile!

    Dawn: That sounds like a great quick alternative. But I think my stubborn tendencies have kicked in here. I. Will. Make. It. Work. : )

    Abby: You couldn’t see the weeping until I sliced it. But, you’re right, it’s always worst for the baker.

    Robin: Thanks!

    holler: That would’ve been worse! Thank you! Now I feel like a success. : )

    Guru: I want to give this a try. Thanks for the idea!
    holler:

  22. Billy Says:

    I know where you went wrong. Refrigerating meringue pies causes them to weep as well as not putting in the meringue while the curd was still hot. A common remedy to help keep meringue pies from weeping is to mix a bit of cornstarch with the sugar to absorb the extra moisture when you incorporate them.

  23. Dawn in CA Says:

    Kristin, I had to leave a follow-up comment about stubborn tendencies in the kitchen. I made a 3-layer cake for my husband’s b-day recently. Filled with lemon curd and raspberries. Lovely. Perfect! Until…the icing. I spent over THREE HOURS trying to get the swiss meringue buttercream (made with non-dairy margarine) to set up enough to frost the darn thing. (Must. Conquer. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream!) Not sure what went wrong, but I finally gave up, and gave in to my hubby’s pleadings to please just make a plain buttercream icing, preferably one that wouldn’t make me cry!🙂

  24. Laurel Says:

    I was going to say what Billy did. Meringues weep when you refrigerate them, it doesn’t matter what you put in them, although they seem to weep less with the cornstarch. Your pie was beautiful and I’ll just bet it tasted wonderful as well.

  25. Laura Says:

    Yummm… this pie looks divine… thanks for sharing!

  26. Emily Says:

    I will definitely try the key lime bar recipe! I’m heading to Florida for my last spring break before the bar exam, and I want to eek out every last Floridian bit of joy. Which OF COURSE means key limes🙂

  27. DD Says:

    Holy good god, that looks amazing. That kind of pie is just about my favorite– I used to buy it from a bakery in college (a huge one) and sit in my dorm with a fork and watch Mary Poppins. Nerd alert! Love the lemon and the meringue! Yum.


  28. Billy: Thanks for the tips.

    Dawn: Tears in the kitchen are never good, are they?

    Laurel: Thanks for weighing in!

    Laura: Why, you’re welcome.

    Emily: Oh good! And eek away — you deserve it (in advance).

    DD: Ha!

  29. Michael Says:

    At about two minutes in this video, Alton starts talking about the weeping, but he doesn’t entirely explain what happens to cause it. This disturbs me. The suggestion seems to be that something went wrong with the meringue without explicitly stating what.


  30. Michael: Well, if Alton doesn’t know, we’re all screwed. : ) Thanks for the link.


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