Saved By A Pie

CurvyMama may have sadly left the Big Apple Pie, but was immeasurably cheered today by the best news of all: someone to bake for.

Yep! On my very first day back in Policy Town, I have two pies on my agenda. One is for my colleague Techie Pie, whose Web acumen helped me get this blog going when I exhibited a less-than-stellar command of WordPress. She troubleshot for me on the promise of free pie, and today she perused my menu and made her choice: lemon meringue. The other baking project on my agenda is for Commentary Pie, the colleague who helped me find a place to stay in New York for my pie adventure. She needed a pie for a birthday celebration, so with her cherry lattice top order, she became one of CurvyMama Pies’ first catering customers.

And just like that, a reluctant return to my Place of Employment became a grand day. Someone to bake for! (My version of “The Music and The Mirror,” the centerpiece of the 1975 musical, “A Chorus Line.” Check out the great Donna McKechnie doing this 9-minute show-stopper about how dancing is what gives her life meaning.)

I stopped on the way home from work for fresh lemons and eggs, then set to work right away, happy for a chance to bring my piecrust-making adventures home to my own kitchen.

I whipped up a single-crust batch of all-butter pie dough, but it looked really huge compared to what I had been working with at Bubby’s. (Remember that I rolled 5-ounce balls of dough there for each crust?) I guess I’m enough of a baking nerd that I have a kitchen scale, having gotten intrigued by the finger-wagging segment of bakers who insist that the only accurate way to measure ingredients is by weight, not volume.  So I weighed the single batch of dough, and it came in at a whopping 15 ounces. Yikes!

I divided it in half and chilled the two disks for about 45 minutes, then rolled them out and put them into disposable aluminum pie pans. My standard 9 1/2-inch rolling pin felt really teensy compared to the huge on-steroid version I used in a restaurant kitchen, but I forged ahead.

I finished the edges of the dough like Silvia had taught me, with a double rollover and a pinch-pinch all around, and put them back in the fridge to chill a second time while the oven preheated. (If pie crust is about one thing, it’s chillin’, man, chillin.’) When it was time to bake them, I used another trick I learned at Bubby’s: partially filling another aluminum pie pan with dried beans, and setting it inside the chilled, unbaked pie crusts as a nice little weighting system. And into the 425-degree oven they went, for 15 minutes or so. Then it was time to take them out, lift the pan-with-beans out, and pop them back in to bake, this time at 350 degrees, for another 10 minutes or so.

  They came out fine, except the edges that looked so nicely formed and crimped lost a good deal of their nice definition in the oven.

While they were baking, I worked on the filling. I juiced two lemons (enough for 1/2 cup), using a cool juicer that’s just like the one my mom used to make orange juice when I was a kid (and still uses, actually). I love this thing; you oughta get one. Here it is:

Once I had my lemon juice, I blended cornstarch and water in a small bowl, and in a saucepan, combined lemon juice, sugar, water and egg yolks. I used my microplane on the juiced lemons to get a couple teaspoons of zest. I cooked the egg yolk-juice-sugar-water mixture until it got pretty hot, whisking the whole time, then I stirred in the cornstarch-water mix, bringing it to a boil and cooking it for about a minute. I didn’t think it looked thick enough, so I kept cooking a bit longer, and I’m praying that’s enough to thicken the filling so it doesn’t run all over the place when the pie is cut.

Here is the lemon filling as it sat waiting for the right time to be put into the crust.

As you can see,  it’s got a layer of Saran wrap on top, to keep a thick coating from forming, and to keep it warm to marry better with the meringue. I’ve never done it this way before; I’m trusting this particular recipe, which advised that the trick to keeping meringue from “weeping” is to get the lemon filling into the crust when the filling is still hot, and to get the meringue right on there and spread it, making sure to get a nice seal where the meringue meets the baked pie crust.

Doing this was highly counterintuitive. I had the meringue all whipped up, ready to go, all beautiful and glossy. Spreading it on hot lemon filling just felt, I dunno, very wrong. I feared it would melt. I prayed to the Pie Gods, did my best to get that nice seal between meringue and crust, and popped that baby back into a 350 oven to brown the meringue. (I aspire to own a little butane torch, but haven’t treated myself to one yet. Note to self: it’s time.)

  Here’s the end result. I’m still worried, though, about that filling. I’ll sleep with my fingers crossed, hoping it thickens up as it should as it sits in the fridge tonight.

Tomorrow we’ll make the cherry lattice-top. We’ll be experimenting to get the glaze just right for baking, so a nice glossy filling peeks out of that buttery criss-cross on top. Sweet pie dreams!

  1. Kate McDermott
    To make sure I get the seal on a lemon meringue pie, I put the meringue on the edges of the hot curd and then work my way in to the middle. That way I know there is enough for that all important seal. But, truth be told, I think lemon meringue pies are best made the day of eating. Looking forward to hearing how it turns out. I bet it will be yummy no matter what!