I've been telling everyone this recently, so I might as well tell you, too: I feel as though in the past couple of months, my mind has grown a thick layer of mold. It's a very visual thing to me. My brain, all ropey and reddish-brownish-grayish, sprouting irregular-shaped patches of fuzzy moss-colored fungi. It's kind of disturbing. However, I'm feeling like the mold has been disappearing, as though a mental spray of Tilex (poisonous stuff, but I tell you what: it gets out carpet stains like nobody's business!) stopped the growth in its tracks and forced it to recede. Thank goodness. It's because of this that I am even able to write about it now. The clouds are parting and I'm starting to feel less foggy. I'm sure it's an amalgamation of events and thoughts that caused the mold to form; I'm just glad it's going away so I'm not going to spend any more time right now thinking about it.
Tonight, I am thinking about a pie contest. Yes, another one. This one is a company pie contest, put on by a friend and co-worker, Ava. The rules are straightforward: make a pie, one with a from-scratch crust. No cookie crumb crusts, so my first thought of banana cream pie went out the window (it's really best with graham cracker crusts, right?). I thought about doing a filling with rhubarb, although I've never cooked with the stuff (although as a kid I used to munch on it raw when it grew behind my house - the thought of its tartness actually just sent a ripple down my spine). But at the farmers' market this weekend, there were no pinky-red stalks to be found. I still don't know what kind of pie to make, but I am practicing a little pie action tonight. Of the lemon meringue sort. Another first for me. I'm using this Williams-Sonoma Baking book and what a beauty of a book it is.
I started with the Flaky Pie Crust, which uses both butter and shortening. If you recall my other pie contest, I followed the advice of New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark to go with an all-butter crust (a butter/lard crust was recommended first and foremost, but I'm just not ready to go there). Clark said the shortening in the crust caused an "unpleasant greasy film left on the palate." Not what I'm looking for, but the recipe called for about 1/3 shortening to butter so I remained optimistic. I made the dough in my KitchenAid stand mixer (I love how the WS book has directions for mixing by hand, stand mixer or food processor) and it was a bit crumbly (most of my doughs are, I haven't figured out why yet), but I gathered into a disk, stuck it in the fridge, and hoped for the best.
An hour later, I rolled it out. Not an easy task. I was a bit worried as the dough was coming apart and I kept pasting it back together and rolling over it with the pin to seal its many cracks. But it was fairly successful and I really enjoyed rolling it around the pin to transfer it to the pie pan. It was my first time using that trick and it worked so well! I pressed and pinched and the dough ended up looking pretty decent. Yeah, I couldn't stop grinning as I was cleaning up my workspace after putting the crust in the freezer. It's the little things.
Pre-baking the crust went smoothly. Although I did forget about the pie shell while I was making the filling (this always happens, I forget about it if it's not in front of my face), luckily my roommate Erin came in and made a sniffing noise, indicating that something smelled good. I pulled out the golden crust just in time.
It was a wee bit difficult trying to stir the lemon filling while making the meringue at the same time (the recipe note said to put the meringue directly on top of the hot filling to avoid having the meringue "weep." I have no idea what a "weeping" meringue* is.)
*I just Googled "weeping meringue" and it's a good thing I did! I had my LMP in the fridge and had to promptly remove it. Apparently, meringues do not do well in refrigerators, and suffer under tight wrapping. And here I was thinking the tighter, the better! Whew, disaster averted. (Now it's in my beautiful cake stand, as you saw above.)
Luckily I had my friend Gil to stir the filling while I whipped those egg whites silly. It may have been my first meringue, but luckily, Williams-Sonoma had my back. They had fantastic close-up shots to show me exactly what I was looking for. I was hoping these were stiff peaks.
The meringue turned out awesome. I poured it atop the piping hot lovely yellow filling and it glopped on, all glossy and proud. It was so much fun to gently nudge the billowy pile into shape and Gil showed me how to use the back of a spoon to create the swirls and peaks. We wanted to swim around in the pie; it looked so marshmallowy fluffy and inviting!
Just as I slid the pie into the oven for a short bake, I realized I left out the two teaspoons of lemon zest in the filling. There were my halved and emptied lemon shells on the counter, lying patiently next to my microplane. Ah, well. It was not to be a zesty pie. But it was a beauty.
And, actually, it was quite zingy just the same. The fresh zest may have given it more oomph, more za za zoo, but it was quite nice slightly muted, with some sprinkles of zest on top instead.
Will this be my winning pie for the upcoming contest? I don't think so. But it was good practice. And a sweet way to welcome spring. (Did you hear that, spring?..)