Among a million other things…
If you screw up a cake, it is toast, garbage. If you screw up a pie, for the most part it may be ugly or imperfect but it still tastes amazing.
Recently, I called my sweet man from the road (carpool) and begged him to remove an apple tart from the oven and failed to mention it was removable bottom pan. Needless to say, his arm went right through the pan and to avoid major burns he dropped the whole thing and it landed upside down on the floor. By the time I got home, he had scooped it onto a big dish with a spatula and eaten about a third of it. So I got a spoon and helped. And it was awesome. Ugly, yes. But it tasted like a dream.
I have also turned off the oven accidentally while cooking a cherry pie with a friend. I thought I had turned off the buzzer for the lower oven. Oops. And there the oven sat for about 20 minutes steadily falling in temperature (insert 4 letter word and some hefty punctuation here in quotes). We had worked so hard. We had cut out little leafs of crust to float on the top. Ruined? Heck no. I didn’t miss a beat. I turned that sucker back on and hoped for the best. No, it was not an ideal outcome. But, it tasted great. And it was fun.
There is something that is just true and honest about pies. I think it must have something to do with the love we give it from our hands. There is nothing antiseptic about pie baking. You have to touch it, you have to get to know it, you have to work with it. Bread is the same way. You can make an entire cake without getting your hands dirty once, except for the eggs, perhaps. OK, I can’t but one could, theoretically. A pie is not only homemade, it is handmade. It is the embodiment of love.
Why do I like the image of PIE enough to name a blog after it. There are a million reasons and I will tell you all of them as they unroll off of my rolling pin. Don’t get me wrong, I bake a mean cake. I love cakes. But I love the idea of PIE.
Today’s target is Key Lime Pie. I did not use Key Limes. They are tiny and require far more effort than I like. Besides which, the geniuses at Cook’s Illustrated (The Best Recipe) created this recipe and say I don’t have to use Key Limes and I always believe them. Here, I have doubled the filling they recommend for a 9 inch pie because I like a thick, big pie. It is hard to believe that such a beautiful event can be produced from so few ingredients. This recipe is in distinct steps. Make Filling. Make Crust. Bake crust. Fill crust. Bake again. Cool. Apply whipped cream. Boom. Here is what you will need:
8 teaspoons grated lime zest
1 cup lime juice
8 large egg yolks
2 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
11 full sized graham crackers
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 pint heavy whipping cream
confectioner’s sugar (about ¼ cup, but mainly just to taste)
Before you even start reading further, set your oven to 325. Then get out a microplane grater and a juicer. I use an old fashioned glass reamer.
Get eight limes. Make sure you buy a few extras. Often I get limes that are not juicy enough. Grate off the zest into a small bowl. You will need 8 teaspoons. Then halve and juice your naked little limes. You will need 1 cup of strained juice. Separate 8 eggs keeping only the yolks. Get out your cans of sweetened condensed milk.
For the filling, in a small mixing bowl use a hand whisk to beat the lime zest into the yolks. Whisk for about 2 minutes until your yolks are turning decidedly greenish. Then whisk in the milk. Then whisk in the lime juice. When it is well combined and smooth, set it aside to firm up a bit while you deal with the crust.
Get out 11 plain graham crackers (whole sheets). Put it in your food processor with 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Whiz until it is merely sandy crumbs. Or, put it in a resealable bag and let your nearest child whack it to death. In a small bowl, mix in 5 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter. Pour the buttered crumbs into a 9 inch pie plate and press it into the bottom and sides to form a lovely crust. Put it in the preheated oven for about 13 minutes. Remove the crust to a wire rack to cool.
Pour the filling into the pie crust and return it to the oven to bake for 15 minutes until the “pie is set, yet wiggly when jiggled”. I can’t say it better than wiggly when jiggled. That is from the original recipe.
On a related note, this is not a pie that is the artificially bizarre color you get at some food joints. It is this deep greeny yellow with the lovely little flecks of lime. It is tart and authentic. But I have to tell you that “authentic” color made it a humongous pain in the rear to photograph. So don’t rely on the photos to decide whether to try this…just do it.
I have 2 extra tips for you. First, I have fallen in love with these small 1 cup capacity ball jars and I intend to make 100 different recipes in them. I have already envisioned layered ice cream treats of a thousand varieties. This is not an original idea and I owe it to the writers of Our Best Bites who do a pie in a jar that is much more ambitious that you can freeze and bake one at a time. Anyway, I wanted to deliver a taste of this pie to my friend Laura Lucia so I just baked a little bottom crust into two of the jars and filled them and baked them just like I did the big pie. They turned out great and I think would be really fun for a picnic.
Second, I decorated this pie by sprinkling it sparingly with sugared lime zest. To do this, I zested an extra lime and covered the zest thoroughly in sugar. An hour later they were ready to sprinkle on the pie. They are tart so don’t overdo it. But I think it was a pretty touch.