Adventures in Baking

My cousins, who put on the most incredible holiday spreads, assigned us to bring a couple of pies for Easter dinner. The basic idea was that we could stop by Marie Callender's and be done with the whole assignment. 

But I got stingy and ambitious. It didn't quite seem right to spend actual money on pre-made pies when we have fruit ripening so fast we can't keep up with it AND I also have the time to putter about in the kitchen. I decided on a loquat and a lemon meringue, since we have an abundance of loquats and lemons and also a copy of my great-grandmother's recipe for lemon meringue pie. I had never made either sort of pie before, but how hard can it be to follow the directions? (Besides, I reassured myself, we can always stop by a pie shop and get some prefab replacements if things go terribly wrong.)

Things did not go terribly wrong. But I did encounter some problems in the process. 

1.  I ran out of time on Saturday afternoon for pie-making.

This despite having basically cleared my agenda of everything but pie-making and the Great Vigil. I hadn't fully factored in the time it adds on the front end of a pie recipe when step one is: "climb tree; gather fruit." So by the time I had collected, cleaned, peeled, pitted, and sliced the loquats, I had to set the project aside. I finished measuring and combining the dry ingredients that night after coming home from the Vigil and assembled and baked the pies the next day between the morning service and Easter dinner, and finished with just barely enough time to allow the meringue to cool and to wash the sinkful of dirtied dishes. 

2.  I failed to adjust the thickening agent in the loquat filling.

Since there aren't that many loquat pie recipes floating around, I was adapting a peach pie recipe, which was in turn an adaptation from an apple pie recipe. When I initially added the dry ingredients to the fruit, the loquats were on the dry side, so I thought the base amount of cornstarch would be sufficient. I didn't figure on the sugar drawing the juices out of fruit. And then, even though the filling had become sort of soupy by the time I added it to the crust, it didn't occur to me (amateur that I am) that I should drain off some of the liquid and/or increase the thickening agent. 

3.  I assumed that the instructions I had for making streussel topping in a food processor would also work in my Magic Bullet. 

A Magic Bullet can do many, but not all, of the things a food processor can. Blending streussel topping, it turns out, falls in the "not all" category. No biggie; I just had to switch to a bowl and pastry cutter and finish the process by hand. The only problem was that it lengthened the whole baking process by several minutes and contributed to problem number four:

4.  I failed to return the prefab pie crust to the freezer while blending the streussel topping, and thus ended up baking the pie with a thawed crust rather than frozen as per the instructions.

I'm not quite ambitious enough to make my pies completely from scratch, however much Father Caponmay urge me to. Two fillings and two toppings is quite enough for one neophyte, thank you. Only, even with pre-made crusts, there's plenty of room for messing things up. I'm not sure how much a difference the pre-thawed pie shell made in the grand scheme of things, but I suspect that, combined with problem number two, it contributed to the crust of this particular pie coming out on the soggy side.

5.  I failed to prick the sides of the other prefab pie crust before blind-baking it to hold the lemon custard, and so it puffed and buckled and broke in several places. 

And there were probably a few other little problems that I have already put out of my mind. To my surprise, the relatively complicated lemon meringue came together quite nicely. (Yes, yes, it's not that complicated, especially if you have all the ingredients laid out in the right order ahead of time. It does require a bit more coordination than my everyday cooking projects, though. And I don't envy Great-Grandma whipping that meringue without an electric mixer.)

So I learned a few pointers that will be useful for future pie-making adventures.

The most important lesson, though, was in the way that sweetness covers a multitude of mistakes. I was rather quite anxious about the soupiness of the loquat pie and the gaps in the crust of the lemon meringue, and about the fact that neither was quite as beautiful as a mass-produced pie-in-a-box would have been. But the loquat pie was still yummy, and no one but me even knew about the problems with the other crust. (I had forgotten that the lemon custard firms up while sitting, so that by the time we served dessert, there were no leaks even with some cracks in the crust.) My family was generous with their praise, and I got a welcome reminder that things do not need to be done perfectly to be worth doing.

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