Baking something is like doing a chemistry project, which is why baking needs to be more of an exercise in precision than cooking usually has to be. This week’s recipe for Florida Pie, chosen by Dianne of Dianne’s Dishes, included very little baking but it was still a great example of kitchen chemistry in action. And really, what could be better than a chemistry project that you can eat?
I was excited for this weeks recipe. I have been a key lime pie eater since my first trips to Florida in the 60’s, and the only time I could have it would be on family vacation’s to Florida. Key lime juice was a precious commodity to be carried back from vacation and hoarded. Oh, the joy when key lime pie became Baker’s Square’s July pie-of-the-month (they make a pretty decent one too) and when the local grocery stores started carrying the juice here up North. Baker’s Square also used to make a pie called key lime rickey which had a layer of raspberry puree in it. I thought it was even better than plain key lime pie. So I decided to add raspberries to this pie. Dorie’s recipe added coconut to the mix, which I welcome wholeheartedly to the party. I will admit to being a key lime snob and NEVER substitute lime juice for key lime juice. Sorry, but it’s not the same.
There were a lot of, ahem, “elements” to this pie.
First came the crust. I was a little shocked that Dorie said she always uses a store-bought graham cracker crust. After reading the ingredient list of the premade crust, I decided to make one using Newman’s cinnamon graham alphabet cookies. Once again this week my Escali Pana Volume and Weight Digital Scale with the pre-programmed ingredients codes came in handy (I sound like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” . . . “A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time”). How many little Newman’s cinnamon graham cookies would make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs. I entered the code for graham cracker crumbs and added cookies until the scale said 1 1/2 cups. On to the food processor.
This is my easy way to make a graham cracker piecrust. First pulverize the cookies. Add the melted butter, sugar and salt, pulse and few more times and pour them straight into the pie plate. Evenly distribute the crumbs, cover with plastic wrap, and press another pie plate on top of the crumbs. No muss, no fuss.
Now, if there’s one word in a recipe that strikes fear into my heart, it’s “reduce.” While I suppose a reduction couldn’t be called a chemical reaction, it’s still pretty cool, it you’re patient . . . which I’m not. But I was determined, and I was rewarded. If you’re patient, and keep the heat high enough that it bubbles and evaporates, but not so high that it scorches, you will be rewarded with creamy, thick, butter-colored goodness. Take a small bite, and then before you eat it all, set it aside.
After. See what I mean?
On to the good part, and what makes this a Florida Pie. Key lime filling. As I beat the egg yolks I didn’t think the they would ever get light and thick. But they finally did and then I could get to the fun part. I added the condensed milk and then started mixing in the key lime juice. During mixing, a chemical reaction, called souring, occurs between the condensed milk and the acidic juice which causes the filling to thicken on its own. The filling didn’t come anywhere near the stove and yet it still thickened.
Back in the “old days” you were done now except for the chilling. The new-fangled recipes give the filling a few minutes in the oven, in case the eggs have some salmonella lurking in them. But first, you have to assemble the pie. This is where I added my raspberries, and they were a very good addition indeed. See how pretty they look? Next time I will add even more raspberries. And do I have future plans for this coconut cream! Spread over brownies and topped with some almonds and milk chocolate ganache!
As for my meringue, I think my egg whites were on the edge of going over to the dark side of destabilization. If I do meringue again, I will add some cream of tartar for some insurance. See the transcript of the Good Eats episode “Let Them Eat Foam.” to learn more about egg whites. Alton Brown can say it better than I ever could. But for me, I much prefer whipping cream on my key lime pie and I’m not a fan of meringues. I used my kitchen torch to brown the meringue. I think running it under the broiler would have given the meringue a softer browning.
I really wasn’t sure what the trips to the freezer were all about. Maybe to cool it faster? Next time I would just chill in the fridge overnight. If I had chilled it overnight I might have been able to cut a neater slice than shown at the top of this article. I just couldn’t wait to dig in. And sometimes the best piece of pie is the homiest looking. This is one of my favorite desserts, which I will choose over chocolate almost any day. And except for the meringue, it lived up to my expectations. What can I say. I’m a whipped cream girl. After it had chilled, the coconut cream took on a toothsome texture that was very satisfying. I love the cool, tart, creaminess of the key lime filling. Oh, my mouth is watering again, but at our house, this pie is already gone.
So that, my friends, are the keys to this sublime pie. Get it? Keys . . . sublime? Never mind.
Next week’s recipe is Traditional Madelines, chosen by Tara of “Smells Like Home.” I’ve been asked to bring some cookies to the memorial service for my friend this Saturday. I think Kari would have liked madelines. They’re simple and sophisticated, but still a fun cookie, like she was. I miss her very much.
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
1 9-inch graham cracker crust (page 235), fully baked and cooled, or a store-bought crust
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
4 large eggs, seperated
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh Key (or regular) lime juice (from about 5 regular limes)
1/4 cup of sugar
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet lined with parchment of a silicone mat.
Put the cream and 1 cup of the coconut in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly. Continue to cook and stir until the cream is reduced by half and the mixture is slightly thickened. Scrape the coconut cream into a bowl and set it aside while you prepare the lime filling.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl beat the egg yolks at high speed until thick and pale. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the condensed milk. Still on low, add half of the lime juice. When it is incorporated, add the reaming juice, again mixing until it is blended. Spread the coconut cream in the bottom of the graham cracker crust, and pour over the lime filling.
Bake the pie for 12 minutes. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for 15 minutes, then freeze the pie for at least 1 hour.
To Finish the Pie with Meringue:
Put the 4 egg whites and the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, whisking all the while, until the whites are hot to the touch. Transfer the whites to a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, or use a hand mixer in a large bowl, and beat the whites at high speed until they reach room temperature and hold firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the remaining 1/2 cup coconut into the meringue.
Spread the meringue over the top of the pie, and run the pie under the broiler until the top of the meringue is golden brown. (Or, if you’ve got a blowtorch, you can use it to brown the meringue.) (I think broiling might have given a softer browned affect, but I used my torch and it worked pretty slick.) Return the pie to the freezer for another 30 minutes or for up to 3 hours before serving.