Many people shy away from making pies either because of a fear of making the crust, or because they never have been able to make a beautiful meringue.
Let’s start with the crust. Our goal is a tender crisp crust that is not tough. It is important that we do not work too much flour into the dough, and then we must be careful not to work the dough too much when ready to roll it out. If you prefer not to make a fancy edge on your crust, you can do what my mother always did. She simply used a fork to press down the edges.
The following pie filling recipe will answer most of your questions and give you a creamy filling. No tempering of the egg yolks is necessary.
When making meringue, it is VERY important that there is not a speck of grease on the bowl or beaters. Chef Nicolas Malgiere, former executive pastry chef at Windows on the World and later head of our baking and pastry department at the cooking school where I worked in Manhattan, visited our home many years ago. I decided he was the perfect person to ask about “weeping” meringue. Nick told me that meringues “weep” when the sugar is not properly beaten into the egg whites. His instruction was to put a little beaten meringue between your finger and thumb. Rub it together and if it feels grainy, continue beating until there is no grainy texture.
1/4 cup chilled shortening
1/4 cup chilled salted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the shortening and butter (must be chilled) into the flour, using a pastry blender or food processor. The mixture should resemble coarse cornmeal with a few lumps about the size of peas. Gradually add ice water, mixing until the dough can be formed into a smooth ball. If using a food processor, the dough will form a ball when ready. Shape into a disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. When ready to roll out, remove from refrigerator and allow to rest until dough can easily be rolled out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Place in pie pan and run knife around edges. Crimp with a fork. Place a piece of foil over crust and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven and remove aluminum foil and weights. Bake another 5 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven to rack to cool.
CHOCOLATE PIE FILLING
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa (more if you like a darker chocolate)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
Combine sugar, cocoa, flour and salt. Stir to mix. Add egg yolks, but do not mix yet. Gradually add the milk, mixing in yolks at this time. When well mixed, cook over medium to medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Must be stirred constantly. Remove from heat and stir in extract and butter. Pour into baked pie crust. Top with meringue.
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar
Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue beating until egg whites form soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, beating well after each addition. Keep beating until stiff peaks form and the whites are no longer grainy. (See instructions above.) Spoon onto filling. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
— Prudence Hilburn of Piedmont, Alabama, has won more than 30 national cooking awards and written several cookbooks, including, “Simply Southern and More.” Write her at email@example.com or visit www.prudencehilburn.com.