I Pie Transcript

Maggie's House of Pies, 12:45 pm

GUESTS: Waitress, Customers 1-4

WAITRESS: [brings piece of pie to C1 eating with a man (not seen)]
CUSTOMER #1: Excellent.
CUSTOMER #2: Thank you.
W: You're welcome.
C2: My plumber's hair dresser told me about this place.
C1: Best place in town.
W: [brings C3 a piece of chocolate meringue pie]
[to pie] Oh, hello sweetheart! I missed you, too!
W: [brings C4 a piece of pecan pie]
CUSTOMER #4: Oh, thanks. When you get a second, could you get me some chocolate pie?
W: Sure. Expecting someone?
C4: Uh, no.
W: [brings AB a piece of lemon meringue pie]

    Pie. If there's a dessert more American, I don't know what it is. Trouble is, so few of us make pies these days, we can't even really tell the good pie from the bad pie anymore! I mean, look at this place. This is supposed to be the hottest pie joint in three states. But look! Check out my lemon meringue: beading, weeping, curdling, oh my! And check out the crust. Well, looks like limpbizkit's not just a band anymore. Fortunately, there is a path back from this milieu of mediocrity, and it is paved with smart tools, thoughtful ingredients, and tasty science. And it is a road well worth following, my friends, because when it's done right, pie is ...

Maggie's House of Pies

    Although our earliest written record of pie—a Roman recipe for a rye crust stuffed with goat cheese and honey—could pass for a dessert, most early pies were decidedly savory. Perhaps you have heard of that medieval mélange known as 'humble pie.' Now, 'humble' refers to the bits and pieces left over once all the edible parts of the animal have been consumed. Therefore, to 'eat humble pie' has come to mean eating the very lowest thing. It's a very humbling experience. I do it a couple times a week. [sniffs humble pie] Ew! Disgusting!
    Now, during the Renaissance, pie became more about theater than cuisine. Ever hear of "four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie?" Well, I bet you didn't know the birds were supposed to be [blackbirds burst from pie and caw] alive. You try finding some blackbirds and getting them into a pie. Just try it sometime!
    Speaking of birds, you may not know that 'pie' actually, the word, comes from 'magpie.' See, early cooks believed that a pie was the culinary version of a magpie, and a magpie is a bird that basically picks up little bits and pieces of everything and shoves them into his nest. [looks at empty blackbird pie shell and mess on the table] I'm just going to move over to a table, now.
    Here in modern-day America, the most popular pies are fruit pies, and cream or custard pies. Not surprisingly, they were both invented by those masters of desserts, the Pennsylvania Dutch. Today, we're going to concentrate on my favorite cream pie of all time.

The Kitchen

    [camera pans along the floor until it comes to a pie slice, 20 times larger than a real piece] Take a close look at a piece of cream pie sometime, and you will no doubt notice that is actually composed of three distinct phases. First, we have a light and fluffy meringue: brown on top, white and creamy in the middle. This is firmly anchored to a soft, yet cut-able, lemony-fresh custard, which, in turn, perches atop a flaky, flavorful crust, which must be able to support the entire weight of this device during transfer from pan to plate.
    Now the challenge in constructing such a device comes in finding a careful balance between what is best for each individual layer, and what is best for the pie, as a whole. Now, we will begin with the crust, which is baked blind, or empty, so that it won't get soggy later on.

Harry's Farmers Market: Marietta, GA - 1:16 pm

    Pie crust is a simple thing. Heck, there's nothing in it but some flour, some fat, a little bit of salt, and just enough water to bring it together. Simple! But tricky at the same time, because every little detail matters.
    Take the flour, for instance. If you were to use pastry flour, well, it doesn't have enough protein in it. It's a very soft flour. So you'd create a crust that just falls apart in the pan. What about bread flour? Well, it's got a lot of protein in it, which means a very, very hard crust. You'd practically need a chisel to get it out of there. Self-rising flour. That's no good, because it's got leavening in it. You'll make a biscuit instead of a crust, which isn't the same thing. So, nope. In the end, you're better off with just plain old AP, or all-purpose, flour. It's got a relatively moderate amount of protein in it, so it is perfect for pie. And now, the fat.
    Nothing affects the nature of a crust more than the fat that goes into it. Now, butter has a very low melting-point, so it doesn't make a very flaky crust, and it also contains some water, which can definitely throw off your formula. At the same time, nothing browns or tastes as better. So I'm definitely going to use some of this. But I'm also going to use lard. That's right. Rendered pig's fat has a very high melting-point, and a really coarse, crystalline structure, which means that it is ideal for making flaky crusts. And if the idea of lard seems kind of funny to you, you'll be surprised to know that it's even lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than butter is. You can find it in most American mega-marts, either in the same department as the shortening, or in the Latin food section. And no, it doesn't taste like pork.

The Kitchen

    Happy pie crusts start with firm fats. So park your butter and lard alike in the freezer for 15 minutes. Oh, and, uh grab a couple of ice cubes, while you're at it.


    Oh, I should mention that you're only going to need 3 ounces, that's 6 tablespoons, of the butter, and 1 ounce, that's 2 tablespoons, of the lard, cut into cubes. As for the ice, just drop it in your favorite squirt bottle along with a quarter cup of water.

Since 1950 California has produced more lemons
than all of the European countries combined.

The Kitchen

    First into your food processor, 6 ounces of all-purpose flour, and yes, that is 6 ounces by weight, because, when it comes to flour, weight is more precise, okay? To that, one-half of a teaspoon of plain old table salt. Take that for a spin, just to combine. Give it a moment for the dust to settle. There we go. And then add the butter phase only. There we go. Now process this. 5 or 6 pulses will do, just until it starts looking mealy. Good.

6 oz. AP Flour

1/2 tsp. Table Salt

3 oz. Butter

    Now we add the lard. Why hold the lard 'til the end? Because we want it in nice, big pieces, because that will provide more flake. [pulses] 1, 2, 3. Good.

1 oz. Lard

    Now, the water phase. The goal here is to use as little water as possible, but to evenly distribute it. That's why the spritzer. And cold is good, because cold will help keep the fat solid. So I'm just going to wet down the top of the mixture, and pulse about 5 times.

Approximately 2 Tbs. Ice

    Now what we're looking for is for the mixture to stick to itself and not fall apart. [squeezes some of the mixture] Eh, not quite. Give it a few more spritzes, and we'll say 4 more pulses. [tests mixture again] Perfect!
    Now, move this to a plastic zip-top bag, but do yourself a favor and take the blade out first. There we go. Now, just get your hand up in there [sic, squeezes from outside of bag] and squeeze this all this into one mass. There we go. And lay it out on the counter. I'll just squeeze the mixture into a flat round. Kind of like making a little brie. There. Seal it and move this to the refrigerator.
    Thirty minutes in here [fridge] will give time for the flour in there to absorb a little bit of water, and that will make the dough more limber come rolling time.

According to Guinness, the largest pecan pie ever made was
50 feet in diameter and weighted in at 41,586 pounds.

    I cannot tell you how many of these devices [dough lump] I have destroyed during the rolling and panning process. But not anymore.

    [voice over] Just take a paring knife and slice down both sides of the bag. That's right, you're going to have to sacrifice a zip-top bag, but believe me, it is well worth it. Now, just open up the bag and flour your disc on both sides. There. And re-close the plastic flap and break out your favorite rolling pin. That's right, you're going to roll on top of the plastic. Now just turn the bag a quarter to half a turn every few seconds and keep rolling until you've produced a nice, big disc that goes just beyond the edges of the bag. There. Now, carefully peel back the first layer of plastic and re-flour. There you go.
    Now, time to retrieve our 2 chilled pie pans. We're going to need 2 because we're basically going to make a pie crust sandwich here. Put the first pan right down in the middle of the dough. And then, flip the whole thing over. There you go. Peel off the plastic, and put the second pan on upside down. Push, and flip it again. Remove the first pan and you've got yourself a pie crust. Just tear off any excess to kind of patch where you might be short.

    Since this is going to be topped with meringue we don't need any fancy, schmancy crimping here. Just an elevated edge that the meringue can grab a hold of. Once you've go a decent edge built up, grab a fork and poke holes, or dock, the bottom of the dough to release steam. This goes into the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes. Is it beautiful? No, but its going to taste good. [Puts crust in fridge]

AB: [to crust] I'll be back.

    Why the refrigerator? What are you, blind? [Venetian blinds drop in front of AB]


    Now let's just say for a moment that this is a microscopic cross-section of our pie crust in the oven. Now by the time the layers of fat start to melt [slowly begins to open the blinds], the protein structure formed by the flour and water need to be set. That way, when the fat does melt, it will look like this [holds the individual blind pieces]. These are the nice flakes in our flaky crust. If the fats melt before the protein sets, we'll have a real mess on our hands. Ten minutes in the refrigerator will keep that from happening. Now, go ahead and set your oven to 425 degrees.
    Since we docked our dough, we no longer have to concern ourselves with steam building up underneath the crust. But what about inside the crust? If it builds up there, we could get some nasty blistering. The remedy? Weights.
    Although you can actually purchase pie weights in the form of pea-shaped ceramic beads or pie chains made up of long strands of aluminum balls, as I've always said, I only allow one unitasker in my kitchen. [holds up a fire extinguisher] I've also heard of some bakers using nuts and bolts from the hardware store. And although, I can appreciate the heat conducting properties of metal, I don't really relish the thought of my pie crust being squashed by a pound of hardware. That's why I go with natural weights.
    Now, just take a piece of parchment paper, and gently press down. Then pour in the beans. My grandmother liked Great Northerns, but I prefer black beans because they absorb heat so quickly. The other nice thing about beans is that you can use them thousands and thousands of times. Just don't try to cook them. They won't taste very good. Put this in the oven for fifteen minutes.

Blind baking is the common term for baking a pie crust without the filling.

The Kitchen

    With Phase 1 of construction well under way, its time that we ponder Phase 2. Now here's a fact: this device [points to pie] needs to be assembled while that base custard is piping hot. That means we've got no choice, but to make phase 2 the meringue. And that's tricky business because a meringue is really nothing but a foam. And what is a foam after all, but a big collection of bubbles? And what's a bubble? Its basically a very flimsy little lattice work of proteins, draped with water. Now in the case of meringues we've got some advantages. We add sugar to the structure which strengthens it. But things can, and do, go wrong.
    [noticing balls of 'water' on top of the pie model] Mmm, hmm. Hmpf. Just as I suspected. Beading. This is what happens when sugar-saturated water oozes up to the surface of the meringue and sets in the open air. Probably means we've got trouble downstairs too.
    [pulls back meringue layer to reveal 'water' between the custard and meringue] Oh, yes. Look at that layer of water. Well, let's just pretend its water. Its a model, okay? This is the same moisture as we had up there. Only since there was no air, it didn't set into beads. But this is even worse, because it means that the meringue layer and the custard layer will never stay bonded together. Luckily, this can be prevented.

    [voice over] Since fats can deflate an egg foam, make sure your bowl is very clean before adding 4 carefully separated egg whites. And along with that we're going to add a pinch of cream of tartar. Its an acid. It'll help denature those proteins. Now, I like to start this by hand. I'm just going to take the whisk and whip these into a froth. Then you can put them onto your mixer on medium high.

4 oz (4 Large) Egg Whites
Pinch Of Cream Of Tartar

    When you've got a nice light foam, start adding 2 tablespoons of sugar very slowly.

2 Tbs. Sugar

    Although I've never heard of anyone getting a food-born illness from a homemade meringue, we are talking about an under-cooked egg product here. So if you're worried, do what I do and use pasteurized eggs. If they don't have these at your local mega mart, then look for the pasteurized egg whites that come in jars or bottles. They're usually in the dairy section. You'll need 4 ounces.

    [voice over] In another 30 seconds to 1 minute you'll have stiff peaks. If you're not sure your peaks are stiff, just take out the whisk, stick it straight down, and turn it over. If they stand like this, you're good to go.

    Since we've made them right, these will stand the test of time. Not forever, but long enough for us to make the filling. Just put a lid on and keep them in a cool place.

    [voice over] Time to check in on our pie shell. It's mostly done, but not completely done. It still needs to brown. So remove the weights carefully, they are hot. And then re-insert into the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown and delicious.

    With Phases 1 and 2 completed, its time to face the filling. Now besides delivering 90 plus percent of the pie's flavor, this filling must be soft and pleasing to the palette. And yet it must remain firm enough to cut. Luckily, we've got that secret weapon.

Big Cypress Citrus Grove: Clewiston, FL - 9:45 am

    [pulls a lemon from a tree and sniffs deeply] Ahh! The clean, fresh smell of citris limonium. Yep. No wonder it is as popular in cleaning products as it is in confectionary. You know, nobody knows exactly where the lemon was born. But we know it was some place in Southeast Asia. We know that it migrated from there across China to Persia, and that the Arabs carried it from there across the Mediterranean to Spain. About that time, a guy named Christopher Columbus was getting ready to sail across to the new world, and he took these lemons with him to Hispaniola [Spanish: Española]. Some missionaries took seeds from the lemons that grew there and brought them here, to sweltering, hot, mosquito-infested Southern Florida, where they grow today.
    Most people think that a lemon is a lemon. But there are actually dozens of different varieties, from Eurekas to Lisbons to Meyers to these Bearss lemons which are being grown specifically for their juice. How do you know? Because any lemon that's being grown for the produce bin is picked completely green. Why? Well, lets put it this way, these lemons in their ripe form are very susceptible. Susceptible to bruising. Susceptible to funguses. Lots of bad things can happen. By picking them green and allowing them to ripen, or cure, in a controlled environment, you protect your investment.
    Now when it comes to your investment, look to purchase only nice, smooth, round lemons. You do not want to see blemishes. You do not want to see any green whatsoever. This is a nice specimen. This will keep in your refrigerator in an air tight container for about a week. If you need to harvest off some zest, just take off what you need, and put it back into the container.
    Oh, and if you need juice, but you don't need the whole thing, don't go cutting open the lemon and wasting the whole thing. Just take a toothpick, roll the lemon between your hands thusly, or on a counter, to loosen up the pulp, and just insert your toothpick here, [inserts tooth pick halfway between middle of the lemon and 1 end of the lemon] nice and deep. Then you can just kind of squeeze out whatever you want, and then put the toothpick back in. That way your lemon stays fresher longer. Nice, huh?

The Meyer lemon is not a true lemon at all, but a
hybrid between a lemon and a Mandarin orange.

The Kitchen

    [voice over] Our pie's lemony filling begins with 4 egg yolks. Beat very thoroughly, well at least until they start to lighten up a bit. Then set those aside.

4 Large Egg Yolks

    In a saucier or a medium sauce pan, mix together 1 third of a cup of cornstarch with 1 and a half cups of water. Put that over medium heat. Ok? Then whisk in 1 and a third cup of sugar. There you go. And a quarter teaspoon of regular, old table salt. Now stirring often, bring this to a boil.

1/3 Cup Cornstarch
1 1/2 Cups Water
1 1/3 Cups Sugar
1/4 tsp. Salt

    Now by the time this mixture comes to a boil, all the starch granules will have soaked up so much liquid that eventually they'll swell to the point that they explode, sending starch everywhere thus, thickening the sauce. Now to make sure that each and every one of those granules has given up its goods, let this simmer for another 60 seconds.
    Now remove the mixture from the heat, and very, very slowly add about half of it into the beaten eggs, just a whisk full at a time. Now this curious little dance is called tempering, and when done correctly will prevent the eggs from curdling from heat exposure. Now I'd say that's about half in, so the egg mixture now goes back into the original pot. There. And we go back to the heat.
    Egg yolks contain an enzyme that gobbles up starches like a molecular PacMan, and if left unchecked, these will convert the inside of your pie into soup overnight. Luckily, these chemical terminators can be disabled permanently, with 1 minute of simmering. No less.

    [voice over] After a minute goes by, turn off the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of butter. When that's melted, add a tablespoon of fresh lemon zest and a half a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. And yes, fresh matters. Now its going to take a minute to stir this in because there's a lot of fat trying to mix up with a lot of water. They don't get along very well. Now just pour the whole thing directly into your baked and cooled pie crust.

3 Tbs. Butter
1 Tbs. Finely Grated Lemon
1/2 Cup Freshly Squeezed
    Lemon Juice

    While your custard is still piping hot go wake up your meringue with a quick 30 second beating.

THING: [hands AB bowl of meringue]
[to Thing] Thank you, thing.

    Excellent. Oh, you set your oven to 375, right? Good.

    [voice over] Now just dump the meringue on top of the pie and don't try to get pretty. Just make sure you take it to the edges and seal it against the crust.

    I'm switching now to a metal spatula to finish. Now some people like their meringues all wavy on top. I like mine as smooth as Kojak's noggin.

    [voice over] There. Again, I just want to make sure it's sealed up against the crust. If you like a taller meringue, you can make a double batch. Me, I don't want too much meringue. Now, into the oven for another 10-12 minutes. Remember, we're just cooking the meringue here.

    Mmm, now that is real pie. Sure it took a little time and effort, but it was worth it in a hundred thousand different ways. Heck, even if you don't like lemon meringue pie with a crispy crust, a mighty meringue, and some cunning custard skills in your pocket, just think of all the places you can go in this galaxy that we call Good Eats. See you next time.

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Transcription by Elctrowolfe & Ed Lee

Last Edited on 08/27/2010