Here in Virginia, we’re still stuck in fruitless wasteland, waiting for the first rhubarb of the season. After last week’s massive Swiss meringue failure, I decided to go with the Flapper pie. Growing up and living in the South, I’d never heard of this pie till a pie piece on Mental Floss. It’s basically a vanilla meringue pie with a graham cracker crust from the exotic locale of the Canadian prairie.
The process is essentially the same as the Chocolate Meringue and Butterscotch Meringue pies—at NECI we simply called it the “Pastry Cream Method." Combine the milk and half the sugar in a pot. Combine the other half of the sugar and cornstarch, then stir in yolks to form a paste. Bring milk to a boil. Temper the eggs/cornstarch/sugar into the milk. Return to a boil. Cook for a few minutes. Pour into a baked shell.
And the meringue? "Consternation" was the word for the weekend. Four tries. I like Stella Parks’s method for Swiss meringue. It has a ratio, a target temp, and gives reliable results. That means consistency. I like consistency. (A chef I worked with often observed "The difference between a good restaurant and a shitty one comes down to consistency.") One goal of Year of Pie is to separate the components of pie into consistent Lego pieces and making a reliable meringue based on a ratio fits that bill.
But back to the four attempts at meringue. The first attempt stalled before forming soft peaks. I beat it through an entire episode of Parks & Rec. Maybe I mis-scaled the sugar? Attempt two, paying extra attention to the amounts and process, same result. “Ok,” I thought, “maybe it’s the eggs being only a day old.” So attempt number three used store bought eggs. Heated in a double boiler to 175˚. Remove from heat and beat. They fluffed up, thickened, went satiny, just like the previous two attempts, and … nada. Beating them through another episode of Parks & Rec, they remained this thick, melted marshmallow goo. research-research-research The troubleshooting themes pointed toward temperature and over-mixing. While the water for the fourth batch was boiling, I checked the thermometer. 207˚. I was over-cooking the eggs by 5˚. So, cooked them to “170˚.” I lowered the speed of the mixer to 4 (out of 7). Yes, on top of overcooked whites, the hand-mixer was too powerful, destroying the foam structure.
Moral of the story: Always calibrate your thermometer and don't mix at ludicrous speed.
Adapted from the Grainews's Grandma’s Prize-Winning Flapper Pie with butter added to the filling. Because butter.
1-1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
6T melted butter
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. sugar
2 1/2 c. milk
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
Brave Tart’s Swiss Meringue (3:2 sugar:whites by weight)
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Crush the graham crackers, mix with sugar, then the melted butter. Reserve 2T.
Press into a standard 9” pie plate. Cover the bottom of a drinking glass with plastic wrap and compress the crumb down.
Bake 8-14 till the shell shows color.
Remove and up the oven to 375˚.
For the filling, whisk together the cornstarch and 1/2 the sugar in a small bowl. Stir in the yolks to form a paste.
Place the remaining sugar and the milk into a medium pot.
Over medium heat, stir occasionally and bring the milk-sugar to a boil.
Once boiling, remove from the heat and temper 1/3 of the milk into the egg mixture.
Once tempered, stir the egg mixture into hot milk.
Return to medium heat and stir constantly and vigorously till it returns to a boil. The milk/eggs should visibly thicken. Congratulations! You've made pastry cream!
Stir in the butter and vanilla, pour into the graham cracker crust.
Follow the Serious Eats method, or preferred method for a meringue, and spread onto pie.
Sprinkle reserved graham cracker crust onto meringue.
Bake at 375˚ till golden brown.
Cool, chill for a few hours, and eat!