New baked goods being had

If there’s one thing that this pandemic isolation has done, it’s made people want to bake. And I don’t mean just in a kind of idle way, but it seems people are baking their asses off.

The first thing that went to the hording mobs, as we all know, was toilet paper. Don’t get me started on that oddness. The second thing was hand sanitizer and Lysol products, which makes total sense. But the third thing, and I never would’ve guessed it, was flour.

I don’t think it was a matter of necessity–“Oh, dear, it looks like there’s a new virus going around that’s trying to kill everyone. Well, time to bake some cookies”–as much as from idle interest mixed with boredom, perhaps to distract adults as much (or even more than) to distract kids in these repetitive, sometimes dull days.

Everyone seems to be particularly big on baking their own bread.

I have to admit, I’ve fallen a bit into the same interests recently–with all this discussion and pictures of bread going around, I’m going to try my hand at sourdough soon–but in the same spirit, I wanted to try making something else that was new.

And key lime pie was in my sights.

Why? Because it’s goddamn delicious and who wouldn’t want more deliciousness in their lives? And, again, it was something that I hadn’t tried before but that seemed pretty manageable. This isn’t me trying my hand at Beef Wellington. (Perhaps the most memorable cooking advice my mother ever gave me: “You know you’re in trouble when you’re trying a recipe that starts, ‘Day One:…'”)

My daughter, an up-and-coming baker in her own right, offered a helping hand with the pie. And it wasn’t just her giving a stir to mix in a bowl and saying she helped, this was full-on mixing and reading out items needed and (in this case) shaping the pie crust into the baking pan, separating the egg yolks, then mixing the filling and pouring it into the shell with scant help from me. She’s the real deal. Added bonus in these lacking, distance learning class times: Baking offers built-in math and science.

This is how the pie looked when it came out:

The original recipe had the lime zest after the whipped cream was on top, but I knew we’d be doing the whipped cream just as we served it up, so I called an audible and did the zest right on the filling. I’m a rebel like that.

End result (the next day, after chilling in the fridge): It was… okay. I’ve certainly had better. I don’t know that I’ve had worse. Probably because anyone who did worse wouldn’t want to serve it (say, at a friend’s place after dinner) and certainly wouldn’t be able to sell it (at a restaurant, or at a bad friend’s place after dinner).
Which isn’t to say it was not good, particularly for a first try, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping it would be.

We had a family discussion about it, and we agree that key lime juice, as opposed to the regular lime juice that was all I saw when shopping for it, may make all the difference. I’ll let your Google searches cover the details about why that may be, but in our limited experience with key lime pies vs. now lime-lime pies, key lime > lime.

… and then…

The (key) lime pie recipe called for five egg yolks. With the pie mellowing in the fridge, we were left with five egg whites that we had no particular use for. So all the more reason to try out making New Thing #2 of the evening: Meringue.

I’d long known that meringue was basically egg whites and sugar, but I didn’t know the specifics and what you did with them. When it comes to making food, that’s kind of key.

I did a quick search online and found a recipe for basic meringue and immediately deciding that, well, since I didn’t exactly want to try advanced meringue on my first try, basic would do nicely.

It really is pretty simple: Egg whites with a pinch of salt and beaten to hell, past its foamy stage and into the frothy stage where you get stiff peaks when you remove the hand mixer beaters. Then you add a cup of icing sugar, one tablespoon at a time and only adding the next one when the previous one has been completely dissolved into the mix. Add a touch of vanilla once all the sugar is in–which you never have to sell me on for any baked good–and continue to blend it for another three minutes.

Word to the wise: You’re going to need a bigger bowl than you think. You see that little bowl of gooey egg whites, and you get a medium-sized mixing bowl and you think that’ll be way overkill for what you need? Yeah, that’s not big enough. Size that sucker up to the next biggest one you have. Maybe the one after that.
I’m not kidding.
This stuff puffs up like crazy as you whip it all together for so long. Which is, of course, the very point of whipping it all together for so long. Meringue is nothing if not light and full of air.

And the results…

They came out light as air, delightfully crispy, and they just melt in your mouth.

Now that we’ve… I don’t want to say mastered the basic meringue, but would say we’re certainly very capable with it… it’s time to notch things up.

When we were in Ottawa last year, we stopped by a place that specialized in little bite-sized drops of flavoured meringue. I’d be curious to see when, where and how that’s done in the (very quick) preparation process of these little treats.

The (key) lime pie wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. The meringue, though? I suspect I’ll be doing those again before too long.

Time to seek out the next new thing.

For anyone who’s interested, here’s the recipe for the key lime pie (word to the wise: pull all the stops and get key lime juice or bust), and here’s the one for the basic meringues.