One of the things I love most about baking is the chance to merge technical expertise with art. Faced with a failed dessert, I’m sure I rival the most tormented artist. I clatter dirty dishes in the sink, dump the ruined parts into the garbage, raise fists to the sky, and denounce the entire cursed enterprise.
When things go well, on the other hand, it’s sublime. We don’t get that many opportunities in daily life to create something beautiful, and baking occasionally offers that opportunity.
It wasn’t until I started whipping the egg whites for my meringue that I recognized my own investment in this pie. The cover photo of the Baked cookbook flitted through my mind and I got a little thrill. Have you seen those two little meringue pies on the cover? I’ve never, ever made anything so beautiful, and I never expected to in this lifetime. But these pies gave me a shot.
The recipe presented three layers of technical challenge — crust, cooked filling, meringue. The first two I’ve managed many times before: graham cracker crust might be a little crumbly, but I knew it would hold; cooked filling always runs the chance of being soupy or curdled, but I always err on the side of soupy, so if it’s really bad, we have a frozen pie. But the meringue. I wanted peaks and swirls and waves, but I’d never tried it before. I only had the Baked cover photo to guide me.
As soon as the whipped egg whites and sugar reached the consistency of firm peaks, I glopped large spoonfuls onto the pie. Once I had a good base of meringue, I dipped the point of my spoon into the meringue base and pulled up and out to create the spikes. This had to be done quickly, before the meringue set. If the meringue stiffened, I added extra dollops from the bowl to give it new life. For three intense minutes, the rest of the world faded away. I was as focused as a surgeon.
The results were nearly perfect. The graham cracker crust was a tiny bit crumbly (hence my photo with the tart pan intact), but the lime cream filling and the airy meringue were just right. Each time I opened my refrigerator, as the pie chilled, I was startled anew at its beauty. Wedged between a container of vanilla yogurt and a leftover slice of pizza, it stood regal and proud. I’m sure to have more crumbly biscuits, leaden loaves, and all manner of baking failures in my future, but for this day, I was happy.