Monday, July 27, 2009

Eggs-traordinary aggravation

Oh, c'mon - I'm allowed a horrible pun once in a while. Cooking that deals with eggs has never been my strong point. I mean, sure, the first "real" cooking I ever did without the supervision of an adult was scrambled eggs (in the microwave) and they turned out perfectly, but beyond that I've always had issues. I don't know why. Making an omelette is a crap shoot - I've got even chances to pull it off perfectly, or having it split into two or three pieces mid-flip, leaving me swearing up a blue streak and mangling it into the scrambled egg equivalent of a ten-car pileup with my fork out of spite. Basic fried eggs? Not a problem... as long as you don't mind the underside being a blotchy white and yellow mess of hard-cooked yolk, the casualty of never being able to lift it quickly and cleanly enough to keep the still-raw yolk from sliding right off the spatula, and swan-diving to its splattery end in the skillet, leaving me to gently lay the cooked portion still on my spatula over it like a burial shroud.

The one thing that I have NEVER been able to pull off perfectly, though, has been a pie meringue. This is particularly galling for me, since I like to make desserts more than anything else, and I LOVE the lemon meringue pie recipe from "The Joy of Cooking." But even using their foolproof method for meringue, mine always "weeps". That is, shortly after it comes out of the oven it develops those small dark brown spots of syrup on top, which is a sign of an inferior meringue. One attempt I made was so pathetic that instead of small weeping drops, I actually had several puddles of syrupy imperfection all over it.

However, recently I found I had a nearly-empty bottle of Nellie and Joe's Key West Lime juice in the back of my refrigerator, just enough for a single key lime pie, and I just so happened to also have a can of sweetened condensed milk sitting in my cupboard. Key lime pie is probably the easiest pie in the world to make - you use a simple graham cracker crust of crumbs and butter. The pie filling only has three ingredients. The pie itself only takes 20 minutes to bake. And it is the only pie I love more than lemon meringue. Normally I see (and myself top) key lime pie with real whipped cream, but I realized that I would have 4 egg whites sitting around unused after I placed the required four egg yolks in the pie filling. I thought "what the hell", and went about making a meringue to top this pie off with. I used the "foolproof" method again, which basically means a few extra fussy steps of boiling some water, cornstarch, and sugar into a thick glue that is allowed to cool a bit and then gets stirred into the meringue prior to topping the pie. Eggs whipped, "glue" incorporated, spatula out, meringue dabbed onto pie. Then, the whole thing was shoved into the preheated oven, and I got down on my knees and f*cking PRAYED.

It came out of the oven looking nicely browned. Half an hour later, I was cautiously optimistic. No weeping. An hour later, still nothing and I oh-so-carefully slid it into my refrigerator and went to bed with a glimmer of hope in my heart. The next morning, I opened my refrigerator with crossed fingers, and was greeted by my very first, perfectly baked, weep-free meringue pie. Because I HAD MADE A PERFECT MERINGUE. FINALLY, perfection with eggs had been reached. Much hooting, hollering, fist-pumping, and an attempted cartwheel ensued. I was ecstatic.

Look at it. Not a blemish, not a spot of dark brown ooze anywhere. The jagged little peaks I made by dabbing at the meringue with my spatula held their shape, and turned that lovely dark brown shade. Sheer perfection! So happy, I was, and it was with great pride that I took it to where I worked and presented it in our company breakroom.

Within a minute, two co-workers confessed the "weeping" was their favorite part of a meringue.

I wonder if they'd notice the next time I baked a cake if I substituted castor oil for vegetable oil. Weep over THAT, you bastards. Grrr.

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