Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Day 199 - Baking a Pie From Scratch

I have never baked a pie from scratch. While I would normally reserve a new experience of this nature for a “Tasty Tuesday” in my “I have never...” journey, yesterday’s Zumba class and the fact Thanksgiving is tomorrow caused me to shift things around for this week’s events. As a result, I am left with only a day between my first attempt at making a pie and Thanksgiving Day, which made me more than a little cautious about tonight’s experience as I worked through the day. Following the interesting results of my previous attempt to bake a casserole for the first time, I had more than enough reason to be hesitant, but my optimism guided me as my workday drew to a close and I prepared for the pie baking experience. I knew today’s “I have never...” event would definitely be an enlightening experience; I just hoped my effort would yield something that was, at minimum, edible.

As the day of my first pie baking experience approached, I decided to find a recipe for a pie that I thought would present a moderate degree of challenge and would be something I could enjoy when the experience was all said and done. As a result, I began rifling through the catalogue of pies in my mind, searching for the perfect balance of skill level and tastiness for my first attempt at the feat. Eventually, that process led me to the idea of the consistently delicious key lime pie, which I thought would force me to tackle some unfamiliar culinary tricks, would present a moderate degree of difficulty, and would produce a result that would likely stand out at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal.


With my decision made, I gathered my ingredients from a local grocery store and promptly set up a preparation station when I arrive home this evening. Once finished, I took a step back and looked over the spread of eggs, sugar, sweetened condensed milk, limes, and other ingredients resting on the counter, which looked intimidating at first. Undeterred by the mild feeling of anxiety that came with the moment, I turned my attention to my recipe with high spirits and prepared myself to embark on my first experience baking a pie. Although I knew there was a high risk of failure with such an undertaking, I decided to dive into the experience head first, leaving my hands coated in egg whites as I began to prepare my crust.

The ingredients

Formulating a game plan

Over a series of minutes I separated egg yolks from egg whites and blended the yolks into a mixture of sugar and crushed graham cracker. My effort made a substantial mess from the beginning, but I found the process coming with relative ease. My confidence building, I moved seamlessly into the next phase of the process, which required formation of the crust in my pie pan. Sticking with a budding theme, my attempt to form the crust in the glass container resulted in a flow of sugary graham cracker crumbs flowing onto the counter and floor around me. Realizing there was little I could do to stop the growing mess coming from my overzealous crust formation, I pressed forward until I was satisfied I had coated the pan in a suitable manner.

Mixing the crust

My hands covered in a fine, sticky dust I stepped to look at the results of my effort briefly before placing the crust in the over for a light bake. As I waited for the first round of baking to complete, I set to work preparing my remaining ingredients, which required two cups of sweetened condensed milk and a healthy amount of key lime zest. To my surprise, the oven signaled the first round of baking was finished by the time I had placed the sweetened condensed milk in a bowl and prepared my tools for zesting. As a result, I turned my attention back to the crust long enough to remove it from the oven and place it on a cooling rack ahead of my forthcoming lime zesting. Acknowledging the progress of my pie was dependent on me completing the zesting and juicing of the limes at that point, I quickly organized a workspace to gather the lime zest and set to work zesting my key limes.

A quick bake

Unaware of how intensive the process would be, I began zesting one of the golf ball-sized key limes feeling good about the progress I had made in such a short time. However, that positive feeling quickly faded with the realization the first key lime took over two minutes to zest completely. With a total of 20 limes to zest, it quickly became apparent the next phase of my key lime would demand a significant amount of time, and I still had to juice the limes after I gathered the two tablespoons of zest called for in the recipe. I paused briefly at the thought of the daunting task remaining, but my desire to see the results swiftly forced me back into action and braced me for the long haul of my first experience baking a pie.

So much zesting...

Some 90 minutes after I began the process, I stepped back from a pile of zested, squeezed lime peels with sore arms and stiff legs. To the left and right of the chunks of pulverized fruit a bowl of zest and a cup containing three quarters of a cup of lime juice rested on the counter. I grinned at the fact my efforts had resulted in the key ingredients I needed to finalize my first pie, which made me feel I was only steps away from success. Wiping my brow with the back of my forearm, I stepped back to the counter and immediately set to work mixing my remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl until a smooth yellow-green batter began to appear. In a matter of seconds, I had taken the ingredients resulting from my extended labor over the tiny green limes and made it into the final, most critical aspect of my pie. I was close to victory, and I could almost taste the results; literally, of course.

Juicin' it.

Pouring the filling

Ready for the oven!

Without delay, I moved to pour the smooth, lime-scented filling into my previously formed crust. Although the quantity of the filling initially appeared it to be too much for the pie, its slow displacement over the surface of the graham cracker crust eventually made it clear my mix was nearly perfect for the depth and width of the pie’s interior. After scraping the last gobs of the filling out of my mixing bowl, I carefully lifted the pie from the stovetop and slid it in to the still-heated oven. As I slowly closed the door, I stepped back from the oven and let out a deep breath. After over two hours of work I appeared to be successful at my first attempt to bake a pie, and the small sample of the pie filling I ate as I cleaned up my workspace indicated the pie would be absolutely delicious.

Half way...


Following my clean up, I took a few minutes to relax as the pie baked to completion. When the oven timer finally rang at the end of the baking period, I excitedly raced to the kitchen and pulled the pie from the oven. I felt a massive smile cross my face when my eyes fell upon a nearly perfect key lime pie resting in my hands. I took on a previously unknown and entirely unfamiliar task, and I walked away with a pie that looked and smelled so delicious it was a challenge not to dive into it on the spot. Although I knew the true test would come with eating the pie for dessert after tomorrow’s Thanksgiving meal, the sense of accomplishment I felt from my surprising degree of success with the new experience was all I really needed. I honestly didn’t know what to expect heading into tonight’s “I have never...” experience, but the results blew me away. It took some time and effort, but the singular moment of pure joy and unfettered excitement I felt seeing my pie made every minute worth it. Sure, baking a pie is a little thing to most people, but to me it was a huge victory over the unknown. I’ll take that any day.

Oh, and I added this touch Thanksgiving day.
How was it? Delicious!

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