How not to screw up a Valentine pie

You heard me. I screwed up. And I have the pictures to prove it. So pay attention, you WILL be tested on this. And you can totally make a yummy Valentine pie while we’re at it.

It’s kinda crucial that you read through this entire recipe first before you spring into shopping action, don’t just go by the pictures, ok? Let’s make sure you know what not to do wrong!

This part is right. Drain a jar of maraschino cherries into a bowl, you wanna capture all that yummy juice.

While that is draining, separate five eggs, yolks in a small bowl and whites in a large mixing bowl. If you’ve never separated eggs before, it’s ok to use your hands, and don’t throw eggs out when you mess them up. Keep a third bowl around to toss the mess-ups in for scrambled eggs later. And it’s not absolutely crucial to keep every molecule of yolk from getting into the whites and vice versa, but it’s prettier and works better. You can see I keep a paper towel on the counter to help soak up my messes.

While the eggs come to room temp, measure into a medium saucepan 3/4 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Stir that up real good, it’s the same as sifting it together. By the way, this is all still the right way, so we’re good, keep going.

Remember that pretty juice you saved? Now it’s time to put it into a measuring cup. This pie recipe calls for 2 cups of milk, but we’re replacing some of the milk with the cherry juice to make the pie pink and give it flavor.

Now you add enough milk to that to bring the total fluid up to 2 cups. Yes, we’re still doing it right.

Now stir the pink milk into your dry mixture in the saucepan and turn the heat on to medium. Never go higher than medium with milk as one of the ingredients unless your recipe tells you to, because milk burns (scorches) very quickly and the flavor is too nasty to hide or recover from and you have to start over with all fresh ingredients.

This part is very important. DO NOT WALK AWAY. You must stand here and stir, stir, gently keep stirring and making sure the bottom of the pan is constantly scraped, and I’ll tell you why. If you walk away and come back, you might find the bottom half of the milk mixture has gone solid, or if you get bored and turn away to rinse a dish or something, you turn back and find big solid lumps. (Yes, I have learned the hard way.) You want a smooth texture in your pie, so tell yourself it’s not going to kill you to stand there for a few minutes and stir stir stir. I like using a wooden spoon for lots of this kind of stirring because the heat won’t hurt it. You’ll know you’re about there when the mixture thickens up and coats the spoon.

Keep stirring for about one more minute, then remove the pan from the heat.

This next part is also very important, so I’m putting in extra pictures in case you’ve never done this before. It’s called ‘tempering’the eggs so they don’t curdle up into scrambled eggs in your pie. You need the eggs to hold this filling together (and this is also how you make custard). I stopped to take a picture, but the whole time you drizzle that hot stream of pudding into the eggs you need to be whisking with that fork to keep the eggs moving so they can’t sit around and curdle up.

After you’ve drizzled and whisked in about three spoon loads of pudding, switch and now you drizzle the tempered eggs back into the pudding while you stir stir stir with the spoon. IF you wind up with a couple big lumps, just pick them out, as long as the rest looks smooth. If it’s all very lumpy, you might even need some kind of big holed strainer, maybe a sieve if you want to try rescuing your custard. Just don’t continue with lumps in the way unless you don’t mind eating scrambled egg Valentine pie. I’ve never had it get that bad, and as long as you really did pull the pudding off the heat to do this, we’re still doing it right.

Now put the saucepan back on medium heat. It won’t take nearly as long this time, just stir stir stir until it burps a big bubble or tries to simmer or something, then take it off the heat again. DO NOT WALK AWAY. Your custard will continue to cook and solidify on the bottom of the hot pan, so give it another good stir after you pull the pan off the heat and then pour the custard into your pie shells. Some of you more experienced cooks might be spotting what is wrong with this recipe now, but it’s ok, keep reading and I have a way to make it all better.

The very next thing you do is turn your oven to preheat at 350 on bake, and then rinse your dishes because that egg yolk bowl and fork will be a real bummer later in your life if you don’t. Same with the saucepan. After you do that, it’s time to make meringue. Into the egg whites measure 1 tsp of vanilla and 1/4 tsp of cream of tartar.

Get your mixer on that, whip whip whip, watch the color change and the bubbly froth get finer and finer.

When it reaches ‘soft peak’ stage it looks like this.

It’s not ready yet, but stop here and add some pink food coloring and measure out 6 T of sugar into a little bowl, then continue mixing while you add the sugar in a bit at a time.

The sugar glosses it up and makes it look like creamy marshmallow. Whip whip whip a little more till it holds its shape when you stop. This is called ‘hard peak’.

Spoon your meringue over your pies and spread it out till it touches all the crust on the side. Have a little fun sculpting and decorating it.

Meringue doesn’t take very long to brown, so watch this. I never set a timer because sometimes it browns quicker than other times, but you’ll have it in your oven anywhere from 7-13 minutes, most likely.

All righty, here is where I point out my egregious flaw. This is something I probably should have known because I am a very experienced cook, but it never hurts to learn something new the hard way. Let’s see what happened.

It’s still delicious, it just doesn’t serve out in the shape of a piece of pie because the crumb crust soaked up the moisture from the hot custard and weepy meringue and disintegrated. It still scoops out like a fun dessert, just not *pie*.

The first time I ever made this pie, I was taking a shortcut and thought why not use maraschino juice in place of part of the milk in an instant vanilla pudding and pie mix, and it worked beautifully, set up perfectly, it just wasn’t that great in a regular pie crust. This time I got it backwards, I tried that idea in a homemade custard, but put it into a crumb crust. NEXT TIME I either stick with instant pudding and pie mix in a crumb crust, OR stick with homemade custard in a regular pre-cooked pie crust. That really is the only flaw here.

If you want to run out and try all the quickie pre-made pie crust and pudding and pie mix (small mix box for one pie, large mix box for two pies, follow directions for pie except replace part of the milk with maraschino cherry juice), then I think you should also pick up a tub of pink Cool Whip for the topping. No baking at all, and refrigerate it so it holds its shape. You can still sculpt and decorate your topping.

I said you would be tested on this-
1. Did you read this all the way through before starting, or did you follow it to the letter and make the same mistake I did?
2. Did you find where I made my mistake? Did you find the answer to fixing that mistake?
3. Are you going to have FUN trying this?

Happy Valentine’s Day


4 thoughts on “How not to screw up a Valentine pie

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