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Dreams of Butterscotch Meringue Pie

I had only read as far as the name, Butterscotch Meringue Pie with Pecan Crust in the November 2014 issue of Southern Living magazine, when it knew I needed to make this pie. Butterscotch Meringue sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? As I began reading the recipe, I tried to imagine the taste of pecan crust with butterscotch and my mind quickly jumped to cookies. The pecan crust sounded good, but I wanted cookies… I wanted GINGER SNAPS! Then, inspiration struck. This was going to be a BEAUTIFUL pie. No standard pie dish would do, this pie needed to be seen in all of it’s glory. I needed to bake this pie in a tart pan with a removable bottom! I never stopped to question whether or not this could be done. I just knew I needed to do it.

This dream pie was going to show layers. The bottom ginger snap crust would be topped with a layer of butterscotch cream, topped with the most perfect pile of brown tipped meringue you have ever seen! This was going to be a statement pie! This was going to be a beauty only topped by the taste! EEEEEEE!

I dashed to my cupboard and grabbed a box of Trader Joes Ginger Crisp cookies. I crushed about a sleeve and a half in a zip lock bag under my rolling pin. Next, I mixed 4 tablespoons of butter into the cookies then pressed the crumbs into the bottom of the deep-dish tart pan. This was going to be such a beautiful pie, I was giddy with excitement.

I put the cookie crust in the oven, at 325 for 10 minutes, just enough time for the butter to melt into the cookies. When I took it out of the oven… OH MAMA! Warmed gingersnaps smell SO GOOD - just like fresh baked cookies. I needed to make that filling!

I mixed the ingredients for the filling in the pot as instructed – brown sugar, flour, salt, milk, egg yolks. At this point I started to feel a little skeptical that this was going to actually yield butterscotch flavor. The only difference in the recipe between this and vanilla cream was the brown sugar and the flour (instead of regular sugar and corn starch). But who was I to question a professional recipe printed in a respectable magazine?! So I continued to stir. Then I got excited again – the filling thickened! In a frenzy, I immediately poured the filling into the crust. Then turned to see the butter and vanilla I needed to add sitting on the other side of the stove. Oops!

I added the chopped up butter to the now filled pie and stirred until the cold butter melted into the hot filling. Once that was complete, I added the vanilla and stirred to incorporate. Only then did I allow myself to lick the spoon! And that’s when I KNEW this was going to be the perfect pie! The filling was AMAZING! This was going to be a beautiful AND delicious pie! Again… EEEEEEE!

To make this pie truly great, however, I needed to make the perfect meringue – which is often a difficult task. Though the photo of the meringue next to the recipe was uninspiring, I decided to follow that meringue recipe instead of my standard which lately had not worked out quite right. I added the egg whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar to the bowl and turned up the speed on the mixer. Then I spooned in the sugar and turned up the speed again and waited for those stiff peaks to form. Once they did, I let it mix for another 30 seconds. Then, I dolloped the meringue on the top of the pie, first in the center, then around the edges to keep the meringue from pealing back. Then, I teased up the perfect meringue peaks and slid the soon-to-be masterpiece into the oven at 350 for 10 minutes.

When I took this pie out, I was over the moon with excitement! The meringue was PERFECT! The crust smelled AMAZING! The filling tasted DIVINE! I had made the perfect pie!!! I let the pie cool to room temperature, then lay a piece of tented aluminum foil across the top and slid the pie into the refrigerator to cool overnight.

As I set the table the next day, I knew exactly where and how I wanted to display my perfect pie – three perfect layers on display in the center of the table – the light brown cookie crumbs holding up the golden butterscotch filling with the mountain of meringue glistening on top! Oh, and the taste – a perfect slice would yield the most amazing combination of flavors! My family would praise my abilities and anoint this pie PERFECT! I could not wait to dig in!

The table was set when I pulled the pie out of the refrigerator. As I paraded the pie into the kitchen, my family took no notice. Okay – A Christmas Story was on the TV and all they can see at this point was the meringue, so I gave them a pass. Once this beauty is on the table, I was sure, it would be the talk of the dinner party. Anticipation to slice into this pie would dominate everyone’s thoughts – ignoring the turkey I had smoked for 4 hours and the other delectable treats that lay before them. This pie was going to be a game changer!

I snapped a few photos of the pie in the tart pan, allowing my anticipation to build. For a moment, I was a little afraid that the sides would be a little sticky and difficult to remove. I quickly dismissed those nerves because I knew THIS was a PERFECT PIE and removing the pie from the tart pan was going to be my triumph. Still, I felt nervous so I took a deep breath then lifted the tart pan off of the tray. I placed one hand underneath the tart pan and gently began pushing up. And, the meringue started to crack.

OH NO! I thought… it’s stuck in the pan!!

I quickly stopped pushing the pie up and reconsidered how to get the perfect pie out of the tart pan. There is obviously no other way to get it out, so I tried again – this time, making sure that my hand was centered and expanded to provide a balanced push from the bottom. Again, the meringue cracked but I continued pushing figuring that all I needed to do was get past the meringue attached to the tart pan and the perfect pie would be revealed. Once the meringue cleared, I thought I was home free... and then, the filling began to ooze over the rim.

OH NO! I thought… something has gone terribly wrong.

I stopped pushing and took stock of the situation. I could see on the edges where the meringue now has receded that the filling was soupy instead of firm. I felt crushed. This was not going to be the perfect pie. This was not going to be the center of my table. My dreams of a 3-layered delight tempting my family to abandon their dinner in favor of a slice of this masterpiece were dashed. My only solace at this point as that I had not actually bragged to my family about this pie. I really wanted to surprise them so the only real disappointment at this point was mine. And I was really feeling it.

We ate dinner, which was substantial, then settled down to digest for an hour or so before the pies were cut (I also made a Chocolate Chess pie, using a recipe without cornmeal!).

When dessert time finally came, I dejectedly explained how my perfect pie failed and sheepishly asked who would like to try the concoction - the parts of which smelled, tasted and looked amazing but the whole of which fell woefully short of my imagined perfection. Most were still in, despite my melancholy description. To serve, I scooped the filling and meringue into ramekins so it presented more like butterscotch pudding with gingersnap cookie crumbs and meringue topping. And it was good but again, I had built up this idea of the perfect pie, with perfect layers that would slice perfectly. I could only be really disappointed with these results.

Several days have passed since this perfect pie dream became a salvaged nightmare and I can’t stop wondering what went wrong. What I know is that my filling had liquefied. I do not know if it liquefied because I used flour instead of cornstarch or because the filling was touching the sides of the tart pan. I was surprised that letting the pie sit in the refrigerator overnight did not correct the problem. I am not giving up, though. This pie has the potential to be perfect… I just need to up my game. Maybe, baking this filling in a crust that has sides to protect the filling from the heat or cooking the meringue with a kitchen torch or making the filling with cornstarch instead of flour. If these ideas do not work, I can always top this filling with whipped cream…

Oh, my gosh… this pie was so good!!

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