"Wait a minute," you, a reasonable person, might say, "this doesn't look like a 2020 roundup. Isn't it, like, February? Don't you owe us two of those? Why is there pie?"
Here's the deal: there was kind of a whole attempted overthrow of the government and then a bunch of other stuff happened and honestly I just kind of lost steam for the music post? I mean, the playlist of my favorite 2020 music still slaps, I just lost any will to write about it beyond "it slaps!". You're also correct in that I owe you a favorite things I bought this year post, but that one's not my fault because I'm still waiting for stuff I ordered in early December of 2020 to get here, and as of last week Christmas cards were still showing up, so that's great. Love it. Love when budget cuts happen to essential public services. Everything right now is fantastic for everyone.
So anyway, to deal with all this, I made pie. Because it's January, and I've barely left the house in almost a year at this point. Because I've always had a dream, that one day, by time I'm old and gray and well on my way to being the friendly neighborhood crone, I will have made a cookbook's worth of dessert recipes to publish. And because if you ever need a reason for pie, that's really just another way we let the fascists win. You may have noticed my pictures of this pie are... not great. That's because she's not a photogenic beast. No, she's a messy bitch. She's an ooey-gooey, eat your feelings at 1:00 AM, sticky fingers for hours because you "just cleaned up that edge there", no-bras-allowed-within-ten-feet-of-her sort of pie. And she's delicious.
Like most recipes I make, this started as a simple quest to make one recipe, but then I thought, oh, wouldn't it be better if I added mango? And why waste those egg whites, why not make it into a meringue? Which then meant I had to go get out my trusty Joanne Chang and lift her technique to do that (oh Flour Bakery, how I miss you). Then I realized that I didn't have any graham crackers, but I did have gingersnaps, and my pie tin was bigger than the one Smitten Kitchen suggested, and then - well, by then I'd made an entirely different pie altogether.
Here's my sales pitch for why you should also make this pie, and why I'm posting it when I don't normally post the recipes I make up: this is an ideal pie to make on cold winter quarantine days. It's flexible, requires very few ingredients that keep for a very long time so you don't have to make it on a specific day, the actual process is super-simple and takes maybe 90 minutes total, but you have to let things settle or cool in between steps, so it helps fill up and/or vary a day spent in the unrelentingly blah void we've been living in for the last year without actually being a lot of work, and it tastes like a sunshine-y vacation. Also, unlike most recipes I make up that I try once and then can't talk anyone else into letting me try again because no one wants to go buy the special ingredients or eat multiple variations or deal with all the chocolate that you find months later under some mysterious corner of the kitchen you could have sworn you cleaned, this took me two tries to perfect, it's not that messy to make (just messy to eat), and I had no trouble convincing anyone in my family to eat any of it.
MANGO-LIME MERINGUE PIE
(Modified from both Smitten Kitchen and Joanne Chang's Pastry Love)
2 cups finely ground gingersnaps (you can use any brand you like, though I used up the absolutely enormous box of Dewey's our very kind neighbors gave us for the holiday, and they were, to my taste, exactly the right amount of ginger to set off the pie)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 limes' worth of zest and juice*
4 egg yolks (save the whites, they will be used later)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 generous cup mango puree**
4 egg whites (told you you'd use them!)
2/3 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
* This lime measurement is regrettably inexact because limes, especially out-of-season winter limes, are inexact and stingy little critters. I've found that six limes gives you about a quarter teaspoon of zest if you really work at it, and somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 cup of juice. Really, what you're trying for is to be within an acceptable range. Don't go under 1/2 cup of juice and try to get some zest in there, but don't go over 3/4 cup of lime juice and 1/2 tsp of zest, either. And most importantly, don't sweat it. Let the limes and your own personal taste be your guide.
** Mango is, I would say, the fruit that takes to freezing better than any other fruit. You can of course make this puree from fresh, in-season mango, but I'm in New England and it's January, so that's not happening. Luckily for all of us not living in tropical paradise, frozen mango chunks in from your grocery store's freezer section will taste exactly as delicious and flavorful as they would if you picked the mango yesterday. The way I suggest making mango puree is to take about two cups of mango chunks out of the freezer while you're making the crust and let them thaw, then before you start on the filling, run them through a food processor. You should get a generous cup of mango puree, plus a bonus quarter cup of what tastes like sorbet to eat with your hands or a spoon as a snack while the pie bakes. You could of course puree slightly less mango, but a) then you might not have enough and b) where else would you get your mid-recipe snack?
Step One: Crust
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F
Run the gingersnaps through the food processor to crush them. When done, rinse out and dry your food processor, you'll use it again. Then melt the butter in the microwave (or over the stove top if you're fancy)
Combine the crumbs and butter until there's an even mixture, then press evenly around the surface of a 9.5" pie pan. If you're finding the mixture hard to work with, Deb makes the excellent suggestion to use the back of a metal measuring cup to press it evenly (I also found that a large spoon helps with the non-corner parts).
Put crust in oven for 10 minutes, or until the crust looks dry to the touch (ie: the butter is no longer giving it an oily sheen) Take out to cool while you make the filling, leave the oven on.
Step Two: Filling
Zest and juice (and then strain your juice) limes into small bowls, set aside. In your cleaned out food processor, blitz the mango until it's the consistency of sorbet and measure out a generous cup. Set this aside as well. Separate your eggs into whites and yolks. The whites should be put in your fridge for a few hours to keep until you need them for the meringue.
Take out your stand mixer. In your mixer bowl, put your yolks and zest and beat until it thickens and pales several shades to a more cream color (this takes about five minutes, and you don't have to hover over it or be too precious. Wash a dish or two.)
Add your condensed milk and beat until thick again, about three more minutes (Again, don't worry about over-beating, wash a few more dishes.)
Mix in the mango and lime juice until mixture is consistent. This should look like a thick, buttery pudding.
Pour the filling into your pie crust. DO NOT pour into a still-warm pie crust - it should be at room temperature by now. If it's not, stick it in the fridge for a few minutes. There's no chemical reaction going on in your pie filling, so its quality won't suffer if it sits and waits for a cool pie crust, but it will suffer from a hot pie crust pre-baking the eggs in it.
Let the pie bake for around 10 minutes. You don't want your pie to be browned, but you want it to have a clear "baked" look to it, with a semi-glossy top and slight dimples. Take out your pie, turn off your oven, and let your pie cool for several hours. Do not move onto the next step until, again, your pie's surface and sides are neutral and room-temperature to the touch.
Once the pie is completely cool, you can start the meringue. You will need a metal or heat-proof glass bowl that sits sturdily atop a small saucepan, a whisk, and your stand mixer again.
Put a few inches of water in your saucepan and set it on medium-high heat. While it's heating up, mix together in your bowl the egg whites, vanilla, sugar, and pinch of salt, just so it's a fairly consistent and even mixture. When it's even, set it on top of the bubbling water.
What you're doing right now is very, very gently cooking the egg whites off of an indirect heat, melting the sugar so it incorporates fully, and also priming the mixture so it gets extra fluffy when you whip it. Whisk gently over the heat for about 5-7 minutes, starting to test with your pinky around the four minute mark for temperature. Your mixture is done when it looks like an even tan sludge and you're starting to feel very doubtful and anxious it will ever whip up into anything, and also putting your pinky into this mixture is uncomfortably hot.
Dump this mixture into a stand mixer and beat until it's glossy, forms high peaks, is cool again, and has the consistency of marshmallow fluff, which can take anywhere from 4-10 minutes. Once again, this isn't really something you can over-beat, so if you're in doubt, keep mixing and do another dish or two. You'll know its done when it can hold a peak and also, no matter how much you beat it, it looks exactly the same.
At this point Joanne Chang very adorably assumes we all own blow torches, which I can't speak for everyone but I think it's safe to say that most of us do not. However, most people DO own ovens that have a broiler, so turn on your oven's broiler to high.
Plop your marshmallow fluff atop your room temperature pie and spread around in whatever fluffy cloud mound shape you find visually pleasing while also trying not to lick the entire bowl. You can shape your marshmallow fluff into whatever swirls and peaks you want with the back of a spoon.
Put your pie under the broiler in as centered a position as possible. Turn it every minute to minute and a half until it's the same perfect toasty brown of a campfire marshmallow all over, which takes about 4-6 minutes.
Then, and this is the hardest part, take your pie out and LEAVE YOUR PIE ALONE FOR THREE HOURS WHILE EVERYTHING SETS. Ideally, you can put it in the fridge to set, but if you have a full fridge, leaving it out in your 63 degree house because your parents are hippies is also fine. Joanne Chang says you need to eat a pie with meringue on it in a day or it'll start to "weep" syrup (mmm, appetizing), and not to find fault in the genius of Joanne Chang, but my pie already was a little "weepy" before I put any meringue on, and the waterworks were in full effect when I went to cut into it and the pie was only three hours old, so, uh, screw it! Eat the pie at whatever pace you want, it might not look picture-perfect but you, unlike Joanne Chang, are not running a bakery and don't have to worry about that.
When the three hours are up, cut into your pie and enjoy. I wish I could tell you there's, like, a way to get a photogenic slice of this pie, but I've been trying for three days and there isn't. You'll probably end up with a mess on your plate, but you know what? That's just this pie's aesthetic choice, and we're happy for her and happy to support her choices by eating her.