Friday, September 17, 2010

Don't Pie for Me, Argentina

Tonight we're having people for dinner.

Let me rephrase that. Tonight, four of Barry's friends from pickleball are joining us for dinner.  For those of you unfamiliar with pickleball, it's the bastard child of tennis and ping pong and very popular in our neighborhood.  I don't play it because I have bad knees and the equivalent of a job and a half.  Anyway, having bonded with these folks, Barry asked whether he could ask them to dinner and I foolishly said yes.

I say "foolishly" because entertaining entails a frenzy of should-have-done-it-before housecleaning, agony over whether we have enough vaguely matching and undamaged tableware, and a tug-of-war over what we should eat and who should cook it.  For this occasion, I firmly vetoed the idea of store-bought cake for dessert and said that I would make a lemon tart.  From scratch.

(Ominous music in the background.)

This was not as momentous as it may sound to some of you.  I have a reliable lemon tart recipe that I've made many times over the years without a hitch  (from The French Recipe Cookbook by Carole Clements and Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen, an excellent resource).  I didn't anticipate any problems this time.  Last night I made the dough.  I even went a little overboard, using the low-gluten cake flour the recipe calls for rather than the unbleached all-purpose flour I usually use.   I rubbed in the butter (real butter) by hand.  I rolled the whole thing in plastic wrap and let in rest in the refrigerator overnight.

(More ominous music.)

This morning I dragged myself out of bed half an hour earlier than usual.  I rolled out the dough.  I patted it into my buttered tart pan.  I pricked the bottom with a fork.  And then...

(Music rises to a crescendo.)

I realized that I was out of aluminum foil.

This particular tart recipe involves baking the shell before adding the filling.  It directs one to use the technique called blind baking - weighing down the dough with small objects so it can't bubble up during baking, which looks bad and leaves less room for the filling.  For most of my baking career I used dried beans for this purpose.  A few years ago, however, I invested in a jar of pie weights - little ceramic spheres that can be baked over and over again without coming to any harm.  Pre-pie weights, I would just pour the beans into the tart or pie shell and bake away.  The instructions that came with the pie weights, though, said to line the pie shell with aluminum foil before pouring in the weights.  I assumed this was to make them easier to gather up and remove at the end, but that it was not a critical step in the operation.

(There's that damned "assume" word again.)

So, I blithely poured the pie weights into the tart shell, shoved the pan into the pre-heated oven, and set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer went off I raced to the stove, ready to pour out the weights and finish baking the crust.


My pie weights were buried to their chins in half-baked dough.

Pie weights are apparently heavier than dried beans, and dough made from cake flour and real butter is exceptionally soft.  This fatal combination had left the weights embedded like pebbles in asphalt, only not (fortunately) as firmly.  I was able to fish them out, but destroyed the crust in the process.

A new batch of dough is firming up in the refrigerator, and I'm trying to decide how to get the remains of the crust off my pie weights.  I suppose I could just let the dough finish hardening in the air and crumble it off, but that may take a while.  Alternatively, I could dump them into a colander and rinse them.  However, this would entail spreading them out on paper towels and hoping they dry before the guests arrive ("Oh yes, ha ha, just laundering my pie weights...").  Remember, I am a stranger to these people.  I don't want them regarding Barry with awe and pity from now until the end of time.

I am sweating to think what unknown disasters may befall the filling. That store-bought cake is sounding better all the time.

"Seize the moment.  Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart. " ~Erma Bombeck


  1. i had to laugh...i had the same experience with pie weights myself. try putting a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper between the crust & the weights, help to prevent the weights from sinking.

    Check out my cooking blog at:

  2. I bought more aluminum foil today...better late than never!!