I know it's completely necessary when you're baking a pie with a custard or no-bake filling, but I absolutely hate blind baking crust. Well, not blind baking per se, but blind baking with pie weights. Using pie weights has always felt like such a kludge, like some duct tape and rubber bands keeping the sink from leaking around the faucet base. I guess it technically does its job, but it's an eye sore.
This leaves us with very few options. If you blind bake without pie weights, the crust will shrink down the sides and leave you with little room for your filling. I've tried freezing the crust right before baking, but it just shrinks down about 30 seconds later than it would have otherwise. And whenever I do use pie weights, the edge of the crust always browns way too early, and then I have to make one of those annoying foil collars to go all the way around the edges after removing the weights so that the bottom can catch up. But all of these inconveniences actually don't bother me that much, because truth be told, I don't mind one or two irritating cooking tasks.
At the end of the day, I'm in it for the food, and the thing that truly makes me want to leave pie weights behind forever is the final result. Since it's so weighted down while it bakes, the crust has no room to develop those gorgeous flaky layers. I'm definitely not making puff pastry here (or even rough puff), but a little flakiness would be nice. That's why I no longer use a pie pan for single-crust pies. Instead, I like to use a 9-inch tart shell, because with a tart shell, you can have it all.
There's just one trick to making a tart shell work for you, which is something I learned from watching way too much Great British Bakeoff. You've got to trim the pastry after baking.
Here's how it works: You roll out your dough to the right thickness, drape it over the tart shell, and let the edges fall into the center. Then you carefully press the dough into the corners so that there are no gaps, all the way around in a circle, while you flop the excess dough over the sides of the tart shell. Then you carefully press the dough into the fluted edges so that the dough is in contact with every square millimeter of the tart shell. And, most importantly, you do not cut the excess dough off before baking. You just let it hang there, like bangs that you've been trying to grow out (too short to pull into a pony tail, too long to see through). It's ugly, but whatever, it's going to work. Dock it, freeze it, bake it, and let it cool. Then use the pan as a guide to carefully shave off the very top ridge until those excess bits are just hanging on by a thread, and then snap off those perfectly ugly little shards, eating them as you go. You're left with nothing but an exquisitely baked pie shell... in the shape of a tart... but who cares!
You could certainly make this recipe in a standard pie pan, especially if you have the kind with a really thin outer edge. If you have one of those big pyrex ones with handles and everything, you might not get away with this method, and might want to blind bake your crust with pie weights instead (it'll be just fine).
And now I've gone on and on about crust, without one single word about this pie in particular, which is a pomegranate molasses pie topped with heaps of Swiss meringue. Why Swiss? Because it's the kind of meringue you cook before beating, which makes it hold up incredibly well, and also makes it safe to eat if you're worried about salmonella.
Pomegranate molasses is one of those ingredients that you can't really cook Middle Eastern food without. It's an essential component of many of the recipes on my website, and it's also one of those things you can add to just about anything to make it tastier. It's what makes lahm bi ajeen absolutely mouthwatering, instead of just a flattened burger on flatbread. It's what makes muhammara not just red pepper purée, but a zesty, sweet and sour dip that you can't seem to stop eating. And it's insanely tart, which makes it perfect for a meringue pie, which needs a lot of tanginess to cut through all those dreamy billows.
pomegranate molasses meringue pie
active time: 1 hour
total time: 2 hours 30 minutes
205 grams (1 1/4 cups) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
8 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Place the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a stainless steel mixing bowl. Use your fingertips or a pastry cutter to blend the butter into the flour. Stop when there are still some tic-tac-sized lumps left. Chill for 30 to 45 minutes in the refrigerator.
Once the dry ingredients are chilled, add 3 tablespoons of ice water and mix everything together with your hands, just until it comes together into a dough (add the final tablespoon only if you need it). Do not knead it—simply shape it into a ball, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
Place the rested dough ball on a clean, lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle a little bit of flour on top, and begin to roll it out with a rolling pin. Rotate and flip the dough as you go to make it an even circle. Once it's large enough to fit a 9-inch tart pan (and about 1/8-inch thick), place it in the bottom of your tart pan, letting the sides fall in toward the center.
Carefully work the dough up the sides by first working your way around and pushing the dough into the corners so that there are no gaps. Let the dough drape over the sides as you work. Next, carefully press the dough into the fluting. Do not trim the excess pastry from the top, but let it hang over the outside of the pan. This will keep the dough from shrinking as it bakes.
Dock the dough with a fork several times on the sides and bottom and freeze for 30 to 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450° F convection* so that it's ready when the pie comes out of the freezer.
Move the tart straight from the freezer to the oven for about 14 minutes, just until it's turning pale golden, and is cooked all the way through.
Let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes in the pan. Once it's cool, keep it in the pan and begin to carefully shave off the crust that pokes out over the top of the pan to separate the excess dough. Hold the knife almost parallel to the counter and shave away from the inside of the pie toward the outside (watch your fingers!). Use the lip of the tart pan as a guide for where to stop cutting. You'll be left with some scraps from the outside and a perfect tart shell on the inside. Leave it in the pan until filling and topping.
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup water
2/3 cup pomegranate molasses
4 egg yolks (from large eggs), in a small mixing bowl (save the whites for the meringue!)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (from about 1 small lemon)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Have all your ingredients measured and prepped before starting.
In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt, cornstarch, water, and pomegranate molasses until there are no more lumps. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Once it reaches a simmer, reduce heat to medium and continue stirring constantly until the liquid suddenly thickens significantly. Once it's thickened, remove from heat.
Take a whisk-full of the thickened pomegranate molasses mixture and whisk it into the egg yolks in the small mixing bowl. Do this with two or three more whisk-fulls, whisking it totally smooth between additions. Then add the egg yolk mixture to the pomegranate molasses mixture in the saucepan, and immediately whisk everything together until there are no lumps. Return to medium heat and stir constantly while bringing the mixture to a bare simmer. Once it reaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to low and continue stirring for a minute.
Remove from heat, stir in the butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice (stir constantly until the butter melts). Once the butter melts and is fully incorporated, immediately pour the mixture into the pie shell and smooth out into an even layer. While it's cooling, make the meringue.
6 carefully separated egg whites (from large eggs)**
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
special equipment: an instant-read thermometer
Bring water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. While you're waiting on it, combine the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl part*** of the double boiler (off the heat). Stir with a spatula for about 30 seconds to dissolve some of the sugar.
Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and place the bowl on top. Stir it constantly, scraping the bottom and sides, while you wait for it to reach 170° F (about 5 to 10 minutes). Don't stop stirring, and don't let it go much over 170° F or the whole thing will over-coagulate and you won't be able to whip it.
Once it reaches 170° F, immediately move the bowl to the counter, and begin beating with a hand mixer or stand mixer.
Beat to stiff peaks, but do not over-beat. The meringue will hold stiffer peaks as you continue to whip it—once it's increased in volume and looks very fluffy, start checking on it every minute or two by removing the whisk from the meringue and observing what happens to the peak that forms at the end of the beater. At first the peaks will fall over, but eventually they will stick straight up and will bounce right back when you gently shake the whisk back and forth (stiff peaks). Do not beat past stiff peaks.
Preheat the broiler for a few minutes.
Cover the pie with the meringue and make swirls with a spoon or offset spatula (if you're good at piping, feel free to pipe it instead).
Once the broiler is hot, place the pie under it for about 1 or 2 minutes. Do not take your eyes off of it—it will go straight from white to burnt in just a few seconds. Pull the pie out of the oven when the peaks start to turn dark brown.
Serve immediately, or within a few hours (next-day leftovers aren't exactly company-worthy because you'll get some beading between layers, but they're still reeeally good).
* If you’re not using a convection oven, you may need to slightly increase the temperature and/or cook them just a minute or two longer.
** You can make this recipe with 4 egg whites if you don't feel like dealing with the leftover 2 yolks. Simply use 4 egg whites, 2/3 cup of granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt. I've simplified it a little, so the ingredient proportions are a little different than the above recipe, but I've tested it both ways, and this works great. You won't have the same mound of meringue on top, but it's still delicious with a more modest amount.
*** If you're going to use a stand mixer to beat the meringue, use the mixer attachment for this.