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Chefector

The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off Plays Fast And Loose With Dessert Week

Lovely pies from the show.
Screenshot via Netflix

Welcome to a new series called The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off, where Kelsey and Chris attempt to complete the technical challenges from the newest season of The Great British Bake Off in their own home kitchens, with the same time parameters as the professional-grade bakers competing on the show.


The Defector idiots of the Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off declined to participate in last week’s Mexican-themed technical challenge. Some part of this was a principled refusal to engage with a deeply cringey and not-all-that-subtly racist manhandling of Mexican culture and culinary tradition by a British show that ought to have learned its lesson from earlier fuck-ups of this exact type. Another part of it was practical: Neither of us could get excited about making corn tortillas in a skillet for a baking challenge, and neither of us had any interest at all in eating Paul Hollywood’s wack-ass spicy beef tacos.

Part of the high-wire act of doing these challenges, for the contestants of the Great British Bake Off as well as for the idiots of the Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off, is handling the knowledge that you are about to spend two hours of your life working incredibly hard at something, and if you mess up significantly along the way, all you will have to show for it is ruined food and personal humiliation. This is easier to face when the potential reward is a delicious Red Velvet Cake or some absolutely killer pastries, and somewhat harder to face when the reward is some smug Brit’s blandly moronic misinterpretation of the taco.

In all cases, there is almost never time for an iterative process, and even if you make it to the 90-percent mark having done everything perfectly, you can still run out of time and wind up with something inedible. You don’t get to look at the clock, see that you have only five minutes left, and say, “I need 15 minutes to complete this project, therefore I will use 15 minutes instead of five.” No. If you only have five minutes left, then you are required to spend those five minutes sprinting for the finish line, even if by doing so you are knowingly trashing the very thing you just spent 105 minutes lovingly finessing. The challenge does not care that your cake sponges aren’t cool. They must be iced, even if icing them at this stage will inevitably cause them to shred apart like wet newspaper.

For lesser bakers, these brutal conditions can present an almost unbearable strain on the psyche. As the minutes and tasks tick by, these weak-willed bakers become more and more aware of the rising stakes manifested by each of their successes. The pressure builds. Dread mounts. Steam begins to whistle audibly from the bakers’ ears and nostrils. Faced with a constant choice between steadily progressing toward a dissatisfying finished product versus reaching for greatness at the very real risk of total failure, they choose the former over and over again, via a series of dreary compromises, and then when it’s over they comfort themselves that at least they have something to show for the expenditure of time and energy.

In the tent of the Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off, thankfully, there is only one such lesser baker, constantly fleeing danger, again and again choosing the well-trod path of mediocrity. The other baker is a madwoman.

The fifth episode of the Great British Bake Off presented Dessert Week. The technical challenge this week was to make Prue Leith’s Lemon Meringue Pie, a comforting and familiar delight made from familiar ingredients. What could go wrong?


Kelsey McKinney: I think we should begin by telling the people how we felt about this challenge when we initially heard that it was lemon meringue pie. 

Chris Thompson: Good call. Both because we did not get to bake anything last week, and also because lemon meringue pie is a delicious thing to eat, we were feeling super pumped. Ecstatic, even.

KM: Honestly, I anticipated this bake all week! You told me I think on Wednesday that we would bake lemon meringue pie, and even though I had never made a lemon meringue pie, I could imagine how one might make it, and I was thrilled. This is a real bake! Not some stupid tacos! 

Kelsey and Chris celebrate the upcoming challenge.

CT: Yeah! First I was just very relieved to learn that we could just bake something, and then I was very excited to eat lemon meringue pie. And then it dawned on me that though I have never made lemon meringue pie, I have made or helped to make each constituent part of lemon meringue pie, in some cases multiple times. Pie crust? Check. Lemon custard? Check. Meringue? Oh hell yes.

KM: Ah, see, this was the difference for us. I have made approximately 700,000 pie doughs in my life, so this I was not concerned about. Lemon filling I have also made. Perhaps I would have been more concerned about that part if we hadn’t just made cremé pat two weeks ago. 

Meringue, I do not know. I have never met her. I was aware that meringue exists in multiple forms because I have watched Great British Bake Off for years, but I am simply not a sweet-for-sweet’s-sake girly. So it’s not really for me. 

CT: See, I like to think of myself as not a sweet-for-sweet’s-sake girly, but in fact I know that I kind of am a sweet-for-sweet’s-sake girly. I am definitely the sort of person who will dig a finger into a jar of Betty Crocker white icing.

KM: I like that we are different. It’s nice to have both! Do you opt toward a meringue in real life? Like, if given the option of a pie with meringue, would you choose it? I do opt toward lemon things so in that sense, this was a dessert I would choose. 

CT: That’s a good question. I think in general I kinda lean away from meringue-topped pies, not because I dislike meringue but because it always feels sort of arbitrary and oppressive atop a pie. I prefer a key lime pie to a lemon meringue pie, perhaps in part because there is no giant poof of meringue to manage. But I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE to eat a good pavlova. All I want to eat all summer long is berry-flavored pavlovas. And pavlovas are just, you know, cakes made out of meringue.

KM: Wow. This could not be less relatable to me. I had three bites of a pavlova last summer and never wanted it again. Unlike lemon bars, of which I could eat approximately 5,000. 

CT: I am also a lemon bar pervert. My wife got me into lemon bars. She makes them insanely tart, they instantly give you a facelift, but I love them so much.

KM: Truly the biggest revelation I have ever had in my life was when I read Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat when it came out, and realized that all I want is acidity. That’s what my mouth craves! I think that’s part of why I was so excited about the lemon meringue pie: because my desserts have no tartness! 

CT: This brings us to the big twist in this week’s challenge, which both of us saw as an opportunity, because we are plucky can-do types: This technical challenge came with no method. No method! No instructions whatsoever! Just a list of ingredients, and “Make One Lemon Meringue Pie.”

KM: “Method-schmethod! Who needs it!” she says, remembering opening the trash can lid to dump an entire pie dough in there. Whatever! We’ll get to it. Let’s talk about ingredients first! 

The contestants are given no instructions.Credit: Screenshot via Netflix
Well!

Ingredients and Shopping

CT: We have finally found a recipe that forced you to engage with the concept of caster sugar!

KM: Well. You forced me. Given only the recipe, I probably would have continued doing my normal thing: using regular sugar and sometimes powdered sugar indeterminately and based on vibes. But you did your bake first this week, and you messaged me this midway through your bake, while I was getting all gussied-up for a wedding:

CT: In my experience, there are two ways to get meringue wrong. The first is to over-whip the egg whites and shoot past stiff peaks, which is gross. And the second is progressing so quickly that your sugar cannot dissolve in the egg whites, which leads to grainy meringue with the weird sandy crunch of whole sugar crystals. Even fine sugar needs time to dissolve, and regular sugar needs lots and lots of time, more than you can afford to give it while maintaining stiff peaks!

I truly could not stand the thought that you would fight like hell to complete this challenge and then through no fault of your own wind up with grainy meringue, because you’d used regular sugar. Caster sugar is super-fine and dissolves more easily, which is why it’s a must for meringues.

KM: Did I know about either of these things? No. What I did was read these messages, and grumble a little. Did I buy caster sugar? No. Of course not. I’m an idiot. Instead, I simply put regular sugar into my little spice grinder. I love using the spice grinder because the way it works is the lid is what turns it on, so you press it down and then it grinds. I find this very satisfying. Anyway, the grinder was too small to do the 300 grams of caster sugar, so I had to do it in four sections. I did this before starting the timer, because you said you didn’t think it was cheating to do that, so I did it!

CT: Definitely not cheating! The contestants are given 300 grams or whatever of caster sugar right at the start. We cannot allow Kelsey to be disadvantaged in this way!

KM: Well yeah, we will get to this later, but there was a little problem where technically I needed 500 grams of caster sugar, so I did end up having to grind mid-process anyway. It’s fine! It turned out fine? 

CT: Wait. KELSEY.

KM: Yes?

CT: You did your meringue twice???

KM: No no no no no no. I did the pie dough twice. But you ALSO needed caster sugar for the lemon filling! I did not notice this at first. 

CT: Kelsey! No you didn’t! You were supposed to use confectioner’s sugar for the pie crust! I’m dying!

KM: FOR THE FILLING!!!! 

CT: Oh! OK. I’m losing it here, imagining you whirring so much caster sugar for your pie crust. 

KM: What’s really funny is I just realized that I did end up having to whirr some caster sugar for my pie crust because I ran out of powdered sugar, but that’s a separate problem. 

CT: Ha! Incredible.

KM: I’m built different (worse). One fun part of gathering the ingredients for me was when I went to the grocery store and bought 25 lemons. You may be thinking this is too many lemons, and it is, but lemons are sometimes VERY DRY, so I didn’t trust them, and also I like to put a lil’ lemon on everything, so I need about 10 lemons a week for my various other cooking, plus the six for the tart, plus the extra 10 I bought for an unclear reason. Safety? Emotional support? Anyway, the cashier was very amused by this. 

CT: Yes, so, I also bought extra lemons (a much more reasonable 12 lemons), because there was one ingredient that I did not like to see in this recipe: Orange juice.

KM: I do like that upon reading this recipe, we both were like “no orange juice.” We are smarter than Prue. 

CT: I’m just not gonna let a damn BRIT tell me that my LEMON PIE needs to be half orange juice. It’s lemon pie, dammit! Do not tell me I am making a lemon pie and then half the damn flavoring of the filling is grocery store-ass orange juice. No! Never! OVER MY DEAD BODY.

KM: Citruses are not the same!!!!! They are very different! 

CT: Other than that, I had most of this stuff on hand. Eggs, flour, various sugars, etc.

KM: Same. I did a classic move, and looked at the list and thought, “There is no way I have cream of tartar at home.” Then I purchased cream of tartar, returned to my house, and realized, in fact, I have done this four times before. So I put my extra cream of tartars next to my collection of nutmegs. 

CT: I have a collection of almond extracts, weirdly enough. I opened my pantry yesterday and counted and there are three bottles of almond extract in there. This is not an ingredient for this recipe, just a look at the condition of my pantry. Anyway, moving on!

Stage One: Measuring and Mixing

KM: I want to brag that I have done some personal growth. Before baking this week, I unloaded the dishwasher, and got everything out of the sink so I could chuck stuff in there willy-nilly. I also had all my ingredients on the counter, which I consistently forget to do. 

CT: That’s great! We have both now done one (1) Personal Growth.

KM: I don’t think we should do any more. That seems like enough. 

CT: Yeah I agree. In fact we should each do one Personal Regression, to balance it out.

KM: Absolutely. I agree. 

CT: Something I wanted to ask you about is what order you did things for your pie crust. And here I want to go ahead and tell our readers that it is TRUE HERO SHIT that Kelsey finished this recipe on time. But my question is, did you go: mix, ball, refrigerate, roll, refrigerate, bake? Or did you skip that first refrigeration? Or skip the second?

KM: I want to begin by saying that I think this is a horseshit recipe for pie dough. In my culture (the South), there are no eggs in pie dough and we use normal-ass sugar and not powdered sugar. I really did not like how sticky the addition of the egg made the pie dough, though it is possible that I made a mistake with putting the egg in the dough. It just seemed like the right thing to do with the ingredient list? 

The first time I made the dough I mixed it, lightly kneaded, threw it in the fridge for five minutes, took it out and rolled it, put it in the pan, and shoved the pan into the freezer for 10 minutes. What did you do?

CT: That’s really interesting to me. I knew we had two hours to do all this, and I felt very confident that this was plenty of time. But I was also trying to spot places in the recipe where there would be a natural opportunity to make one good try at the lemon filling, uninterrupted, and I was worried because I didn’t really spot any. This freaked me out a little, and so I resolved to skip the first refrigeration (when I would normally throw the ball into the fridge for a while before rolling it out). I just felt like I needed to gobble up as much spare time as possible early on. So I mixed, dumped onto a sheet of parchment paper, barely kneaded it at all, gathered it into a ball, slapped a second sheet of parchment onto it, and rolled it out. It still had visible smears of unmixed butter throughout, and I was worried, but not nearly worried enough to turn back.

Rolled-out dough.Credit: Chris Thompson/Defector
Lots of visible butter in there. Moving on!

KM: This is so funny, because I looked at this recipe, and assumed that it took 30 minutes to make the meringue. I could not imagine what else could take enough time for this recipe to take two hours. As we will get to soon, I actually did this recipe in an hour. Though it was terrifying. 

CT: My bake also took far less than two hours. In retrospect the concern I had about needing a space of time mid-bake to make lemon filling wound up coming back to bite me, although not very savagely, and in an unexpected way.

KM: Here are some potential theories I have for why my first crust did not work. 1) I was using a different butter. I always use salted butter because I hate recipes and love salt, and I bought unsalted butter of a different brand to use this week because I was trying to be good. 2) I put said butter on the counter before I did all my little chores, so it was not cold enough when I began the dough. 3) You were supposed to freeze the dough inside the tin for 20 minutes before baking it. 4) God hates me. 

CT: Wow, I would never have considered freezing the dough ball or the rolled-out dough. That would’ve freaked me out so badly. I was already concerned that I would not be able to fit my dough into my pie tin without shredding it. If it’d been frozen, I would’ve had a panic attack.

KM: No, Chris! I mean roll it out in the tin and then freeze it! Inside the tin! Like a frozen pie crust you buy at the grocery store. I’m pretty sure at this point (having made two doughs)  that if I had frozen the dough rolled-out in the tin for 30 minutes, my bake would have been perfect and the two-hour timeline would make more sense. I say that now, but I will not be trying again. 

CT: My theory about the two-hour timeline is Prue knew she was ambushing the contestants with a no-method bake, and so she put in an extra 20 to 30 minutes for them to panic and thrash around like children.

KM: Well, that’s baby shit, but also was helpful for me personally. 

CT: So I gave my dough I think 20 minutes in the fridge, and then pulled it out and fit it into my pie tin. I was not able to find a fluted pie tin, so mine was a very tall circular shape. I went ahead and stretched the dough all the way to the top, where possible, planning on possibly trimming it after the blind bake.

Raw dough spread in a pie tin.Credit: Chris Thompson/Defector
Looking, ah, good?

KM: Oh this is so interesting. I want the readers to know that I took a special trip to Target to buy this dang tart pan. This is partly because I broke my prized ceramic pie tin in my move, and partly because I really like a recipe for blackberry cornbread crumble that also requires this same tart pan, so it seemed like a good investment purchase.

CT: I also went to Target, but they were sold out of the fluted tin. So I bought this unfluted guy. Shall we move to the bake? This is where things got truly chaotic, at least for one of us.

KM: Ugh. Yes. Let’s move to the bake. You go first. How was your only, single, lonely pie crust? 

Stage Two: More Mixing and the Bake

CT: My one single pie crust went pretty well! I used large lima beans and parchment paper for the first stage of the blind bake, to keep the base from poofing up and ruining the shape. I am so afraid of my oven and its uneven heat and the ruinous fury of the top heating elements, so I watched it very closely. I gave myself 15 minutes on the timer, and I think I went a little beyond that, before removing the beans and baking the bottom.

KM: Oh it’s interesting to me that we both chose 15 minutes for our blind bake! 

CT: I think 15 minutes is just like the maximum amount of time I am willing to let a timer run without freaking out.

KM: Yes. That seems true for me, too. What happened for me is this: I have a lot of pie accoutrements because I was very into making pies for a little bit. So I have fancy baking pie weights, which I was excited to use. I removed my crust from the freezer in its tart pan, put parchment paper and the beads on there, and threw it into the oven at 400. Then, I set a timer for 15 minutes and used that time to juice my lemons. I had a lot of lemons so this took most of the time. 

CT: Yeah, same! I wasn’t sure how I would use this time at first: I just kinda stood in the middle of my kitchen looking around nervously, and then I was glad to spot the lemons and have something productive to work on. So I first zested six lemons and then juiced them into the same bowl. Then I knew that we would need at least 150 milliliters of other liquid—the ingredients called for orange juice (disgusting, evil)—so I continued juicing lemons until I had 150 milliliters of lemon juice. Then I juiced some more lemons just to be sure, because it did not look like enough liquid to make enough filling for the pie.

KM: Oh yeah, I forgot about the zesting. At this point, I managed to hurt my thumb a little using my new zesting motion. It’s fine. It’s a learning curve. But this made the juicing very uncomfortable. I juiced so many lemons just in case. 

CT: Kelsey, please describe this genius zesting method.

KM: Omg. OK! So I recently learned this kitchen method from a friend who works in the restaurant industry. What you do is you hold the zester upside down so that the bottom of it is facing you, and you hold the lemon in your dominant hand, and you twist it onto the zester vertically, so that the zest stays inside the zester until you’re done with the lemon and you can see the lemon while you’re zesting. It’s a really good method and works perfectly, but I’m sloppy and was going fast so I got a little cut. 

CT: You told me this method last week—such strange, wholesome conversations we have in Defector Slack—and I did like a modified version of it, where I held the lemon in my off hand and the zester in my dominant hand, but inverted so that all the zest would accumulate in the little groove. This worked great for me.

KM: Wow, that’s great! I’m thrilled to hear that! 

CT: So after 15 minutes of blind baking I asked my wife, who was in the living room, what she thought I should be looking for: What was her idea of a foolproof way to know that my crusts were on track? She shrugged and said, “Isn’t this supposed to be a test of your technical knowledge?” I knew that she was correct and had The Ethics. So I made my own determination: The crust needed more time.

KM: WOW!!!! After all of the compliments we have paid her here in this dang column. It is fair but brutal. Here’s what happened to me: At 15 minutes I opened the oven, the crust was too pale for my liking, so I upped the temperature to 450 because I am not confident in my oven and its abilities. Then, after five more minutes, I removed the crust from the oven. 

CT: Oh Jesus. I can’t even tell you what 450 degrees would do to a pie crust in my oven. Total Hell.

KM: To be honest, I miss my old janky oven that only had two degrees: very hot and kind of hot. It leaked, so I knew how hot the oven was. Now I’m supposed to trust this little digital display? I hate it. Anyway. I removed my crust after 20 minutes, it was only starting to brown and based on my arm test (where I wave my arm in front of the open oven door) the temperature was good enough. But, my crust had shrunk. I mean, it really had shrunk. My heart shrunk when I saw it. I knew immediately that I would have to re-do it. 

CT: When you told me that you were re-doing your crust, I honestly felt like I could cry. I looked at the clock, saw how much time you had left, and felt the worst sinking dread that you would run out of time.

KM: What’s incredible to me is that in that moment of panic, I knew to take a picture of the crust because I was like, the readers will want to see it. Chris will be mad if he can’t see it. Anyway, here is the picture I took before I dumped this crust into the trash. 

Now that I look at it with clear eyes, I think it would have been okay but it shrunk SO MUCH. 

CT: OK, yeah, that’s a lot of shrinkage. I think you would’ve been fine, but I will admit that’s more shrinkage than I envisioned. I thought you were just being a lunatic perfectionist.

KM: It was a lot of shrinkage!!! I knew it was a bad idea to continue with this, and on account of having no idea what had happened, I performed a series of actions very quickly. I trashed the crust. Then I rinsed the tart pan in the sink under cold water. It was very hot, but luckily I already have basically no heat feeling in many of my fingers. Then I took the now medium-hot, wet tart pan from the sink and threw it into the freezer. Then, I ran to the counter, and frantically began making another pie dough. I had just enough butter in the fridge to pull this off. Thank god, because I did not check before throwing my whole crust into the trash! I rolled my new dough out immediately this time, removed my now very cold tart pan from the freezer, placed the dough, trimmed it, and shoved it back in the freezer. Because the timer was still on from what I had anticipated would be a 10-minute bake, I know that I managed to do all of this in five minutes. 

CT: This is incredible, to me. Were you listening to music? I want to have the action soundtrack in my head.

KM: Oh! Lol! I forgot about this part, which is that as soon as I realized I was going to have to re-do the whole pie crust very quickly, I also realized that the nice “Meg Ryan Fall” playlist I had playing was not going to cut it and I put on Taylor Swift’s Reputation, an album I have not listened to since it came out but for some reason came to me in this moment of need. I did this, however, in a fugue state of unawareness and panic. So I did not consciously realize I put on Reputation until I put my new pie crust into the freezer and then suddenly “I Did Something Bad” was playing, and I was like, “Oh no.” 

CT: I had my Halloween playlist playing and when I was zesting my lemons a very bizarre track called “Wolfman Howl” was playing. This was a very surreal scene.

KM: That sounds really enjoyable to me. I like this.

CT: So how much time did you have left, total, when you decided to trash your crust and go back for another try?

KM: Let’s see. I entered chaos mode at 4:28, and I messaged you at 5:32 that I was starting the dough again. So less than an hour. 

CT: Oh my god. Absolute fugue state heroics from this point forward.

KM: Yeah at this point, all of the bake becomes a blur for me. What I know is that I left my new crust in the freezer for 10 minutes, because I literally needed that time to make the filling. Once my filling was good to go, I put the crust into the oven at 425 for 15 minutes. While it was baking, I began the meringue. I assume your experience of these things was less chaotic.

CT: Yes. I made a dumb decision to start my filling during the second stage of the blind bake, for which I had only allotted five minutes. But it freaked me out a little bit that I hadn’t started the filling at all, so I just launched into it. I know there are a couple of ways to make a stable custard, and I chose what I consider to be the Dummy Method: I basically heated everything except the egg yolks in a saucepan, planning to then add a little of the heated mixture to the egg yolks to bring them up to temperature, then add them back into the heated mixture and raise the temperature to the point where the cornstarch thickens: 203 degrees.

But this got out of control almost instantly, for two reasons: First, because I’d forgotten to measure out and add the sugar to the saucepan, and second, because I had the burner on full blast. So the cornstarch thickened in a matter of seconds, and I suddenly had this intensely lemony blob of transluscent goo in my saucepan, plus a bowl of sugar, plus a bowl of egg yolks. Here I yelled, “Oh no!” I was in big trouble.

KM: You have so much more knowledge than me. Everything I have ever known flows out the colander of my memory and leaves only the lyrics to popular songs released between the years 1999 and 2007. Amazingly, that is what I did, though. What you call the Dummy Method. I did not have a thermometer. I was going on vibes.

Wow, you typing this reminded me that this also happened to me. I whisked it, and then if I remember correctly, dumped it into the eggs, where it was too thick, and I literally cupped my hands under the faucet, and dropped some water in there before returning it to the heat. Anyway, it turned out fine. 

CT: Here is where I will admit my disgraceful truth: Because my mixture had thickened prematurely and I needed to loosen it up a little, I used……………………..

KM: ORANGE JUICE?!?! NO!!!!!!!

CT: I’m sorry!

KM: Wow I wish I had thought of that, to be honest. I felt stupid dropping the water in there for the briefest of moments before I remembered I did not have time for feelings. 

CT: So I quickly mixed the sugar in there enough to melt it, and then used a ladle to drop small amounts of it into the egg yolks until they were loose and wet and tempered. Then I proceeded like a normal person until I had a nice, shockingly yellow and super-duper lemony custard. Somewhere in there I also removed my crust from the oven. It was fine, and possibly perfect.

KM: Wow. I imagine that if we ever had to cook together, you would just murder me immediately. All of this is so calm and nice. Whereas I, on account of having literally 45 minutes left, was just dumping bowls into each other, throwing empty bowls toward the sink, and yelling. 

CT: Did you fill your crust right away? Because this is where I made my first irreversible mistake. I let my filling cool too much.

KM: No. Here is what happened: My timer went off. My custard was done, so I just left it on the top of the stove, where it had just finished being whisked, so it was very warm. I removed the parchment paper, saw that this crust had not shrunk as much, and returned it to the oven for five minutes. At some point during that first 15 minutes, I had also let the Kitchenaid begin whisking the eggs. Once the crust went back in, I remembered the egg whites! I went over and checked them and they were soft peaks, so I was like, “Whatever. This seems good.” So I spent the last five minutes while the crust baked spooning sugar in there very slowly while I also ran around and did other things. 

CT: Just reading this is causing me so much stress right now.

KM: Incredibly, I was not done spooning sugar when the crust was done, so I put the crust in the freezer for like, I’m not sure, two minutes, while I finished making the meringue, which looked fucking perfect. I was so proud of myself! When did you begin your meringue?

So glossy!

CT: I had my crust out of the oven and cooling on the stovetop, and I had my filling completed and covered and cooling, also on the stovetop. I also had a lot of time left, something like 50 minutes. I was worried that if I made my meringue too early that it would lose its poofiness, but at this point I had literally nothing else to do. So I started making my meringue.

KM: God. This was the future I had signed up for. I wanted to be relaxed. 

CT: I felt very good about my meringue. I mixed the egg whites and cream of tartar on low, just enough that the tartar was fully broken down, then I cranked that sucker up to medium to form soft peaks. I have screwed this up before by shooting right past soft peaks before adding the sugar, so I stopped a little earlier than usual, just to be safe. I added the first spoonful of sugar, cranked it up to high, and just very quickly and decisively added the sugar a huge spoonful at a time until it had that lovely glossy look and the stiff peaks. I felt like a god at this point.

Lovely glossy meringue.Credit: Chris Thompson/Defector
When you gaze into the face of God, and it is your own.

KM: If I had fucked up the meringue, it probably would have caused me to have a full breakdown. The fact that the meringue worked gave me just enough confidence to get me through the last little stretch. Plus, making it look so glossy made me also feel like a god. 

Stage Three: Topping and More Baking

CT: Where I screwed this up was I let everything cool a little bit too much before assembly. This was the problem with having so much time on the clock. I was seduced into moving very methodically, in instances where I should’ve been sprinting. The tortoise loses some races!

KM: You should have simply screwed up earlier so you could have been forced to do it all really quickly. When I was sure the meringue was done I had—no shit—18 minutes left, and I was pretty sure the bake would need 15. So I frantically removed my crust from freezer, dumped the now-warm filling in the kind of warm crust. I took one moment to hold the meringue over my head because I wanted to feel the thrill. It did not fall, so I plopped it all onto the pie, and then I used a spoon to make it spiky and into the oven it went. Goodbye!

CT: I had so much time on the clock that I really took my time pouring and smoothing my filling, and then pouring and swirling my large poof of meringue.

The pie goes back into the oven for the final bake.Credit: Chris Thompson/Defector
Assembled and ready for the final bake.

But what I did not know is if the filling has cooled too much before baking, it emits a sweet clear liquid during the bake that pools unattractively in the pie pan as you cut slices later on. And also, if the filling is too cool, the meringue doesn’t really adhere to it, and kinda floats on top like a loose cloud.

KM: Wow. The filling does? Or the meringue does? 

CT: Possibly the meringue? At any rate, as I learned later on, my pie was a little bit leaky at eating time. This was a bit of a bummer. I’m sure Prue and Paul would’ve given me shit for it.

KM: My meringue floated a little bit. When I cut it later, the meringue was a little slippy, for sure. But it is impossible for me to know why or even what happened in the combining of my pie sections. How long did you bake your pie and meringue for?

CT: I set my timer for 20 minutes, which violated my 15-minute standard, and which came back to bite me. This was my second irreversible mistake: leaving the pie in the oven for perhaps one minute too long. But I had so much time on the clock! I was sure that this final stage must take longer than expected! I finished this bake—finished it! Completely over—with more than 15 minutes left on the clock.

I also lowered the heat down to 275, because when you make a pavlova, you cook it at 250. I knew we weren’t going for a crisp, pavlova-like meringue, but I wasn’t confident cooking at a much higher temperature.

KM: I had 16 minutes left when my pie went into the oven, so I baked it for 15 minutes, because I knew I would need a minute to get it out of the tin. I also lowered my heat, but I remembered this at the last second, so I just left the oven door open while I put the pie together so the temperature would drop. Based on my arm test, the oven was kinda hot when my whole pie went in. 

CT: It was sort of weird, compared to previous bakes, to know that the very last thing that would happen was just … baking. No decorating or finishing of any sort. Just pull it out of the oven and face what you’ve done.

KM: I liked that! I am bad at the decorating part, so I liked that there was nothing else to do. Also I had no time to do anything else. The most I could manage in terms of meringue decorations was just thwacking the back of a spoon against my meringue and making it look spiky. 

CT: I used this final bake to clean up the kitchen. This was the first technical challenge that I finished without my kitchen looking like a tornado had blown through.

KM: The minute my bake went into the oven, I felt truly insane. I had been literally sprinting around for 40 minutes. I was so sweaty. I chugged an entire jar of water very quickly, and then also cleaned the kitchen because I knew that as soon as I sat down, I would fade. It was kind of nice having a clean kitchen! 

CT: I have a clear memory of the Suspiria theme song playing during the final bake, as I was cleaning. This was neither a positive nor a negative omen, but I felt very eerie. 

KM: We have got to make better playlists. It actually freaks me out that there is no music in the tent. I think I would lose my mind. 

The Finished Product

CT: Kelsey! How was your pie? Show pie??

KM: Here is my pie: 

Now you show pie.

CT: Look at that lovely pie! I appreciate about your pie that it is very festive and fun, and that it has the fluted sides, and that the meringue is still mostly white, with just little toasted accents. Here is my pie:

Chris's pie, toasted a little too much on top.Credit: Chris Thompson/Defector
My poof got a little too toasted.

KM: Wow, what a nice pie. I love how thick that crust is, because I LOVE crust. I also love this very delicate swirl on your meringue! It looks like you piped it!

CT: I was honestly very sad when I checked on my pie the last time and saw that I’d overdone the bake on the top a little bit. I was SO HYPED when my pie went into the oven, to then realize that I’d overdone it, even just slightly, hurt me deep.

KM: Chris, you are always feeling sad at the end of your bakes!!! Stop this! Look at that nice pie! Keri-Russell-in-Waitress-ass pie!!!

CT: Kelsey, thank you. How was your pie, to eat? 

KM: I was a little sad that I didn’t have time at the end, because I definitely made my pie uglier by removing it from the tin and onto the plate in approximately 30 seconds. I also burned my finger a little bit. So because I was mad about the side of my pie cracking, I decided to eat my pie immediately. I needed a treat! This was not as bad of a decision as you would think. It upset the integrity of my pie, but it tasted great! Very lemon-y! As expected, the meringue did nothing for me. How was your pie, to eat? 

CT: Unfortunately, I waited several hours before cutting into my pie, by which time the meringue had lost some of its poofiness and no longer looked as attractive, and it was of course leaking the dreaded clear liquid. But! It was very tart and extremely delicious, and the interior of the meringue was still very marshmallow-y and wonderful. I loved it. Loved it!

Chris's pie with one slice removed.Credit: Chris Thompson/Defector
Pie porn.

KM: Even though I made this bake hell for myself, I appreciated that it was a proper bake, and also that the recipe was delicious again! 

CT: Yes! It was so nice to finish this challenge with a baked treat, and a home that smelled like lemon and sugar and dough. Even if the pie had been a wreck, I personally still would’ve drawn great satisfaction from doing some honest baking and producing something sweet to eat. A sweetie treatie!

KM: Honestly, if they made this smell into a candle, I would buy it. It smelled so nice in my house afterward: clean and warm! I agree. It was a very satisfying bake in the end! 

CT: I truly have no idea what next week’s bake could be, or even what the theme is. I’m still traumatized from a Bread Week bake that was not bread and a Mexican Week bake that was not baked. I’ve been too afraid to look ahead.

KM: Chris. I have good news for you about next week. Do you want to know what it is?

CT: No! No.

Yes. 

KM: The spookiest week of all. Halloween Week!!!!

CT: AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

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