The Baking Odyssey Begins: Day 1

The Baking Odyssey is my journey back into the world of baking. And I don’t mean with assistance from Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, where you only have to add eggs and veggie oil and pop it in the oven. I mean real, true, honest to goodness, made from scratch and terribly bad for you baking.

I used to bake ALL the time. One year I even entered the Bloomington Indiana Chocolate-fest with a friend. I made my pie crusts from scratch with my great-grandmother’s recipe. At least I never compromised on that. But as the years have gone on, I’ve relied more and and more on Betty and Duncan and pre-made mixes in general. I always return to the same cookbook when I do bake from scratch, so I decided to go on a little quest. I’m going to make EVERY dessert recipe in that cookbook. What cookbook, you ask? The 1976 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. And it will be an odyssey…There are 288 sweets, divided into cakes & cookies, candies, desserts and pies.
Although I’ve always used this cookbook, I’ve also always been wary of a few recipes. After one too many frostings gone wrong (and a last minute emergency rush to the grocery store to buy store-frosting), I gave up on making frosting. That changes now. There’s a whole section on frostings. And this time I’m making them all.
I’ve always stayed away from meringues, candies, anything with weird fruits or vegetables in the title (i.e. dates, prunes (bleh!)), but that changes now. So here goes. Wish me luck.
Day 1: Chocolate Cream Pie topped with Meringue
The Process: Fairly simple. Except for the whole boiling chocolate on the stove without it sticking to the pan bit. Also, I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet chocolate squares, but I don’t think that made a big difference. I started out by making the crust– from scratch, of course, but eventually I’ll have to try the recipes in the book and not just use my great-grandma’s (yummy as it is– I have 288 recipes to go through!). However, the crust is baked before adding the filling, and then baked again with the filling and the meringue. I forgot to stab the raw crust with a fork to release trapped air until it had already baked for about five minutes, so I’m pretty relieved the filling covered up my delayed-stab marks. Also, although my crusts have always tasted amazing (and I don’t mean to be a bragging Betty here, but I’ve only ever received the utmost compliments and thousands of requests from my sister to make it, just so she could it eat raw. It’s THAT good.), they’ve never been especially pretty. I just kind of pinch around the edges to hold the filling. Well, since I’m making this many desserts, I’ve decided to try and make them pretty, too. So I made a beautiful decorative scalloped edge. Which looked wonderful… until I filled it with chocolate cream to the brim, topped it with meringue, and then it disappeared beneath a mountain of pie.
I also tackled my first meringue. Despite the intimidation of topping a perfectly good pie with beaten raw egg whites and sugar, I went for it. Then I baked it 13 minutes, and pulled out a picture perfect pie.
The Result: The recipe merely said “Cool”, not “Chill x hours” or “refrigerate”, so I let it cool on the cooling rack for a couple hours. Yet when I went to cut into it…. It was soup. It was chocolate pie soup topped with meringue. I was crushed. Years before, I’d tried to make this recipe and failed. Having blocked that out, I followed the directions nearly exactly. So to have pie soup was devastating. My poor husband, who had been quite looking forward to chocolate cream pie– notice the lack of soup there– was also disappointed. He recommended we pop it in the fridge or freezer for a few hours and then see if it set properly. An hour or so in the fridge helped a little, but the filling still collapsed to fill the void left by the pieces we put on our plates (despite the gooey consistency, using bowls would have been surrendering. And you just don’t surrender on the first day, soup or no).
Yet after sitting in the fridge over night, a small miracle occurred. The pie set. This afternoon, when I sadly pulled it out of the refrigerator and pulled a slice out…there was no collapse to fill the void. There was just…a space. It was beautiful.
You know what this means? I finally conquered chocolate cream pie AND meringue on the same day.
And you know what else? 2 recipes down, 286 to go.
Wish me luck 😉 And come over and eat some of this pie, because really…. I don’t want to get fat. And I have very little self control when it comes to chocolate.

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