Cranberries: so good and so underused! This lovely seasonal fruit is readily available in supermarkets throughout North America from mid-September through November, and way too delicious to be relished only in sauces and condiments. I love to throw cranberries into pies along with other fruit, but they also hold their own beautifully. Here the berries make a gorgeous curd, with big flavor power from their innate tartness and great consistency from their natural pectin. Condensed milk brings sweet creaminess and lightens the color from dark garnet to deep blush pink. These pies are very refreshing at the end of a big meal—the perfect conclusion to a holiday feast. Feel free to top them with whipped cream instead of meringue.
Reprinted with permission from Magpie © 2015 by Holly Ricciardi, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
Retrieve one disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll as directed for a Single-Crust Pie Shell (page 20). Use a 4-inch cutter (or, like we do in the shop, use an empty coffee can with an opening that diameter) to cut the dough into six 4-inch rounds. Transfer the rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet and set the sheet in the refrigerator. Gather up the scraps, wrap them in plastic, and keep in the refrigerator for another use (see Scrap Dough, page 31). Repeat the process with the second disk of dough, adding six more rounds to the baking sheet and the additional trimmings to the scrap dough.
Fit the twelve circles of dough into the cups of a standard muffin pan, pleating as needed and pressing lightly to snug the dough up against the bottom and sides of each cup. (If the dough starts to feel soft and moist, set the muffin pan in the refrigerator and let the dough firm back up.) Don’t fuss much with the dough—these crusts are meant to have an adorably rustic look—just keep the dough level with or slightly above the rim of the baking cup. Cover with plastic wrap and slide the tin into the refrigerator until you are ready to proceed with filling or prebaking the shells.
To prebake: Freeze the crusts 15 to 20 minutes or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F with a rack in the center.
Cut twelve 5 x 5-inch squares of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Line the shells with the parchment squares, gently smoothing and pleating the paper into place up against the bottom and sides of each crust and leaving the corners of the paper standing straight up. Fill each shell to the rim with beans, stirring with a finger to settle the beans and topping up as needed.
Slide the muffin tin into the oven and bake the shells 20 minutes. While the shells are baking, set out a wire rack and, alongside it, a mixing bowl.
Set the pan on the wire rack and let the shells cool for 10 minutes, then carefully gather the corners of each parchment square together to lift out the beans and transfer them to the bowl. Slide the muffin tin back into the oven and bake the shells another 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Set the muffin tin on a wire rack and let the shells cool to room temperature while you make the filling.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the center. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the cranberries and ¾ cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium, and cook 10 minutes or until the berries have burst, stirring occasionally.
Let the fruit cool slightly, and then transfer it to a food processor and purée until smooth. Set a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl and press the purée through the sieve (discard solids left in sieve).
Whisk the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk together in a large bowl. Add the orange juice and zest, cranberry purée, brandy, and salt; whisk until smooth and uniform. Set the pan of prebaked shells on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Divide the filling evenly among the shells and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until set.
Set the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the pies cool completely to room temperature. In the meantime, make the meringue. Generously top each cooled pie with meringue (you can spoon it on and swirl with a rubber spatula, or pipe it on with a pastry bag).
To toast the meringue, position the oven shelf one level below the topmost rung. Preheat the broiler to low. Slide the baking sheet under the broiler for 30 seconds to 1 minute and toast just until the meringue is browned on top. Let cool to room temperature, then use a butter knife to carefully lift each pie out of the muffin pan. Chill the pies, uncovered, for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days before serving.
Combine the sugar with ¼ cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue boiling the mixture undisturbed until it registers 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer, 5 to 10 minutes. Keep warm over very low heat.
Combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat the mixture at medium-low speed until it is foamy, about 2 minutes, then turn the speed up to medium- high and whip until it is shiny and forms soft peaks, 5 to 7 minutes.
Lower the mixer speed to medium and slowly add the hot syrup, pouring in a thin stream and taking care not to let the stream of syrup hit the side of the bowl on its way in (this will cause it to harden instantly).
Use a small, sharp knife to split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the sticky seeds into the meringue mixture. Add vanilla extract and turn the mixer speed back up to medium-high and whip the meringue until it is very thick, very glossy, and the bottom of the bowl is cool to the touch, 8 to 10 minutes.