Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Pie Primer

Today the kids made a pie - see, pie really is an easy thing! They had help of course, they're just 6 and almost 4. Let's start with the dough. The recipe I used came from the people at America's Test Kitchen (the tv show on PBS) and they also publish Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country magazines, as well as cookbooks. I find them kind of sanctimonious, and it seems like a lot of the time their recipes have a million steps and have you using every casserole, pot, pan, mixing bowl you own, and then once you've used all of them, you find yourself mixing ingredients in a mop bucket or something. But I digress. The recipe:
Basic Pie Dough
makes enough for 1 double crust 9" pie
2 1/2 c. unbleached All-Purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tb sugar
1/2 c. vegetable shortening (note: use lard if you can get your hands on the fresh stuff, it's way better than shortening and it's not a hydrogenated fat, even if it is lard).
12 Tb (1 1/2 c.) unsalted butter
6-8 Tb ice water
1. Cut up your butter and shortening or lard into about 1" sized pieces and immediately stick that in the freezer or the fridge. You want your fat to be cold when you mix it into your flour.
2. In a mixing bowl, or should you have one, the bowl of a food processor, mix together your flour, salt and sugar. Just use your hands to lightly combine those things, or pulse it a few times with your FP. You can start adding in your fat bit by bit now. I use a pastry blender (see above, I can't get it here in the post, which is where I'd like it to be) as opposed to a food processor, but if you've got the FP, by all means use it. You'll want to just pulse maybe two or three times after each addition of fat. Do not dump all your fat in at once, I really stress that you take your time with this and you'll be rewarded with a tender and flaky crust. Your dough is ready for water when the fat is in little clumps throughout the flour.
3. Once all your fat has been incorporated, you'll want to mix in your water. How much water you're going to need to add is going to vary greatly on the humidity in your locale, as well as what your flour is like. Start with the 6 TB and if it looks dry, you can add more bit by bit. It's better to not have enough, as you can always add more, but you can't take it out if you add too much. Not to worry, it won't be a loss and you won't make the same mistake twice. :-) I personally undermix things, and then turn it out onto my work surface to finish incorporating the dough, I love touching things however, and at this point in my life I've just learned to go by feel. You'll want to strive for a dough that is not homogenous, those bits of unmixed-in fat will leave lovely air pockets in your baked crust - a trait that is desired, I promise.
4. Divide your dough into two nearly as even sized pieces as possible and wrap with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours in the fridge.
So once your dough has chilled you can dust your work surface with flour and roll out one disc of pie dough so that it is about 1/4" thick or so. There are a couple of ways to transfer rolled out dough into a pie dish. You can gently roll the dough onto your rolling pin, and just unroll it over the pie dish, or you can gently fold the dough in half and then in half again (so, in quarters) and then unfold it into your dish. Either way is equally good, I prefer the rolling pin method. Once you've got the bottom part of your crust into the dish you can put your filling in. Ideally, you've already planned out your filling, today we've opted to cheat and use canned pie filling since it's March here on the East coast and there's not much available in terms of fresh fruit, aside from apple. I love to use fresh fruit and make a pie filling from that, and there are tons of recipes all over the internet and certainly in cookbooks. As an aside, the Lucky Leaf brand of pie filling makes a "premium" variety made with sugar instead of evil, evil, evil HFCS, so we used that. I've found that straining canned pie filling through a fine mesh colander helps eliminate a good portion of the goopy stuff that the fruit is suspended in, giving you mostly fruit with just a bit of goop. You'll want to buy a touch more than you think you'll need should you decide to strain though, so keep that in mind.
Next step is to roll out your top crust, the kids decided they wanted to cut heart shapes out of the top crust, which is dual purpose since it also vents the pie. If you don't want to cut out shapes of your top crust, you'll want to make a few slits with a knife to allow steam to escape. Transfer the top crust to your pie dish and pinch the edges together, the kids used a fork for this purpose. Then we brushed the top crust with milk to help with browning. You could use slightly beaten egg, beaten egg yolk with milk or cream added to it or a beaten egg white - all will help with browning. Garrett has an egg allergy, hence our choice of plain milk. Bake your pie, at 375* for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and the filling just bubbles up a bit. So that you don't end up with a righteous mess in your oven, bake your pie on a cookie sheet. Do not be a risk taker and decide that baking a pie on a cookie sheet is for squares! I can almost guarantee you that you'll be spending your evening with a can of Easy Off while your family, neighbors, husband, or whoever will be greedily finishing off the pie you've worked so hard to make.

Happy Baking!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Projects, projects

I am the queen of all things unfinished, I swear I have some sort of disorder, or perhaps not a disorder but the ability to multi-task in an extremely disorganized manner. Right now I'm not so bad, I only have 1 scarf for Shane currently unfinished, 1 pair of baby leg warmers unfinished (and I don't even have a baby or know anybody WITH a baby that needs baby leg warmers) and an Elizabeth George novel, Well Schooled in Murder . mwhahahahaha! Yesterday I finished a big bow project, and a smaller bow project and both boxes are off on their way to their recipients. I love that feeling of accomplishment that comes from the finality of a project. My next sewing venture will be two organizers for my car, they'll basically be slipcovers for the front seats, with pockets/pouches on the back for the kids' stuff. I'm hoping that it will help keep the clutter to a minimum, or at least off the space in between their car seats, there's so much stuff there that it's hard to buckle Natalie in. I want to use some rockin fabric for the pockets, with a heavier twill for the slipcovers. I'm also thinking about pie. It's still far too early here in the NE for anything local to be ready, I just love local produce and making stuff with it. Rhubarb is ready soon, and before you know it cherries and strawberries will be making an appearance. It's such a short growing season here, I'd love to live some place with a lengthier growing season, you can't really even think about planting stuff around these parts until Mother's Day.

I think we'll head out to the grocery store in a bit, and see what's available for pie fixins.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me

I admit, this one pretty much just fell into my lap, thanks in part to my sister's desire for a pie. See, there is this local woman, we'll call her Marlene S. who is known around town for her Shoo Fly Pie. Shoo Fly, for those not in the know is a molasses bottomed pie, and since Marlene's more dry than wet, hers is kind of like a coffee cake in texture and crumb. In the Shoo Fly world, there are two distinct camps, "wet-bottom"and "dry-bottom", both are equally delicious and taste the same, the wet bottom ones simply have more goo than their dry bottom counterparts. Shoo Fly is quite traditional in the part of Pennsylvania I grew up in, this part of Southeastern PA is populated by many who are ancestors of the Pennsylvania German and Mennonites.

Unfortunately, I neglected to get a picture of the entire pie. It has been sampled by two persons at this point, thankfully its present state has been photographed for posterity, as the pie will likely be gone by the weekend. Personally, I don't care much for Shoo Fly, preferring another PA German standby - Funny Cake. Funny Cake isn't even a pie I guess. It's baked in a pie tin, so I guess one could classify it as pie, but it is distinctly cake-y in texture. Perhaps I've found my next blog entry . . .

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pie In The Sky?

So I might be overly eager, and perhaps a touch optimistic that I'll remember to actually blog more than once in a blue moon. But I'll give it a fair shake. First off, let me make an introduction. I'm Inger, a SAHM (that would be stay-at-home-mom), but I prefer "Jill of All Trades, Master of None" if you want to get nit-picky about job titles. I'm a semi-retired pastry chef, a bow maker, and just this year I've taken up knitting & sewing. I think I'm pretty normal in that I've got several half-finished projects all going on at once. When I'm not busy with the kids, baking, making bows, knitting or sewing, I love to read and I love to do crossword puzzles.

I have this great group of friends, and we were chatting a bit about writing, and I mentioned that I always wanted to write about pie. So this is my pie blog. I can't promise that my normal, non-pie writing life won't intrude here, be forewarned that it most likely will - there will be pie too!