Monday, July 30, 2012

Pie-Saster: The Recovery

Here's the thing about me and baking: I honestly can't let a bad experience go unaddressed. Or, rather, I always seem to take bad baking experiences as challenges to get back in the kitchen and do better. I know that if I just keep at it, I'll come up with something that will either be exactly what I'm going for or something that's good, and teaches me what I need to learn for the next time. For example, many years ago I blew through two attempts at an exceptionally delicate crust for a white chocolate and raspberry tart before I got it right. I mean, this crust was so light and fragile that if you were to sneeze on it, it would have exploded. The first attempt was a terrible lump. The second attempt actually exploded when I mishandled the tart pan! Okay, it was more like it fractured and crumbled before my eyes but that's a kind of small explosion, isn't it? The third time was indeed the charm and when I served that it, there wasn't a dry mouth in the house.

When I know in my heart that I can make a dessert, I just don't give up on it. Failing at it is frustrating but when I finally learn what I'm doing wrong, and what I'm doing right, and it all comes together, the end result is so satisfying! That's what this latest little "pie-saster" did.

To address problem of Splenda filling, I went back to The Great American Pie Book a week later, found some advice on making filling out of fresh cherries (which I've never done) and started over. I decided to use Rainier cherries because I'd never really seen them before and the fruit vendor said they were very sweet. It didn't take all that long for me to wash, cut and pit three pounds of these things. Two pounds for the pie, one pound for the cherry ice cream I promised to make for Michele.

Some cherries, some sugar, some flour
and a bottom crust ready to be filled.
This time around I used my buttermilk crust recipe, which put me ahead of the game, and a new (to me) technique for making a lattice top crust.

Lovely lattice!
Here's how things turned out:

Cooling on the rack!
 This was much better...

Rainier Cherry Pie, sliced.

...but it still wasn't as good as I knew it could be. For example, the lattice could use some work, and I really needed to experiment more with the filling because the cherries were a bit too hard for my taste and they needed something like a syrup reduction to help them hold together when the pie is cut. Also, this particular pie was good on the first day but it really didn't hold up after that. That was unfortunate because I love cherry pie! To bake one that couldn't hold up for more than a day or two just wouldn't do. I ate as much of it as I could, though, because I had to figure out what needed changing.


I think I'm going to have to put down The Great American Pie Book for a while. It's been inspiring in some respects but there's something about the techniques presented in it that I'm just not having much success duplicating right now. The crusts and fillings I've used based on the recipes, at least this time around, just don't match up with what I want from these pies. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good book but for this particular pie, it just isn't any use to me.

When Michele and I analyzed the  and she agreed with me that the Rainiers have a much more delicate flavor than Bing cherries and would be much better if I paired them with some other fruit. My first thought was that peaches would be perfect. Michele agreed, so few days later, I bought a pound of Rainiers and a pound of peaches and tried again.

A word about peaches in Manhattan: in my experience it's difficult to get good ones. The peaches I grew up eating in Texas were large, juicy and filled with flavor and scent. New York has a lot of great fruits and vegetables but peaches and plums don't seem to be among them. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I just can't seem to get consistently good peaches here.

This particular word on this particular topic ends.

The peaches I bought only had a slight aroma so I knew I'd have to seal them in the bag to let them ripen more and then I'd have to do a reduction on them to bring out more flavor. Now reductions aren't something I specialize in. In fact, I've never done one, but I wasn't going to let a little thing like that stop me. I mean, come on! I may be just a guy who bakes but I have enough cooking intuition to pull off a simple reduction. Or two, because the cherries would need it, too. Yes, I could simply find the right kind of cherry filling and get some peach filling to add to it but I was trying to teach myself something.

Actually, I was trying to teach myself several somethings at the same time: reduction(s), better lattice crust making, how to blanch peaches, and the best way to use Michele's rolling pin. I'm still used to the way my marble rolling pin worked and I'm a little sad that I gave it away when we moved in together. Well, you know how it is when you need to lighten the load a bit, right? I had a marble rolling pin and a larger marble slab than Michele had. Those alone would have added another $200 to the moving costs!

But I digress (often). Once I started pitting this batch of cherries, I felt as though this latest pie adventure was off to a good start. Odd but true. The tasks of pitting, blanching, slicing and reducing went so smoothly I was making and rolling crust almost before I realized it. I know this isn't true; allow a fellow a little hyperbole from time to time, okay? (Is it possible to have just a little hyperbole?)

Again with the digression! What I meant to say about the crust was that I added a little ginger to it. I knew it would taste good with the peach filling. This time around, the rolling went almost flawlessly, as did the cutting of the lattice strips. Perhaps I'll get Michele to take process pictures the next time I do a similar pie, just to show you the techniques I used. The only reason I'm thinking about doing so is this:

This time for sure!

And now here's something we hope you'll really like!
To quote Raul Julia's Gomez Addams: "Perfection achieved!" Everything came together exactly as I envisioned! This was probably the best pie I've ever made (and I've made some good pies). The mixture of the cherries and the peaches was just right, the reductions gave the filling the right intensity of flavor and thickness (with the help of a little cornstarch), and the slight ginger taste in the crust added a subtle touch. Michele had two slices and ate all the crust...and she really doesn't like crust! That's how good this pie was. I was smiling all night.

And that's how I recover from a pie-saster.

Currently listening to: Cirque Du Soleil - Alegria



  1. Oh my aching taste buds!!! Ranier Cherries are my absolute favorite! I wait every year to get some! I never would have thought to put them together with peaches! YUM YUM YUM!
    none for me....

    miss you and your pies!

    1. As I said, I've never used Raniers in anything before, Gert. Heck, I've never even eaten them. They worked exceptionally well with the peaches, though! I wish you guys had been here to share the pie with!

  2. OMG! How beautiful is that pie! Mind you I don't like cherries very much, or peaches for that matter. Not a big fan of fruit in general. Sorry :) But I do appreciate beauty! I think I would try some of this pie. I like the touch of ginger in the crust. I use cinnamon and nutmeg in mine. It really gives a nice finish.

    1. I agree, little sister! Finishing off a pie crust with a bit of unexpected flavor really makes the pie all that more special. I hope one day to be able to let you sample this one, despite your dislike of fruit; I think you'd enjoy the tastes as they came together.