Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Pie In The Hand...

Allow me to revisit a topic of conversation: pie. 

Sidebar: I reserve the right to take up previously discussed topics when I come across new information or techniques come up. Or if I danged-well feel like it. This is a journey for me and the path to my becoming a better baker has many a fork (no pun intended). I promise to do my best to not bore you along the way.

Sidebar ends.

I know I've mentioned that I love pie. I love baking it. I love eating it. I love serving it. No matter what kind of pie I bake, be it apple, cherry, egg custard or chicken pot, I want it to be the best I've ever baked, served and eaten!

This laudable goal does open me up to some very tough, shall we say, "evaluation," however. Is the crust sturdy enough to hold together when those first incisions are made? Or does it crumble under the pressure? Did I make the edges too tough to easily cut through so that the first slice lifts out easily? And the filling! Did I mix in enough flour to hold it together so that it doesn't spill out from between the crust after that slice is removed? In the case of an apple pie, is the filling cooked enough so that there's a pleasantly delicate crunch when someone takes a bite? Is the crust flaky? Are the edges burned? All of these questions and more race through my mind a split second before the pastry knife descends to cut that first slice. And don't get me started about what my mind puts me through now that I've started making cherry pies with lattice crusts again!

You'd think that I wouldn't want to add to any potential pie pathos but the fact remains that I am always on the lookout for new things to add to my repertoire and often something I see will spark a new interest or rekindle an old baking desire. Such was the case when I found this on a recent bookstore run:

Lots of deliciousness in here!
It's an interesting book and even though I'm not thrilled with the way the recipes are presented, I know it's going to teach me a lot. More important than that is the way it rekindled my desire to perfect my version of the Hostess fruit pie. Don't laugh. There was a time when Hostess products actually tasted good! I used to love the cherry fruit pies -- perfect size, tasty cherry filling surrounded by a tender crust that was lightly dusted with frosting. Over the last decade, though, any Hostess products I've gotten my hands on have been horrendous at best and toxic at worst. Safeway in San Fransisco and Little Debbie have close approximations to the pies I remember but they are impossible to get in NYC. Every so often a friend of ours, M., brings me a few Safeway brand pies and chuckles because she's amused that someone who bakes the way I do has such a Jones for such prefabricated, commercial pies.

After some careful thought (and some even more not-so-careful thought) it occurred to me that what I am really looking for is a bit of nostalgia in the form of a handheld cherry pie. Taste is only one component. Texture, aroma, weight - even packaging - also contribute to the experience. I know there's no way I'll ever be able to recreate all of that exactly but, as with my Nanna's egg custard pie, I can create something that will give me, and whoever eats them, some joy. 

And, yes, I'm crazy enough to try to figure out some way to approximate tearing into one of these:
Now that I've thrown down that gauntlet, I have to figure out how to pull it all together. That's where the aforementioned Handheld Pies has come in handy. (See what I did there?) It's gotten me to rethink the crust recipe I've used for more than twenty years, as well as how I work with filling ingredients. Over the next few posts, I'll document it all. This is going to be fun!

Another sidebar: By the way, the apple pie I made yesterday passed all the above-mentioned test with flying colors.

As perfect a pie as I've ever made!
Definitely one of the best apple pies I've made and the crust behaved exactly the way I wanted it to. I've been told that I make very "adult" apple pies, meaning they don't taste like sugar bombs. That comes from years of tweaking the filling - adding just enough sugar to enhance but not overpower the apples, picking the right apples and other ingredients, even figuring out the right size and shape to cut the apples so that they'll cook just right. It's a lesson that I've learned and refined. And I'm sure I'll refine it again and again. 

That's part of my joy of baking.

Another sidebar ends.

Currently listening to: Des'ree, Crazy Maze



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