Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day and the Best Cookbook Ever!

So I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I have the best sister in the world. For Pi Day (today--3.14 for all you nerds out there), she sent me the Pie Pie Pie: Easy Homemade Favorites cookbook. This is my first cookbook devoted solely to pie, and it is quite wonderful. It outlines the necessary tools for pie-making, the most common ingredients, and has lots of recipes broken into the pie categories: fruit pies, cream pies, custard pies, chiffon pies, and (of course) candy/special celebration pies. Plus it has beautiful pictures and multiple recipes for crust--all of which I will be trying. So thanks to my sister! You are awesome!

It was quite a challenge deciding on a pie to make today to celebrate Pi Day. I finally landed on Butter Brickle Banana Cream Pie, which I will copy here:

Butter Brickle
1/2 C sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds

1/2 C sugar
1/4 C cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 C milk
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large, ripe bananas

Make the crust as usual.

To make butter brickle, combine sugar, almonds, and butter in a large skilled. Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring almost constantly, until the bubbling mixture turns golden brown, about 5 minutes. Pour onto a sheet of aluminum foil and let cool completely. Crumble when dry and set aside.

To make the filling, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan. Pour in the milk and whisk until smooth. Place over moderate heat and cook, whisking almost constantly, until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Whisk in egg yolks and bring the mixture back to boil, and decrease the heat and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter. Let cool for 20 minutes, stirring a few times.

Spread 1/2 C of the butter brickle in the bottom of pie crust. Peel bananas and slice them and spread over brickle. Then pour filling over that, and then spread 1/2 C of the brickle over that. Spread whipped cream over the pie. Sprinkle with remaining mixture and refrigerate until ready to serve. This pie tastes the best within a couple of hours.

My pie is in the refrigerator, and I've yet to eat it. But it looks and smells delicious. Speaking of which, The Boyfriend is in the kitchen making me catfish curry for dinner, so I've got to go. We will be celebrating in style! Happy Pi Day!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Watch "Waitress" for Pie Inspiration

So, my sister is in town, and has informed me that she has given up sweets for Lent. So alas, I have decided not to enact cruel torture by filling my house with the smell of pie.

Instead, I want to recommend to you the movie Waitress for pie-making inspiration. This movie has it all--the dead-beat husband, caddy wait staff, "spontaneous poetry," and of course, lots of pie. Plus a gruff Andy Griffith--what more could you want?

The heroine in Waitress creates pies for every situation in her life, both good and bad. It's an excellent example of how pie-making can be therapeutic and rewarding, not to mention how it can bring people together. I would highly recommend it.

In the meantime, I recommend the "Poor Man's Pie," this week's Pie of the Week--courtesy of my friend Jen. I promised not to tell her grandmother that she leaked the recipe, so mum's the word! Enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2009

How to Make Delicious Chocolate Cream Pie!

So now that we've tackled sugar cream pie, it's time to delve into chocolate. This is one of my favorite pies, and a favorite of many of my friends (in fact, my roommate has inspired me to make this pie much more often!).

The first key to making any cream pie requiring heat is that you have to have a good saucepan. By which I mean, a pan that has a nice thick plate on bottom to distribute heat evenly. Cheaper pans tend to be thin on bottom, and will (I can tell you from experience) give you burnt chips floating around in your filling. Now, I am not suggesting going out and spending $200. I use a Farberware 3-Qt saucepan that cost about $30, and it works perfectly well.

So, once you have your pan, you're ready to start. Here is my favorite recipe:

1 C sugar
5 tbsp flour
3 eggs--separated (stir a little milk in with the yolks)
2 C milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp cocoa

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

First, separate your egg whites from the yolks. I do this by cracking the egg shell and breaking it in the middle, and then moving the yolk back and forth into each half of the eggshell over a large mixing bowl. The egg whites should fall into the mixing bowl in this process. Be careful not to break the yolk! Set the bowl with the eggwhites aside (you will use them later). Place your egg yolks in another bowl and mix them with a little milk and the vanilla. Set aside the yolk mixture.

Next, mix sugar, flour, and cocoa in your saucepan. Then add milk and put over med/high heat. This is the tricky part, and will depend on your stovetop and your pan. You want your filling to thicken over the course of 5-7 minutes or so. It won't hurt anything to start with medium heat and then turn your burner higher if it's not thickening. Be sure to stir constantly.

Once your mixture is thick, remove from heat. Then add the yolk/milk/vanilla mixture a little at a time while vigorously stirring. If you simply dump all the egg mixture in all at once without stirring, you will end up with scrambled eggs in your pie. And while I am an adventurous pie-maker, this might be going a bit far.

Once you've stirred in all the yolk mixture, return the mixture to heat for just a couple more minutes. Then pour the mixture into your pie crust and let it sit.

Then, pull out that mixing bowl with the egg whites in it. Add a little bit of sugar (a few tsp or so) and mix with an electric mixer. You will see it begin to fluff up. Keep going until it is not fluffing any more. Then pour on top of your pie, spreading it evenly and making sure that the mixture touches the edges of the crust all the way around.

Then place the pie in the oven and bake just until the egg-white topping browns. This will not take long--a few minutes or so. Then remove your pie and let it sit for a few hours before eating. Note that you do not cook this pie, other than browning the top.

If banana cream is more your style, you make it the exact same way, only without adding the cocoa, and placing a layer of banana slices either between the crust and filling, or between the filling and topping. Remember that the banana slices will brown in a day or so, so banana cream pie needs to be eaten more quickly than the chocolate, which will stay good longer.

Congratulations! Let me know how it turns out!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Sugar Cream Pie, in Honor of Indiana

The latest in pie news: The Indiana Senate recently passed a bill to appoint sugar cream pie as the state's official pie. If the bill also passes the House, the pie will be officially named Hoosier Pie, and Indiana will become only the third state to have an official pie (joining Vermont with apple pie and Florida with Key Lime).

In honor of Indiana, I thought it would be fitting to spend some time this week on cream pies. Sugar cream pie is an excellent beginners' cream pie because you do not need to heat it before baking it. There are many recipes out there which are all very similar. Here's one from All Recipes, a great source for...well, all recipes:

1 1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C flour
1 C heavy whipping cream
3/4 C whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (you can use cinnamon instead)
1/4 C butter, chilled and diced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (225 degrees C).

In a medium bowl, mix together sugar, flour, and cream. Add milk and vanilla extract, and continue to stir until mixture is smooth. Pour into pastry shell. Sprinkle top with nutmeg and dot evenly with small chunks of butter.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and bake an additional 45 minutes.

Some people actually mix the ingredients in the pie shell, mixing the dry ingredients together in the bottom of the pie shell first and then pouring the wet ingredients (already mixed together) over the dry ingredients and stirring gently with a couple of fingers until it's mixed. Also, if the pie browns too quickly before it's done (you can tell it's done when the middle does not jiggle when you move the pie plate), you can put aluminum foil over it. Everyone has his or her own way of doing it, so experiment and find out what works best for you. Let me know how it goes!

Note that since you are cooking this pie so long, using an unbaked pie shell is best. You can make the pie crust just as you normally would, just without baking it first.

Cream pies tend to be just a bit more finnicky than fruit pies, particularly in getting them to set right. But they are well worth it in taste! Check back next week to learn to make chocolate and banana cream pies, which require heating first. Happy baking!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making the Crust

Making the crust was the most intimidating part of pie-making for me in the beginning—visions of my grandmother’s perfectly scalloped crust edges haunted me to distraction. If this is the case with you, my best advice is to give yourself permission to create not-so-pretty crust. It will taste just as good as spectacular-looking crusts, and in many cases will be covered by filling anyway. Let go of your perfectionist side and dive in.

One of the joys of pie-making is not having to measure anything. Once you make a few pies, memorize the recipe and measure the ingredients with your eyes. It doesn’t have to be exact to come out well, and you may surprise yourself by improving the recipe by alteration. But until you reach that point, here is a workable recipe for a single crust (for pies with no crust on top):

1 1/3 C flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 C shortening
3 Tbsp. cold water

Mix the flour and salt. Then cut in small chunks of the shortening and work it in with your hands until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Then add the cold water, which will allow you to roll the crust into a ball (it will be a bit sticky).

Next, cover a sheet of aluminum foil or wax paper with a thin layer of flour and put your ball of crust in the center. Flatten it as much as possible with your hands, and then rub flour on your rolling pin and roll it the rest of the way. If some of the dough sticks to your rolling pin, add more flour and continue rolling. The depth and size of your pie plate will determine how thin you need to roll it.

Now for the tricky part: transferring your rolled-out dough to the pie plate. The easiest way I have found is to spread a thin layer of flour on the top of the dough, then take the edges of your aluminum foil or wax paper and use that to fold the dough in half. Then transfer the folded dough into your pie plate (good luck!) and then unfold it.

If your dough breaks or crumbles in this process, or looks a bit like it’s been through a shredder, do not pull your hair out, curse the wretched hobby of pie-making, and send nearby family members running for cover. Remember what I said about embracing less-than-perfect crusts? Simply smoosh the dough back together, pressing it evenly and firmly to the bottom of the pie plate and all the way up the sides as well.

Poke a few holes in the bottom with a fork to prevent air bubbles, and pop it in the oven at 425 degrees. Bake it until the edges turn slightly brown (you may want to cook it a bit less if you will be cooking your pie filling in it afterwards as well). Enjoy!

Why Pie-Making?

Each time I show up with pie at a party, the office, or a neighbor’s door, I am greeted with the same responses: “You made that? From scratch?!” People are always shocked and appreciative at the appearance of home-made pie, even before they sink a fork into it. And while I must admit that these reactions often gratify my pie-makers’ ego, the fact is that there is no secret.

Pie-making is not mysterious; it has just been forgotten.

Many of our grandmothers made pie as a natural part of the day. Pie was a constant at large gatherings, church potlucks, social events, city fairs, and dinner tables. Bringing apple pie to a new neighbor was such a common gesture of goodwill that it has become cliché today. Linda Stradley’s History of Pie is an excellent resource if you are interested in a more in-depth look at the way pie is woven into our history.

There are countless good reasons to take up the torch and become a pie-maker. Here are just a few:

  1. Pie invites you to be creative. Unlike many desserts, pie gives you a lot of leeway to experiment, and pies—particularly fruit pies—are hard to mess up. It is intensely gratifying to come up with something original.
  1. Pie can often be made with ingredients you already have. If you cook at all, chances are you have flour, sugar, salt, and shortening sitting around your kitchen. All you need is some type of fruit, and you’ve got pie makings. We all love to enjoy a day without a trip to the grocery store, don’t we?
  1. Pie makes you popular. This cannot be understated. Whether you are baking for your kids, your friends, your co-workers, or your neighbors, your personal worth skyrockets when bolstered by pie. It is a great introduction in a variety of social situations. People are always more eager to open the door for you when they catch a whiff of warm pie.

If these reasons have convinced you, I hope you will grab a pan and a pie plate and dedicate a little time each week to pie-making. If you are eager to start but need some guidance, or if you are a seasoned expert looking for new recipes, check back weekly. I promise it will make your life more delicious!