14 march

March 15, 2013 § 1 Comment


As groan-inducing internet memes go, pie day comes with dessert, at least.  (Talk like a pirate day?  Ugh).

C had the day off from school.  The middle school gets a whole ten days off for spring break (and he needs it–the last week or so has brought with it a norovirus that wiped him out for the better part of four days, and since recovering he’s been eating everything in sight).  “What do you want to do with your day off,” I asked him.

“Watch old Star Trek reruns.”  Cool.  “And it’s March 14.  Pie day.  We should bake a pie.”

Nooooo problem.  What kind?  Apple, of course.  The kid’s a traditionalist at heart.  “You have to help,” I told him.

Four pounds of apples, peeled, thin-sliced on the mandoline, and drained religiously.  That part I took care of.  He mixed up the now-patented C-and-Dad magic formula of spices, starches, and sugars (OK, it’s just J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s Perfect Apple Pie recipe from Serious Eats…), we par-boiled the apples and let them sit, taunting us, while we baked up my grandmother’s infallible shortening-based crust.  Well, almost her crust.  I add the now-standard shot or two of vodka to the dough, which makes it more malleable to roll out but leaves the crust drier and flakier once it’s evaporated in the oven.  I am absolutely sure that my grandmother never tried this, because I cannot imagine her buying vodka–ever–in public.

Anyway.  We still haven’t got the whole sizing-the-crust-right thing down, quite.  There was some patching, some frantic re-rolling, and that piece there is one of the better-looking ones.  C and I have decided that for the moment we will specialize in delicious but ugly, which isn’t that hard.  The good news was that the filling came out perfectly.  The par-boiled apples have just enough bite to give the pie some heft, but they’re mostly soft, and they’re coated in a light but sweet syrup.  None of the jelly-like ooze that comes with a restaurant pie–the apples are what you taste.  Both he and I think that’s right.  (Half Granny Smith, half Braeburn, for the record, so lots and lots of pectin helping things out, here).

We polished off almost half of this last night, and my grandmother would be proud to know that we all sat there mashing the crust crumbs with our forks to get every last bit of flakiness.  The thing is likely to be even better tonight, having macerated in the fridge.

So, dumb internet meme?  Sure.  Awesome excuse for dessert?  Yup.  It’s not molecular gastronomy, but I think that between the two of us we’ve mastered the classic homemade apple pie.  We’ll make another one on 31 April.

Which is pie day in Europe.


baking sunday

November 14, 2011 Comments Off on baking sunday

I’ve usually tried to take the last couple days of my non-kid weeks and get everything squared away so that the house is well-stocked and ready to go when O and C show up.  Clean sheets.  All the laundry done.  Groceries all in place, cookies baked, fresh loaf of bread, etc., etc.  This time around that didn’t happen because of a glorious work trip to California.  I got the laundry and sheets all done, but the baking took a back seat.  C and I made cookies yesterday, but we were short a fresh loaf of bread, some groceries, and dessert for dinner tonight.  So today was basically baking almost start to finish, the sort of day that I secretly enjoy a lot.  It started, of course, with the New York Times and coffee, of course, but L had to put in a full day of work, so the oven got fired up pretty early this morning.

This week’s bread is a pan bigio from Carol Field’s Italian Baker.  It’s been about a year that I’ve spent working through Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Every Day, and I thought it was time to try a slightly different take.  Field’s book is amazing–dozens of subtly different recipes, and a really thorough explanation of what you’re making, where it’s from, and why that’s important.  She clearly has no time for the no-knead philosophy; you’re spending some time kneading, for crying out loud, and you’ll like it.  This one starts with a biga the night before, which gets nice and spongy on the coutnertop and fuels a four hour set of rises in the morning.  The dough itself is half whole wheat, so it’s arguably healthy.  Most of her recipes seem pretty wet, so getting the loaf shaped was a challenge, but it made it on to the peel fine and spent a full 50 minutes baking away.  Good results–nice chewy crust and as soft a center as you could probably get with that much whole wheat.  I’m sold, at least for the moment, though her ciabatta recipe comes with a warning that one really needs a mixer to deal with the soup of a dough she suggests.  We’ll see…

The real fun, though, was dessert tonight.  We did a simple brown rice pilaf that was in the Times today, so I figured we had both the time and the calories to tackle a pumpkin pie.  Alice Waters’ Art of Simple Cooking had a recipe that looked good–cream instead of evaporated milk, a truckload of spices, and less sugar than one I’d been eyeing.  I’ve always liked pumpkin pie, but wanted to do one that wasn’t too heavy, and this seemed perfect.  And, maybe more important, I wanted an excuse to use my grandmother’s crust recipe, which the folks sent me earlier this fall after my inaugural, blueberry attempt.  Grandma’s recipe used shortening instead of butter, and her recipe notes that it’s “marvelously flaky,” which is absolutely true.  It’s not sweet–no sugar at all–but it lets the filling do the talking, and it stayed dry and flaky even on the bottom.  I baked the crust on its own  first, then baked it again with the goop in it, and we topped it with some fresh whipped cream.  The result was pretty miraculous.  I’m not quite sure what I did right.

bagels and pie

August 6, 2011 Comments Off on bagels and pie

We all knew this would be the toughest week.  K moved in to her apartment Thursday, and while the paperwork will take a few more weeks to make things official, we’re now two households instead of one, with all the emotional and logistical baggage that entails.  Her parents came out to help her move, and everyone handled things incredibly well.  But it was still a sad moment, and past experience has shown me that I deal with these best when I can a) run a ton in the mornings, and b) have a ridiculous project or two to focus on.

The running part happened mostly last weekend.  But with K’s parents in town I thought I’d try something else in the baking department.  O had mentioned pretzels, and she’d mentioned raisin bread, and together we triangulated those and decided on raisin bagels.  Same dough as pretzel dough (who knew?) but somehow these seemed more wholesome and breakfast-y.  She helped me make the dough, I figured out how to roll them into passable bagel shapes.  Wednesday morning I took them out before an early run and let them rise for six miles, then I plopped them in some simmering water laced with baking soda and tossed them in the oven.  Amazingly easy, and really good with some cinnamon sugar and a session in the toaster.  The baking soda in the water made a chewy crust, but the interiors were nice and light.  There is, of course, a gigantic rift in the world between steamed bagel lovers and boiled bagel lovers.  I think I’m in the latter camp.

So we’re now on a schedule.  I got first dibs on the kids, to give her time to unpack the apartment.  The two of them have been really good about things, probably better than their parents deserve.  C said the other night “eh, you two made the decision, we’ll all just make the best of it,” and we kind of are.  Our first stint is a short one–a long weekend, really, and so we sat down and figured out what we wanted to do.  Nothing big–the local dirt track tonight, if the weather holds, and then two dinners of whatever they want.  O’s night was last night.  Roasted chicken, double-fried french fries.  Really?  Roasted chicken in the middle of August?  I surfed through my recipe clippings, not wanting to blast the oven for two hours to roast a whole bird.  How about pan-roasted chicken thighs, I asked her.  Crispy skin like fried, juicy meat like roasted?  Winner.  And the fries were good, too.  I gave up on Yukon Golds finally and hacked up two Russets, taking a tip and soaking them in ice water for a couple of hours before dropping them in the dutch oven (which nearly bubbled over this time–that would have been a fine start).

O said that the chicken was now officially her favorite Dad Dinner.  And it was pretty amazing.  But the real adventure came when, in the midst of chopping potatoes, O casually mentioned that she’d like pie, too.  Peanut butter honeycomb, if possible.  Not possible, I told her.  And besides, your brother hates peanut butter.  I have never made a pie before, I told her.  Can we please start with something simple, like blueberry?  She licked her chops.  Of course.

So I ran out to the store and bought shortening, flour, and a metric ton of blueberries.  I hesitated at the frozen pie crusts.  First attempt at a crust, do I trust myself?  And then I thought Ruth Leslie’s grandson should not–ever–buy a frozen pie crust.  Not even as a backup plan.  She made serious pies, and when arthritis and years finally forced her into the occasional frozen crust she apologized profusely.  Homemade crust it is, whatever the outcome.  This one’s for you, Grandma.

It came out pretty much as you’d expect a first pie to come out.  Soupy, and ugly, but not un-tasty.  I guessed on the tapioca/corn starch conversion in the recipe I was using, and guessed wrong (though four tablespoons of corn starch seemed like a lot).  Didn’t matter.  It tasted fine, and the crust was surprisingly good.  Not quite grandma-worthy, but better than expected.  Again, you can divide the world into butter crust people and shortening crust people.  I split the difference, with good results–flaky but also just dense enough to hold up against the onslaught of purple goo.  Lime meringue is next.

C gets to decide what we have Sunday, when K comes to pick them up.  He’s got a pretty stiff menu to compete with here, though I imagine he’ll find some combination that’s similarly challenging.  I’ve already laid some ground rules–like only one starch.  I can totally see mac’n’cheese with a side of fries being his ultimate meal.  But I think we’re off to a decent start here.  We’ve certainly set the bar high.  L, despite being in the midst of an 80+ hour week, drove up to have dinner (and, I think, to check up on us) and approved.  The chicken and fries all disappeared, but there’s still (thank goodness) half a pie left in the fridge.

UPDATE:  Mom sent along my grandmother’s actual pie crust recipe.  She was a shortening woman.  And egg, too.  So now I have a dilemma–go with all shortening and stay true to family tradition?  Or forge a new path by hedging my bets with butter?  Any and all advice appreciated…

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