Sunday, November 11, 2007

Part One: Pie

This weekend our kitchen saw more action than it has in the past 3 months combined. It was a weekend cooking extravaganza. So much so that I will have to address it in a multiple-part series of posts. Part one: Pie.

Inspired by a number of different cooking blogs, I spent some time last week thinking about pie. I have tried to make pies on one or two prior occasions, but never with particular success. I decided it was time to get back up on the horse and try it again. I settled on a triple-front attack that would guarantee at least ONE successful result. Three pies: (1) my Aunt Tammy's famous pecan pie, (2) Alice Waters' apple tart (via Smitten Kitchen), and (3) Ruth Reichel's blueberry pie with crumble topping (via The Amateur Gourmet)

My downfall in prior pie-making efforts has always been the crust. I would begin by rolling out two crusts (or, more accurately, attempting to roll out), and one would invariably (1) fall apart in dry crumbly pieces or (2) wrap itself around the rolling pin and stick like crazy glue. Then I would be left turning my pie into a makeshift tart with the one misshapen crust that survived. This time I settled for one homemade crust (for the apple tart) and bought two pre-made crusts from the grocery store (for the pecan and blueberry).

My friend Rachel came over Saturday afternoon to act as sous-chef and provide moral support. We began with the apple tart. I used Mark Bittman's simple tart crust recipe from How to Cook Everything. Once we formed the dough and got it into the freezer, we went to work on the pecan and blueberry. At first appearances, pecan was a snap. Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl, pecans included, and pour it into the crust. The most time-consuming part was turning the pecans so they all faced upward. (My aunt mentioned she did this for her pie and I felt I just wouldn't be doing it properly if I didn't follow along.) Blueberry was almost equally speedy. Just pour the fruit into the crust and whip up a quick crumble topping. Rather than use recipe topping, which The Amateur Gourmet called a "disaster," I went with my mother's tried and true apple crisp topping, which has never failed me yet. Those two went into the oven.

The pecan pie came out looking fabulous. (Yes, that's me in the reflection, attempting to take a clear photo in the low-light !)

The blueberry had some difficulties, however. Our oven (or perhaps our whole kitchen) slants slightly downward on one side. As a result all liquids roll in one direction, and all baked goods end up thicker on side than the other. Mid-bake I opened the oven to check on the pies and realized the blueberries had all migrated to one side of the pie and were drowning the crumble crust! In an attempt to rectify the situation, I turned the pie around. Not a good idea, as it turned out. The blueberries promptly rolled down to the other side of the pie and drowned the crumble opposite. By the time the pie was done, I was left with an island of crumble crust floating in a blueberry sea.

While the first round of pies was baking, we rolled out the apple tart dough. Thanks to Rachel's assistance and helpful tips, we actually were able to roll out a relatively supple, non-sticky, more-or-less circular tart crust. We pressed it into my new tart pan (bought especially with this in mind at A Cook's Companion on Friday) letting the dough hang over the sides, then arranged the apple slices in the middle (rather artistically, I'd say), and folded the dough back over on top. Before popping it in the oven we sprinkled sugar over the apples and folded dough (3 tbsp, rather than the 5 the recipe called for), and brushed it all with a little melted butter. It came out looking miraculously like Deb's picture in her Smitten Kitchen post! How thrilling that the most complicated of our experiments should have turned out so attractively!

Some friends invited us over for a potluck on Saturday night, and that gave me the perfect venue for pie-testing. (Because, after all that running, the last thing I want to do is ruin the results by eating three pies myself.) The apple tart was a definite hit. The pecan pie got rave reviews on taste, but somehow the filling just did not solidify as it should have, so there was some serious runny stickiness that will have to be addressed on my next attempt. The blueberry did not have as many takers, likely due to its questionable appearance, but it was tasty enough. Next time I will toss the blueberries in a little sugar before putting them in the crust. And perhaps next time I will make all the crusts myself.

Pie-making was just one of the many experiments performed in our kitchen this weekend! Stay tuned for more.


Ashkon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashkon said...

That was one of the best apple tarts i've ever tasted! I can't wait to try the blueberry pie. This has been a wonderful weekend!

amy sahba said...

oh yum! looks like i missed out an all the pie action (which might be a good things as that apple tart looks absolutely magnificent!)