Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ethel (and her Mom) Make an Apple Pie

Hello! I’m Ethel and am Mavis’ partner in piedom.

I have been in the kitchen most of my life.  I was often perched in the doorway keeping my mom company as she made dinner.  My mother is very animate and was always giving lessons.  She would have me feel bread doughs (like a baby’s bottom) (an analogy that still bothers me) and would show me the consistency of shortening and flour that has been appropriately cut together.  I can make a decent loaf of bread and I think my cakes are as good as my mom’s.


Pie is scary though.  Even the best cooks have fillings that won’t set or cheese cakes that crack.  I have seen hundreds of crusts that resemble cardboard.  I don’t like to do anything poorly so I have avoided the genre of pie making completely.


This Pie Experience


It started with buying apples at 12:30 in the morning.  My parents were coming up the next day so I thought it was a good time to try my first real pie.  I briefly remembered the America’s Test Kitchen suggestion to use two types of apples but couldn’t remember what they required.  And with it being so late and I was half asleep and meandering the grocery store, I didn't care.  I used half Granny Smith and half Macintosh expecting the grannies to give structure and the Macintosh the strong sweet apple flavor.

The next day I started on the dough about two hours later then I expected.  When my parents arrived at our new apartment I only had the dough made.  It was far drier then I anticipated and so I put it in the fridge to hydrate (as all the cooking shows suggest) while I cut the apples.  My dad was hungry so we decided to let everything sit and went to feed him. 

Upon returning my mother decided that it would be easier to start over then to use my dough.  I had to hang my head in shame.  My mom did confess that she started with the Fannie Farmer recipe 30 years ago and found the dough too dry as well.  My mom leans more towards the tender then flaky and her best suggestion for hydrating dough is to add more fat.  She is a pie rolling queen, though. 

 The Fannie Farmer Baking Book.  Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York.  1984

For 9 inch 2-crust pie

2 ¼ cups flour

½ tsp. salt

¾ cup vegetable shortening

6-7 Tbl. Cold water  (I used 8 or 9)


6-7 apples

¾ cup sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

lemon juice and lemon zest


Mom’s Pie Dough (probably adapted from Betty Crocker but the origins have been lost through time)

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

2/3 cup plus 2 Tbl shortening

up to ½ cup cold water (start with less)

My mother states that as she over measures everything so it is probably closer to 1 cup of shortening.  My mom always uses butter flavored Crisco.

The Results

This was one of my early experiences with this oven.  I hate it.  It has solid metal burners that give no control.  The oven has no window or light so you can’t see what is going on unless you open the door.  It drops in temperature much easier then any other oven I have owned.  The crust really didn’t darken and it cooked at least 30 minutes longer then it should have.  The crust was brittle and dry and the apples had steamed themselves into mush. 


It was the best applesauce I had ever eaten.  

I have never calibrated an oven but I think it will be required before my next experience. 


Monday, October 27, 2008

Mavis Makes A Squash Pie

Welcome to the inaugural posting here at Umble Pie. I am Mavis, an aspiring pie maven, and crusty broad.

Everyone has their culinary fears, and at the top of my list is pie, more specifically, pie crust. My fear can be traced back to observing my mother making pies. My mother, who grew up on a farm, raised livestock for 4-H, canned vegetables throughout her youth, and readily prepares bread and candy, swears like a sailor when she attempts to roll out pie dough. So this blog is an attempt to cure me of my anxieties.

In an attempt to finish out my garden produce, my first pie will be using up the last of my butternut squash puree. My weapon of choice is my 75th edition of Joy of Cooking. I should admit here that I am not a terribly thorough recipe reader or follower really. I tend to skim recipes and jump right in without reading the full recipe from beginning to end first. So, it should come as no surprise that I am a truly terrible baker. However, I actually did read the entire pie entry before embarking on my first pie journey. My feelings on the failures of my first pie tend to place the blame squarely on myself and not the cookbook, but I will say that there were two promises that were unfulfilled in this recipe. The cookbook claims that refrigerating the pie dough will both tenderize it and prevent shrinkage, if that’s true, I can’t imagine what results my dough, left out of the fridge, would have yielded.

So, let’s get down to the recipe.

The Dough: This recipe for dough is pretty straight forward: shortening, butter, flour, salt, sugar, and ice water. I used a pastry blender to mix the fat into the flour and added exactly the amount of ice water specified in the recipe, but in my case, it was not enough. My dough was much too dry, but I was too timid to follow my instincts, mostly because all pie dough recipes are constantly shouting about not adding too much liquid. I refrigerated the dough overnight for ease, and did not let it warm up enough before rolling it out. The dough kept cracking and falling apart; I managed to get it into the pie plate, but was not able to get any sort of presentable pie crust edge. The upside of this crust: it was incredibly flaky, and held together perfectly when dishing out slices of pie. The downside: it was hard to work with, shrank when baked, and not as tender as I would have liked.

The Filling: This recipe was also pretty basic, but did not disappoint. My homegrown squash was beautifully colorful and tasty, the spices were well balanced, and the Joy of Cooking recommended serving the pie with a bourbon-infused whipped cream. It did take at least 20 minutes longer to cook than the recipe recommended, but this may be due to oven differences, or the water content in my squash versus canned pumpkin.

The Overall Verdict: My husband called me a “pie wizard,” but I should warn you that he never complains, and has been lulled into complacency by store-bought pies. I have to say that I am much happier with this pie than I would have thought, and also, I would like to bathe in bourbon flavored whipped cream.

Happy Pie Making from Mavis!

Mavis Makes A Squash Pie

Basic Pie or Pastry Dough (from the 75th edition of Joy of Cooking)
(Measurements are for a 9 inch double crust)

Sift together:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t. salt

3/4 cup chilled lard or vegetable shortening
3 T. cold unsalted butter

Cut half of the shortening into flour mixture with a pastry blender or fingers until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Cut the remaining half into dough until it is pea-sized. Sprinkle the dough with:

6 T. ice water

Blend the water gently into the dough until it just holds together, if necessary, add additional water. Divide the dough in half, shape each into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap.

Pumpkin or Squash Pie (from the 75th edition of Joy of Cooking)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 9 inch pie plate with half recipe of Basic Pie or Pastry Dough. Glaze the crust with 1 large egg yolk. Dock the crust, line with foil, and weight down with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 15 minutes, remove weights and foil, finish baking for 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool.

Decrease oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk thoroughly in a large bowl:

2 eggs

Whisk in:

2 cups cooked pumpkin or squash puree
1 1/2 cups heavy cream or evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. allspice or cloves
1/2 t. salt

Warm the piecrust in the oven until it is hot to the touch, leaving the filling at room temperature. Pour the filling into the crust and bake 35 to 45 minutes until firm. Cool completely on a rack.