May 3, 2020

Easy as pie is a lie

Not interested in what I have to say? I'll try not to take it personally.

Just gimme the recipe

Whoever coined the phrase ‘easy as pie’ obviously never baked a pie. Because seriously, they’re not easy. Sure, if you go to the store and buy one of those God awful pre-made crusts and a can of gelatinous, over sweetened stuff that sort of resembles fruit pie filling – that’s easy. But I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of calling that monstrous thing pie. Please, for the love of God, do not do this. I beg of you. It’s a disgrace to all pies everywhere. Besides, we’re all in quarantine here. Don’t try to tell me that you’re too busy to spend 10 minutes chopping up some fruit. Pause your Netflix binge for a moment and join me in a little game I like to call House in the Time of Quarantine.

When I was little, I played ‘House’ a lot. Do you remember doing this as a child? The premise was simple, you pretended to be an adult and do adult things. Why a child would want to pay bills and go grocery shopping for fun is beyond me, but we saw the adults doing these things and we’d copy them.

I’ve decided that playing House is how we’re all going to get through this apocalyptic world. If you make it all a game, then there’s winning involved. And if you’ve talked to my poor husband, you’ll know that I’m a freak about competition. I’ll do anything to win or at the very least, throw a tantrum in the process. Why he married me I’ll never know.

Winning at House is simple – all it requires is succeeding at adulting. Ate all of the salad mix before it got smelly and slimy? 5 points. Found a way to use that weird cheese that’s been in the fridge for two months? 20 points. Grew your own rhubarb? 50 points. Made a homemade pie with real homemade crust and fresh rhubarb that you grew? 1,000 points! It’s easy to be a winner at House.

There’s just one problem. Baking pie gives me the yips. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat right now just thinking about it. Because even though pie has really simple ingredients, it’s anything but simple. There are a number of things that can go wrong.

I’ve made plenty of crusts that fell apart, were too tough, too sticky or just plain tasteless. The good news is, I’ve discovered a crust recipe that works for me every time – check out the recipe here. Crust problem solved! 500 points. That brings us to the next disaster area.

The filling. My arch nemesis. I swear all of the fruit in the world sits around plotting about how it can bring me to tears. You see a plum? I see a little demon fruit that wants to make me lose at House. The problem with fruit pies, is that not all fruits are created equal. Every crop of fruit will have varying ripeness, juiciness and sweetness level. That technically means that the same amount of thickener or sugar in one pie, might not work in another. I can’t tell you how many pies I’ve made that have looked like soup when I sliced into them. -2,000 points.

That leads me to the other problem with pie. The recipe. If you look around the internet at one pie recipe, there are thousands of iterations. Each one uses different amounts of fruit, different amounts of sugar and different types and amounts of thickener. What this leads me to believe, is that none of us really know how to make the perfect pie. We’re all just winging it here.

These are all very convincing arguments for making your own pie, are they not? I know, it’s daunting. But please don’t make me play House all by myself! Just trust me, it’s all worth it in the end. I will not lie and tell you that I have a fail-free pie recipe for you. But I think if you keep a few things in mind, you’ll be pretty close to perfection.

Pie rule #1

Don’t use flour in your filling. It’s lower in starch, therefore you have to use more of it which ends up clouding the flavor of the fruit. My preferred thickening agent is tapioca or potato starch.

Pie rule #2

Use fresh fruit in your filling. Frozen fruit tends to release a ton of moisture when you cook it and you’ll end up with pie soup. Canned fruit lacks the flavor and texture of fresh. Find fruit that is in season – it will be cheaper and 100 times more delicious.

Winning at pie crust

I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve when it comes to crust. First, use cold ingredients. Add ice to the water from the recipe while you’re mixing everything. If it’s especially warm in your kitchen, place your cubed butter and/or shortening in the freezer for 15-20 minutes prior to adding it to the flour.

Did I hear you say ‘too much butter’?
You’re dead to me.

When incorporating the butter into the flour, I like to use a food processor. It’s quick and it gets the fat evenly distributed. I usually give the ingredients 7-10 pulses until all that’s left are small little lumps of butter. At this point, I do the rest by hand so it doesn’t get over mixed. Add 50% of the water in to start and then gradually add additional water one tablespoon at a time. You don’t want especially dry dough, but you don’t want it to be sticky either. Find that happy medium baby.

Let your pie dough chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or up to 36 hours) after you’ve mixed it. This allows the gluten to relax and the flour to absorb the moisture.

When you roll out the dough, place two pieces of overlapping plastic wrap on your counter and lightly dust it with flour. Roll the dough out on top of the plastic. Doing this will prevent the dough from sticking to your counter which in turn prevents fits of rage on your part. Simply lift the plastic wrap with the dough, invert it onto your pie plate and peal back the plastic.

My final pie secret is that I brush the crust with Greek yogurt before I bake it. I mix about one tablespoon of yogurt with one teaspoon of water. The thicker consistency of the yogurt leads to a nice rustic brown pattern on top when it bakes. If you want to score some additional House points, sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top as well.

So, while baking pie may not be, well… as easy as pie, it’s definitely worth it. Even if your filling is too juicy and your crust isn’t as flaky as you’d like, it’s going to be eons better than that foul concoction of pre-made shortcut items. When you put a little love and time into something, it shows. Besides, nothing good in life comes easy. And now you’re a champion House player.

P.S. I have to confess something. The pie that inspired this post was inedible. Everything about it was perfect, up until the most important part. The eating part. There was just something ‘off’ in the flavor. I finally realized that the potato starch in my cupboard was past its prime even though it was far from the expiration date. So sadly, I could not share this pie with friends and neighbors. But will that stop me from making another pie? Nope. I will be failing at pie until I die. I’m just that determined to win at this game of life.

Gimme the recipe