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My great grandmother made four pies every morning of her adult life. I don’t actually remember the pies – what I remember is my grandmother knitting brightly colored slippers for everyone in the family while cheering for her beloved St. Louis Cardinals – but my dad assures me that the pies were made every morning without fail.
For my great grandmother, making pies must have been second nature. But so many of my friends and family, and so many of our students at The Chopping Block, get anxious at the prospect of making pies from scratch. Over the past few months, I have heard several pie horror stories and fielded countless questions about my recommendations for pie dishes, whether the crust should be made with shortening or butter, and how to be sure the filling in a covered pie is cooked to perfection.
So, when I sat down to brainstorm what to do for my first blog post I thought, why not tackle pies? I may never be a pastry chef, but I’m a pretty determined girl so I don’t want to make just one pie – I want to make different kinds of pies, with different crusts, different ingredients, and different preparations. Here, then, is my first in a series of posts chronicling my quest to become a pie aficionado.
At work, I perused our selection of cookbooks and settled on A Year of Pies, by Ashley English. I like that the recipes in this book are organized by season – it will help me to focus on seasonal, easily available ingredients. Plus, these recipes include traditional pies, crostadas, gallettes, tarts, and hand pies. Everything a blossoming pie guru could ask for! I chose to start with the pear crostada and, in order to put my own spin on it, I thought I’d add some gruyere to the filling.
Here’s something you should probably know about me. I am really, really, bad at following directions. I mean, I can read and understand them easily, but then I consciously decide to change measurements or ingredients on a whim. For the crust – which is just a basic pie crust – I decided to use equal parts butter and shortening. The recipe didn’t call for equal parts, but I had it so it went into the dough.
I used my shiny new pastry blender to mix the fats and dry ingredients until they looked a bit like flour covered gravel.
Once my dough was formed I chilled it for a few hours while I watched the Patriots crush the Bears (I’m also from Boston) and prepared the filling. For this part, I did actually follow the recipe to the letter. Then the filling went into the crostada, and the crostada went into the oven. The recipe called for a bake time of 30-35 minutes, so after it had been baking for 20 minutes I pulled it out of the oven and added small chunks of gruyere to the filling.
After 35 minutes, the crust was nice and flaky, but it never achieved the nice golden brown color I was hoping for. I let the crostada rest for about an hour before enjoying it with a few friends. We all decided that the gruyere was a nice, salty addition to the spicy pear filling but that the crust could have used a little more cook time.
So here’s what Mission Pie has taught me so far:
As long as you keep the fats cold and don’t overwork the batter, the type or ratio of fats doesn’t seem to matter.
I should probably judge the done-ness of my pie by sight and not time.
Gruyere is a great addition to pear pie!
Stay tuned for a sweet potato pie post next month.
If you could use some help with your Thanksgiving pies, our chefs are ready to handle dessert for you. We are now taking orders for our famous cast iron skillet Apple Pie & classic Pumpkin Pie. We offer two days of pickup at each location for your convenience: