Week 14: it’s not pretty, but ugly oaty maple pie is darn tasty

This week’s pie was a sure test of my goal to try not to see the world entirely through my perfectionist glasses. That is because this week’s pie was not pretty. Honestly, as I took it out of the oven I said, “Why hello Ugly Pie.” This was for sure Perfectionist Me talking, because my fella looked at it over my shoulder and declared, “No, it’s not ugly, it’s rustic.” It was too late however, because since that moment we are both calling it Ugly Pie. (As in, “Hey, can I have some Ugly Pie?” “Is there any Ugly Pie left?” “I sure feel like a little Ugly Pie…”) We have a little green book that we use to record the best things that we make so that we remember where we got the recipes months down the road, and this pie made it into the Green Book. It was entered into the book as “Ugly Pie.”

The discovery of Ugly Pie reminded me of another entry in our green book. At least five years ago I made a cake that was so sad-looking, it became legendary. I think I remember taking it out of the oven too soon, and then realizing my error about ten minutes later, I stuck it back in trying to save it. But to no avail, because it sagged in the middle as it cooled and it ended up a little too brown on the edges. Back then I was even more of a perfectionist that I am today, so needless to say, I did not take the ugly cake very well. We lived in a condo at the time and my perfectionism had driven me to dump a few desserts I deemed to be “failures” down the garbage chute, even though my boy tried to stop me. (One of those times he managed to, and thank goodness, because if not, we might never have tasted my now famous peppermint patty brownies. I cannot believe I almost pitched those). This time it was all I could do not to march that cake down the hall and send it hurtling down the chute to a dramatic and satisfying end. I didn’t do that though. I remembered the brownies. Instead, I wrote a note beside the cake and left it to finish cooling in all of its ugliness on the kitchen counter and I went for a walk so I wouldn’t be home when my guy found it there. I did not want to talk about my cake. I did not want to look at my cake. I wanted my cake to disappear, but I resisted and instead of being wasteful and silly, I disappeared instead. I just needed a little time apart from the Ugly Cake.

This is the note (stuck into our green book):

(Pretty good penmanship for a cake, huh?)

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Week 13: tiny pear and vanilla pies

These past few weeks I find myself feeling nostalgic. Nostalgic for my childhood home. Nostalgic for the day last week when the leaves on the tree outside my house were the perfect glowy shade of orange against the sky. Nostalgic for my honeymoon in Paris (partially thanks to this blog, which always makes me feel dreamy for Paris, though it doesn’t take much). So where is this feeling coming from? Is it that it’s autumn? Is it the fact I’m pretty sure I’m getting more crinkly wrinkles around my eyes when I smile? Beats me. I can tell you that pie – making it and eating it – always feeds my nostalgia, so I guess I might have to get used to the feeling.

Last week I made portable pies again, this time delightful little pear pies with lots of vanilla. Vanilla is a flavour perfect for a nostalgic mood – sweet and aromatic and comfortable. I wasn’t so sure about them at first, the puffed up texture of their tops and the fact that the crusts didn’t brown up as well as I like, but it only took a bite to find they had a beautiful creaminess and a rich vanilla taste that made me feel wrapped up and ready for November’s chill. Continue reading

Week 12: you are naughty hoosier pie

I had not tasted Hoosier Pie until last week, and I discovered that you only need to taste Hoosier Pie once in order to know it is a very naughty pie. This is not a pie for anybody who is afraid of sweet. If you are at all affected by sugar, after you eat a slice of this pie, your heart will be racing and you will feel a little out of control. I speak from experience. This pie frightened me a little, it was so powerful. Powerful enough that I took the leftovers to work and halfway through the day (it was not a very good day), I decided that I would be taking 2 slices back home with me again because I needed me some more Hoosier Pie.

Do not even think about how bad this is for you. Just don’t make it every week, ‘kay? Continue reading

Week 11: well, even apple pie is sometimes a little forgettable…

I think the reason it’s taken me so long to post about last week’s pie is that it was perhaps the only pie that has disappointed me so far on this pie journey. It was a little forgettable, and so I considered not even posting about it. The perfectionist in me was thinking, why bother?

But that would be cheating. That would be against my mission statement. I promised I would present every single pie, good, bad, and just a little forgettable. Besides, I did learn a thing or two from this pie, not to mention it raised a pie mystery that I hope to solve in the weeks ahead. However, since I don’t want you going and making a pie that is less than worth it, I’m not going to bother posting the recipe. You get a picture, you get my musings, you get a great song, and that’s it!

Here’s what I think went wrong with this pie. I rushed. I really didn’t have time to be making a pie last weekend, but I tried to anyway. I didn’t have time because I was going with our friends to an amazing food event north of the city, called Foodstock. You can learn more about it here, and see some great pictures that really capture the spirit of the day here. In a nutshell, a mega-quarry is being planned on some of Southern Ontario’s more beautiful and productive farmland (genius, right?) and so chefs and musicians and local folk planned an amazing event to raise money that will be used to hire experts to help create the best plan to fight it. It was awesome and delicious and inspiring. I have to hope they have a chance to stop it. I grew up not too far from the proposed quarry site and the idea that more of this rich land could be devastated angers and saddens me profoundly. It was heartening to see so many people come together to say we need to start really thinking about the future of what is left of our landscape.

So, I rushed the pie for a worthy cause. I underbaked the pie and the apples did not have time to reach that luscious sort-of-falling-apart, melting caramely stage that is most desirable. I do not like it when the apples end up with a little crunch to them – it makes me think of grocery store apple pie. The flavour of the filling was good, but the texture was lacking.

Which brings me to the pie mystery. I sent the pie into the oven loaded up with apples. I really packed them in there. It looked bountiful as I draped the top crust over the fruit. However, after I took the pie out, I noticed that somehow in the baking process the top crust had set and the apples seemed to have shrunk away from it, leaving about an inch worth of sad, fruitless space between the top and the filling – a gaping black hole of sorts. This did not please me. Not one bit. This is a mystery to me. Aside from underbaking and using a different filling recipe (the same apples though), I can’t think what factor could have caused this. If you know, or if you have a good guess, please pipe up.

Finally here’s a great song, which I chose for this week because Sarah Harmer was at Foodstock, and she sang it that day. It brings tears to my eyes. (I didn’t cry over my mediocre pie though, just so you know!)

Week 10: Thanksgiving part two, in which we find a friend for our pumpkin pie

I didn’t want my pumpkin pie to be feeling all the pressure on our Thanksgiving table, so I did the only thing I could: I baked an apple pie too. I figured that my family of traditionalists would be satiated.

And so they were.

You know that saying, “we eat first with our eyes”? Well, this apple pie was something to behold:

Can’t you just feel the Thanksgiving love? (Don’t you wish your screen was scratch and sniff?)

I should have taken a side view shot, because the height of this pie really added to its promising, applause-worthy beauty. (Another reason I need to get myself more of these, I think). You can’t really see it in this picture, but this pie practically sparkled. All of the tiny grains of sugar sprinkled over the golden crust worked together to whisper at you, “Eat me! I am as tasty as I am beautiful!” This pie will make your loved ones be thankful that they have a pie maker in the family. Continue reading

Week 10: Thanksgiving part one, in which we discover, bake, and gobble the Perfect Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving is any pie-maker’s happy place. Everyone expects pie. Everyone is ready to eat more than one slice of pie (everyone who is any fun that is). Pie is celebrated. Pie is praised. Pie is gobbled. Pie is The Finale.

I like making a desert that is well and truly seen by all as The Finale. I like being the center of attention like that, I admit.

At the same time, the perfectionist pie maker might find Thanksgiving a shade stressful. I mean, a pie that is The Finale must not only be swoon-worthy, with a crust both flaky and golden and a filling to sing about, it must also be Magnificent to Behold. A perfectionist finds that prospect a little eek-inducing.

Last year I avoided pie completely, because last year I wanted to skip the finicky crust-making process. Instead I made an apple tart cake and a cranberry caramel tart, both delicious, both beautiful, both fitting for the season. However, a few family members asked in a quiet, “not-that-I’m-disappointed-or-anything” sort of way, whether or not there was going to be pumpkin pie. After I stopped feeling miffed (“Be thankful for what you’ve got here people!”), I realized that they had a point. It wasn’t right. Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie is wrong. This year there would be pumpkin pie. My fella asked me if I was making “a regular pumpkin pie” (knowing that it is my habit / addiction to try new recipes, even / especially for the most high-pressure occasions) and when I told him yes, he said, “Yes!” The only ingredient that makes this a little non-traditional is maple syrup, but who could get upset about that?

I am one of those people who could pretty much drink maple syrup straight from the jar. I find it hard to imagine many foods that couldn’t be improved with a little drizzle of its golden perfection. So when Fall comes I find every excuse to bake / cook / drink the stuff. When I discovered a recipe for Maple Pumpkin Pie I felt that it would satisfy the traditionalists in my family as well as my inclination to tweak a classic into something even more memorable. One bite of this pie was all it took to convince me that it will be very unlikely that I will experiment with different pumpkin pie recipes again. Do not bother looking for another recipe. This one is The One. Continue reading

Week 9: when cheddar cheese and an apple pie really love each other…

One of the very first pies I made when I was a teenager just starting to teach myself how to bake, was an apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust. The recipe came from a Gourmet magazine which made me feel a little snooty but in a good way, like I was starting to know things about the world of food that existed far beyond my middle-of-nowhere town. (Note: I loved that middle-of-nowhere town a lot, but it is a sad thing that I had never even seen – let alone eaten – an avocado until I was past twenty). It was a funny thing that I chose this recipe, because I had never gone for the slice-of-cheese-with-pie experience, and almost nobody in my family enjoyed that either. So I can’t say what inspired me to make this particular pie, but am I ever glad I did. Everyone loved it. Everyone thought it was pie heaven.

That pie taught me some of my first lessons about pastry, and it was a very forgiving place to start. It helped me discover that it really does matter the type of apple you use, that cold pie from the fridge can sometimes taste even better than warm pie, and that a deep dish pie is something extraordinary to behold. Making that pie made me feel proud, like I had accomplished something impressive and worth celebrating.

The Gourmet magazine is long gone, but thank goodness I copied the recipe into a notebook of my grandmother’s recipes a long time ago. This week I was inspired by that pie. I decided to try another cheddar crust apple pie and compare, but I’ll have to make the original before I tell you which one wins. If you like salty / sweet and if you like a slice of cheese with your apple pie, then you will certainly be satisfied by this pie experience. And the smell when it’s baking… lemony, cinnamon, apple-buttery goodness. It made me remember those first days baking in my mom’s kitchen.

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