Week 19: in which we resolve to make this year longer than 52 weeks (and we eat tiramisu pie)

Either time is slowing down (which would be awesome because my holiday ends tomorrow and I wouldn’t say no to just a few more days / weeks / months), or else I am not keeping up with my “pie a week” plan.

It’s true. Time is slowing down.

I wish.

No, I admit it. I have not been able to keep up my pie-a-week momentum over the Christmas break. I mean, when you’ve got peppermint bark, spiced butter cookies, gingerbread toffee, a seemingly bottomless Quality Street tin AND mincemeat tarts coming out the wazoo, how can a girl be expected to Keep. Making. Pies. That would be the mission of a crazy lady.

So a little New Year’s Resolution has happened. I have decided that I am going to need to modify my pie plan, ever so slightly, just the slightest of slight changes to the rules, okay? It’s not because I’m a lazy pie maker. It’s not because I am not committed to making many, many pies. It is mostly because over the holiday I realized there may be weeks in the year ahead when a girl just cannot find it in herself to make a pie. I’m going to keep on making pies (promise!) as close to every week as I can, until I hit 52 pies. Another way of looking at this is that I’ve just now declared that this “year of pies” is going to be longer than 52 weeks. Confused?

There may have been a little more rule-bending over the holidays with our New Year’s pie. Have you not heard of tiramisu pie? How about frangelico mascarpone cream pie with ladyfinger crust? Sounds legit, right?

If it’s shaped like a pie. If you can slice it. It’s pie. So say moi.

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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 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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Week 8: rustic apple crumb crostata (near)perfection

Funny that given I’m a perfectionist, the more I bake, the more I tend to fall in love with rustic baked goods. This is why pie suits me well I think. A gorgeous pie might have edges that are a little uneven here and there, and juices that bubbled up out of the crust unexpectedly while baking, and a little sag someplace or other and still, someone will look at it and say, “That’s one beautiful pie.”  Rustic perfection. That’s what I’m after every time I bake a pie.

The apple crumb crostata I made this week might have ended up near perfect, but along the way, I had my doubts. The dough was a little tricky to manage, very sugary and so quite granular and hard to manipulate without cracking. I had more crumb mix than I needed so some was fed to the compost troll and I had to add a bit of cornstarch to the apples to thicken the buttery liquid as it cooked. As the crostata baked, it spread quite a bit, leading me at one point to say upon opening the oven, “Man, you aren’t much to look at, are you?”

I am sorry apple crumb crostata. You proved me wrong. You proved that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge because you are in fact quite lovely to look at, in that rustic way I hope for whenever I send a pie into the oven. Not only that, you are exactly what I felt like making with my first basket of Ontario apples of the year. Can we be friends after all?



I might be tempted to make this with the hazelnut crumb topping from my pear pie, just because I don’t think you can beat it, but this was pretty delish, as is. Thanks Martha. Continue reading

Why pie?

Why pie?

You’re wondering. I know.

Why not a year of cookies… or bread… or muffins… or cake… or chocolate mousse… or cocktails? (Wait a second… is it too late to make this about cocktails?)

Well, before I get to the pie part, I guess I’ve got to start with a little more about me, and a little more about the other “p” word this blog will address: perfectionism.

Ever since I was a kid, doing my best (and doing everything in my power to make sure my best was really spectacular) was something that was encouraged by many of the adults in my life, but by my dad in particular. As chance would have it, I was good at being good at stuff, especially school stuff. The more stuff I was good at, the more people expected me to be good at more stuff, all the time. So as a kid and then a teen, I went about being good at things, and getting noticed for it. For as long as I can remember, there were “expectations.” I was going to do things with my life. Impressive things. I was a nerd, but I think I was a mostly happy nerd. For a long time I didn’t feel the pressure of it all. I was aware of what people expected of me. It was always there in the background, but for a while, it didn’t concern me much. I was busy. As the time came closer for me to leave home I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do, probably because I was so busy trying to be great at everything I didn’t have a second to really think about what I loved. I left for university, picking something general and hoping I’d figure it out as I went. Then, close to the end of university, it hit me. I had no idea where I was going. No idea at all. Suddenly this bothered me, which was when I turned to the one thing I could say made me happy, and always had. I started baking. (I’d been baking since I was ten. I taught myself how because my mom specialized in Grasshopper Pie and Jello Pudding. Bless her. More on that later). Unbelievably, I scored a job in a great kitchen and loved it from the first moment. To my dad’s chagrin, I decided to finish my degree part-time and keep working at the bakery. I ended up working as a baker for more than five years, making pastries and cakes and chocolates and bread in some of the best establishments in the city.

I loved the work. It was hard. It was physical. It was creative. It was yummy. For the first time I felt that something I was good at also happened to be something that I wanted, something that I was choosing for myself, not because of what was expected or what was sensible or smart, but because it mattered to me and it pleased me. However, there was one thing I didn’t love: the money. I started wondering how I was ever going to make a go of it financially and eventually I came to the conclusion that the only way I could see a future in what I was doing would be to open my own place, and that wasn’t something I felt ready to do.

More school and another degree and now, five years later, I’m a teacher librarian. Next to baking, books have always occupied a happy place in my life. I’m a grown up. I’m married. I still bake. I love to write. Life is good. This said, I don’t know if it’s being well and truly 30-something, but lately I’ve been thinking more about where I am in my life, where I imagined I would be now, where I think everyone else thought I would be, and why that even matters at all. I’m wondering if I will ever discover what I want most, if I’ll ever have the guts to go for it, and if I can ever find a way to care less about perfection and how other people, those I love and those I hardly know, see me.

So now we come to pie part… Continue reading