Week 22: macaroon truffle pie of perfection

Coconut is a divisive ingredient. A little like coriander or anchovies in the way that people seem to either adore it or despise it. Coconut is a magnet to me. In a bakery, if something has coconut in it, I will find it and I will want it. Add chocolate and I will want it even more. So it’s no surprise that this pie called to me, because it is really like a macaroon’s more sophisticated cousin. Once you’ve tasted it, you will know that it is hard to classify this pie. It’s a little bit like the best chewy chocolate macaroon you’ve ever tasted, and a bit like a Bounty bar, and a bit like a fine dark truffle. All. At. Once.

I swear.

To make this scenario even more perfect, I am happy to report that it is dead easy. Probably the easiest pie I’ve made so far in this venture.

So go make one.

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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 16: I may not be in Paris, but I can still eat Tarte Tatin

When I go to Paris (the “when” makes it sound like I “go to Paris” all the time – just keep on thinking that), I always feel a little guilty and a lot like a tourist when I order Tarte Tatin. I can’t help but feel like I’m ordering something safe and predictable and I wonder how many real live Parisians actually order it when they’re out for dinner. As soon as I say Tarte Tatin, I imagine the waiter thinking, “Touriste!” in his/her head. Well you what, I don’t care. I don’t care because who could argue that caramel soaked apples against crunchy sweet crust is not worthy.

There’s this tiny bar in the Marais called au petit fer a cheval and it is an itty boite of a place with perfectly composed salads and the smallest terrace possible and what I think is the best tarte tatin a girl could hope to discover after shopping the streets of Paris. Here’s the place:

I love their Tarte Tatin so much because the apples are deeply caramelized. They are dark and rich and melty. Also, the crust is generous and thick against the apples and the whole thing is served with a dollop of creme fraiche that is as thick and tangy as sour cream. I tell you it is stellar. Plus you will feel oh-so-Parisian sitting out front if you are lucky enough to snag one of the 8 seats.

I’ve made the Tarte Tatin from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini a bunch of times, and it hasn’t let me down once. By the way, every recipe I’ve made from that little book has been worthy of repeating. You should buy it if you love all things French. Now I don’t pretend that this tatin is as good as the one I love in Paris, but it is a strong second. The apples are not as richly caramelized, and I’m thinking this might be because it’s harder to judge the darkness of the caramel if you’re using brown sugar. Next time I’m using white and I’m going to take the caramel a bit darker (and make more of it too, I think). I want the apples to be absolutely soaked with it, the colour of amber. The crust is delightfully easy to work with and retains its crispy bottom even after refrigeration. Plus, when you present it to people, they will think you slaved for hours and that you are a talented apple-arranger, and you can simply smile, shrug in an effortless and vaguely French way, and say “Merci.” Continue reading

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 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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