29 January 2011

Brown Sugar Pie from the Attic

Our second pie from the venerable Mrs. Rowe: Brown Sugar Pie from the Attic. The name apparently refers to the location of the trove in which the recipe was found. Whose attic it was I do not know, but he or she will not see me stopping here to sample this amazingly delicious pie. (Sorry Mr. Frost!)

We just call it Brown Sugar Pie around here - a rose by any other name, and all that, you know. As I mentioned yesterday I could call it Shoe Leather Pie and Isaac would still scarf it down.
Cream together 1c brown sugar and 1 stick butter. Stir in 3T AP flour, a pinch of salt, ¼c sweetened condensed milk, 2 eggs, and 1t vanilla extract. Blend by hand until smooth, pour into a parbaked pie shell, then bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Cool ½ hour on a wire rack; serve immediately.

Upon reading this recipe, I was surprised at the first instruction. Cream butter and sugar? That's cookies, right?

In a word, yes. And the result of this step does look like cookie dough.

Add chocolate chips and stop here, if desired.
As a side note, I was out of unsalted butter. I used salted instead, left out the pinch of salt called for, and the results seemed fine.

Next, add in everything else and combine until smooth. Have patience, and add things one at a time - they incorporate better that way.

...although mixing the milk and vanilla doesn't hurt anything
Here's a quandary: the recipe calls for only a quarter-cup of condensed milk, but condensed milk comes in 14-ounce cans. I offer two options - either Vietnamese coffee (or a reasonable facsimile thereof- I wish I had a proper filter but my Keurig and a strong K-cup are passable) or make more Brown Sugar Pies to share!

Even with the relatively small amount of milk, the completed filling has a pronounced condensed milk flavor. The filling seemed scant for my 9" pie plate, and my crust was certainly taller than it needed to be. Next time, I'll build up the crust even with the walls of the plate and let it go at that.

While we're on the subject of crust, I'll confess that I used a boxed crust again this week. For last week, it didn't seem to matter much, but this time, the flavor was a bit flat. Next time I make Brown Sugar Pie (because there will be a next time), I'll also make the crust from scratch - perhaps with a nutty pastry crust.

This pie cooks up dark, but don't worry - it tastes wonderful! Test for doneness with a pick at the center: if it's clean, pull the pie out. The flavor is very like a nutless pecan pie; Tiffany even mentioned that a handful of crushed pecans added on top just before baking would be good. She's not a pecan pie fan, but the texture of this filling is firmer than your typical pecan pie.

It's hard to wait to serve this, but a half-hour on a wire rack will firm up the center and keep your palate from being scalded by molten sugar. I think the flavor is best while it's still a little warm. Refrigeration compressed the pie and muted the richness; 30 seconds in the microwave mostly revived a slice, but it still wasn't quite there.

This is post-fridge. Denser, but still worth eating.
I also recommend serving this in slightly smaller pieces - probably 10 or so from a 9" pie. Smaller pieces tend to lose structural integrity; larger pieces will completely wreck your diet.

Next time: "A monument to middle-American cuisine"

28 January 2011

So Sweet

My four-year-old son likes this project, because he gets to eat the results. And he can have pie pretty much whenever he wants because, unlike yours truly, he doesn't need to watch his weight right now.

This morning, as he's eating a piece of Brown Sugar Pie (it's really good - post coming tomorrow!), he looks up at me and says:

"Dad, you're a good piemaker."

He's actually eating a latke here, but you get the idea.

As my sister would say, "Awwww!"

22 January 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pie

Sunday is National Pie Day (as proclaimed by the American Pie Council, "the only organization committed to preserving America's pie heritage and promoting American's love affair with pies"). In honor of this heritage-rich, tradition-laden holiday, I'll be making next week's pie and perhaps experimenting with crust recipes. It's my civic duty, after all.

This week's pie is a bit different from the others I've made so far. Cinnamon Sugar Pie comes from a cookbook that I stumbled across whilst on Christmas holiday in Virginia. Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies catalogs some of the traditional pie recipes from a little restaurant in western Virginia. My uncle Butch, who owns the cookbook and recommends the Margarita Pie (or was it the Strawberry Daiquiri Pie?), suggested stopping by the place on our way through, but alas, schedules did not permit an in-person research session.

The recipe looks similar to the Sugar Cream Pie from last week, which is the current reigning champ in our household. The major differences are the addition of eggs and a boatload of spices - our first impression of the filling was 'pumpkin pie without the pumpkin'. It set up rather firm and custard-like, as one would expect from the eggs.

My first meringue! I decided to tackle it by hand rather than break out the KitchenAid. I don't have a copper bowl, but it seemed to go pretty easily anyhow. My arm only ached slightly upon achieving 'stiff peaks'. Further research/experimentation is needed though - the meringue pulled away slightly from the crust upon baking (maybe spread too thin at the edge?) and was very sticky to slice through (too much sugar?).

Anyone else thinking of Ghostbusters right about now?
Twenty minutes later, and I have suntanned Peeps on my pie.

My sous chefs approved of the meringue. And to all those grandparents following along at home, the children suffered no ill effects from consuming raw egg whites.

Animal prints + flowers + polka dots = chic
As noted above, the meringue made for messy slicing - as did the unexpectedly light texture of the filling. It firmed up somewhat upon refrigeration, but the whole thing was more chiffon-y than I expected. It will be interesting to compare this pie to the chiffon pies that I have planned for the summer. The taste was good - nice and spicey from the cinnamon, allspice, and cloves - but the texture was off-putting (I'm not a big fan of chiffon pies). We only got through half the pie, then I ate the meringue off the top and pitched the rest.

Happy National Pie Day! Go make a pie, eat a pie, or stop by my place and have a piece of pie - I need to get rid of it!

Next up: Cookie confusion.

15 January 2011

Indiana Buttermilk and Ivy House Indiana Sugar Cream Pies

Our Sugar and Cream theme continues this week with two entries from the Hoosier State. I guess they must like their pies down there in Indiana. Maybe it's the Amish influence? Maybe it's just good old-fashioned Midwest hospitality?

Both of these pies, Indiana Buttermilk Pie and Ivy House Indiana Sugar Cream Pie, come from Haedrich's Pie, and I would classify both of these as pantry pies (all ingredients typically on hand), presuming that you live in a household that keeps buttermilk around on a fairly regular basis.

Buttermilk Pie: Given the questionable results of the Amish Milk Pie last week, I was concerned about buttermilk pie, as the ingredients list is nearly similar. The buttermilk pie swaps out buttermilk (natch) for the evaporated milk and adds a generous helping of eggs. Chief among the differences, though, is that all of the ingredients are blended together before pouring into the parbaked pie shell - no oozy separation of layers here.
Buttermilk & butter; sugars, flour, & salt; eggs & vanilla

I did find it critical to have the buttermilk not refrigerator cold. When I added the melted butter to the cold buttermilk, the butter set up into chunks - not the nice smooth liquid that it should be! A quick zap in the microwave took care of that and assembly continued unhindered.

The crust for this pie shrank quite a bit in the process of par-baking - so much so that I was nervous that the filling wouldn't all fit. But it ended up nearly perfect. The filling doesn't expand much at the edges, and although the center puffs up quite a bit, it settles back flat when cooled.

That's one puffy pie! Soufflé, anyone?

The recipe calls for cooking "until golden brown and set, about 40 minutes." I kept my pie in the oven almost 15 minutes past the recommended 40, waiting for golden brown. My patience was rewarded with a gorgeous looking pie. The color is strongly reminiscent of perfectly done yellow cornbread.

To my tongue, the flavor of this pie was difficult to nail down. There is a definite tang from the buttermilk, but besides that, it's rather unique. Tiffany mentioned that it tastes like Danish butter cookies (I didn't make the connection, but that's just me). Overall verdict - if offered a piece when in Shipshewana or Terre Haute, I'd probably give it a whirl, but I don't think I'll keep this one in my personal repertoire.

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Ivy House Indiana Sugar Cream Pie: The mouthful of a name for this pie comes from a bed-and-breakfast just outside Indianapolis, from which Ken Haedrich collected this recipe as representative of a regional favorite dessert. I'll start out by saying this is a fabulous pie, well-received by all that sampled it, and if it weren't so darned caloric, I'd almost keep this around every week.

In reviewing the recipe, I was struck by its similarity to a vanilla pudding I had made just the night before. I'd never made pudding from scratch and the recipe came across by blog reader - I had everything on hand, so why not? It only dawned on me later that it makes perfect sense - all those boxes of Jell-O chocolate pudding I grew up on always said (in small print) "pudding and pie filling" - we just never made it far enough to put it in a crust!

Back to the pie. I enjoyed the pie filling much more than the pudding. It came out smoother; my hunch is that mixing the sugar, cornstarch, butter, and milk together before heating (pie) left less room for grainy error than adding hot milk to the dry ingredients (pudding). In truth, the pie filling was closer to pastry cream than pudding, but give me a bowl of pastry cream any day and I'll be happy. (I may even re-purpose the cream as a cake layer filling - but that's another story).

As one might imagine, sugar is a critical ingredient.

Who needs crust?

Once filled, this pie does not go back into the oven. The pastry cream filling goes into a fully baked crust, then the whole assembly goes into the chill chest to firm up (if you can wait that long!). I made the filling while the crust was baking, but as the crust cooled, the filling set up quite a bit. Next time, I think I would hold off on cooking the filling until the crust was out of the oven and on the cooling rack.

As one might imagine, the flavor of the Sugar Cream Pie is amazing. Creamy and rich, you taste every calorie, but you don't care. I recommend serving slim slices with fresh berries (we had strawberries and blueberries in the house) and perhaps a dollop of whipped cream on top. I even had some for breakfast one morning and didn't think it all inappropriate.

Next time: Sugar and spice, but is it nice?

11 January 2011

My Guidebook

When I first had the idea for this year-long pie project, my plan was to come up with a list of general types of pies, then go out and find recipes for them. I had planned to use sources such as The Joy of Cooking, America's Test Kitchen, Good Eats, and others.

Just before Christmas, I was at our local library and figured I'd see what books they had in the cooking section. That's where I came across this:

Ken Haedrich, previously the author of Apple Pie Perfect (a collection of one-hundred versions of the American classic), has compiled "300 tried-and-true recipes" for pies (hence the apt title). Here in one (thick!) volume was the first part of my work done for me!

Or so I thought. Do you have any idea how time-consuming it is to pick 52 pies out of a possible 300? Ask my family - that's what I did during most of Christmas vacation! And I couldn't narrow it down to just one pie a week, so we'll have some double weeks (and one very special four-pie week) coming to a blog near you.

Throughout the year, I'll have a smattering of pies from other sources (including a skinny little book I borrowed from my chainsaw-carver uncle), but for the most part, the pies you will see here are from Haedrich's Pie.

I say this primarily so that, if you want to try your hand at some of the pies I'm featuring here, you know where to go find the recipes. I don't want to get into copyright issues by posting the full recipes online, but I still want you to be able to try out a pie you see that looks too delicious to just read about.

Do you have a go-to source for good pie recipes? Did your grandmother make a special pie that's been handed down through the generations? Let us know in the comments below!

08 January 2011

Amish Milk Pie

Note: To try and lend some semblance of organization to a year of pie, I've grouped various pies together (it also allows some easier comparisons). Each month or pair of months will be dedicated to a different "type" of pie, with seasonal ones sorted out to their seasons as best as I can manage. January and February are my "Sugar and Cream" months.

Our premiere pie is Amish Milk Pie, a rather simple creation. This is a single crust pie that's kinda hard to classify - it's not quite custard, definitely not cream. The bottom layer is almost like the gel in a pecan pie, but more solid. Gold stars for being a "pantry pie" - one would likely have all the ingredients on hand regardless of the season - and once you have the crust ready, this could go from pantry to plate in about 2 hours (after chilling - a critical step).

sugars and flour
"drizzled" evap milk
cinnamon, pre-clumps

The filling is basic - brown and white sugars, a bit of flour, with evaporated milk "drizzled" on top. I would offer that 1¼ cups of milk is a bit more than drizzling, but the general idea is not to mix the milk with the dry ingredients. You sprinkle the pie with cinnamon before baking; I found that in the translation from counter to oven, the cinnamon floated together into clumps on the sea of evap milk, so it's not the prettiest thing. (My first thought was 'Moon' Pie - no, not that one.)

see the resemblance? -->

My recipe (from Ken Haedrich's tome on the subject, aptly titled Pie) warns that the filling will be soupy when the baking is done. I'll say! The evaporated milk doesn't really set up at all, and the two tablespoons of dotted butter on top doesn't help matters. The milk did form a thin skin across the top, but you could see the hidden lake below and it broke through in a few places (see the photo above).

The recipe also notes that the pie should cool 30 minutes before serving, with leftovers refrigerated and later warmed slightly to take off the chill. I vote for refrigerating before serving any of it, as the cold helps it to set up. Without that, the pie is very runny and the area of the removed slice fills in with a disconcerting buttery-milky liquid.

Be aware - this pie is crazy sweet. If you've ever sampled sweetened condensed milk on its own, that will give you a good idea of the flavor and intense sweetness of this pie. (And the texture, sort of). The pie is also rather thin (½ to ¾ inch), but that's probably a good thing to avoid lapsing into a sugar coma. I strongly encourage you to cut this pie into small pieces (sixteenths would not be out of the question) and serve with strong black coffee.

A brief note on the crust. The recipe says to "sculpt the pastry into an even band, just below the rim" of the pie plate. Being a nervous crust newbie, I elected to just trim the crust off at the edge of the plate. After baking the pie, the filling was quite a bit below the crust, resulting in a tenuous cracker-like crust edge that toppled when the slice was cut. If I make this again, I would certainly trim the crust inside the rim of the plate.

Next week: A Hoosier State two-fer plate.

06 January 2011

First Crust!

Tonight, I made my first official pie of the project - an Amish Milk Pie that you'll have to wait until Saturday to read about.

This also means that I made my first crust from scratch. Now maybe I've just absorbed too much technique from watching Food Network and PBS cooking shows over the decades, but....

(what's the big deal?)

Measuring Crisco was messy, but doable. Cold cubed butter? Chunk it up and stick in the freezer as the first step. A pastry blender made cutting the fat into the flour a cinch (although we pitched the blender after I was done - we've got another with a more comfortable handle). Even adding the water wasn't bad; I just stopped a little short of where I thought it should be and had a rather workable dough.

Rolling the crust out wasn't bad, either, save for the antique wooden rolling pin that squeaks like rusty bed springs. And my technique for the 1,001 methods crust-into-pan magic? Center the inverted pan over the rolled out dough (on a semi-rigid plastic cutting board) and flip the whole assembly like you would turn out a cake onto a plate. No problems yet!

The worst part of the whole thing was the tedious waiting. Rest the dough in the fridge. Chill the plated pie shell for 15 minutes. Total time from pulling the flour out of the cupboard to putting the pie in the oven: about an hour. Hopefully I'll get more efficient with practice. Or maybe I just need to make up a bunch of dough balls at once and freeze them until I need crust.

Maybe it's just beginner's luck, but pie crust is almost too easy to make...

02 January 2011

Spies are for Pies

So I got a bit ahead of myself. The week before Christmas, faced with a sack of Northern Spy apples moldering in the corner of my kitchen, I decided to go ahead and make that apple pie I've been psyching myself up for since September. I know it was before my grand pie project began, but if I couldn't pull off a basic apple pie, what business do I have making 65 pies?

Full confession - I didn't do anything fancy. I didn't even make my own crust - a store-bought refrigerated crust worked just fine (and tasted great too). And the recipe? "Perfect Apple Pie" cribbed off the side of the crust box.

So, in to the oven: one double-crust, straight-ahead apple pie. And three-quarters of an hour later, the angels rejoiced. Or maybe that's just what always happens in late December when you pull homemade baked goods from the oven.

Seriously, though, this was one of the best apple pies I can recall. And I made it myself (sort of)! </giddy> I don't know if was just the variety of apple or what, but this was a really good pie. This was what I imagine when I imagine basic apple pie. It will be interesting to try the same recipe with a different apple and see what we get. But that's a pie for another day...

Postscript: These photos are actually from New Year's Eve. I made up the exact same pie, but expanded into the crust slits you see here and the fluted edge. Two things to note:

1. The refrigerated pie crusts have a distinctive 'ripple' at the tighter end of where they were rolled up in the box. I wonder if a little meeting with Mr. Rolling Pin before laying on the crust might remedy this?

2. My crust leaked again. Both times I've made this pie in the last two weeks, it's escaped out the side. (And that, boys and girls, is why I put a cookie sheet on the next rack under the oven rack holding the pie.) Again, my hunch is that a bit of work on the refrigerated crust with a rolling pin would give me a little more play in the crusts - without it, one side always seems a bit short. But it's the tasting that counts, right? We'll just chalk it up to "too much apple-y goodness to stay in one pie shell".

01 January 2011

It's Getting Deep

So, I have three pie plates (two glass, one ceramic), but all standard size. Lots of my recipes for this year call for a deep dish pie pan. What to do?

I considered asking around to borrow a deep dish, but I didn't really want to tie up someone else's pan up for a year or so.

On the way to work last Thursday, I stopped by our local Goodwill store just to see what they might have. Lo and behold - a deep dish Anchor Hocking glass pie plate! And on half-price sale!

The best part though: I paid with a five dollar bill and my change was $3.14. It must be a sign!

Why Pie?

I like pie.

At least, I think I like pie. I might just like the idea of pie.

Following Thanksgiving dinner last year, I was presented with the choice of four different pies. I chose all four and was satisfied, but not thrilled out of my mind.

The blueberry was good, but a bit gluey. The pecan was most everything I'd hoped for, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the flavor could be a bit more pecan-y. The pumpkin was standard November fare, all the better for having been homemade instead of frozen, but how would it be with fresh pumpkin in lieu of canned?

And the apple.  All-American Apple Pie. The favorite of red-blooded U-S-of-A’ers from Portland to, well, Portland. The spices were intriguing (a bit of clove, maybe?) and the fruit was juicy, but the bottom crust was damp and the filling didn’t quite hold together.

None of this stopped me from eating my pie with a smile on my face and, honestly, I enjoyed every last bite. A seed lodged itself in my brain, though. I had been so excited to walk in and see four pies of which to partake. I had built myself great expectations of pie to come that when it did, I was slightly deflated. That’s when I began to wonder: did I really like pie, or did I just like the idea of pie?

The logical next step in my crazy brain was to try as many pies as I could get my hands on. This quickly morphed into wanting to make various different pies, because I think that the best store-bought pies probably can’t hold a candle to a well-devised homemade creation.

So here we are: a rational approach to the question of pie. Do I like pie? Do I like all pie, or just particular ones? Do I have a favorite, really? I could list what I think are my “favorites” -- key lime, lemon meringue, cherry, pecan – but again, do I truly like them or do I like some ideal pie, an immaculate confection to which no human-prepared dessert could ever measure up?

Over the twelve months, I plan to bake up a broad range of pies, from basic vanilla cream to real mincemeat, boiled beef and all. Stop by at least every Saturday to see what’s come out of the oven in the past week and to see how long it takes me to get sick of pie. Or the idea of pie. Or something.