Thursday, January 15, 2015

Midweek Roundup: Nice as Pie

January 15, 2015

As some point during the black- and blueberry pie making, I remarked that "easy as pie" was a ridiculous phrase.  Because it's not.  Jim said, "Oh, I thought 'easy' referred to how easy it is to eat pie, not to make it."  I was stupefied.  And secretly I thought he must be wrong, but I googled it, and sure enough, that's what it means.  As easy as [eating] pie.  Kind of like saying "piece of cake."

You'll find it hard to believe that this moment was the lowest in my week.  For years (decades, really), every time I heard that phrase, I pictured the same woman:  slim, attractive in a no-nonsense way, practical, and thoroughly capable.  Whenever she felt like it, she'd bake a pie; it was that easy for her.  She probably got the berries from her big garden, which she tended perfectly.  Everything was easy for her.  When I pictured her, I knew I was looking at the picture of who I wanted to be.  I contrast, I was frazzled, with berry stains all over my shirt, trying to piece together my thoroughly unsatisfactory pie dough.  But I could dream!

Now all I could picture was the easy as eating pie woman.  She was fat (big surprise from eating all those pies), dishevelled, missing a few teeth, and her house was a disaster area.  I was going to have to put this new imaginary person out of my mind, and how better to do that than to look at all your real pies.  While reading, I discovered that while making pie is not easy, it does seem to call for a lot of ingenuity, and that is the theme of this week's roundup:  as ingenious as a pie baker.

But first, please say hello to Tony, aka "Chef Tony" on Rose's Baking Forum.  Tony has been in on the game since the beginning, but hasn't been able to blog until now because of numerous issues, now, hopefully, all taken care of.  When you look at Tony's pictures, you'll enjoy his expertise.

For example, and maybe this doesn't sound like much to you, but I was very impressed by Kim's idea (and her husband's execution of it):  Too many liquidy pie juices?  Just have your husband put a straw in one of the vents and tell him to start sucking.  "He drank and drank, and the liquid just kept coming up the straw.  There was an incredible amount."  You should check out Kim's blog to see pictures of her 2 pies (that's another story), but don't hope for a picture of husband gallantly sucking out the pie juices.  Kim has her pride.

Alice rivaled Kim in the ingenuity in dealing with excess juices department.  She came up with the Black and Blueberry Pie Cocktail.  Just "spoon.. some of the pie juices into [a] 1920's style champagne glass, top[] it up with prosecco and voila ... deliciousness!"  It may be worth baking another pie or two just to try the cocktail!

All this talk about excess juice may lead you to believe that there was a problem with too much juiciness.  I guess it depends on your point of view.  Jill, with Rose's help, opted not to try the cocktail route, but instead to concentrate the juices.  "This consisted of tossing the berries in the sugar and lemon juice, and placing them in a colander over a bowl.  ...[T]he juice is heated and reduced on the stove and then poured over the berries that have ... been mixed with cornstarch...."  By the way, she used a beautiful star design to decorate her pie.

Patricia also used a star design, and if I'd have realized what a natural that design was for this pie I might have chosen it for an (American) Independence day pie.  If you want to make it again in about 6 months, I wouldn't say no.  You know how cool, calm, and collected Patricia usually is?  Well, the mixing of the dough in the plastic bag made her a little testy.  But she did like the results, and had a few
simple tips to pass along:  use a pastry cloth when rolling out the dough and use an expandable cake ring to cut the dough into a 12-inch circle.

Glori, like Patricia, had a very clever way of making her 12-inch circle template.  She had bought some flashing when she made the Kouigns Amann (also clever), remembered her high-school math, and figured out how to calculate the circumference of her circle.  "Since the flashing is so thin, all I had to do to cut the dough circle was to push down on the ring and it cut it for me."  Well done!  The pie was done well too, and appreciated by the tasters, who especially loved the cream cheese pastry.

The juices sent Monica into "freakout mode," even though you'd have a hard time figuring out why if you looked at the pictures of her pie.  She took different-sized flower cookie cutters to this well-behaved dough, and covered the entire pie.  It's breathtaking, and my bet is that it will be used as inspiration by other Alpha Bakers.  But Monica could only focus on the excess juice, not the pie's beauteousness.  She didn't even suspect that this was still a very good pie even when her husband selflessly volunteered to eat another pie if she'd bake it.

While some people were having problems with their crimps and their cutout designs,  Maggie decided that wasn't enough of a challenge.  So she did lattice strips.  Plus leaf cut-outs.  And everything looked perfect.  I'm still dreading my first lattice pie, which looks extremely complicated to me.  But I can look to Maggie's blog for inspiration.  And Faithy did some amazingly intricate designs with cut out hearts and letters spelling out P-I-E.  Surprisingly (since Faithy bakes anything and everything), this was Faithy's first time at baking a fruit pie.  But she "LOVED it," so it looks like it will be seen again on her table.

Nancy's ingenuity was more of the "Next time I'll do it this way" variety.  She decorated and crimped her pie beautifully (I couldn't really follow Rose's instructions for the decor), but then discovered that the silicone protector she'd draped over her crust to keep it from burning also smashed the nice crimping.  She concluded that the silicone shield should just be "chalked up as an unsuccessful experiment.  But then she thought, "maybe I can put it on after the pastry has set but before it started to really brown."  Something tells me that this little advance will work perfectly--we'll see when we have our next pie crust assignment.

It took a lot of ingenuity for Mendy to make his pie, but some of the ingenuity was of the keep-at-it-no-matter-what variety.  And maybe that's the best kind.  Mendy is unique among us in that he first had to tovel his new pie dish in a rain-water mikvah.  I can see why you might let things pile up before you get around to the toveling.  Then Mendy really struggled with rolling his pie dough out thinly enough so that it covered the pie plate (Rose told him he was using a deep dish pie pan, which accounted for his trouble).  Then he patted and patched until there were no holes in his pie dough (he said he should have called the pie his "patchwork pie").  Well, perfect it wasn't.  Delicious it was.  And why am I suddenly talking like yoda?

Lois did two rather clever things, one out of necessity (or being a good mom anyway) and one probably only Lois would have thought of.  She made the crust out of vegetable shortening instead of butter and cream cheese for her vegan daughter.  (I remember my mother's and grandmother's Crisco pie crusts--I didn't think they could be improved on).  The other thing she did to use the rest of her double batch of pie crust to make fruit pierogis--it looked like it was a mighty endeavor, but a tasty one.

I will say that Nicola required no ingenuity this week because her pie came together in a breeze, and she suggests its inclusion in a suggested new category for Rose's cookbooks:  Maximum Wow for Minimum Swearing.  Perhaps at some point in the bakeoff we'll ask for nominations in the MWMS category.  Even more completely off the subject, those of you who haven't read Nicola's stand-in's account of his baking of the Chocolate Cuddle Cake might want to do so here.

Catherine, back from Christmas in Tasmania (and how many of you can say that), discovered that she was going to have to use frozen berries, even though it's summer in Australia, and, to get enough berries, she added some frozen raspberries.  The addition of red actually makes the pie filling look even more like a bruise than when it's just black and blue.  Even though her oven gave up the ghost in the midst of baking the pie, Catherine was happy with the way it looked and happier with the way it tasted.So happy that she's already gearing up for failure with the panettone.  Let's hope it doesn't work out that way.

Raymond, at least for this week, is willing to cede his ingenuity to Rose.  He says, "I am totally in love with Rose for giving us the single most helpful hint in all bake-dom.  Cutting out the circle of dough before lining the pan.   ...[I]t is by far the greatest tip I have gotten in years.  It makes the whole process so easy and it only takes a few seconds."  That's the nature of ingenuity, isn't it?  Something so obvious (in retrospect) that you can't believe that you didn't think of it yourself.

Katrina wanted to change up the ratio of berries, so the ingenuity required by her was of the mathematical kind. It turns out, Kristina discovered, that "blackberries need 25% more cornstarch.  So I did some math, looked at the suggested cornstarch & sugar ratios in the Pastry Bible vs. the Black and Blueberry pie" and "Oh bother, said Pooh."  Oh sorry.  Talk about ratios does that to me.  Kristina also discovered that her pie was not a bumbleberry pie, because a bumbleberry pie has at least 3 kinds of berries.  I haven't fact-checked that factoid yet, so it may be wrong.  But Kristina's pie was quite right.

And talking of math conversions, you may not be surprised to learn that Jenn made an itty-bitty four-inch pie instead of a Papa Bear-sized 9-inch pie.  She also got a very photogenic ceramic rolling pin from Anthropologie as a Christmas gift.  In addition to taking some beautiful photos, Jenn's contribution to pie ingenuity is telling us that whipping cream can be frozen in cubes so that there will always be some on hand.  Or perhaps as popsicles for the cat in the summer.

Some ingenuity is of the bare-cupboard variety.  I'll confess to being the boring person who follows the recipe.  But there are people--Katya--for example, who say, "no cornstarch, oh well, I'll use tapioca," or "not enough cream cheese, no matter, there's some mascarpone," or "no cream, I'll just pour in the coquito."  Huh?  Coquito?  Ah, a mixture of condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, and rum.  Well, of course--who wouldn't substitute a little coquito?  But Katya ended up with a bloody good pie.

Extra and special credit to Vicki, who actually posted three times this week.  The first time she blogged about her black and blueberry pie with her charming four-year-old granddaughter, who helped Vicki make a picture-perfect pie, which she (granddaughter) could not eat because she is quite lactose intolerant.  The second, made by a loving grandmother, is the dairy-free version of the berry pie, made with an oil crust.  That crust actually turned out to be better than Vicki thought, but she doesn't think she's found the perfect non-dairy crust.  And third is the homemade candied orange peel post, Vicki's version of the orange peel for the upcoming panetonne.  I have a feeling it's going to be fun to read all these.

And read we will, because of course, that's what's coming up next.  I think those of us who are going to make the panettone are nearly ready for the final stages.  I just have to read the recipe one more time to figure out my time schedule.

After that, the Q&E gingersnaps.  I've received a few emails asking me to explain this Q&E I keep talking about.  These are the recipes that come from Rose's list of Quick and Easy recipes.  They provide a very nice break in the schedule, since they generally don't take all week to make and usually don't require that you use every piece of baking equipment you own.  As I said last week, don't measure out 3 grams of ginger!  This is the time to measure, not to weigh.

You'll also see something new on Feb. 9--a catch-up week.  As you might surmise, this is a week to let you catch your breath and make something you didn't have time to make, but would like to try.  Another thing you might want to do on a catch-up week is to make a family favorite again, or to try on of the variations that Rose offers throughout the book.  I'm not going to schedule the jams and jellies (3 of them I think), but I know that some of you are looking forward to trying them.  A catch-up week would be a good time for that.  Or, if you need a break, this is the week to take it--with a clear conscience.  I would just ask that you not bake ahead, so we'll be doing most of the projects together.


  1. Welcome to Chef Tony. We look forward to seeing your baking adventures.

    Great write up Marie! I never thought much about the "easy as pie" phrase but now you got me thinking! I also made Candied Orange Peel and blogged about it yesterday. My panettone is resting in the gallon-size bag in the fridge, ready to be baked tomorrow or Saturday.

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  3. You all make me look like such an outlaw. I really do follow recipes, much more than many people I know. Only in a room full of bakers do I become such an outlier. Also, coquito is delicious. I forgot to mention that it also has eggs in it in a kind of gently cooked custard. It's Puerto Rican eggnog and it's delicious. I am not sure if the leftovers in my fridge have gone off or not because I haven't been able to smell for a week or two--but alcohol keeps eggnog good forever, right? RIGHT?

    1. Okay, now you have me thinking I need coquito in my life. Hope you're not under the weather.

    2. My best friend is from Puerto Rico and she introduce me to coquito and I love birth country, Venezuela has their own version called Ponche Crema (Cream Punch) - a glorious thing... now I go the idea for the next pie...

  4. hi Marie, I'm gasping for air ,this is so funny when you do your write ups and you're good at what you do, this must take you a long time to do this , really can't imagine it must be sometimes frustrating for you to get it done in time and also put it all together ,great work Marie.

  5. I love your write-ups, Marie. Also, for the record, I had cornstarch, I just like tapioca flour better. I think it has less of an aftertaste.

  6. Katya,
    I'll admit that, for a lawyer, I do take certain liberties with the record.

  7. Marie, I think your write ups are the best part of the bake along. You have such a talent - much appreciated!

  8. I like your idea about cream icicles for the cat (and maybe coquito icicles for the humans). Fantastic summary as usual, it's quite an undertaking with so many of us in the bake-along.

  9. I love reading your write up! It's not easy doing a summary imo but you seem to do it with such ease. Thank you for reminding me about the measuring the ginger..and not weigh..if not..i would have weigh it. :)

  10. Your post still has me laughing! What a great write up, Marie. Thanks for all you do for the group.

  11. ב''ה

    Do. Or do not. There is no try.

  12. Welcome to Chef Tony! Great post Marie. I'm sad I had to miss out but now I have everyone's experience to learn from! I'll get this pie made for catch up week; Mark won't let me forget.

  13. Learn something new every day. I too thought it was referring to the making and not the eating. But now that I actually pause to think about it, eating pie is far easier than making pie. Makes me wonder how many other idioms have I completely incorrectly imagined...

  14. Great write up Marie! The pie making lady in your Easy as making pie imagination was my late mother to a tee. My brother and I were the happy Easy as eating pie recipients with leftover pie from the bridge ladies who were on diets and abstained. Oh happy day! Mine may never win a prize for prettiness but my son declared the cream cheese pie crust County Fair Winner worthy so at long last I can finally make pie crust!