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I finished culinary school and got a part-time job with a chef who owns a terrific little neighborhood restaurant on the west side of Milwaukee. She took a chance on a newbie like me, but I think most of the time we’re both happy with her gamble.  

The one thing you sort of know about, but not really, when it comes to restaurant work is the repetition (or maybe I just didn’t think about it–wouldn’t be the first time). I make the same things over and over and over again.  For example, chocolate cake. Every week I make chocolate cake. Not a different chocolate cake as I might if I were baking at home. The same chocolate cake every week. It can be mundane, but I mind it less than I thought I would (you know those days when your brain is about to explode because you have to think so hard about a problem, and all you want to do is go sit in the mailroom and stuff envelopes? Yeah, that’s part of why I don’t mind it so much).  I try to learn something new everytime I repeat a recipe, but honestly, sometimes I just want to get through it.  

What I love about it is touching, tasting, arranging, beautifying, watching, learning, and taking pride in the things that I made from scratch, and now people are coming to the restaurant and eating the food. They’re paying for my food! OK, it’s not really my food. It’s the chef’s food, but I try to treat it like mine, respect it, and respect our diners who are paying good money for it.

And you know, occasionally there’s a little victory. Like the time my chef-y peanut butter pretzel curry cookies changed one of our regular’s minds about peanut butter cookies. I know it’s lame, but hey, it made me feel good. And more importantly, it’s little things that ward off regret about the decisions I’ve made.

I made hoppin' john (black-eyed peas in smoked ham stock with rice) and greens for new year's day. It's supposed to bring you luck and prosperity throughout the year. It tasted far better than it looks. Trust  me on that one.

I made hoppin’ john (black-eyed peas in smoked ham stock with rice) and greens for new year’s day. It’s supposed to bring you luck and prosperity throughout the year, and I could use all the help I can get. It tasted far better than it looks. Trust me on that one.

I’m also still rocking my office gig. You know, the one that lined my pocket with a bit of cash while I was in school. Turns out, it’s a good job with incredibly smart and talented people, and while I don’t love the work, I’m finding that most of the time I don’t mind it.  That said, my passion is still with food: learning more, preparing more, experimenting more.

The weirdest thing about this arrangement is that I’m straddling two worlds. I don’t feel completely a part of either, and that’s a kind of strange place to be.  I’m OK with it for now, but I think eventually I’ll want to immerse myself more completely in food and cooking.

It’s funny, I thought the hardest thing about this journey would be quitting my high-paying job and going to culinary school. And that WAS hard. But it’s not the only hard part.  Everything about my working life has been in transition since I made that decision. Transition is hard, always, even if it’s a good, life-affirming transition.  I think it’s because it involves uncertainty–the kind that you can’t ignore or hide away.

I’m living with that uncertainty right now, and I haven’t lost my marbles… yet.

That’s a win in my book.

I’ve been a very bad blogger, not keeping up with my writing and all that.  I really have been busy cooking, pie-making, and just having a jolly summer, but I’m ready to jump back on the wagon.

And what better way to do it than with one of my favorite fruits.

Yesterday was National Blueberry Muffin day.  I’m a blueberry whore.  And besides, I can’t pass stuff like that up (Pi Day, anyone?), so of course I made blueberry muffins, and tried out a new recipe from Cooks Illustrated.  It was quite lovely.

The major difference in this recipe vs. your typical recipes is that your sugar goes with the wet ingredients (emulsified with the eggs, oil, butter, and vanilla), and instead of just dumping a pint of blueberries into your batter, you cook 1 cup of the berries down into a tart jam, and swirl it in after you’ve portioned your batter into the muffin cups.  A bit tedious, yes, but quite worth it.

The stuff sprinkled on top is lemon sugar. It gives it a hit of sweet on your palate, which makes the muffin seem more like a dessert. If you want a less sweet breakfast treat, skip it, or just add the zest to the batter instead (I would rub it into the sugar–yes, with my fingers–before emulsifying it with eggs, which helps release the oils in the zest.)

I’m going to go eat one now.

Next up:

  • A pie round up (I got lots of photos of pie!)
  • A CSA round-up (sick of salads, yet?).
  • Food crawl photos
  • A cheese tour

This sister has been one busy gal!   Between baking pies, traveling for work, and trying to decide which CSA  to sign up for this year, I’ve fallen behind on my pie reporting!

Here’s a spring round-up:

Sour Cherry Lattice Pie

I love sour cherry pie. I’m sure my first experience with it was in Door County (where else?). It’s second only to strawberry rhubarb, which my grandmother made somewhat regularly when I was a little tyke.  I made this pie for noshing on after my Trailbreaker half-marathon on March 31 (PR, baby!).  It was good.  I’ve made better.  I overworked the cream cheese crust, taking too much comfort in the fact that the cream cheese slows down the gluten formation in the flour. The filling was also soupy, which I attribute to using frozen cherries. Definitely should have reduced the liquid to a syrup before tossing it all in the pie crust.  Though it’s beautiful, don’t you think?

Recipe adapted from the Pie and Pastry Bible.

Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche

The first time I made this savory pie was for a breakfast for my dear friend Stephanie’s wedding party the morning of her big day.  This is the first time I’ve used shortening in my crust since I began my pie project.  I felt the tenderness provided by shortening would be important in a quiche. The result was quite honestly, dreamy.  I used a 2/3 butter, 1/3 shortening ratio.  The butter flavor came through strong, and the normal textural problems with  shortening were not noticeable.

Recipe from Cooks Illustrated (which has a lock-down on lots of their recipes). But look! Someone else wrote it down here, so I don’t have to. Use any crust recipe that makes a 10-inch pie, and just use the same ratio of butter to shortening that I mention above to get my spectacular results.

Chocolate Bourbon Pudding … Pie?

Ok, I cheated.  It wasn’t a pie. They were bars.  I was about to leave town and I had milk that would go bad if I didn’t use it.  The crust was a cookie crust, rather than a pastry crust, and the pudding… well, it was delicious.  This recipe could have easily been made in a pie-shaped vessel, so I’m taking some liberties here.

Recipe adapted from Baked Explorations.

Chocolate Pecan Bourbon Pie

Huh. Looks like the chocolate and bourbon thing is becoming a pattern.  A girl needs her chocolate.  And she also needs a stiff drink on a regular basis (like, daily). Why not combine the two?

Pecan pie on crack is my best description of this thing. So good, and addictive. It’s very reminiscent of the Run for the Roses pie that my mother used to make occasionally, but better because it wasn’t so cloyingly sweet.  Leave it to David Lebovitz to get the perfect balance.  I used his crust recipe, but added a 1/8 tsp of baking powder, and I used bleached flour, which has less protein than unbleached.

It got a little gnarly when I cut it, because 1) I like my pecans chunky and 2) I don’t have the kind of knife that can neatly slice through chunky pecans. But believe me, this ugly duckling was delish.

Onion Custard Pie

What’s getting old on my countertop and in my refrigerator dictates much of what I cook on a daily basis, and it’s no different with my pies.  I noticed my onions starting to sprout, so I made caramelized onions. The leap to quiche was not long.  The filling is caramelized onions, bacon, gruyere, and custard. Very French. Buttery. Rich. I gave half of it away, because I’ve got a marathon coming up  in a few weeks, and preferably, I would like to drop a few pounds rather than gain a few.  (Believe me, a couple of pounds can make a difference over 26.2 miles of pounding the pavement!)

Reciped adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.  This is a great book for learning basic techniques.

Honestly, I’m learning a lot about making pies and pie crusts.  Some of it is really technical and boring, so I can’t bring myself to write about it. At least not now.

Maybe when my pie project ends, I’ll do a top 10 list. But that’s not until December, so you’ll just have to wait a few months for list-mania.

Until then, party on.

Next up:  Strawberry rhubarb (unless I decide to make a compote instead).

I was lucky enough to get an invitation to a private paired cocktail dinner at a local restaurant.  The restaurant was Beta by Sabor.  The young and talented Chef Mitchell Ciohon expertly prepared and beautifully presented his food.  And the daring drink pairings were provided by mixologist Clint Sterwald.

The experience was a treat.

I brought my husband Randy, and after we handed over our coats, we walked into the lounge and helped ourselves to a delicious oxtail marmalade on toast, pickled vegetables, and fried pork rinds with peppered honey.

We also warmed up our palates with a fruity champagne punch and scotch on the rocks.

But the real show began after we took our seats.

First course

Heirloom Radish Salad

Mixed radishes, celery leaves, boiled peanuts over a roasted garlic and peanut shmear. Topped with Pisco Sour honey and white balsamic viniagrette.

Mr. MacGregor’s Garden

A fruity and refreshing concoction that included Pisco, Aperol, ginger lemongrass syrup and lemon juice.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Aperol in an classic Italian drink called an Aperol Spritz.  It’s simply champagne or sparkling wine topped with a float of Aperol.  It lends a citrusy note to the sparkling wine that I really enjoy, so I was anxious to try this cocktail.  It did not disappoint, and I can imagine enjoying this drink on a warm summer evening on my balcony.

Second course

BLT

Dr. Pepper braised pork belly, tomato jam, and micro greens atop toasted bread sheets.

The bread sheets were actually white bread, pounded thin and toasted so that it had a cracker consistency. This dish was my favorite. The pork belly was perfectly cooked, and all the components of the dish sang a little ditty in my mouth.

Tomato Vesper

Ranson Gin, Rehorst Vodka, Cocchi Americano, Punt e Mes, Tomato Water, Peychaud’s Bitters. 

Sterwald rimmed the glass with some sort of tomato-salt mixture.  The drink was reminiscent of a bloody mary, but much more refined and elegant.

Third course

Barbeque Turkey Tail

Slow confit turkey tail with pickled Door County cherry barbeque sauce over crispy fries. Topped with 6yr aged Widmer Cheddar.

The flavors of this dish were bold, rich, well balanced, and truly delicious.  I cleaned my plate, except for the turkey tail which was a bit fatty for my taste.  I think this dish would have sent me over the moon had it been a turkey leg. (I know… YAWN. What can I say? I’m a comfort food kind of gal at heart.)

Fallen Cherry

Black pepper infused Scotch, vanilla bean syrup, orange juice, Door County cherries, Bittercube Cherry Bark Bitters, Dolan sweet vermouth, egg white.

Sterwald said this is the drink he gives to people who don’t like scotch.  I like scotch, and I could taste it in this drink, but I could see why he said that.  It doesn’t have that punch-in-the-face effect that some Scotch drinks have.  It’s slightly sweet, though not cloying in the least bit.

Final Course

Figgy Chocolate Fizz

Flourless Chocolate Cake atop  a fig-mezcal reduction. Sour cream whipped cream and house made pop rocks streusel.

So this dessert was probably the most interesting dish of the night.  The cake was more like a stiff chocolate pudding with bits of fresh fig buried inside; the whipped cream was treated with liquid nitrogen so it had a hard shell and a creamy whipped cream center, and the fig-mezcal reduction… well, it had mezcal. I’m not a huge fan.  However, I can appreciate what Chef Ciohon did with it.

Fig Mezcal Sour

Fig infused Mezcal, lime juice, lemon juice, cane sugar syrup, egg white, Within 100 spiced fig bitters. 

I tend to be put off by sweet-sour flavors, and as I said before, I don’t really enjoy (though I can appreciate!) Mezcal.  I could tell this drink was an excellent rendition, and again, it was well-balanced and actually quite beautiful.  I had a sip, but Randy drank most of mine.

Those are dried fig chips garnishing the drink. It was quite beautiful, and I'm sorry this photo doesn't do it justice.

After dinner, we were treated to some lovely dessert wine (as well as Mad Dog–you’ll have to ask the owner Paul about it. He tells a great story.), cheese, and chocolate-cherry-bourbon ice cream with chocolate covered bacon made in their fancy schmancy custom-painted stand mixer with liquid nitrogen.

All around, a great evening of amazing food, inventive cocktails, and fun company.

I remember riding my bike to my friend Jamiee’s house as a kid. I had to ride to the end of the golf course in my subdivision, through a fence, across the McDonald’s parking lot,  navigate across busy Moorland Rd, cut through the Brookfield Square parking lot, finally pedal through another little neighborhood and to her house.  It wasn’t that far, perhaps 3-4 miles, but it was an adventure and made me feel kind of tough.

We were both tomboys, but we liked playing with dolls (including giving them haircuts) as much as we liked makiing with mudpies, running sprints, and climbing (or in my case attempting to climb) trees. That’s my memory, anyway.  I also remember how much we liked our snacks.

My favorite was toast or squishy bread with crunchy peanut butter and honey.  Gooey, sweet, sticky, and satisfying.  The closest you could get to a candy bar without actually eating a candy bar.

Kind of like the pie I made last week, but the pie was decidedly less healthy.  It really was like eating a candy bar. Aw, hell, it was a candy bar disguised as a pie if I’m going to be really honest about it.

The objective of my pie project is to find and perfect my favorite crust.  This pie was a digression, because it was really more a composed dessert than a pie.  It did nothing to advance my culinary skills or help me practice the art of pie-making, but it just sounded so good, I had to make it.

I started by making the peanut butter shortbread crust, which was indescribably delicious.  It was peanutty, salty, sweet, and crispy.  Oh my god, yum.

Then I made a vanilla pastry cream (cooked twice – more on that in a minute) and layered it with sliced red bananas (which are definitely more flavorful and worth the extra cash).  I think you would agree that peanut butter and banana is another ridiculously yummy flavor combo – one that I discovered and came to love in my adult life.  I still regularly enjoy this pairing on whole grain toast for breakfast. Serve with hot coffee or a glass of cold milk.

Since the pastry cream and shortbread crust were not decadent enough, I whipped up some lightly sweetened cream, and dolloped a scoop on top.

OH! I almost forgot to tell you about the salty bourbon caramel (not).  Oh yeah, baby.  That was the over-the-top factor, and more than any other component, it’s what made this pie a candy bar.

Now, this pie did not come without problems.

For instance, the lightly sweetened whipped cream was lovely, but could have used some bourbon.  Nothin’ like boozy, lightly sweetened whipped cream, right?

And I’ve made pastry cream many times, but this pastry cream was a little odd.  First of all, I’ve never made a pastry cream with flour.  It always has cornstarch, but I followed the recipe because if I used the recipe I usually use, I would have leftover pastry cream, and believe me when I say that would not be a good thing. I’m training for a marathon, people.  Extra pounds=slower times.  Not havin’ that!

Well, turns out I didn’t cook the pastry cream long enough the first time, and it was soupy.  And I didn’t realize it until I was almost ready to serve dinner to my guests (OK, the guests were just my parents, but still!).

I quickly cooked the pastry cream again boiled the shit out of my pastry cream, adding about a tablespoon of cornstarch, and shoved it in my refrigerator praying it would cool off enough in time to serve for dessert. To be honest, I was pissed off. I don’t like it when my cooking projects don’t turn out and I sputtered a few hundred curse words as I was re-cooking the stuff, but the show had to go on.

Of course, the pastry cream didn’t cool off enough, but I served it anyway. So dessert was more like a cookie with bananas and warm pudding with whipped cream and caramel.  Certainly not the worst thing in the world (my parents and I gobbled it up), but not ideal.

I forgot about it for the evening, and let the pie sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Then, Randy (my husband) and I ate pie for breakfast, and we swooned.  The pastry cream had set, and all the components married into a decadent, delectable calorie bomb.

Want to make it?  The recipe is below.  But be forewarned:  make plans to share this pie ahead of time, because if you don’t, you will end up eating the whole damn thing yourself, marathons be damned.

Banana Cream Pie with Salty Bourbon Caramel

adapted from Bon Appetit

Peanut shortbread crust:

1 1/4 cups unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vanilla pastry cream:

2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the pastry cream I subbed cornstarch for 2 T flour in the original recipe, which will help it set better.  Or for a less finicky and still delicious pastry cream, try this recipe which is the one we used in my culinary school baking class (but you will probably have leftovers): 

1 pint whole milk (you can use part cream if you want)
4 oz sugar
1.5 oz egg yolk
2 oz whole eggs
1.25 oz cornstarch
1 oz butter
2 t vanilla.

Whipped cream:

3/4 cup heavy cream
2 T powdered sugar
2 tsp bourbon

Caramel and Assembly:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
1/2 teaspoon corn syrup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ripe red bananas (or 3 ripe yellow bananas if you don’t want to spring for the red ones)

For peanut crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pulse peanuts in a food processor until coarsely ground. Set aside 1/4 cup for garnish, and pulverize the rest until you got yourself some peanut butter.

Combine your flour, salt, and baking soda. In your mixer, beat your sugars, peanut butter, and butter until it’s good and combined.  It will look a little grainy, so don’t look for the fluffy texture you get when you cream just butter and sugar. Add your egg yolk and vanilla and keep beating until the  mixture becomes clumpy. Add dry ingredients and beat the mixture just until you see only small specks of flour.  Remember, this is shortbread, so you don’t want to mix it too much or you’ll have yourself a tough crust.  Finish mixing in the flour with your spatula. The spread it evenly on the bottom and up the sides of your pie dish.  Bake at 350 degrees until it’s deep golden brown, 15–17 minutes. I made a this a couple of days ahead, and it was fine.  Just keep it well covered with plastic wrap.

For vanilla pastry cream:

This process is a little like making frozen custard.

Bring milk and cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Whisk your sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add your egg yolks; whisk until smooth. As you’re whisking, gradually add hot milk mixture to yolk mixture.  (It helps if you have a friend around at this point to gradually pour in the milk for you, but no worries if you’re flying solo. I did it without help and so can you!

Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thick.  It really should be close the the thickness you want when you spread it in the pie.  It will stiffen a bit as it chills, but not a ton.  If you don’t use my culinary school recipe, you may have to really let it simmer for a couple of minutes (but stir constantly).  Remove your pan from the heat, add your butter and vanilla, and whisk, whisk, whisk until it’s perfectly smooth.  (You could do this last step in a blender, but why would you dirty another dish?) Transfer your pastry cream to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pastry cream so it doesn’t form a skin. Chill until set, at least 2 hours.  You can also make this a couple of days ahead.  Pastry cream keeps well as long as it’s well covered.

For whipped cream:

Whip your cream and sugar to desired consistency.  I like my whipped cream a little on the soft side.

For caramel:

Stir sugar, 1 tablespoon bourbon, corn syrup, and 1 tablespoon water in a medium deep saucepan over medium heat. Basically, just leave it there and let it cook until the sugar is a deep amber color.  You might gently swirl your pot a couple of times to make sure it’s cooking evening, but otherwise, just let it do its thang. How long it takes depends on how hot your burner is.  Mine took about 10 minutes. Remove your caramel from your burner and whisk (quickly!) in 1/4 cup cream, butter, and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously).  If you have to put it back on the burner to get it all to come together that’s OK, but don’t let it boil.  Whisk in remaining 1 tablespoon bourbon and vanilla. This also can be made ahead of time.  Reheat it gently before serving it.

Assembly:

Spread 1/4 cup vanilla pastry cream on the bottom of your crust. Layer 1/4 inch banana slices over pastry cream. Top with 1.5 cups pastry cream. Add another layer of slice bananas. And top with remaining pastry cream (or if you used the 2nd pastry cream recipe, just add enough to cover bananas. Garnish with whipped cream and reserved ground peanuts. drizzle with bourbon caramel.

The filling was tart, sweet and luscious.  The crust was flaky, tender, and very flavorful.  Now, that’s what I’m talking about, people!

For the week of Jan. 30, I made an apple-cranberry pie.  I loaded up on Wisconsin cranberries around November when they were on sale, and shoved ’em in my freezer.  Sadly, the apples weren’t local, as I haven’t made it to the winter farmer’s market for a few weeks now. I’m hoping to get there this weekend.

Rose Levy Berenbaum's Rose Apple Cranberry Pie. Delicioso!

The recipe is from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible.  As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I curled up on my couch with my big red blanket and dug in! It’s not what I would call a page-turner, but if you’re a geeky baker like me, it’s a great read.  Berenbaum really plunges into the science of pie crust, and it may seem overkill at first, but at the end of the day, it’s helpful.  One example:  I will never use unbleached, all-purpose flour for my pie crusts again–the protein level is too high, which leads to more gluten formation, which leads to a tough crust.  So, I’ve stocked up on bleached, all-purpose flour while I hunt down pastry flour (which is different than cake flour).

The other thing I LOVE about this book is that it provides the volume and weight – in ounces and grams, no less!  It’s a complete and utter mystery to me why there are baking books still coming out that don’t provide weight measurements. The variability between my scoop of flour and your scoop of flour can be several ounces, and that alone can completely derail a recipe.  If you really want to improve your baking, go get yourself a scale. They’re not that expensive, and they’re convenient as hell. I use mine constantly.  I like this brand.

This particular recipe, “Rosy Apple Cranberry Pie” (ain’t that nice?) called for a cream cheese pie crust.  Making this crust according to Berenbaum’s instructions was a lengthy and time-consuming process.  As I was working my way through her recipe, I realized the keys to her process are chilling and rest.

If you want to give it a try, here’s a very shortened version of the recipe from the book (the recipe in the book is 3.5 pages!):

Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust – double crust

I’m giving you volume/weight measurements.

12 T/6 oz.  Unsalted butter, cold, cut into 3/4″ pcs.

2 c/10 oz.  Bleached all-purpose flour

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. baking powder

4.5 oz. (1.5 3-oz packages) cream cheese, cold

2 T ice water

1 T cider vinegar (I didn’t use this, because I thought it would taste weird. I just added an extra T of water)

Stick your cut up butter in the freezer.  Combine your flour, salt and baking powder, and stick the bowl in your fridge or freezer.   Wait 30 minutes.

Add cream cheese to flour mixture, and rub it in until it resembles coarse meal.

I did this step, but I’m going to skip it next time:  Transfer the cream cheese and flour mixture, and your frozen butter to a zip lock bag.  Expel the air, and with a rolling pin, flatten the butter pieces. Put the bag in the freezer for 10 minutes.

What I will do next time:  mix in the butter pieces with my fingers until I get the same thin flakes, then put the whole bowl back in the freezer.  I’ve done this before, and it works fine.  If you have naturally hot hands, this may not work for you. You’re finished if the butter starts to melt.  Well, not really, you can re-chill your bowl until the butter is cold again, then get back at it, but that’s a pain.  This is one time where having cold hands is definitely an advantage.  If you really want to skip the plastic bag step even though you have hot hands, use a pastry cutter.

This is a pastry cutter. I didn't know what the hell it was for a long time - longer than I'm willing to admit. After all, I didn't learn to bake at my grandma's elbow. So in case you're in my boat, here you go.

After the 10-minute chill, if your mixture is in a bag, transfer it back to the bowl.  (If it’s in the bowl, well, you can keep it in there.)  Add the ice water and vinegar if using.

At this point, she wants you to put it back into the plastic bag again in order to mix it together.  I didn’t do that.  I just mixed it right inside the bowl.  I’m a rebel like that.

I thought I was going to need more water, but I patiently and gently continued kneading the dough until it came together.  Berenbaum writes that it should “hold together in one piece and feel slightly stretchy when pulled.”

Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap each in plastic wrap, flatten each into a 5-inch or so disc and refrigerate for 45 minutes or up to a day.

When you’re ready to roll, take your dough out of the fridge, and let it rest for 10 minutes or so.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out your dough into a 12 inch diameter circle. It should be 1/8 in. thick.   Rotate your dough a quarter turn after each roll of your pin to get a more even circle.  Roll the dough circle loosely around your rolling pin and transfer to your 9-in pie plate  (I use Pyrex).  Trim almost to the edge of the pan. Cover the pan with plastic, and back in the refrigerator for another chilled rest–at least 30 minutes.  I did this step and then made my filling.

Apple Cranberry filling

6 cups/1.5 lbs peeled sliced (1/4 inch) apples

1 T/.5 oz lemon juice (I used more – juice from half of a very juicy lemon)

3/4 cup/5.3 oz sugar

1/4 cup, packed/2 oz light brown sugar

1 t cinnamon

1/8 t salt

2.5 T/.75 oz cornstarch

4 t/.66 oz. unsalted butter

2 cups/7 oz. fresh cranberries

1/2 cup/2.5 oz. golden raisins (this is an optional ingredient, but I thought it was a really  nice addition.

Combine your apples, lemon juice, sugars, cinnamon and salt, mix well, and let macerate for at least 30 minutes (no more than a couple of hours or the mixture will break down too much).

Transfer the mixture to a colander over a bowl, and transfer the juices to a small saucepan.   Add the butter, and reduce slowly in your saucepan until it’s syrupy and caramelized.  She says you should have about 1/4 cup, but I think I had a bit more.

Add cornstarch to apples, and mix well.  Then drizzle the syrup over the apples. The syrup will harden, but don’t worry about it, because it’s going to re-melt in your oven.  Add the cranberries and raisins, and dump this gorgeous mixture into your pie crust.

Roll out the top crust, wet the edges of the bottom crust, then transfer the top crust to cover the pie.  Crimp the border in whatever way you want.  A fork is probably the easiest, or you could flute it. Cover the pie with plastic, and stick it back in the fridge for a final rest.  About an hour will do it.

Finally, cut wide slits in the top crust, or cut a whole in the top crust with a mini-biscuit cutter or a piping tip.

Bake at the bottom of your 425 degree oven for 50-60 minutes.  The juices should be bubbling.

Voila!  You have a lovely pie to eat all by yourself or share with loved ones.

P.S.   No photos of the process, because I haven’t had my photo lesson yet (it’s coming soon!).  But really, I also didn’t take photos of the process, because 13 million other food bloggers have already documented the entire pie-making process, and have lovely photos (or in some case, vids) of what it should look like at each step.  So, if you really want a step-by-step photo tutorial, go here or here, or do a google search and find your own damn tutorial if you don’t like my suggestions. Hrumph!

P.P.S.  On deck for this week is this banana cream pie with salty bourbon caramel, courtesy of Bon Appetit.

I’m not calling it a resolution, because I would inevitably break it.  You know what I’m talking about if you belong to a gym.  It’s ridiculous. You can’t get on the elliptical for 3 weeks after the new year because everyone and their freaking pet has made a resolution to lose weight.

I’m calling this my anti-resolution. And the fact that I’m just now writing about it on January 25 only supports my case that this has nothing to do with a new year’s resolution. Even though the word resolution is in my name for it… Oh, nevermind.

Enough beating around the bush… or should I say butter?  I’m going to make a pie every week in 2012. (Good thing I’m also training for a marathon this spring, and a bike race in late summer.)  I really like pie.  I mean, I like pretty much any dessert food, but pie is homey, comforting, and endlessly adaptable.  I also love a good crust. I’ve made really good crusts in the past.  Problem is I haven’t made them consistently.  And I want to be able to whip out a knock-your-socks-off pie anytime the mood strikes, so I’m on a mission to find and perfect pie crust, and I plan to just have some fun with the fillings.  Because at the end of the day, the filling is the easy part.

What I want in a crust is a great buttery flavor, and a flaky, melt-in-your mouth texture.  I know this has been done. I’ve read about it all over The Internets.  And I’ve had really great pies from my pie hero Paul, who I met at my church, and my other pie hero, and these guys approach hero status, too.

Mission definitely not accomplished as of this writing. Not YET, that is.

1st week:  Pecan maple pie.

I actually used a Cooks Country recipe, which comes from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen.  Usually a pretty good resource.  The pie crust was fine.  It called for shortening, but I used all butter.  Great buttery flavor, but not so flaky.  The filling though… GAG!  I think my maple syrup was bad.  Had to throw the darn thing away.  Bummer, because pecans are damn expensive these days!

2nd week:  Lemon custard

Lemon custard pie. You can see my crust really shrunk on one side. I have found in my limited trials thus far that all butter crusts shrink more and don't hold their shape as well. Back to the lab!

Basic lemon custard was quite good.  Couldn’t really judge the pie crust.  I rolled and crimped it, arranged it in the pie plate, stuck it in the freezer, and promptly forgot about it for almost a week.  It was a bit freezer burned, but hell, it tasted OK, so I took it to work, and it was gobbled up.

3rd week:  Sawdust pie

I rolled out the crust a little larger than I needed to, and so had quite the overhang. You can see how it spilled over the side of the pie plate.

I used the filling recipe from the book Baked Explorations, and I threw some chocolate chips in the mix.  It’s basically a filling with crushed graham crackers, coconut, pecans, and sugar, held together with egg whites.  It’s too sweet.  Needs some potato chips or super salty pretzels or something like that. Maybe I’ll substitute some of the graham crackers with potato chips next time.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll do! On the other hand, I may just move on to other fillings.

For the crust, I read about a trick, I think on this blog, about using heavy cream in place of some of the water. What it does is prevent gluten from forming too quickly, so I did that.  I used all butter, and I also used some pastry flour, which has less protein, which means less gluten development, which theoretically means more flakiness.  But it was whole wheat pastry flour, and I honestly don’t know if that has less protein, so I’m not sure it made a difference.

I didn’t like the crust, anyway.  It’s OK, I guess, but it’s definitely back to the drawing board.

I also ordered this book.  It’s a bible, right?  It’s like, God’s word on pies.  So, what the hell… er, I mean, heck.

Oh, also, I know these photos suck.  My awesome photographer friend Stef is coming over to give me a lesson, so you won’t have to avert your eyes when you look at my photos next time.  It’s because I care. I really do.

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