I have continued my journey with pie, but I’ve been having so much darn fun with it, that I haven’t been reporting too much.  I’m getting closer to my perfect crust, and it’s fun to try different fillings each week.

Here is the pie history:

May 13 – Rhubarb Streusel.  Sadly, I have no photo of this pie, because I took it to Green Bay, where friends hosted us when I ran the Green Bay Marathon.  I forgot to take a photo.  Trust me when I tell you the pie turned out far better than the marathon.

May 20 – Apple Crumble.  No, apples are not in season in May, at least not in the Midwest, but I had a hankering. What can I say?

May 27 – Peach.  The dog ate it. I’m not kidding. Here’s a photo of the dog who ate my pie. Damn dog.

June 3 – Apricot galette. It exploded in the oven from the custard you add during the last 15 minutes of baking. But it was delicious. I actually didn’t share this one. Sometimes, I think it’s a miracle that I don’t weigh 300 lbs.

June 10 – Mixed berry. To date, the best pie I had made, including crust.

June 17 – Plum blackberry streusel. A Bon Appetit recipe. Messy, but the unique flavor was well worth having purple fingers.

June 24 – Open-faced blueberry. This has been my favorite pie so far.  It uses 4 cups of blueberries (though I think you could definitely increase this to 5 or 6), but you only cook one cup of the berries (or 1/4 of the berries you’re using if you increase the total amount) with some sugar and thickener, then mix it in with the fresh berries, dump it in a baked pie crust, and let it set for a few hours. Eat it with some lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream. Summer doesn’t get better than this.

Did I say this was my favorite pie so far?  OK, I thought so.

June 30 – Peaches and Dream pie from the cookbook Baked Explorations.  It’s basically a way-too-sweet peach custard pie. My verdict? Blech. Others seemed to like it well enough, but you won’t find it being made in my house again.

July 1 – Run for the Roses, aka Kentucky Derby pie. It’s got chocolate, pecans and bourbon in it. Need I say more? This was supposed to be one of two pies I brought for the 4th of July (my sister doesn’t eat fruit), but it turned out to be a grief pie. My doggie nephew Bruno was laid to rest on July 3. He was the sweetest little Italian greyhound, who loved to give kisses, but a tumor got the best of him.  We miss that lovable trouble-maker. Understandably, my sister and brother-in-law were in no mood for July 4 festivities, so they stayed home, and I brought them this pie to comfort them.

July 1, part deux – Strawberry cream cheese pie. This is the pie I brought to the 4th of July festivities at my parents’ home. Again, I sadly have no photo of this pie, and it’s too bad, because it certainly was a beauty. I used strawberries I picked myself from a farm just north of the city, and that definitely put this pie over the top.  It had a cream cheese base layer, a cooked strawberry layer, and an uncooked strawberry topping.  My dad went nuts over it and asked me to make it again next year for his birthday. No problemo, padre!

July 8 – Peach streusel. The organic peaches were wonderful and juicy, and I used more than the recipe called for, but didn’t increase the thickener. Oops. It was a little soupy, but unlike the Peaches and Dream pie, this one was indeed dreamy. Tip: Don’t make a streusel for a peach pie unless it’s going to be completely consumed the day it’s made. It gets soggy and unappetizing after day 1.  Stick with a top crust instead.

July 15 – Open faced apricot pie. I’m finding that I’m quite fond of apricots. This pie was lovely and fragrant. Too bad I dropped half of it on the garage floor, and had to throw it out along with the pie plate that shattered and shot like shrapnel all over the place.  Sweeping up that mess was no fun. The raspberries were from a roadside stand. (I love writing that!)

July 22 – Cherry-rhubarb. I used the last batch of Cherryland’s Best Door County Cherries that I froze from last year for this pie.  This one was a beauty.  Randy took it to work (after I sampled a piece), and it was gone within 2 hours. Yeah, it was that good.

Here’s the piece I sampled. How’s that for discipline!?

I also made a savory Zucchini-Ricotta galette this week, which we had for dinner yesterday. I wasn’t that excited about it, but we have zucchini up the wazoo from our CSA, and it seemed like a good way to use it and exceed my pie quota for the week. I’m an over-achiever like that. I also got a little wild with the crust, and used a mixture of unbleached all purpose, whole wheat pastry, and spelt flour. It was incredibly flavorful. I dare say it’s a repeater, though I would probably amp up the cheesy base with some spices or herbs next time.

So there you have it. I may have been slacking off in the writing department, but the pie-making has been full-speed ahead.

A word about my crusts.  Flour is a big deal.  Turns out, so is sugar.  I love the texture that pastry flour gives a crust, but I can only find whole wheat pastry flour in the stores.  So, if I use it, I add a couple of teaspoons of sugar to the crust.  If I don’t add sugar, the crust seems a better fit for a savory rather than sweet filling. You can skip the sugar if you use a white flour.

But pastry flour is more expensive.  A good alternative is bleached all purpose flour.  I know, the idea of using bleached flour is a little unappetizing, but it has less protein which makes for a more tender crust.

Don’t use White Lily flour for pie crust (though in cakes it’s great!). I actually discovered this a number of weeks ago, but in an effort to use up what I had bought, I mixed the White Lily flour with unbleached All Purpose flour for a couple of the pies I made.  It’s just too soft and delicate.  It’s a pain to roll out and crimp, and it doesn’t hold up to fruit fillings. I’ll stick to using it for cakes and muffins.

If you want to knock your friends’ socks off with your crust, use an Irish or European butter, which has a higher fat content than American versions. You CAN taste the difference.  One of my favorite crusts to date has been made with Kerrygold butter.

At the end of the day, you can use regular butter and unbleached all purpose flour for your crust, and it will still be loads better than your average store-bought version.  Before this here pie journey, that’s how I made pie crusts whenever I made pie, and it was great! The crust is perhaps a little crunchier, but it’s homemade. You bring a homemade pie anywhere, and people are not going to start asking you what kind of flour and butter you used. They’re going to Mmmm and Ahhh about it, as they should.

Happy pie-making.

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I’ve nearly finished dumping everything perishable in my refrigerator and freezer, which stopped working last night.  Yes, my heart hurts from throwing out homemade yogurt, pork jowl, beef tenderloin, homemade chicken broth, and all manner of other items that I was planning to use over the next few weeks.

Luckily, I had pie to comfort me.

The crust was made just like a basic butter pastry crust, but I subbed plain yogurt for water, at Rose Levy Berenbaum’s suggestion.  I can see why she recommended it–the tangy flavor of the crust does complement the tartness of the lime filling, but 1) it was a devil to work with, cracking all over creation, and 2) I missed the stage-center flavor of butter, which in this crust is masked slightly by the yogurt.

In all fairness, I used another type of flour, so that could have contributed to the difficulty I had keeping the dough in one piece.  On a whim, I decided to use self-rising White Lily flour that I found at a local grocery store in the area (Sendik’s, for those of you who live in Milwaukee).  It’s a bleached white flour with leavener added.  I understand it’s very popular in the South. Since I usually add 1/8 teaspoon baking powder to my crusts, I thought, why not? But it feels very soft. Almost cake flour soft, so it might not work out for me.

The filling was dreamy. It was actually supposed to be a lemon pucker pie from Berenbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible, but since I had an overabundance of limes from our Casa de Collett Margarita Party (the best margaritas in the Midwest!),  limes it was going to be!

I started by making a lime curd*.  Then I made a stiff meringue*.  Then I folded the curd into the meringue (I keep wanting to spell merengue! Let’s dance!).  Voilá!  Filling done.  I dumped it into my fully pre-baked pie crust, and into the oven it went for about 20 minutes until the top was golden.  It was actually half golden, and half light brown, because my oven is terribly uneven and I forgot to turn it 10 minutes in.  But it was still pretty… until I cut into it.  That meringue-curd filling stuck to the knife no matter what I did!

But I still ate it.  So did my colleagues.  Pucker up, buttercup.

* Note:  these are not the recipes I used, but they’re close and will serve you well if you want to try them. 

We have just finished cleaning up the last dishes from our 5th annual Cinco de Mayo party.  We still have to put the furniture back in place, but I’m feeling good about having a clean kitchen again.  So good in fact, that I’m making me some homemade yogurt this morning.  Mmmm.

Despite the hefty amount of preparation that went into my Mexican feast, I still managed to squeak out my weekly pie.  In the spirit of Mexico’s sweet victory against Napoleon in the 1862 Battle of Puebla, I made a sweet treat:  empanadas with carmelized apple and almond filling.

Here are the little beauties.

No, there’s no booze in the empanadas. The picture is also paying homage to Randy’s best-in-Milwaukee margaritas.

Ok, they’re not that beautiful, but some of them were way worse! The thing about empanadas and other items requiring putzy assemblage is that the more you do it, the better you get at crimping those pretty little edges. This won’t be the last time you see empanadas on my blog!

I used a recipe from my go-to book for these parties, Fiesta at Rick’s. It’s a fun book, and you can really riff on the recipes and not screw them up. Bonus!

To make them, use your favorite pie dough recipe and maybe add a touch more water if you’re like me. (For regular pies, I keep the dough as dry as possible, but still able to be rolled. You really have to handle the dough a lot with empanadas, so adding a touch more water will ensure they don’t fall apart on you.)

Roll it out into a big sheet or round, about 1/8 inch thick, and cut 3.5-4 inch circles.

Saute apples in butter with brown sugar and a pinch of salt until they’re good and caramelized.

Use almond paste, diluted with water for a spreadable consistency.  (Or you can use any nut you like. Grind it up in a food processor, then add a bit of butter to make it spreadable.)

For each empanada, spread a scant teaspoon of almond paste and top with a couple of teaspoons of apples.  Crimp the edges in anyway you like.  Here’s a good 1-minute tutorial.

At this stage, you can either freeze them or bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Brush with an egg yolk/water mixture, then pop them back into the oven for a few minutes to brown slightly.

Delicioso.

I kept picking up pears from the market, because they looked delicious. I felt a little guilty about it, because they’re not local pears.  It’s tough even for me–a person committed to supporting local, sustainable farms–to resist the allure of such handsome produce.

But I had them ripening away in my fruit bowl, and with the week coming to a close, I knew I needed to get busy. Pear pie.  And for a little zing, I added slightly sweetened Montmorency tart cherries. Then, because every fruit pie needs a topping, I made a buttery brown sugar streusel.

I went with the all-butter quick crust that I used last week, again adding 1/4 tsp of baking powder,  but this time I let it rest longer.  That helped, but it was still a bit of a bear to roll out and cracked like crazy around the edges. This does tend to happen more with all-butter crusts, but I’m in search of a solution.  Since then I’ve read a few more crust tips that I’m going to try for this week’s pie.

The fruit filling was simply cut pears macerated with a bit of sugar and spices, and I used flour for the thickening agent. Next time, I’ll go with cornstarch. I may be full of you-know-what, but I think it gives the filling a more clean and pure flavor and texture.

Fruit fillings often make for soggy crusts, but not since I’ve been using another trick I learned from the great Rose Levy Berenbaum.  She kindly, but precisely instructs us to mix our fruit and sugar, let it macerate for 30 minutes or so, then drain the extra juices into a small saucepan (you’ll have 1/3 to 1/2 cup of juice).  Put that little saucepan of watery, sugary goodness onto the heat and cook it into a thick syrup. Finally let it cool a bit, and mix the syrup back into the bowl of fruit.  Then, you may dump your fruit into your partially baked pie shell, top it with your crust, lattice or streusel, and bake away.

Genius, hey?  Instead of all that water leaking into the crust you labored and fussed over, it’s evaporated–poof!–before it even goes into the pie.  Then you’re left with a concentrated fruity concoction that heightens the flavor of the filling.

So I did that with my pears, and it was a beautiful thing. (See how the juices aren’t oozing out all over the plate? That’s the syrup trick!)

When I took my first bite of this pie, I honestly wasn’t sure I liked it (I think it was the texture of the flour, people. I’m going with cornstarch next time).  But I took another bite… and then another… and another… and then I was licking the plate.  I was literally licking the plate.  I mean, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and then I was like, oh my god, I’m licking this plate. That’s ridiculous! I never lick my plate! (dragging my finger through what’s left on the plate, and licking my finger… well, that’s another story.) Though it is a pretty plate, don’t you think?

Anyway, after I got over my astonishment at what I had done,  I promptly packed up one more piece for myself to eat when I was feeling a bit more disciplined (like the following morning at breakfast time), and sent the rest off with my husband to drop off at his father’s hair salon. The ladies at the salon did me and my back end a big favor by polishing it off.  Thanks, gals.

On deck for next week:  A post-race sour cherry pie.

Last week I made a blueberry cranberry pie with a basic all-butter flaky pastry crust. Once again, this recipe is from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible.  I’m going to stick with this book for awhile, because I think this just might be the key to my pie-crust success. And it doesn’t hurt that the fillings are also exacting and exactly perfect every time.

See how the filling stays in place and doesn't ooze out everywhere? I love that! (I know. I'm a geek. I've embraced it.)

The blueberry cranberry filling is a perfect winter pie.  It’s not too sweet. In fact, it’s bracing and tart, in a  good, beat your chest sort of way. And if you want to tame the tartness, it’s lovely with some local or homemade vanilla ice cream.

You can use blueberries you put up in the summer, or buy frozen.   Randy brought home fresh blueberries from Trader Joe’s that came from Mexico, I think.  I cringed, because I try to eat in-season as much as possible, but I wasn’t about to waste these berries. They actually tasted quite good. And of course I used some of the cranberries I stocked up on in December.

You start by macerating all the filling ingredients for 30 minutes.  Then you cook it until it’s thick, let it cool and transfer it to the pie shell.  Incredibly easy and delicious.  In fact, there’s no reason you couldn’t use this filling as an ice cream topping or in a fruit crisp as well.

Here are the blueberries and cranberries macerating in sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest.

Of course, I can’t help myself.  I always switch up a recipe, even if it’s just slightly.  And really, this time it’s hardly worth mentioning the change, but I’ll mention it anyway.  I decided on a lattice top crust rather than a double crust.

Well, this tiny decision did end up tripping me up a bit.  The quantities for all the ingredients for the double-crust and crust-with-lattice are right next to each other in the book, so while I’m certain I got the flour and butter measurements correct, I know my eyes kept drifting back and forth between the recipes on the other ingredients.  I think this may have had a slight impact on the end result.

The crust was flaky, tasty, and very crisp…  approaching tough, which is not a good thing in a pie crust.  I still haven’t laid my hands on pastry flour, so I might attribute some of the minor flaws in the pie crust to the fact that I used bleached AP flour which has a slightly higher protein content.  But I also think that the tricks my eyes were playing on me as I was measuring ingredients into my bowl may have had an impact.

Also, Rose keeps calling for vinegar in her crusts–just a tad, but really, I just can’t do it.  At least not yet. I subbed extra water instead. This may also have contributed to that slight chew in the crust.

I’m going to make the same crust again this week. Maybe I’ll try the vinegar. Maybe not. I’ll report how it goes.

If you want to try this recipe, just remember the key to a good pie crust is cold everything, and resting the dough.

Basic Flaky Pie Crust for 9-inch lattice pie

Adapted from the Pie and Pastry Bible

9 T/4.5 oz unsalted butter

1.5 cups/7.5 oz bleached AP flour (or if you use pastry flour, add an extra 1.5 T)

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp baking powder

3.5-4.5 T/1.75-2.3 oz ice water

1.5 tsp/0.25 oz cider vinegar (I didn’t use vinegar, and instead add a touch more water)

Cut 2/3 of the butter into 3/4 in. cubes and put it in the refrigerator.  Slice the remaining 1/3 of the butter into thin slices, separate them and put them in the freezer.*  Put your dry ingredients in a bowl and stick it in the freezer or refrigerator until very cold.

Rub the refrigerated butter into the flour mixture with your fingers or a pastry blender until it looks like coarse meal  (your flour, butter and bowl are cold enough if this hurts a little). Gently fold in the frozen butter slices, trying to keep them intact as much as possible.  If it seems like your mixture is warming up too much, let it rest in the freezer or refrigerator for awhile before you continue.

Add your ice water, beginning with the smallest quantity recommended in the recipe.  Help the dough come together with your spatula (or your hands if you have very cold hands)  by turning and pressing the mixture in the bowl.  Add additional water until it’s ready and forms a crumbly mass. Stop kneading it, and dump it onto a square of plastic wrap. Use the edges of the wrap to bring all the crumbs to the dough mass.  Wrap it up and form it into a disc.  You can split it up at this point if you want:  9.5 oz for the bottom crust, and the remaining piece for the lattice.  Or split it later (which is what I did). Let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Take it out of the fridge, let it rest a few minutes until it’s roll-able, and roll it.  Bottom crust should be about 13 inches.  Roll the lattice into a rectangle, and cut into strips about 3/4 inch wide.  Here’s a good photo demo of how to make a lattice top.

Dump the filling into the pie crust, make the lattice top, stick it back in the fridge to rest for an hour.

Bake for about an hour in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the crust is golden brown.  Rose recommends a 20-minute bake on the bottom of your oven or baking stone, then transfer to the top rack to finish baking.  This worked well for me, but be sure to put a sheet of foil on the bottom of your oven to catch drips from the filling.

Let it rest for 6 hours before cutting. (I know it sounds like a long time. It is, but you know how the filling in the picture is staying put instead of oozing all over the plate?  Yeah, it’s because it rested for 6 hours. Skip this step at your own risk.)

Blueberry-Cranberry filling

1.5 cups/10.5 oz sugar

1/3 cup/1.6 oz corn starch

1 T/.25 oz lemon zest

3 T/1.6 oz lemon juice

a pinch of salt

1.5 lbs frozen blueberries

3.5 cups/12.25 oz fresh or frozen cranberries

In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine all the ingredients except blueberries and cranberries.  Then add the berries and toss to coat.  Let it sit for about 30 minutes or until the berries begin to give up some of their juices.

Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently until very thickened, and some of the berries have bursted.  It’s a lot of filling, so this may take awhile. The recipe says 8-10 minutes, but mine took longer. Just make sure it comes to a complete boil (doesn’t have to be a rolling boil), because boiling it is what activates the starch.  If you don’t activate the starch, it won’t get as thick, and worse, you’ll have a really unpleasant texture to your filling.  It should be edible after you’re done cooking it.

Let it cool to almost room temp before dumping it into your pie crust for baking.

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.

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.