Thanksgiving Pies

My Thanksgiving contributions to my in-laws celebration this year were in the form of two gluten-free pies.  If you’d rather have a gluten crust, read a previous post on the perfect pie crust.  Both the pumpkin pie and the pecan pie were made using the Williams-Sonoma gluten-free pie crust mix.  The maple vanilla real whipped cream added some extra oomph to these pies without extra work.  Recipes are at the bottom of this post.

This pros of this crust mix: easy to use, easy to follow directions, takes the guessing out of gluten-free substitutions.  The cons: stickier than normal pie dough and browns much more quickly, even with the use of foil or a pie crust shield during baking.  However, this crust is delicious and the fact that no one can even taste the difference between this and a real crust far outweighs the cons.  

Like I said, the real whipped cream is a breeze.  Simply whip the cream until stiff peaks are formed.  Then add sweeteners and/or flavors.  

Just be careful not to over whip the cream or you will achieve the final result of butter.  

Both of my pies were baked and cooling the day before Thanksgiving.  They looked so good it was a miracle they both made it to Thanksgiving untouched.

I made a pecan pie next.  I have no issues making this pie for others who appreciate it.  However, I am not a fan of it – far too much sugar in it for me.  It is always a good looking dessert with its pecan textures and lovely browned top.

With the extra crust dough I made a turkey for the top of the pecan pie.  I baked it in a separate baking sheet and simply added it on top of the pie when both were done baking and cooled.

The turkey’s legs did not survive the transfer from baking sheet to pie.  It certainly shows how much this gluten-free crust browns in the oven.  This pie even had a crust shield on for the entire duration of baking.

My contributions to my mom’s Thanksgiving came in the form of assisting in the making of lefse.  This Norwegian flat potato bread is a time-intensive delicacy that we make twice a year – Thanksgiving and at Christmas.  Read here for the full scoop on lefse.

Amidst all the bustle of Thanksgiving prep, we have made time to get Greta outdoors and on a few sled rides.  She is adjusting well to the colder climate of Iowa and sometimes even cries when it is time to come in!  
Pumpkin Pie – makes 1 pie (from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
1. Prepare and roll out pastry for single crust pie.  Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry.  Trim and crimp edges as desired.  
2.  For filling, in a medium bowl combine: 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg.  Add 2 eggs, beat lightly with a fork just until combined.  Gradually add 3/4 cup half-and-half; stir until combined.  
3.  Place prepared pie pan on oven rack.  To prevent over browning, cover edges in foil.  Carefully pour filling into prepared pie pan.  
4.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Remove foil (leave on for gluten-free crust).  Bake another 25 minutes more or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  Cover and refrigerate within two hours.  
Maple Vanilla Whipped Cream 
1. Pour 8 ounces of cream into mixing stand bowl.  With egg beater attachment, beat until stiff peaks form.  Watch carefully and do not over beat, or butter will form.  
2.  Add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon real maple syrup, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to cream.  Beat for 30 more seconds.  Pour into serving bowl and use immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  
Pecan Pie – makes 1 pie (from Betters Homes and Gardens Cookbook)

1. Prepare and roll out pastry for single crust pie.  Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry.  Trim and crimp edges as desired.

2.  For filling combine: 3 slightly beaten eggs1 cup corn syrup2/3 cups sugar1/3 cup melted butter or margarine, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Mix well, stir in 1-1/2 cup pecan halves.

3.  Place prepared pie pan on oven rack.  To prevent over browning, cover edges in foil.  Carefully pour filling into prepared pie pan.

4.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Remove foil (leave on for gluten-free crust).  Bake another 20 to 25 minutes more or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.  Cover and refrigerate within two hours.

The Perfect Cherry Pie – A Family Event

One of the things I love about being at my parents’ house are the gardens and fruit orchards.  Each year is a little different too, depending on what it is a good year for.   The summer of 2013 is a cherry year for sure.   
 

 This is only a fraction of the cherries that have been picked this season.

True to our family, the cherry prep last weekend became a family production.  My mom and sister pitted bowls upon bowls of cherries.

Greta played with her measuring cups and goldfish crackers while I prepared pie crusts.  I think I have a budding chef or baker on my hands. 

Usually, I use my own tried and true pie crust recipe.  However, since I was under the tutelage of my father, I decided to go ahead and try his recipe. 

I started flipping around the plethora of cookbooks and magazines and had a hard time finding a simple cherry pie.  So many of the recipes called for so many additives.  I almost overlooked the easiest pie, Fresh Cherry Pie.  

The crusts got a little on the warm side, which makes them difficult to roll out and transfer smoothly.  A cold marble or stainless steel rolling pin and a cold work surface makes this easier. 

Caroline got to work on the fillings for not one, but two cherry pies.

Meanwhile, dad hunted for seasonings.  We debated adding a teaspoon of almond extract, but ultimately decided to be purists.

The filling turns into a sugary thick mass when allowed to sit for a bit.

One pie is sealed up and ready to bake while the other awaits its top.

Post baking perfection.  One pie went home with my sister and her husband, one to my father-in-law for his birthday, and two to be eaten with afternoon coffee and breakfast.  My family is well known for enjoying pie at any time of the day.  A fresh pie is always better, so why not enjoy them for breakfast?

Dad’s Pie Crust – makes a double crust for a pie

Ingredients:
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
3 tablespoons ice cold water
3 tablespoons cold vodka

1.  Preheat oven to 400.  In a medium mixing bowl, use a pastry blender to cut in cold butter until pieces are coarse crumb size.

2.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice cold liquid at a time; gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to side of bowl.  Repeat using rest of liquid.  Dough will be dry, do NOT give into temptation to make dough moister by adding more liquid.  This will make your dough tough.  Divide dough in half; form into a ball.

3.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to flatten ball of dough.  Roll dough from center to edges into a circle 12 inches in diameter.  Do not overwork the dough and do not allow dough to warm up.  
4.  Carefully transfer dough to pie pan, by wrapping around a rolling pin, not allowing it to stretch.  
5.  Transfer filling into pie pan.  Repeat step 3 and 4 for second ball of dough.  Gently drape second circle of dough over the filling.  Use your fingers to seal the edges of the dough.  
6.  Optional: brush dough with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Cover edges in foil.  Place piece of foil on bottom rack of oven.  Place pie in preheated oven, on middle shelf.  Bake for 20 minutes at 400. Reduce oven to 350, remove foil, and bake another 40-50 minutes longer or til crust is golden and filling is bubbling.  
7. Let cool on wire rack.  
Fresh Cherry Pie Filling – makes filling for one pie
1. In a large bowl: combine 3 cups pitted, fresh ripe red tart cherries, 1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, and dash of salt.  Turn into prepared pie pan.  Dot with 2 tablespoons of butter.  Seal top of pie with second half of pie dough.  Bake 50 to 55 minutes in a 400 degree oven.   

Turnip, Pear & Sausage Pie

Oh yum, oh yum, oh yum.  Savory pies are one of my favorite meals ever.  I know I say that about a lot of foods, but pie crust with roasted veggies is just too much!  And once in a blue moon, I do cook chicken.  This is one of those lucky occasions, for Eric’s sake.

I combined three lovely produce for this pie: turnips, yellow onion, and pear.

I mixed them together in pie filling fashion with seasonings and vinegar instead of the usual lemon juice for a sweet pie.

Of course I turned to my trusty pie crust.  I even got to use my new marble rolling pin I received for Christmas this year.  These babies are great – I keep mine in the fridge so it’s always cold enough for rolling out pastry dough.

And because sometimes I do cook with chicken, though very rarely, I used chicken sausage.

Eric loves this stuff and was thrilled to see me add it to a pie.

This flaky crust, the roasted veggies, the savory flavor of sage mixed with the tang of vinegar.  How are you not licking your screen right now?  This pie would be just as good with the sausage omitted – still not vegan though.  I cannot do the butter-free crusts – they just aren’t as good.

Turnip Pear & Sausage Pie

1.  For the filling, peel and dice into 1-inch pieces, 2 small-medium turnips.  Dice 1 firm pear, skin left on or off.  Slice into wedges, 1/2 yellow onion.  Place in medium mixing bowl.  

2. Add 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, and fresh ground pepper.  Mix well.  Set aside.  

3. For the double crust, In a medium mixing bowl, cut 1/3 cup cold butter into 2-1/4 cups flour.  Use a pastry blender until the pieces are pea sized.  


4. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice cold water or vodka over part of the flour mixture, toss with a fork.  Push aside moistened dough, repeat using 1 tablespoon of water/vodka at a time until all flour is moistened, 8-10 tablespoons total.  Do not over moisten.  Divide dough into two balls, dough should be crumbly and semi-dry.  


5. On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten 1 dough ball.  Roll from center to edges into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.  Transfer to a pie plate by carefully wrapping dough around a rolling pin, being careful not to stretch the dough.   Trim extra dough.  Transfer filling to pie plate.  


6. Roll remaining dough ball into a circle about 12 inches in diameter.  Place on top of filling, press edges together, trimming extra.  Cut steam vents in the top of the dough. 


7. Cover edges in foil, or pie shield, and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove foil, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 35 to 45 more minutes.  Filling should be hot and bubbly and top of pie slightly golden.  






Pie Tips via NPR

I just read this NPR story and all the tips in here are spot on, though no mention of vodka in the crust. 😉 








Pie-Making 101: How I Overcame My Fear Of Crumbling Crust.  


By Allison Aubrey 
July 2, 2012 

If you listen to my story on Morning Edition, you’ll understand the generational divide that has led to my fear of making a pie crust.

So when I decided to overcome my fear, I did it the right way. I hopped on a train to the Culinary Institute of America, the nation’s premier cooking school, in Hyde Park, N.Y. There I learned the foolproof pie crust formula that chef George Higgins teaches his students. “It starts with 3, 2, 1,” he explains.

That’s 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat (butter), 1 part liquid. We’ve laid it out for you in pictures here, to make it easy. And we also share his family’s impossible-to-resist blueberry pie recipe that is made with a flaky crust.
But it takes just a bit more than that.Higgins says a successful baker likes precision. So be sure to measure accurately. Then, of course, there’s the technique.

The biggest mistake I made — and this is a pitfall for lots of newbies — was overworking the dough. Chef Higgins made me toss out my first attempt and start over! Less is more. Higgins taught me to handle it just enough to form the dough into a ball. (Kneading is for bread, not pie crust!) It’s supposed to look like it’s barely holding together.
Here are some other pastry chefs’ tips to avoid disaster:

Westover says.

Your butter should be firm, cold and chunky. Ryan Westover, the pastry chef at Poste in Washington, D.C., explains that the chunks of cold butter will slowly release steam as the pie bakes. And this is important: “By releasing steam incrementally, you give the starches and gluten time to form a lattice, or a sort of balloon,” he says. And this holds the steam in.

This is how a good pie crust develops its rich, delicate layers of wonderful texture and flavor,
Additional temperature tips come from Theresa Souther, a pastry chef and head of the Professional Pastry Arts Program at L’Academie de Cuisine, a culinary school in Bethesda, Md.

She recommends putting ingredients, including the flour, in the fridge or freezer for 30 to 60 minutes before you begin.

And be sure to use ice water to mix the dough. “Cold temperatures help minimize gluten development,” she explains. And if you have too much gluten, you end up with a chewy, rubbery crust.
Also, she says, let the dough rest in the fridge after you mix it and before you try to roll it and shape the pie. Cold dough is usually easier to roll and handle.


A pie from my photo archives. June 2008.

Boozy Snooki Peach Pie

What is one of the best things about living in the South?

Peaches, of course!

The following is the making of my Boozy Snooki Pie, using the vodka crust.  Great thanks to Instagram, which is now my favorite app.

I use my trusty pie recipe wheel.  My sister got the template from Martha Stewart and gave this to me for a bridal shower gift.
Peel and slice 4 lbs of peaches into approximately 3/4 inch cubes.

Mix peaches in a bowl with 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and 2 tablespoons butter.

For the crust, I used the Better Homes & Gardens red plaid cookbook recipe.  It is the simplest and best out there.  Before we move on though, a few important things to remember about pie crusts:

a. Always use butter, high quality butter.

b. Keep the butter, water and/or vodka, and dough as cold as possible. Work fast and handle the dough as little as possible.  If the dough becomes too warm, refrigerate before continuing,

c. When transferring dough to the pie pan, do not stretch, this will cause shrinkage during baking.

I use butter from a local dairy.  It comes in a tub, so measuring is a little tricky.
Cut butter into flour with a pastry cutter.  Pieces should be pea-sized.  A pastry cutter is a must if you are making pie crusts. 
 
Cut in 8-10 tablespoons freezer-temperature vodka in place of water to make a flakier crust.
Flour and butter mixture post vodka.  It should still seem dry.
Quickly form dough into 2 disks.  Handle the dough as little as possible.
Flatten dough and roll into a circle roughly 12 inches in diameter.  This is where a cold marble rolling pin is very handy to keep the dough cold.
Wrap dough around rolling pin and ease into pie pan.  Do not stretch the dough.  Transfer prepared filling into pie pan. Roll out remaining dough, same as first dough.  Transfer to top of pie.  Press edges together with fingers or fork edge.  I am not a fancy edge pie person – it needs to taste amazing, not look pretty to be on the cover of a magazine. Notice the rough edges below.
 
Cut vents for steam to escape.  These can be simple lines or a fancy design, such as shapes, letters or numbers.
Brush top with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
Wrap edges in foil to prevent over-browning.
Place a sheet of foil with edges turned up on bottom rack to catch drippings.
Bake in 425° oven for 20 minutes.  Remove foil from edges.  Reduce heat to 350° and bake for 30 to 40 more minutes.  Insides should be bubbling and crust golden.

Cool on wire rack.  I firmly believe that a pie is always better with ice cream and on the second day, after it has had a day to set up.

Boozy Snooki Peach Pie

1. Peel and slice 4 lbs of peaches into approximately 3/4-inch cubes.

2.  Mix peaches in a bowl with 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, and 2 tablespoons butter.

For Crust:

1. Cut 2/3 cup butter into 2-1/4 cups flour with a pastry cutter.  Pieces should be pea-sized.

2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cold vodka over part of flour and butter mixture.  Toss gently with fork.  Push moistened dough to one side of bowl.  Repeat using 1 tablespoon at a time until all flour is moistened, use 8-10 total tablespoons of cold water/vodka mixture.  Divide in half; form into 2 disks.

3.  On a lightly floured surface, use hands to slightly flatten dough.  Roll into a circle approximately a 12 inches in diameter.

4.  Wrap pastry dough around rolling pin and carefully transfer to pie pan.  Do not stretch the dough, this will cause shrinking during baking.  Trim excess dough off, if needed.  Transfer prepared filling to pie pan.

5.  Roll remaining dough into circle about 12 inches in diameter.  Cut slits to allow steam to vent.  Place pastry over filling, trim excess to 1/2 inch past edge of pie pan.  Press edges together with fingers or using a fork.

6.  Brush top with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Wrap edges in foil to prevent over-browning.

7.  Place a sheet of foil with edges turned up on bottom rack to catch drippings.

Bake in 425° oven for 20 minutes.  Remove foil from edges.  Reduce heat to 350° and bake for 30 to 40 more minutes.  Insides should be bubbling and crust golden.
The vodka makes the perfect flaky crust.
 The peaches are almost too good to be real!
 P.S. The pie doesn’t taste like vodka at all.

Birthday Pie + Mystery Ingredient

Eric’s birthday was last week and true to form, he asked for a birthday pie.  Since the strawberries are early this year, I decided strawberries it had to be.  My mom was down visiting for spring break, entertaining Greta and me while I baked this.  She mentioned she had just read about using a mystery ingredient to make pie crusts the best they can be.

Read on to find out what I added and how and why it improved my pie crust.

 

For the filling:

4-1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries (the more you use, the higher your pie will stand when baked)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca power (because strawberries have no pectin and need this to gel)
2 tablespoons butter

1.  Mix together in a medium mixing bowl.  Let stand while preparing the crust.
For the crust:
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup shortening
6 tablespoons ice cold water
2 tablespoons vodka (WHAT?!?!)
1.  Preheat oven to 425.  In a medium mixing bowl, use a pastry blender to cut in cold butter until pieces are coarse crumb size.
The most important pie baking tool.
2.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice cold liquid at a time; gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to side of bowl.  Repeat using rest of liquid.  Dough will be dry, do NOT give into temptation to make dough moister by adding more liquid.  This will make your dough tough.  Divide dough in half; form into a ball.
3.  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to flatten ball of dough.  Roll dough from center to edges into a circle 12 inches in diameter.  Do not overwork the dough and do not allow dough to warm up.
4.  Carefully transfer dough to pie pan, by wrapping around a rolling pin, not allowing it to stretch.
5.  Transfer filling into pie pan.  Repeat step 3 and 4 for second ball of dough.  Gently drape second circle of dough over the filling.  Use your fingers to seal the edges of the dough.
6.  Brush dough with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Cover edges in foil.  Place piece of foil on bottom rack of oven.  Place pie in preheated oven, on middle shelf.  Bake for 20 minutes at 425. Reduce oven to 350, remove foil, and bake another 40-50 minutes longer or til crust is golden and filling is bubbling.
7. Let cool on wire rack.

 

The pie did not last long – 24 hours to be exact.  This was by far the best crust I have ever made.  In doing some more research, I found that the vodka makes pie crusts flakier because during baking the alcohol evaporates much better than water can.  This leaves your pie with the perfect crust.  Even with the juicy strawberries the crust stayed flaky – something that does not always happen.  Some bakers use only vodka and no water in their crusts.  I intend to play around with this ratio with future pies and will keep you posted on what I discover.
According to Cooks Illustrated:
The trick to creating consistently great dough depended on the amount of water incorporated, and in particular how it was absorbed. There had to be a substitution that would keep the dough moist but not create too much gluten, which is produced by combining water and flour and makes for a leathery crust. After many dry, crumbly, dough “don’ts,” we discovered the perfect liquid to use. Vodka! It added moisture, but is only 60% water—the other 40% of vodka is ethanol. The alcohol doesn’t create dough-toughening gluten, so when we baked up this pie dough, we had a perfectly flaky AND tender pie crust with absolutely no vodka taste (all the alcohol evaporates in the oven during baking).