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Saturday, November 12, 2011

pastry, perfected

On Thursday, my friends and I set a pastry precedent.

While Sandi's neurons are firing at an arresting rate studying the pharmocology and physiology on her way to learning how to anesthetize people, I finally learned how to make a decent pie crust through the Hampden Adult Ed program.

I love to cook and bake, but pastry has been my nemesis.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that even Pillsbury from a box can't make me look good.  Whenever I try from scratch, with multiple recipes from reliable sources, the dough always seems to crumbly, it cracks when I roll it and it falls apart when I try to scallop the edge.  If my pies were a cheese they would be Cheez Whiz.  If they were a shoe they would be your lawn mowing sneakers.  If they were a gift, they would be fruitcake.

Enter in pie making class along with my friends Ange:

and Kim:

Allow me to say that Ange is a more adept pie maker than Kim and I, having to only tweak her skills a bit,  so she was there more for the fun.  And as it turns out to make sure we didn't fail.

It is my belief that baking should be fun and that there is a reason the kitchen is the central spot in a home.  It wouldn't have been possible for us to have more fun making pies on Thursday night.
Patti, our instructor, had the sure hands and know-how of an experienced baker.  I say this with the greatest respect.  I've asked Sandi's grandmother how she makes such pretty pies and she dictated a recipe to me that was inexact- it clearly required the experience of the baker to judge the consistency and feel of the dough, how to work it enough but not overwork it.

Patti had this magic pastry wisdom.  These are her sure hands assessing Kim's dough.
It turned out she had overworked it and had to start over, causing much hysterics over the fact that she had "failed" pie making class. She and I, so much more handicapped than Ange, joked that we were in the remedial pie class. Patti would tell us to put on the top crust and Kim and I would just stand there and wait for her to come over and give explicit instruction. Over and over we would say, "Now this is where it all falls apart when I do it at home."
Kim, putting some muscle in.  She brought two rolling pins, intending to improve her odds of success.

There was a lot of cooperative effort between friends (Ange and Kim never having met became fast friends over this transformative experience.)  We cut apples for each other's pies, gave words of encouragement or sarcasm wherever appropriate and gave advice the way only the most inexperienced can.  This lead Kim to intone, "I make pies with a little help from my friends."

In one particularly confident moment, Kim suggested that we should all be members of the Secret Society of Pie Makers.  It was evident the class, and our impending success, was going to our heads.

Ange had this big daddy rolling pin that created envy among all the bakers.
She let me use the big daddy to transfer my dough to my pie plate. Cool trick!

So, this is what I really learned in pie class, aside from the fact that I think all pies should be made alongside friends: it all comes down to the dough you are working with.  The recipe Patti had us use was a silky dough that felt like half pastry, half bread dough.  It was malleable and forgiving.  Perhaps once I get a good feel for working with this dough, I will be successful with other standard dough recipes.

Rest assured, for all of you suffering in pastry mediocrity, I will share.

4 c. flour
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 c shortening (Patti says don't use Crisco- generic works better)
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. water

Mix flour, sugar and salt together and then add shortening.  You will need to use your hands.  Once mixed but not overworked, combine egg, lemon juice and water together and then add to dough.   (This recipe makes 4 crusts.)

That is it!  No frozen butter, no cold water, no refrigerated dough. 

For the filling:
sliced apples, enough to mound over the top of the pie plate
1 c sugar
1/4 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg (I think I would decrease to 1/2 tsp next time)
dots of butter on the top of the apples just before you put the top crust on

Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes.

Ready to take home to cook.

Fresh out of the oven with a little square taken off for testing doneness.  I'm a pie class graduate.

As Kim said, what great homework!
Promptly the next morning, at Sandi's suggestion, I formed the Facebook Group "The Secret Society of Pie Makers" and invited Ange and Kim.  Anyone who would like to join, let me know and I will invite you! 

Our female predecessors might have been a tad bit unempowered and lacked for rights to property and to vote, but they had it all going on with the communal baking. I mean, how much fun would it be to sit around with other women and make pies? Let's be honest...and then sit around and eat them? out, here we come!

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