Monday, July 13, 2009

On Pies and Potter

I made a pie on Saturday and with it, the flames of baking have rekindled in my breast.

For Christmas last year Linda got me a dessert cookbook and I got her a pie cookbook proving yet again, that if ever there were two people meant to be together, they are she and I. Now, the pie cookbook was not for her to bake from, but for her to choose from so that I might make pies. After a year in the cake baking trenches, I felt like I could handle pretty much any cake thrown my way, provided that I had enough time and the right materials. With the addition of my Father's Day gifts, a cake bow and this giant spatula thingy used to move cakes, my arsenal was complete.

Pies on the other hand have always scared me. First of all, I don't know how to make a pie crust, something I was loathe to try this time around. They seem so thin and fragile, capable of tearing and ruining your dessert at a moment's notice. Second, the notion of making a fruit pie seemed fraught with peril. What if you don't buy enough fruit? What if they end up being too soft or too hard or filled with unsightly bruises. What if you pick the wrong type of fruit? Some apples are great for baking, some aren't? Good Lord people, I was raised on the mean streets, not some fucking peach grove, how the hell am I supposed to pick a good peach? I can barely dress myself in the morning.

The simple fact is that I take food, particularly baking very, very seriously. There is nothing so depressing as a failed dessert. Dessert is entirely optional. It exists solely to give joy. A failed dessert is then the absence of joy. Taking on the monumental responsibility of providing dessert, knowing full well that my failure to do so means no dessert, is a scary idea, made even scarier when the attempted dessert is a pie. Oh sure, I've made apple pies before, but nothing other than that. Seeing how this was summer, I felt that apple was too heavy, so, for the first time with real intent, we consulted the pie cookbook.

Now, Linda and I agree on a lot of things, but usually not dessert. She loves lemon meringue pies, I love key lime. I love cheesecake, she does not. I veer towards towering, monumental peanut butter and chocolate constructions, she likes a simple cake from a box. For two people who love dessert, we find ourselves at odds frequently, and don't get me started on her not liking pecan or sweet potato pies. The nerve of that woman.

After narrowing down the choices we eventually agreed on a strawberry rhubarb pie. I had never had such a pie, certainly never made such a pie and was fairly certain that I had never seen rhubarb before. I decided to make things easier on myself and go with a store bought crust as I tend to get upset when things don't go well in the kitchen and I needed this pie to go well. After getting home with all of the ingredients I got to chopping and mixing and rolling the pie crust into the appropriate pie dish.

I was a bit skeptical of the rhubarb what with the cookbook saying that loads of sugar is needed to make it palatable. It seems odd that you would put something in a pie that needs additional flavorings. Plus, it looks like a giant red celery stalk and the notion of putting celery in a pie that didn't have chicken and carrots in it seemed odd. Still, not being an expert, or even a novice about these kinds of things, I pressed onward, mixed everything together, including the crumb topping, and heaved it all into the oven.

After an hour of baking, at which point the juices bubbled out of the edges, thick as jam, I took the pie out of the oven and let it cool. As you can see, it ain't pretty, but sometimes the best baking ain't pretty.

The Pie

A couple of hours later we cut into the thing and had the first slices. I have to say, for a pie with giant, red celery stalks in it, it's pretty fucking good. The strawberries and rhubarb play off of each other, with hints of lemon and sugar mixed in there. I'm not a huge fan of the crumb topping as I'm not a fan of the cornmeal that's in it, but that's easily remedied with using other crumb topping recipes I've amassed since taking on cakes. As first pies go, this one was a hell of a way to start.

The unfortunate thing is now I want to make all of the pies I've seen in the book: the peaches and cream pie, the peanut pie, the peaches and lemonade pie and yes, even the grape and fig pie. I want to make a pumpkin pie and I don't even like pumpkin pie. For two people who are constantly trying to make sure they don't gain any more weight, me learning to make pies is a very bad idea.

My only change to the pie would be that I would bake it, let it cool, refrigerate it and then cut into it the next day. This is a very soft pie and after taking two slices out of it when it was still a little warm, an unfortunate pie collapse took place leading to some very unappetizing pieces on Sunday night. It still tasted great, but the pie would have kept it's shape better had it been first cut into when a little colder.

Last night we enjoyed our pie while watching "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban". We're watching all of the movies again in preparation of "Half Blood Prince" this weekend. "Azkaban" is my favorite Potter movie and was the movie that turned me from someone who would watch them if invited to someone who had to see them the weekend they opened. The movie is on such a higher level than the previous two, and set the bar for all of the ones that followed. I've seen it a number of times now and I still love it. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a Sunday evening than eating strawberry pie and watching Harry Potter.

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