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Friday, March 14, 2014

Perfect Pies for Pi Day

(Previously published in my News Review column on 3-4-14)


Today, March 14 (3.14) math geeks everywhere are honoring this mathematical constant (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) by making and eating pie.

Math was never my strong suit. I do, however, make excellent pies. As a teenager, my family would lavish praise on anything I cooked or baked, but when I learned to make a pie from scratch, I hit pay dirt. My older brother would let me and my best friend come spend the weekend with him at UC Irvine if I would bring him an apple pie.

I have a lot of experience making pies. My oldest daughter, Christine, wanted pie instead of cake at her wedding reception a few years ago. I spent the night before the wedding baking blackberry and blueberry pies. My daughter, Laura, needed to raise money to go to El Salvador with HELP International. I made twelve apple pies in one day (with my parents peeling the apples for me) as part of an online bake sale. My son's current dinner of choice for any special occasion is chicken pot pie. He would happily eat it every week, were I willing to make it that often.

In honor of Pi Day, I offer you my best tips and three much-loved recipes to try. Happy baking!

Tips for success:

A pie is only as good as its crust. Making a great crust is not difficult, but it does take practice. I use unsalted butter for all of my pie crusts. It's a little more challenging to work with than shortening or a blend of shortening and butter, but the flavor and texture are unsurpassed. Use just enough water to hold the flour and butter together, but not enough to make the dough sticky.

Getting the consistency of the filling just right is important. For fruit pies, the fruit and sugar/flour mixture must stand for at least fifteen minutes before it's turned into the crust for baking. This allows time for the juices to begin to flow. Those juices will thicken into a syrupy sauce that coats the fruit. Measuring the ingredients accurately is critical. If you start getting generous with the fruit and sugar, you will need to increase the flour also or the filling will be runny. For a meat pie, the filling is cooked and thickened on the stove top, making a gravy to surround the meat and vegetables.

The goal when baking a fruit pie is to get the fruit tender and the juices thickened without burning the crust. I like to start baking my fruit pies at 450 degrees for the first ten minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees to finish baking. This initial high heat quickly creates steam from the tiny pieces of butter in the crust. Those little pockets left behind when the butter melts and the steam evaporates are what makes the crust tender and flaky. It also gives the juices a head start on coming to a boil, which is part of the thickening process.

Slits in the top crust allow steam to escape and help keep the juices or gravy from bubbling over. Let your creativity run wild with the design! Sunbursts, a smiley face, or a freehand Pi symbol all work well. As a finishing touch on fruit pies, I like to spray or brush the top crust with water and sprinkle it with coarse demerara or turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw brand) available in the bulk foods aisle at Sherm's.

Meat pies are served warm, of course, but be sure to cool fruit pies on a wire rack. The air circulation under the rack keeps the bottom crust from becoming soggy.

Classic Chicken Pot Pie
(adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, 1976)

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (or several grinds of freshly ground)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth (homemade or from a base like Better Than Bouillon brand )
2/3 cup milk
2 cups diced, cooked chicken
1 (10 ounce) package frozen peas and carrots (no need to thaw)
1 recipe Perfect Pastry for a double-crust pie (see below)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line the center rack with a sheet of aluminum foil.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Blend in the flour, onion powder, salt, and pepper with a wooden spoon or heat-resistant rubber scraper. Cook until smooth and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and whisk in broth and milk until smooth. Return to heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat. Add diced chicken and frozen vegetables and stir to combine. Let stand while you prepare the crust.

Divide the pastry dough, roll out one half into a 10-inch circle and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Fill with the chicken mixture. Using a sharp paring knife, trim the edge of the dough so it comes just past the edge of the pan. Roll the remaining dough into another circle about the same size as the first. Place over the filling and trim so it hangs over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch. Now, tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and press to seal well all around the pan. Then make a decorative edge with your thumb or by crimping with the tines of a fork. This keeps the filling from bubbling down under the bottom crust and burning. Cut a small hole, about the size of a Cheerio, in the center of the crust to allow steam to escape, then cut slits or a design in the top, being careful not to accidentally cut through the bottom crust.
Place in the preheated oven and bake at 425 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling.

Serve immediately. Makes six hearty servings. Leftovers are best reheated in a toaster oven, rather than a microwave.


Perfect Pastry for a double-crust pie

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
14 Tablespoons (1 stick plus 6 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, very cold
8 tablespoons ice water (add a tiny bit more, if necessary)

Stir the salt into the flour in a large bowl. Cut the cold butter into pieces and add to the flour. Using a pastry blender or two sharp knives, “cut in” the butter until well-distributed and no large chunks remain. (Recipes always say “like peas” but it never looks like peas to me.) Add 8 tablespoons ice water while tossing the mixture with a fork. Add a small amount of additional water if necessary and continue tossing gently just until all of the flour is moistened and holds together when pressed. Do not stir vigorously or the crust will be tough!

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or counter and press together into a disc. Cut in half and set one half aside. Roll one half into a circle an inch larger than your pie pan. Place in the pan allowing it to hang over the edge. Turn the filling into the crust. (If using for a fruit pie, don't forget to dot with 2 tablespoons butter.) Using a sharp paring knife, trim the edge of the dough so it comes just past the edge of the pan. Roll the remaining dough into another circle about the same size as the first. Place over the filling and trim so it hangs over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch. Now, tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and press to seal well all around the pan. Then make a decorative edge with your thumb or by pressing with fork tines. This keeps the filling from bubbling down under the bottom crust and burning.

Cut a small hole, about the size of a Cheerio in the center of the crust to allow steam to escape, then cut slits or a design in the top, being careful not to accidentally cut through the bottom crust. Bake as directed in the pie recipe.

Forming the dough into a disc.

Rolling out the dough on a lightly floured board. I love my French rolling pin that's tapered on the ends. If you look closely, you can see the pieces of butter in the dough.
(I roll the dough around the rolling pin to transfer it to the pie pan, but I couldn't get a clear picture of that.) Let the dough hang over the edge until you fill the crust.

For a fruit pie, don't forget to dot the fruit with 2 tablespoons of butter.
Trim the top crusts...
then tuck them under and seal well.

Make a fancy edge with your thumb and forefingers and cut slits to let the steam escape.
I like to spray the crust with water and sprinkle with coarse sugar as a finishing touch.


My Best Apple Pie

1 recipe Perfect Pastry for double-crust pie 

5-6 Granny Smith or Newton Pippin apples
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
30 swipes of freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line the center rack with a sheet of aluminum foil. Peel and quarter the apples. Remove the core, slice each quarter into 4 or 5 thin slices and measure 6 cups into a large bowl. Add the lemon juice. In a small bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir this into the apples and toss to coat well. Allow this mixture to stand for at least 15 minutes while you prepare the pastry for the crust.

Roll out one half of the pastry and use it to line a 9-inch pie pan. Fill with the apple mixture. Dot the top with the 2 tablespoons butter. Trim the edge of the pastry so it comes just past the edge of the pan. Roll out the top crust and cover the filling. Trim the top crust so it hangs over the pan by about one inch. Tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and press to seal well all around the pan. Press with the tines of a fork or make a fluted edge with your thumb and forefinger. Cut a small hole in the center of the top crust and then cut several slits or a design so steam can escape. If desired, brush or spray the top with water and sprinkle with coarse sugar or cinnamon sugar.

Place pie on the center rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 35-40 minutes, until apples are tender (poke with a fork or cake tester through one of the slits), crust is golden, and juices are bubbling in the center. Cool on a wire rack.

Blackberry Pie

For the filling:

4 cups fresh or frozen* blackberries
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons butter
1 recipe Perfect Pastry for double-crust pie 
 
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line the center rack with a sheet of aluminum foil.
 
Stir the flour and sugar together in a medium bowl to mix well. Add the berries and lemon juice and mix until all the berries are coated. Let stand at least 15 minutes while you prepare the dough for the crust.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or counter and press together into a disc. Cut in half and set one half aside. Roll out the other half into a circle a couple inches larger than your pie pan. Place in the pan allowing it to hang over the edge. Fill with fruit filling and dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Using a sharp paring knife, trim the edge of the dough so it comes just past the edge of the pan. Roll out the second disc into another circle about the same size as the first. Place over the fruit filling and trim so it hangs over the edge of the pan by about 1 inch. Now, tuck the edge of the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust and press to seal well all around the pan. Then make a decorative edge with your thumb or by pressing with fork tines. This keeps the juices from bubbling down under the bottom crust and burning. 
 
Cut a small hole, about the size of a Cheerio in the center of the crust to allow steam to escape, then cut slits or a design in the top, being careful not to accidentally cut through the bottom crust. If desired, brush or spray the top lightly with water and sprinkle evenly with sugar.
Place pie in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling through the hole in the center of the pie. Cool on a wire rack.

*If using frozen blackberries, thaw first and drain off any liquid or it will make the filling runny. You can use half blackberries and half blueberries for a “Black & Blue” pie.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fabulous Soup Class

I had a great time at last Saturday's class on soups at Dino's Ristorante Italiano. Ten of us crowded into the kitchen to make four different soups: Roasted Garlic, Potato Leek, Tuscan Bean, and Sun-Dried Tomato & Artichoke. While it wouldn't be fair to post Debbie's recipes, I can share photos and a few tips I picked up.

Sun-Dried Tomato & Artichoke Soup
                                  
Potato Leek Soup

              

Cooking the leeks in butter and olive oil.


Frying julienned leeks for the garnish.



















For all the garlic in it, the Roasted Garlic Soup was quite mild and lovely. A slice of lemon was place in the bottom of each soup bowl before ladling in the soup. I was surprised at how much flavor it added! Perfect complement to the thyme in the recipe.

Debbie recommended a great seasoning called "Pepper Supreme" that's available at Sherm's in the institutional section.

Another class member said the "21 Salute" seasoning from Trader Joe's is excellent.

Debbie mentioned that their favorite Italian restaurant in Portland is Pazzo Ristorante. I will definitely be checking it out next time we head north.

If you're interested in getting on the email list for future classes at Dino's, give them a call at 541-673-0848. The classes fill quickly. You can also check out their facebook page.



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