Foodie Tuesday: Another Birthday, Another Pie in the Face

Ours is one of those households where pie is held in greater reverence than cake. Don’t get me wrong; I can drool over a fabulous cake just as well as the next person. But given that my husband’s grandmother was the sought-after pie maker in town, both at home and at a restaurant, and his mom carried the pie art into his childhood home, and my own mom’s famed pies were also justifiably the stuff of local legend…well, when it comes time to pick the perfect favorite dessert, either of us clearly has good reason to request pie. And since neither of us is particularly fond of clowns, per se, the pie had better be more impressive than a plateful of whipped cream and the delivery system had better be more sedate than the slinging of it in one’s face.photoFor my guy, as I’ve mentioned before, apple is the number one choice of filling, though he’s fond of nearly any sort of good fruit pie in a fine crust, and other staples like chocolate or pecan or Key Lime never really go amiss either. I’m a bit more likely to wiggle and waver about what is my favorite-du-jour, but still as inclined as he to think pie is eminently birthday- and other- celebration worthy. Since His Eminence was the one with a birthday last week, of course the first part of the birthday meal that came to my mind was apple pie. Dessert first, and all that.photoWe had only three apples in the fridge, and I’m trying not to eat wheat [so far, it seems that avoiding wheat decreases my old-lady hot flashes a bit, and that makes it quite worthy of the effort, in my book], so standard apple pie would be a little bit of a problem. When it comes to food, however, my policy has always been to find as many options as possible and choose the best one for the occasion or to, in short, Improvise. So I added the gorgeous pear from our stash to the apples, and worked on an experimental pastry solution. Here’s what I made:

Apple Pear Pie in an Extremely Freaky Flaky Crust

Pastry: Combine 1-1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend, 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/4 cup tapioca flour and 1/8 cup each masa harina and potato flour in a large mixing bowl; add 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon salt and blend it all with a pastry blender or fork. I will confess to you right now that I always liked the wire-style pastry blender better than the blade-style one (Mom used the former, of course) until I realized that I was waaay too aggressive in assessing its capabilities and crushed the wires into useless sculpture one too many times to bend them back. I have since seen the error of my ways, and in this ‘recipe’ it really paid. Because the step of adding the fats (1/2 cup each of pure leaf lard and salted pasture butter) is best done with them cold, cold, cold. And if you’ve refrigerated them thoroughly or even frozen them, that’s going to make them hard, hard, hard. Which is great, assuming you use the right tools; using the sturdiest, studliest pastry blender you can find is far easier for making the old standard ‘pea-sized meal’ out of the mix than two knives, the alternative method I see proposed from time to time. Although I’d give good money to see a sword-juggler version of pie pastry making.

But I digress.

The last step in the dough prep [what a nice little jingle that makes] is the addition of some icy liquid, traditionally, water (6-8 tablespoons). I’ve heard many a recipe in recent times suggesting that vodka is a great substitute for the water, because it creates the proper steam for building flaky pockets in the baking pastry but evaporates more completely, leaving things nice and crispy in its wake. My tiny brain said several things in response to this: 1 – if alcohol is good in it, why not flavored alcohol that might add to the pastry’s taste? 2 – apples are spectacularly good friends with caramel; why not something with a hint of caramel to it? 3 – if I use some dark rum and the pastry experiment is a noble failure, will not a splash from the now-opened rum bottle be far better consolation to the birthday boy and me than a splash of ice water???

Well, that’s settled, then. Of course you with any scientific bent whatsoever know that this ‘recipe’ is/was bound for self-destruction, lacking sufficient glutenous binders, but since I am in no way opposed to a good crumb crust, I didn’t worry overmuch that it would be inedible, only knowing that it would clearly be no competition for any of my gifted predecessors’ work. I dutifully froze the pie crust shell when it was formed and docked, then glossed it with some heavily sugared whole-egg wash shellac before putting it in the oven at a moderate temperature [remember, out there, that my oven is a glass-blowers’ kiln wannabe and incinerates nearly all things at their prescribed temperatures, so you’ll have to do your own research for temperature ideas; after all, what I’m describing here is an unsuccessful attempt at GF pastry anyway. Enough dallying; I shall cut to the chase. The crust still melted into inglorious nothingness, and I took it out in its toasty yet depressively slumping state, thought to add another egg and some flavorings and steam that sucker into a semblance of a Hasty Pudding, a last-ditch attempt at forcibly altering its apparent ennui to an ‘Ah, oui!’, if you will. At least I could get some snacking out of the whole mess. Which, naturellement, I could not do in the least, as it was so powdery in its anti-piecrust form that with additives it was bound to simply become cement. Yes, this might have made a fine doorstop, but really, who needs the aggravation.

Though I’d shed any delusions that this pastry was going to be a starry delight, I went ahead and made a pretty fine pie filling and figured we could eat it in, out of, with or instead of a store-bought piecrust when the time came, and given the disaster I’m glad I did. I’m savvy that way.photoThe pie filling: three apples and one pear, pared and cored and chopped/sliced (I like to mix the textures for variety), tossed with a hearty splash of lemon juice, about 2 tablespoons of minute tapioca, a hefty pinch of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, a big teaspoon of Vietnamese cinnamon, and small amounts of ground mace and cardamom and cloves. I glued it together with a quarter cup of ready-made all-apple applesauce. Adding, as is my fat-craving wont, a dollop of about 2 tablespoons of butter, I cooked the lot until just tender and left it sitting covered on the counter for later. And yes, because I am also the queen of laziness, I did the cooking in the microwave. It works great and takes the over-the-cooktop sweating out of making pie filling when I’m already busy clowning around with my three-ring circus of a pastry experiment. There’s only so much humiliation any one kitchen fool can take from one simple dish.photoPlus, if there’s no store to be shopped for ready-made pastry and all else fails, a freshly made fruit pie filling makes a really dandy ice cream sauce. And the next best thing on our list of favorite foods is ice cream.

12 thoughts on “Foodie Tuesday: Another Birthday, Another Pie in the Face

    • This month we’re sticking to eating the apples plain–a time to get the old bodies shaped up and refreshed without always falling back on our worst habitual junk!–but whether we end up with a revised way of eating at the end of the month or simply have a bit better health and self-control, I don’t doubt *some* form of apple pie will remain in the repertoire. In any event, since he’s the apple of my eye I’m very happy to help keep him as happy as he keeps me. xoxo! Kath

  1. My Hubby’s a Pie Guy, too… he can still remember the first one he ever tasted, at a friend’s house as a boy. His Mom wasn’t much of a cook (that’s putting it mildly!), but he came home from that meal In Love, and asking why she didn’t ever make this lovely thing 🙂

    • Smart boy! With my mom sort of the signature pie was fresh raspberry; we lived in a great berry growing area and they were widely farmed there, so we got spectacular fresh ones all the time. The trick it did teach me, though I never mastered Mom’s magnificent pie crusts, was to make pie fillings that had inherently sweet fruit out of half cooked (just-made jam, essentially) and half fresh fruit, so the fillings held together well but still had a fantastic freshness. Apples, of course, would be a bit odd for this given their crunch, but softer fruits really benefit from the treatment. All the same, Mom had a lot of other spectacular pie filling recipes up her sleeve, not least of all Pecan and (I’m salivating as I write this) French Silk chocolate pie.

    • Thanks, O Lovely One. I knew you could appreciate me getting my pie freak on! 😀 R’s birthday was lots of fun (see comments elsewhere), and best of all, *I* get to keep *him* as a present. 😉

  2. A very happy birthday to your Conductor, Kathryn. I, too, am a pie guy. This time of year, I cannot wait to have an apple pie in the oven. It’s the best — until June, when I start seeing tart cherries. Then cherry pies are the best. I’m one fickle pie lover.

    • There aren’t a whole lot of varieties of pie I don’t know how to love, myself. Now that I’m having to try going wheat-free, a truly good crust (and you know that I am exceedingly hard to please in this regard, having been ruined for all else by Mom’s version) is going to be the truly tricky part of the hunt.

      Richard’s birthday was lovely, and despite the wild busyness of the school year now begun (as he’s added another interim church choirmaster gig, this one at a big Dallas church where we’re told they see 10K visitors on Easter!), I think it’s the beginning of another fine year. 🙂

  3. A birthday .. excellent, in NZ a pie is full of steak and I still cannot get my head around the term Pie meaning any dessert in a crust..I am only an apple pie person really,Love the idea of adding a pear.. But a good steak and cheese pie is what I am thinking of today!! c

    • I loooove a good steak and mushroom pie (with cheese? yes, please!). Or a pot pie full of veg and turkey or chicken. Or spanakopita, Cornish pasties, Bistilla, quiche or almost any other kind of pie I can sink my teeth into. So when you come over to my house to play, I’ll happily go in the savory direction if pie’s on the menu!

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