Saturday, February 2, 2013

Pie Virgins

Rancho Winslow Pie Fest, 1.26.2013

As odd as it may seem, at the age of 62 and having been in the restaurant and cooking business in some form or another since the age of 14, I had never made a pie. I’ve been around a zillion pies as they were being made, and have eaten more than my share of slices of pies, but never actually made the dough and formed it into a pie myownself. Ditto with pal Princess Di, whose father Surly Earl was the King of Pies and baked them all the time to perfection. So, with the passing of National Pie Day on the twenty third of January, Di and I decided that our pie cherries needed popping.

I had a crust recipe from the ever-anal Christopher Kimble at America’s Test Kitchen for a vodka-laced dough that was guaranteed to be flaky and forgiving. I’m also pals and food writing/restaurant consulting partner with master baker Art Meyer, who provided me with his no-fail pie dough for a fruit pie. Armed with two recipes and apple and cherry fillings, the top two most popular fillings in the U.S., Di and I trudged reluctantly into the breach.

Pie used to be ubiquitous; every café, restaurant, and diner had the multilevel glass pie safe on the counter, usually holding almost a dozen different offerings of pies baked fresh that morning. When we were in school at UT there were pies available all over the place (Sid’s, Toddle House, Frisco, etc.); whenever we were in San Antone for a concert a late-night visit to Earl Able’s for coffee and pie was a requisite. When I was managing a restaurant in the Alamo City a banana cream pie fix at DeWeese’s Tip Top Café was always on my radar. No place in Austin comes close to the amazing pies made by Kathy Osban at R.O.’s Outpost, out at Spicewood, but they are rare around these parts today. David Lynch had it right in Twin Peaks when he had his character Gordon Cole and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) constantly obsess over the cherry pie at The Double R Diner; I like to think of it as Lynch’s filmic lament over the vanishing pies of America.

Anyway, our first attempt was an abject failure; we lacked not only Crisco but a pastry blender, so plans pie making plans were postponed to the following weekend. The next weekend, when fully equipped, we attacked pie making head-on at. We decided to make both dough recipes, side-by-side, by hand: no mixers or processors, using just an old school pastry blender. For the ATK vodka recipe we were using canned cherry pie filling, but doctoring it up a little. For Art’s dough, we were using fresh apples. The Rancho Winslow ovens were pre-heated, and the madness began.

Two bowls, with the dry ingredients and the pastry blender in the foreground.

Apple filling before the top crust goes on.

Brushed with egg and ready for the oven.

Cherry pie fresh from the oven; the edge got a little browned, but not as burnt as it appears in this low-light photo. I should have put a foil collar around the edge; live and learn. I added some sugar, lemon zest, a touch of cinnamon, and flour to the canned filling, hoping to counter the canned quality, and to thicken it up a tad, to prevent massive post-slice filling slumpage. It slumped a little, but not as much as it could have; I think the flour helped. It certainly tasted fine, and was adequately flaky.

Apple pie after baking. Top is dusted with cinnamon, sugar, and cayenne. We dabbed a bit of the gooey internal ooze from the edge earlier, and it cooked longer than we thought it should have, but Art’s dough was flaky and pretty much foolproof (not to mention tasty). Granted, I rolled the top a little too thick, but all in all, for a first pie ever, it was damn good.

A slice of the yummy apple.

A slice of the tasty cherry.

Princess Di killed it with Lotto that week, so she sprang for some steaks to marinate and throw on the grill, which CBoy grilled with aplomb. The steaks.

Grilled yellow squash, red bells, red onion.

Sauteed mushrooms with butter and roasted garlic.

…and PIE for dessert! And Art's crust won.

Mick Vann ©


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