Monday, November 30, 2009

WEEK 5: Disaster Pie, or Butterscotch Cream Pudding Cookie Shit

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 at 6:10pm--copied from Facebook note.

**WARNING**: Rated FB-MA LV. Mature audiences only. Strong language, brief violence. Don't bitch about my goddamn language if you keep reading. It's been THAT KIND OF DAY.

After watching the Good Eats episode on pie crust about four times, I figured any pie woman worth her flour must make beautiful crust. From scratch. Refrigerated pie crusts are for sissies, and don't even get me started on that lifeless, frozen, crust-in-a-tin shit.

I copied the recipe onto an index card, straight from the show, in which Alton Brown used science and special effects to create the perfect crust. Two little pugilist puppets, one sporting an F for flaky, the other T for tender, popped up from behind to beat the shit out of AB at strategic moments as he explained coating flour molecules with butter and how to perfectly roll it all out. I had that goddamn show near memorized.

I awoke obscenely early, excited to bake the butterscotch cream pie recipe that came out so well a couple of weeks ago for Thanksgiving Day dinner tomorrow with the fam. Except instead of the vanilla-bean whipped cream on top, a vanilla-bean meringue would put the fresh whipped cream to shame.

I stuck my nicely chopped, flour-coated butter chunks into the fridge with the dry ingredients and the metal bowl and the rolling pin, and allowed everything to get cold while I reread the recipe six times.

The first sign of trouble: the food processor didn't have enough torque to chop up the cold butter. You're supposed to pulse, since running it steadily heats up the motor and melts the butter. There goes any hope for the fucking Flaky puppet.

I pulsed that goddamn thing like 50 times. The asshole butter, most of it in its original size and shape without discernible shape change, mocked me from inside the plastic bowl. I could picture the gluten molecules forming as I kept pulsing, the ones that would toughen the dough. And there goes any hope for the fucking Tender puppet.

So then the recipe demands you drop it all into the chilled bowl. I knew the tablespoon-sized lumps of butter were probably not right, so I pulled them out and broke them up manually. I hit the top of it with the spray bottle, correctly filled with crushed ice, water, and frozen apple juice concentrate. Then you fold the cold water/juice in with a rubber spatula, spray, fold, repeat, until you can grab a handful of it, squeeze it, and it holds its shape.

On the show, AB squirted/folded I dunno, four times. I was up to ten and had refilled the squirt bottle when I figured I just wasn't squeezing the handful hard enough. So I gave it another good soaking, compacted it all into a ball, and chilled it for 20 minutes, after which it was supposed to magically emerge looking and behaving like dough. AB said the resting period gave the moisture a chance to get all up in the molecules, or some such shit.

I pulled it out, and it was still dry. It didn't make sense. I'd FAR exceeded the water content in the recipe. And I was sure there was enough overhandling-produced gluten at this point to make pretzels out of it, but soldiered on. I soaked it again, put it back in the chillbox, and pretty much said Fuck It when it still felt dry 20 minutes later.

This shit was getting old. The lump of "dough" looked about twice what it should have, enough for at least two pies. I rolled it out.

See this shit?? The edges are dry as fuck, and if you look, you can see the rolled-flat butter pats.

I tossed it in the pie plate, did what I could to make the dry edges look pretty, lined the inside with foil, and tossed in the pie weights for the blind baking phase.

After 10 minutes, I pulled it out and removed the foil/weights. Holy fucking shit, are you fucking kidding me? There sat a pool of butter, right on the crust. I kicked the dog. Back in the oven for the rest of the pre-bake, no going back now.

Would it make YOUR momma proud? If so, slap that bitch and tell her to stick to sissy crust.  It looks like a fucking Lorna Doone some retard burned in the toaster.

I sampled a bit—very buttery, actually tasted pretty good. So I said Fuck It again, started in on the butterscotch and meringue.

Having made the butterscotch before, I actually know what I’m doing there. You cook butter and brown sugar together, then add evaporated milk, then add a separate mixture of more evaporated milk, hot regular milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and cornstarch. You stir this on medium for about 13 minutes, until it’s thick and silky. It’s pretty damn good and don’t even try to keep your fingers out of it.

I have these perfectly lovely vanilla beans from Madagascar, but they're about three years old.  Rock hard and bone-ass dry.  I had to simmer them in the butterscotch milk for about 15 minutes to soften them up enough to split and scrape out the seeds.  At this point, I've been making this goddamn pie for a couple of hours.

I’ve never made meringue, let’s be clear on this point. Seems simple enough, you beat some egg whites, a dash of cream of tartar, sugar, plus seeds from three vanilla beans in my version, until you get stiff peaks. Spread that shit on top of the butterscotch, bake until the top gets all golden-delicious.

Ladies, do you remember that nail polish when you were a kid that you brush on, then it peels right off? Did it ever cross your mind that 30 years later, you'd make a pie that would remind you of that shit?

I swear, this shit was only in the oven for about five goddamn minutes. I peeled that goddamn meringue off to find some shit had gone all liquid on top of my prized butterscotch and soaked all the visible crust. I sopped it off like you do with a greasy piece of pizza, dabbing at it with a paper towel.

The kitchen looks like some asshole opened up a fire extinguisher. It’s now almost noon. I’ve been at this shit ALL MORNING. Out of curiosity, I looked up the recipe online. And it was TOTALLY DIFFERENT. Apparently, the 2.5 sticks of butter from the goddamn show was about half a stick too many. My hero failed me!!

I opened the trash can, poised to toss the whole fucking mess in. But then I looked at the butterscotch. I took a taste. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. Rich and silky.

So I extracted the soggy bits of crust, wrapped the pan, and stuck it in the fridge. The butterscotch has to set up overnight.

The aftermath. It looks like someone's goddamn stuffed animal that spent a year outside in the rain.  Oh, and that other pie pan in the background with shit all sticking up out of it?  Was the first pie crust.  The one I rolled out before putting the second asshole back in the fridge with more cold water.  It tasted great, and so became dog biscuits.  Moonpie and Balzac were very pleased.

In the morning, seeded three more vanilla beans, added some sugar, and whipped up some fresh vanilla cream. Great thing about that shit? You can make enough to cover Disaster Pie all the way to the edges, just cover that shit right up. I called it a backwards-ass cobbler and brought it to Thanksgiving anyway.

Where it was devoured.  Folks even went back for seconds.  That butterscotch soaked into the butter-laded trainwreck, and with the cream on top, tasted pretty damn good!

Here's the other project for the day:  TURDUCKEN.

I've never roasted one before, and it took ALMOST SEVEN HOURS.  Thing about turducken, it's solid meat and stuffing, compacted together, all 15 pounds of it.

It emerged from the oven after we'd eaten the other turkey and finished dessert.  As soon as it landed on the kitchen island, all the men descended like buzzards to poke and pick at it.  It more or less fell apart when we lifted it from the pan to a serving platter, which was quite the operation in and of itself.

WOW it's good.  I'm still devouring the copious leftovers.

The Pie Chronicles, Weeks 1-4

I've been baking pies, one a week, since mid-October. Well, and there was this one September pie when peaches were in season.

It turned out so well, I vowed to bake more. Most of September, however, got sucked into a Moot Court competition, during which there were no pies, just a lot of late nights in my little garage apartment/office.

I became somewhat obsessed with pies in October, during which it rained over 9 inches, setting records, flooding cities, and driving us all indoors to seek comfort food.

I started with a lovely pumpkin pie, for which I roasted a sugar pumpkin. Have you ever roasted a pumpkin? Best to don your fencing getup, complete with heavily-padded gloves, facemask, the whole deal. Slicing that bitch damn near put me in the hospital and entailed a comic display involving some pretty colorful language, several knives, the countertop, and the floor, which worked best of all for finally smashing the damn gourd.

I think next time, I'll just put the whole goddamn pumpkin in the oven, slice it once it's softened. It's not the same as a jack-o-lantern pumpkin--sugar pumpkins have much tougher outer flesh. I ate the entire pumpkin's seed content (roasted, of course) while working on the rest of the pie.

Most pies made from canned pumpkin look and taste roughly the same, which is to say, pretty damn good. But after all that drama, this pie better be fucking amazing.

It was. The roasted pumpkin bestowed a much richer flavor and a toothy texture you don't get from canned. I whipped cream with powdered sugar and Amaretto, and dobbed it on top.

Then came the butterscotch cream pie. The recipe came from Cooking Light, and involves actually making the butterscotch--no nancy-ass, ice cream topping bullshit here.

The pie came out much better than the picture, which simply cannot do the vanilla-bean whipped cream topping justice. The butterscotch tasted silky and rich, despite my using that Splenda brown sugar for baking stuff.

Then on to chess pie, which I haven't had in years and reminds me very strongly of my late mother. She baked amazing chess pies, and in the chaos that followed her death, I never found her little box of recipes.

For the uninitiated, chess pie is a Southern classic. It's like the filling in pecan pie, that fabulous, gooey, set-your-mouth sweetness. You're supposed to serve it with strong coffee, which makes a gorgeous contrast, two completely different richnesses.

I couldn't decide between lemon and classic chess pie, so I made one of each.  I prebaked the crusts, and MacGuyvered a little trick to keep the edges from burning:

Alligator clips.

I won't waste good chess by contaminating it with lemon again. The lemon overpowered all other flavors, the crust went gummy, the filling a bit watery, and there was just no redeeming it.  I gave a little away and nibbled at it, then tossed it.

The classic chess pie, though, a whole 'nuther story.

It was perfect with coffee, but a tiny slice at a time proved all I could handle.

*Sidenote*:  These pies get distributed throughout Oxford, mostly to my family.  I've brought them to the law school and to work.  Last Christmas, I gave my Uncle Gene a gingerbread-of-the-month club, and it wasn't one of those always-disappointing mail clubs.  Gene got gingerbread little cakes (FABULOUS ginger cookies), several variations on gingerbread, and anything else I could think of.  I bought several large packages of crystallized ginger to use instead of raisins, with very tasty results. 

I got busy and kind of fell off, and then came the DC summer internship.  I was behind on my promise.  So he's gotten at least 1/3 of everything I've done, all fall, from the peach cobblers to all the pies, and I always bake up a storm of biscotti during the holidays.  He seems to really like the steady supply, and it all stays off my ass.

Onward to Week 4, key lime pie.  There isn't much to note on this one--it's so easy, a refrigerated pie, came out well enough.  It's basically just lime juice/zest, sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks.  Nothing to get all excited about, as you can really only do so much with bottled key lime juice.  I'll work on this one when the weather warms back up and a cool key lime pie will refresh the palate.

This pie met an unfortunate fate.  Determined not to break my pie-a-week goal at only four weeks, I made it the night before driving down to New Orleans to meet up with an old friend for the weekend.  I left a slice for my cousin, and put the key lime pie in the back seat. 

It didn't travel well.  Thing about a refrigerated pie?  It needs to stay in the refrigerator.

The crust bugged the shit out of me.  It was a store-bought Nilla job, and completely fell apart on top.  The product design and quality are just piss-poor.  You have to ruin the edges just to get the plastic cover off the top.  Total crap.

I've also had some issues with the refrigerated pie crusts.  They are a bit too wet, and shrink up during the pre-bake.  And they just don't bring anything special to the party.

This Nilla crust bullshit was the last straw.  NO MORE, I vowed.  I have purchased my last crust.  Week 5=CRUST.