Tag Archives: pie

Pie Baked in Humility

A sweet custard crevasse…

Two days ago I was trouble-shooting the unhappiness on my assistant’s face when he was pondering a batch of watery, curdled creme brulee. We decided the cream mixture was too hot to be tempered into the whisked eggs and sugar. My best advice: Have an inquiring, scientific mind and a small ego. Start over.

I’m living my own advice. The pastry goddess has her arms around me. That’s what I told myself each of the six times I failed to bake a perfect Creme Fraiche Pumpkin Pie. The dreaded pumpkin pie crack. Ugh.

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Research and experimentation are two of the things I enjoy most about being a pastry chef. Ingredients are notes on a page of music to me. I love evaluating ingredient performance. Nonetheless, my good humor spiraled downward each time I tweaked my recipe and had the same failure.

And tweak I did. Unbaked enriched crust; par-bake; fully pre-bake. Reduce whole eggs; increase yolks. Evaluate ratio of eggs to pumpkin custard. Evaluate ratio of sugar(s) to pumpkin custard. Does it stabilize or weaken? Analyze what effect the creme fraiche had as a liquid ingredient. I did a spreadsheet of three recipes to evaluate ratios of all the ingredients I wanted in my pie, and was prepared to swallow the frog of releasing or scaling down an ingredient, if warranted.

A major x-factor is my oven. I have the luxury (also interpreted as a curse) of using a combi oven… that is, a combination of convection and humidity. For the first three months I worked in the restaurant, the oven was smarter than me. Very humbling. Now, we hold hands. It only pokes at me occasionally, just often enough to ensure my ego never inflates.

Does a baked custard benefit from humidity? What percentage humidity? Is convection a detriment or an asset because it accelerates cooking? Set the (raw) crust and custard at a high heat as I do with my hazelnut cheesecake, then turn the heat down? To what temperature? 25 degrees less than a still oven? 50 degrees? How do you test for doneness? Dry edges and a slight jiggle in the center? None of this worked for me.

When I finally satisfied myself about ingredient ratios and a fully pre-baked crust, I remembered a blurb of advice from a pastry chef about baking any type of custard at a temperature below the 212 F boiling point in a convection oven. This was after the 6th failure. I also remembered the reco to bake to an internal temp (175 F), not a visual cue.

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The alternative at this point was to bake the pie in a still oven, a deck oven, and, frankly, that would have felt like another failure. So I loaded the pastry gun with every gram of steely determination I had left and went for it. Fully pre-baked the crust. Creamed the egg, yolks, sugars, flour. Roasted the pumpkin to remove excess moisure; processed pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, creme fraiche, spices, vanilla extract and salt in the Robot Coupe; blended custard and egg mixture together. Baked at 200 F for 1 hour, 30+ min; no humidity. Visual cues were not present. No dry outer ring. No jiggly center.

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Creme Fraiche Pumpkin Pie

1, 200-g recipe enriched pie dough

1 egg

4 egg yolks

1/4 C brown sugar

1 T all-purpose (AP) flour

2 1/2 C [610 g|7 oz] pumpkin puree

3/4 C [155 g|5.45 oz] sugar

3/4 C [175 g|6.15 oz] evaporated milk

1/4 C creme fraiche

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (VE)

1 tsp kosher salt

Roll enriched pastry dough to generously fit a 9″ glass pie dish, leaving 1/2″ excess. Turn excess under itself to form a small rim. Freeze dough for 10-12 min, or until thoroughly frozen. Fit a sheet of aluminum foil tightly over entire surface of pastry, snugly fitting foil over pie rim. Bake in 310 F convection oven for 12-13 min, rotating halfway through baking time. Remove foil. Bake for 2-3 min more until pastry is matte.

While pastry is baking, spread pumpkin puree onto parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 8 min at 310 F to remove excess moisture. Move warm puree to food processor. Add evaporated milk, creme fraiche, spice, VE and salt. Process until smooth.

In either a stand mixer or by hand, beat eggs, sugar and flour until smooth and somewhat light. Fold pumpkin mixture into beaten eggs.

Reduce heat to 200 F. Pour pumpkin mixture into warm crust. Bake until custard tests at 175 F on an instant-read thermometer, rotating every 20 min to promote even baking. Bake time is 1 hour 30-40 min.

Cool at room temp for 2 hours. Chill thoroughly.

 

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A Personal Pastry Hierarchy

In my own personal pastry hierarchy one category actually ranks higher than chocolate. Berries.  In-season, eyes closed, hands stained, stuff-them-in-your-mouth berries.

I’d only punish myself if I tried to rank my faves so I won’t, because dessert is the opposite of punishment.  I will say that blueberry pie is one of the grand dames for me, a pie so full of itself in flavor and voluptuousness, that I would fight for the last piece of it.  Cold.  Right out of the refrigerator.  Eaten from the pie plate.  Without a fork.

I mastered the minor art of pie dough many years ago when Martha told me I could do it. Actually, my grandmother influenced this process at a somewhat earlier time as I stood in the kitchen watching her literally sling pie dough around without fear.  A German lady with an unacknowledged French gene, she dominated the Crisco dough as she flipped it into the pie pan, slid in the fruit and sugar and willed it into the oven.  The way I knew she was German was that she always gathered the dough scraps and threw them together to make a little pie she called a Dutcher.  No one else in her family knew that.

Martha held dough court using butter as did Julia before her and, to be honest, her basic pie crust recipe never failed.  As a result, my Pie Lady confidence rose like a buoy.  Deep dish pies. Jam tarts.  I searched out any opportunity to find subtle ways to enhance the single berry flavors I loved.

Fast forward to today.  A pastry cook’s interests merge with her training and the guidance she receives in the professional world, which then evolves into her style as a chef. Promoting simple, deep flavor in every dessert is a driver for me.

So, pies are a simple category of desserts.  They actually require little technical skill to do well, and certainly not the skill set a trained pastry cook possesses.  Yet, pies represent what fundamentally attracts us to dessert: a satisfying taste and a connection to that which sustains us.

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Simply, fruit flavors pop when sweetened and when complemented by certain other flavors.  Raspberry with almond.  Black raspberry with anise.  Blueberry with lemon.

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This is all to say I feel a grounding in the quality of flavors which I wish to communicate to readers and, in the future, guests or customers.

Enough said.

Deep Dish Blueberry Pie (from Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts) [my editing]

Pate Brisee for an 11″ double-crusted pie, chilled

3 pints fresh blueberries, washed, drained, sorted [I’ve used 7 cups successfully]

Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon [my addition]

1/3 to 1/2 C sifted AP flour

1 C plus 1 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Glaze: 1 egg beaten with 1/2 C heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out half the pastry dough into a circle large enough to fit a 2″ deep 11″ tart pan or deep dish glass pie plate. Line and refrigerate.

Roll out remaining dough to a thickness of 1/8″ and cut out leave shapes using a sharp knife. Make the veins of the leaves by pressing the back of the knife into the leaf. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Mix the blueberries and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with the flour, 1 C sugar and the butter. Gently toss berries to cover.

Brush the entire pastry crust (edges and bottom) with the egg glaze and pour the blueberries into the shell. Dot the berries with small butter pieces. Decoratively arrange the leaves on top of the fruit [or roll to lattice-work, if you prefer] , covering it almost completely. Brush the leaves with the egg glaze and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp sugar. Bake for 50 min or until the blueberry juices have bubbled and thickened in the middle of the pie. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Pate Brisee

2-1/2 C AP flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp granulated sugar (optional)

1 C (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 – 1/2 C ice water

Combine flour, salt and sugar in processor. Add butter and process for 10 seconds or until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add ice water a few drops at a time through the feed tube with machine running just until the dough holds together in a ball, about 30 seconds.

Turn the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, and press the dough into a flat disk. Chill for an hour before rolling.