Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Thanksgiving Countdown

It was all set. Yesterday, my foodie friend Katherine K. (not the Katherine who taught me how to make burgers) invited me over for an after-school cooking lesson. She was going to teach me how to roast pork and veggies. More importantly, she was going to give me a lesson in the pie-baking basics.

But, alas, Jesse came down with a fever and we had to cancel. So now I'm on my own when it comes time to bake my first ever pie. Yikes!

It's the 4th year in a row that we are hosting Thanksgiving Dinner at our house. But this year is different. Usually, Avo is in charge of planning and preparing the meal and all I do is show up, eat, and clean up. But now that I've learned a thing or two about cooking myself, I want to help Avo out. Then again, I'm not sure he wants my help!

To make things easier for Avo -- especially given that we have a small kitchen -- I will make the desserts and leave the rest to him. I plan to spend the day before Thanksgiving baking, so he can have the kitchen to himself for the big event.

I've decided on making apple pie and snickerdoodles. Apple pie is classic Thanksgiving -- and it goes well with vanilla ice cream. picked the snickerdoodles because the kids will have fun making them with me. Plus, I like any excuse to say "snickerdoodle!"

Recently, I've become intrigued by the pie-making process, especially after an especially gripping "pie" episode of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" on the Food Network (Bobby beat the Maine "Pie Moms" with his Peach-Blackberry Pie.

Katherine K. warned me that the biggest challenge is the crust -- it's difficult to get the crust flaky and to be sure that the bottom isn't soggy.

"Do you have a pastry blender?" she asked.

"Um, no. What's that?"

"You can use forks for the pie crust, but using a pastry blender makes it easier to cut the butter into the flour."

Katherine also tipped me off that many apple pie recipes call for Crisco.

"They taste good, but I refuse to eat anything with Crisco in it," she said. "Same goes for lard. I'm all about butter."

Indeed, it seems as if every recipe I find calls for Crisco.

Butter or Crisco? Pastry blender or food processor or by hand? What apples work best? How small do you cut the apple slices? What's a girl to do?

Who knew there were so many choices were involved in making apple pie? Everyone insists that their way is the only way!

I've got to make some decisions and fast because I don't want to have to resort to buying a store-bought crust -- or be forced to pass off a store-bought pie as my own!


Muffy Sainte-Marie said...

Don't use all butter for the crust - it makes it heavy and tough. Crisco is kind of key for the flakiness factor. and make sure you don't chop the butter/crisco too fine - you want chunks. mealy chunks. and freeze that butter, and freeze that crisco, and use ICE cold water when you need to add water. Good luck!

Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom - Do you remember when we used to go apple picking each Fall and I made apple sauce and tried to bake an apple pie? Unfortunately, we picked Macintosh apples (too juicy for pies). When the first one I made was served, it was so "soupy" that Steven went into the kitchen and came back with straws for all of us. You all laughed, but I almost cried. I haven't baked a pie since. Ask around for the best apples to use.

P.S. I've never used Crisco in anything I've baked and I've been baking for years.

J said...

The best pie crust recipe I've used is from Jeffrey Steingarten, who researches and tests things to the nth degree. The breakthrough: use part Crisco and part butter for the crust (butter for flavor, Crisco for texture). With 1 c Crisco use 1 stick + 2 TB butter. And the other trick is that when you've got your fat and flour together, get a mix of fat-blob sizes (some small, some pea-sized) blended into the flour. Don't try to blend too much and make it all even; the different sizes of fat blobs help give the crust body and flakiness. Good luck!

Marion said...

Pastry purists say lard for pie crust. Avoid Crisco. It's just plain unnatural, and contrary to popular opinion, less healthy than either butter or lard. For pumpkin pie: crumbled ginger snaps and softened butter.

Kathy N. said...

I'm a believer in the Crisco/butter combo....I love to make crust. Where I always struggle with apple pie is in making the filling juicy enough. My filling often ends up dry. It could be that I fail to dot the filling with enough butter. Good luck!

Undomesticated Me said...

Thanks, everyone, for your advice. I made the dough for the crust and froze it. I ended up using all butter, but next time (if there is a next time), I plan to try Lard. Where does one find Lard anyway?