Monday, February 1, 2010


"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both." - Francoise Rene Auguste Chateaubriand

Simple and homey, or rich and fancy, pie is perfect. And whether it’s homemade and fresh-baked or store-bought packaged, pie is a staple not just as holiday dessert fare, but as everyday comfort food. You don't need a reason to eat pie; pie is there to be eaten. Baking a pie can be a very Zen experience in that you put your whole self into the process, allowing it to not only move through you but also essentially become you. It can be easy and effortless for some, and a struggle for others. But whether you’re a beginner or an expert, baking is commitment. And with the right ingredients, utensils, and temperature, anyone can bake a half-decent pie. The secret to good pie isn’t just its fresh filling and crisp, flaky crust, but the effort that goes into making it, the attention to detail without getting hung up on the instructions. Baking should be intuitive, as if the spirit of the recipe is guiding you through each step. We don’t always hit the mark, but what counts is the undertaking. A recipe isn't just a list of ingredients and directions on how to throw it all together. A recipe tells a story, our story.

The following recipe for Banana Cream Pie is part of a collection of vintage recipes I found in an old bookshop. Vintage recipes speak to the soul, maybe because the ingredients seem to transcend into a living history of the people who created them.

Banana Cream Pie
1 cup rich milk
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
a pinch of salt
3 egg yolks (save whites)
1/4 cup cream
3/4 tbsp lemon juice
2 large bananas, sliced
1 9-inch bake pie shell

photo via curlywurly

Pie crusts vary depending on the recipe, and the person making it. You can choose from single-crusted, double-crusted, lattice, or open-faced, and by swapping out ingredients or adjusting ratio, the crusts alter in taste, color, and texture. The type of fat you use in pastry dough varies the results slightly. Shortening or lard gives you a tender, flaky crust. Butter or margarine can be combined with either for a richer flavor and deeper color. On one hand, baking is science, the correct balance of fat, flour, and liquid, the key factors being ratio and temperature. On the other, baking is art, imagination and creativity making the difference between a mediocre offering and a mouthwatering dessert.

Single Pie Crust
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cold butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 tbsp cold solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tbsp ice-cold water, more or less

Now, let's gather our ingredients. Think of it as gathering your thoughts, energy, and a mindfulness of purpose. Scattered mental activity and energy not only keeps us from going within, but from seeing others, and our environment. Think of your mind as the surface of a pond, any disturbance creates ripples on the surface. The ripples keep us from seeing clearly, and surface reflections are broken into fragments. It is out of stillness that the world opens to us. Let's concentrate, pour all our mental focus on this one task - baking.

Start with cold ingredients, the colder the better. Cold ingredients and limited handling are the secrets to perfect pie crust. I keep my flour in the freezer, as well as my fat (butter, lard, vegetable shortening). You want to avoid the flour absorbing the fat too readily; it’s the pockets of fat that create the flakiness.

Measure out the ingredients. Think of it as taking measure of your life, and realizing you already have everything you need.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, and salt. Think of it as sifting through the layers of your life, your memories, and knowing you are the perfect culmination of your past, present, and future.

Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the fat. Dough should still have some pea-sized pieces afterwards. Think of it as cutting in all that enriches your life, while cutting out the harried distractions that keep us from our purpose.

For a tender crust, you only want to use just enough ice-cold liquid to moisten the flour, not drench it. I measure out the liquid a tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to hold together. Think of it as measuring out in small increments the glue that holds us together.

Now mix it all together, but don't overwork it or handle too often. If you mix by hand, wash them in cold water first. I use a rubber spatula to mix but just remember to handle the dough as little as possible. Over-handling creates a tough crust. Think of it as blending all the parts of yourself, being mindful to always handle with care.

Make dough into a 1-inch thick disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Think of it as taking a pause. It is often the spaces in between that hold the answers we are searching for. It is in the stillness, that awareness is born.

When the dough is ready to roll out, work on a cool surface. I lay wax paper or plastic wrap on the surface, and then put a second piece over the dough. Essentially rolling out the dough between two sheets of plastic. Not only does this prevent a big mess, it's easier to peel the dough away from the plastic once it's rolled out.

To prevent cracking as you roll the dough out, use your knuckles to make indentations around the perimeter of the dough. With a chilled rolling pin, roll gently and evenly in short strokes from center of dough outward to form a 11-inch wide round, about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick. If edges split while rolling, push them back toward the center to make round relatively smooth.

Remove the top sheet of plastic. Turn pie plate upside down in the center of dough circle, then sliding hand under the plastic holding the dough, flip pie plate over right side up. Keeping the plastic in place, fit dough evenly into pie plate without stretching. Carefully remove plastic wrap. With scissors, trim dough edge evenly into a 3/4-inch overhang. Fold dough edge under itself, flush with pan rim.

To flute, use your thumb and first finger of one hand to press down on the dough rim to make indentations while at the same time, using the index finger of your other hand to press against the dough edge while pushing it between the two fingers on the rim. Repeat indentations side by side around entire rim. Chill the pie base for 30 minutes in the freezer to firm it (cover with tea towel or greaseproof paper.)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Remove pie base and place parchment paper or sheet of foil over the pastry base, making sure to cover the edges too. Place dried beans, or pie weights over the surface of the covering. This prevents the crust from rising from air bubbles. Place in oven and bake blind for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and dock the dough, piercing the base with a fork in several places to allow the air to flow through. This helps to prevent air bubbles. Don't overdo it. Return to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until light golden brown.

This is an optional step but if you want to prevent the bottom crust from becoming soggy from the filling, brush the base with beaten egg. Pop back in the oven for 2 minutes to set the egg glaze. Remove once again, and allow to cool before adding pie filling.

Let's move onto the pie filling. Slice up the bananas and place them at the bottom of the baked pie shell. Set aside. In a double boiler, mix all the dry ingredients and add milk. Cook until thick. Add lemon juice and cream and carefully combine well-beaten egg yolks. Remove from heat and chill the mixture. Pour chilled mixture over the bananas in the pie shell. Set aside. Next, make meringue topping.

3 egg whites
6 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until frothy, add salt, continue beating until stiff. Add sugar and vanilla. Pile lightly on top of pie. Sprinkle with shredded coconut and bake at 315° F for 20 minutes. Let cool.

Pie... perfect before you started, perfect after you've finished. It is what it is, nothing more but nothing less.

No comments:

Post a Comment