Life of Pie

Out of any interest or passion, cooking and eating is the only one I can think of that’s essential to life. This is actually pretty convenient in a lot of ways–if I have to eat anyways, why not make it as enjoyable and taste as good as possible? And I consider pie pretty essential to life, especially in summer, which has finally, blissfully made an appearance in Chicago.

Golden brown and delicious

I’m talking about peach pie, to be exact. And while I’m at it, maybe throw some blackberries in there too because, well, summer.

Peach season
Peaches and sugar
Peach syrup

America’s Test Kitchen’s weekly emails are one of my favorite cooking inspirations, especially since their recipes are so reliable (plus the taste tests and gadget reviews make my research-loving heart happy). At least one recipe usually gets bookmarked (and occasionally I actually get around to making it). Earlier this month, the email included peach pie. I don’t remember the last time I had homemade peach pie, which seemed a perfectly valid reason to buy armloads of peaches and give my pie crust another run.

Rumpled crust
Blackberries, why not?

If I get nothing else out of writing this blog, I’m happy to finally have and be able to share a reliable pie crust recipe and method. I still have a few tweaks to make–my crimps are hit-or-miss (I think the trick is refrigerating the pie after crimping so the crimps don’t disappear once the pie hits the oven) and I’m still trying to figure out how to brown the bottom crust more quickly in fruit pies (it usually works to put my pie plate on a preheated baking stone, but that didn’t work this time–did the tinfoil underneath make a difference?). And, happy day, I just discovered a pie shop in Chicago will sell, by request, the rendered lard they use in their own crust. As much as it’s a fun point of pride to say I can do it myself, it takes a bit of planning, which is not always my strong suit.

Peach pie with lattice crust

I’m always amused to look at my Recipes page to see what it says about how I cook, or at least what I cook to share here. Lots and lots of fruits and vegetables, which is pretty true-to-life, and of course out of all the desserts or sweet treats I’ve shared, pies win. Not a bad trend, if I say so myself

Peach Pie with Blackberries
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Rhubarb pie to celebrate

A year ago today I claimed this little corner of the Internet as my own. I wasn’t sure what to expect, not sure what to write, very little idea of how to take a decent picture, or even who would read what I had to say. And yet here we are, a year and 62 posts later, and I couldn’t be more thankful for everything. So here, have a slice of some birthday pie. Sorry, I forgot the candles, but I do have ice cream.

Rhubarb pie

This recipe embodies everything I hoped this blog would lead to. Last year was my first encounter with rhubarb and I shared it with you; this year, I couldn’t wait for it to show up so I could really explore what I’ve been missing.

ChoppedSugared and floured

Last year, making pie crust involved muttered swears and prayers over bowls and rolling pins, with no discernible rhyme or reason to success or failure. Through some crazy experiments, including learning to render my own lard, I’ve had three pie crust successes in a row–hardly mastery, but as least my confidence has grown leaps and bounds (…I’ve just jinxed myself, haven’t I?).

I love this pie crust

As much as I’ve learned about cooking over the past year, though, the best part by far has been sharing with you and reading your comments; those connections mean everything to me, so thank you.

When it comes to this pie, it seems a crying shame to wait until strawberries appear to enjoy rhubarb. Since their seasons overlap for just a few short weeks around here, half of rhubarb season is already gone by the time summer’s opening act takes stage. Why not enjoy spring’s sweetest offering on its own merits? I think it’s earned its moment in the spotlight.

Ready to mixLook like frosted sugar candiesPie in the makingReady to rollFilled with rhubarb

If you’re a rhubarb newbie like me, this pie is a great place to start. Rather than muddling flavors with strawberries, rhubarb stands on its own here. Its tartness is tamed with just enough sugar to make this a for-real dessert, juices are thickened simply with flour into the prettiest mauve-y pink oozy filling, cinnamon adds just enough to bring out the full range of rhubarb’s flavors.

Rhubarb pieNothing better

Cheers to year two everyone–thanks for sticking around. There’s pie on the counter and ice cream in the freezer, please help yourself.

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Perfecting pie crust, part 2

Like a lot of people, I struggle with homemade pie crust. I have recipes from my grandmas on my mom’s side and my dad’s side, but somehow they never turn out quite right for me. At any given point, I’ve tried other variations with all-butter, all-shortening, vodka, eggs, no eggs, white flour, whole wheat flour, sifting, no sifting, freezing the fats before mixing, freezing the fats after mixing, grating frozen sticks of butter, using a food processor, a pastry-cutter, my bare hands. Some variations turned out better than others, some easier than others, none exactly right or consistent from one batch to the next.

Butter-lard pie crust
The Holy Grail of Pie Crusts

So this was the challenge I set before myself: figure out the best fat (or combination of fats) for easy, tasty pie crust. Continue reading

Perfecting pie crust, part 1

Rendering lard was not part of my plan. Really, I just wanted to make pie crust. Yet there it sat—a pale pink loaf of leaf lard on my cutting board, daring me to throw it out and admit defeat. But oh, as just about anyone who knows me will attest, I take things like this as challenges to be overcome. I would not be bested by lard and I would have pie crust!

Rendered and cooled leaf lard

My original plan was to finally get my pie crust right, to try a few combinations of fats and figure out the one that worked best. Continue reading