Friday, November 27, 2009

Gonna Make a Pie With a Heart in the Middle

This isn't the most conventional way to kick off a blog that's ostensibly about food that I make in the Chinese house because today's food was neither in the Chinese house nor made by me. But it's a family tradition, and it's that time of year, so I'm gonna make you a pie with a heart in the middle.

But first of all, get thee to iTunes and look up Quincy Coleman, "Baby Don't You Cry (The Pie Song)" from the Waitress soundtrack. And if you're 99 cents richer than you need to be, buy it and listen to it as you make the Southern Pecan Pie that my family is famous for.

Baby don't you cry
Gonna make a pie
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Baby don't be blue
Gonna make for you
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle

Gonna be a pie from heaven above
Gonna be filled with
strawberrycorn syrup love
Baby don't you cry
Gonna make a pie
And hold you forever in the middle of my heart.

This year we had Thanksgiving in the mountains. I went home to Montana with Mom and the siblings and my brother's new wife and baby and we got to spend the night in a friend's cabin up the West Fork. It wasn't as extensive as meals in years past and I didn't even make any of it because I was up early in the morning to run an 8k with my sisters (cop out!). But it was just lovely, and the best part was the famous pecan pie, made this year by my Japanese sister-in-law. She added a little Japanese touch to the Texas classic, garnishing the top with a heart in the middle. かわいい!Because the best thing that Japan offers to the world is the propensity to take everything, perfect it, and make it cute.

The recipe originally came from a junior league cookbook from somewhere in Louisiana that my mom picked up when she lived in Southeast Texas when I was a baby, but we've appropriated it and introduced it to the Great White North, where it belongs. I like to make it with my pâte brisée crust.

All Butter Crust for Sweet and Savory Pies (Pâte Brisée)

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 4 to 6 Tbsp ice water

1 Cut the sticks of butter into 1/2-inch cubes and place in the freezer for 15 minutes to an hour (the longer the better) so that they become thoroughly chilled.

2 Combine flour, salt, and sugar with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time, mixing until mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it holds together, it's ready. If the dough doesn't hold together, add a little more water and keep going.

3 Place dough on a clean surface. Gently shape into 2 discs. Knead the dough just enough to form the discs, do not over-knead. You should be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. These small chunks of butter are what will allow the resulting crust to be flaky. Sprinkle a little flour around the discs. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days.

4 Remove one crust disk from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes in order to soften just enough to make rolling out a bit easier. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch circle; about 1/8 of an inch thick. As you roll out the dough, check if the dough is sticking to the surface below. If necessary, add a few sprinkles of flour under the dough to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully place onto a 9-inch pie plate. Gently press the pie dough down so that it lines the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edge of the pie dish.

5 Add filling to the pie.

6 Roll out second disk of dough, as before. Gently place onto the top of the filling in the pie. Pinch top and bottom of dough rounds firmly together. Trim excess dough with kitchen shears, leaving a 3/4 inch overhang. Fold the edge of the top piece of dough over and under the edge of the bottom piece of dough, pressing together. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with a fork. Score the top of the pie with four 2-inch long cuts, so that steam from the cooking pie can escape.

Pecan Pie

• 1 cup brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 cup corn syrup (or molasses. I've done it with molasses before and I prefer it, though I am a fundamentally bitter person)
• 3 beaten eggs
• dash of salt
• 1 tsp vanilla
• 1 cup pecans

1 Cream butter with mixed sugar and flour; add syrup and eggs

2 Beat until frothy, add salt, vanilla and pecans

3 Pour into 9" unbaked pie shell, bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes, or until middle doesn't slosh around anymore.

I've also made this same pie, but with walnuts instead of pecans. It was a win, and added to the overall sense of adventure in the Chinese House.

But it's definitely better with the (literal or metaphorical) heart in the middle.

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