My weakness is pie (also hot wings, Mexican food and tequila, but that’s for later). Even more than I like eating pie, I love to make it. I mixed up my first dough in 2013 after marrying Adam. His favorite dessert is his mom’s blueberry pie, and it quickly became one of mine too. Before our wedding I had a brilliant idea. I would ask my soon to be mother-in-law (the best of them) if she would make 13 pies for us in place of a wedding cake. It turns out she still had her sanity (I may have been a little stressed) and politely declined. BUT she did give me her recipe. So I began to practice and experiment with different crust variations, making fruit pies, savory pies, custards, etc. And then Theo came along. Did I mention making a pie is time consuming?
Last weekend we were having friends for dinner and I wanted to take some time for pie. I decided on strawberry ginger and I was pumped. I get excited about weird stuff now, like taking my vitamins. So baking is way up there. Yeaaa! Planning ahead and wanting to get Theo involved, we decided to take him to Underwood Family Farms to show him where his berries come from (he’s obsessed) and let him pick strawberries for the fruit filling. The farm is about an hour outside of LA, but worth the trek. Theo’s favorite activities were the tractor ride and pointing out all of the garbage cans on the property. In the end, some of our berries were under-ripe due to a 3 ft tall inexperienced farmworker. But we got what we needed for our pie. And I think a day working in the fields was good for the little man.
Pie time! There is something very satisfying about making pie dough from scratch. Mixing up all the ingredients and using your hands to mold and create something is just really fun. The three things you’re working with are flour, fat and water. I like to use a combination of butter and vegetable shortening for the fat portion. I’ve done the all butter crust, but the combo of the two always comes out flakier. Get a scale to measure your flour. It makes a big difference in the consistency of your pie. And the secret ingredient is…vodka! Drink as much vodka as you can while making your pie. And also include a couple tablespoons in place of water for your dough. Apparently the ethanol in the vodka stops the gluten in the flour from forming, and gluten is your enemy while making pie. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly gluten is, but the vodka does the job of combining your fat and flour while keeping that bad gluten away. Don’t forget the sugar and salt, and you’ve got yourself some dough. $$$
I always make my dough the night before to let it cool. Needs at least a couple hours. Plus Theo is asleep and it buys me more time the next day. After you take it out of the fridge, let it cool for 10 minutes before you try to mess with it. If it’s too sticky, add flour. If it’s too crumbly, add water in very small amounts.
The fruit filling is where you can get a little creative. Aside from the strawberries and ginger, I threw in some bitters, cinnamon, lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar and arrowroot. Well, actually I planned to throw in the arrowroot, but Theo woke up as I was working on this step and I became distracted. And…UGHHHH. I forgot the arrowroot. Have I mentioned I still have baby brain? The arrowroot is a thickening agent (you could also use cornstarch or tapioca) and clearly an important ingredient. I realized this crucial step after completing my lattice. Going into baking I knew that my pie would be a little runny. And it was. But honestly, I also know that if you add ice cream, you can salvage anything. Those berries were too good not eat. My slightly runny pie was served, topped with extra ice cream and all was right in the Nathanson house. Theo approved too.
Next weekend, banana cream!