Someone Else's Farm

June 29, 2010

Paging Billy Boy

Filed under: what we did — Tags: , , , , — M @ 14:26 PM

Why yes, in fact, I can bake a cherry pie. I humbly submit to you Exhibit A, based upon Melissa Clark’s two-stage recipe in the New York Times:

Now, my confession. The pie contains some blueberry interlopers. The quart of sour cherries that we picked up at the farmer’s market last week was a little short of the two pounds the recipe called for. I ate all the sweet cherries long ago, and delicious they were. But the pint of blueberries was untouched, as of yesterday afternoon, so I decided to commit a fruity form of miscegeny. And once I had the blueberries to go with the red cherries and the white sugar, I decided I had to put stars on top, even if it’s a week early for a Patriotic Pie.

Of course, I couldn’t make the recipe as written, especially since I’d already subbed in blueberries for about 6 ounces of cherries. My other tweaks to the recipe:

  • For the liquid in the pie crust, I used half ice water and half vodka, as per an instruction from Cook’s Illustrated magazine a while back. I keep my vodka bottle in the freezer, mixed 3 Tbsp. water with 3 Tbsp. vodka, and added that mixture a Tbsp. at a time to the food processor containing the butter, flour, and a touch of salt. I like to do this because it means you can add enough liquid to the dough that it’s nicely moistened and there’s little risk of the dough cracking as you roll it, but there’s less issue with toughening the dough because alcohol doesn’t promote gluten development.
  • This, of course, meant that my food processor was gunked up and wet. I only have one food processor, and I really hate washing (much less drying) that beast by hand because it bites! (I’ll spare you Exhibit B: the old photo of a sliced finger.) Therefore, I question Ms. Clark’s sanity when she suggests using the food processor (again) to grind tapioca with sugar and cinnamon for the filling. When I was making the filling, the food processor bowl and blade were in the dishwasher. So I used my spice grinder to make the sweetening/thickening/flavoring component. Except that my spice grinder’s way too small to handle all the sugar. As it was, I think I added too much sugar, because the tapioca granules didn’t get completely processed. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that grinding the sugar finer really makes much difference to the final result. So next time, I’d just combine the tapioca and cinnamon in the grinder, let ‘er rip till the tapioca was completely powdered, and then mix it in with the sugar. For this pie, I used the full 3 Tbsp. tapioca, because I know that blueberries are notorious for exuding lots of juice and making a runny pie, and nearly a quarter of the fruit in my pie was blueberries.
  • I mixed up my filling even before I rolled the bottom crust out. This meant that my fruit was mixed with the sugar/tapioca mixture for probably longer than the recipe intended. In this case, though, it’s not such a bad thing because I did have a significant amount of unground tapioca in the thickener (probably because I overfilled the grinder). So by sitting in the fruit and the juice it exuded, the bigger pieces of tapioca had more time to hydrate fully.
  • I don’t regularly keep cream in the house. So I used milk to brush the top crust pieces instead. To add to the horror, I used skim milk, because that’s generally what I have on hand.
  • I contemplated demerara sugar for sprinkling on top. But then I figured that I’d already broken tradition enough by using vodka in the crust, adding blueberries to the filling, and brushing the top with milk, so why not change something else yet again? I amped up the patriotic bit by using white pearl sugar instead, and I think it had the desired effect.

Now, the things I didn’t quite get right, none of which were very serious:

  • The abovementioned issue with grinding the thickening. The end result had some distinct pieces of cooked-in-juice tapioca that didn’t enhance the overall pie texture. Easily remedied next time.
  • My pie bubbled over. It would have looked prettier if I’d taken the picture 15 minutes before the pie came out of the oven. But when I make fruit pies, I generally wait until I see the juices bubbling everywhere before declaring it done. And in this case, it bubbled over. I’m glad I have a self-cleaning oven.
  • I really should have made a point to get some vanilla ice cream. Lucky for me, I have a chance to remedy this problem later today when I need to go out anyway.

And finally, the things that worked:

  • I love my cherry pitter, which was a gift from my MIL eons ago. It makes the task of pitting pie cherries much less onerous.
  • The blueberry-cherry combination is a keeper, both in the end result and in labor savings.
  • I’d never tried using kirsch in a cherry pie before, but I think it made a difference.
  • I got the amount of sweetener just right.
  • Chunklets of tapioca not withstanding, the filling was thickened enough to not flow all over the place when it was cut, but not so thick that it was gunky like a canned pie filling.
  • The crust was appropriately flaky, and not tough. This one’s a real victory for me, and I attribute it to the vodka, and to the fact that I made a point of chilling my hands in cold cold water (and then drying them well) before I touched the dough each time.

And no, I didn’t even consider adding the rhubarb to my pie.

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