Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!

It’s Thanksgiving here in the States, a day when we take a moment to reflect on all the things we’re thankful for.

We also eat.  A lot.

Would it be hokey to say I’m thankful for the fact we can afford the feast I am about to make, I have the ability to cook it, and my health that permits this marathon cooking session?  Or that I’m extremely grateful for those people nearest and dearest to me, even if I won’t see them today?

Oldest Son, Darling Daughter, The Young One, Jolly, and Miss Jacki – I love you all more than you’ll ever know.

But for now, I’ll go cook for myself and Beloved.  Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday, for, as he is always quick to point out:

“You get to eat too much, drink too much, watch too much football and take a nap.  And you don’t have to buy anyone a present.”

You can’t argue with that kind of logic.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone – I’m certainly grateful for all of my wonderful, bloggy friends.

Pie Crust

I’m sorry this has taken so long; it’s been one of “those days.” Tomorrow, pictures of the curio and wine hutch.  After I clean the dining room (which doubles as my “office”).

Anyway, pie crust.  It’s not as hard as you might think; the secret is to not over-mix or under-mix the dough.  If you over-mix the flour and fat (be it shortening or butter or cream cheese or lard) before adding the liquid, you’ll moisture-proof the flour, preventing it from absorbing the water, and the crust will be too fragile to roll.  If you under-mix the flour and fat, the flour will absorb the water too easily and form too much gluten, giving you a tough crust.

Now, aren’t you just thrilled you know that?

Making pie crust is like anything else; it takes trial and error and experience.  I’ve been making my own pie crusts for 25 years, and never doubted myself until I bought Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible.  According to her, I’d been doing everything WRONG, and I quickly became unsure of myself (not to mention amazed I hadn’t given anyone a lethal case of indigestion with my WRONG pie crusts).  So, I started following her recipes with a devotion I hadn’t quite felt since I was in middle school and had my hair cut in a Farrah Fawcett shag (oh, the time I spent in front of the mirror every morning…).  I soon became very frustrated; you see, Mrs. Berenbaum has got to be one of the most anal exacting cooks that has ever walked the face of the earth.  She doesn’t just measure her ingredients, oh no – she weighs them.  To the tenth of a gram.  To say that sort of precision drives me completely batty is like saying the Grand Canyon is a large hole in the ground – I was giving myself headaches following her recipes to the letter.  Fortunately, she also gives standard measurements for each of her recipes (even though she makes it quite clear that weighing the ingredients – using tenths of grams, mind you – will give the best results), so I can use 6 tablespoons of Ice water rather than weighing 88 grams in a cup on my Salter electric food scale, by which time it has become just plain old tepid water, necessitating putting said cup in the freezer and forgetting about it.

You simply cannot make a pie crust with an 88 gram ice cube, no matter how hard you try.

She also raves about her Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, which contains not only cream cheese, but butter, heavy cream, baking powder and cider vinegar.  It is a very flaky, tender crust, I’ll give you that.  It also tastes weird.  Not necessarily bad, just…weird.  It took me awhile to figure out just what it was about that crust that made it taste so odd before I realized that I grew up in Texas and every pie crust I ever ate was a shortening-based crust.  If my grandmother was in the mood, she’d substitute about half of the shortening with butter.  In fact, up until I began The Great Pie and Pastry Bible Pie Crust Experiment, that was the crust I’d made.

And it is again.

Pie Crust

for a 9 to 10 inch pie shell

1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons shortening

4 tablespoons butter, cold and cubed

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 – 5 tablespoons ice water

Whisk the flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl.  Using a pastry knife or fork, cut in the shortening until the mixture is the size of small peas.  Quickly cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, with some pea-sized bits.  Stir in 3 tablespoons of cold water until the mixture holds together when forming a ball; use the additional two tablespoons if necessary.

Slightly flatten the ball into a disk about 4 inches in diameter; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes, but preferably overnight before rolling.  Once the crust is rolled and placed in the pie pan, refrigerate for another 30 minutes to an hour before filling a baking to prevent shrinkage.

*SQUEEEE*

I was going to post my pie crust recipe, but then my new furniture arrived (I’ve been waiting ten weeks).  I now have a handmade, solid oak corner curio and wine hutch in my dining room.

All I can say is “Hooray for the Amish!”  They do marvelous work at extremely reasonable prices.  The craftsmanship is superb and we got both pieces for about half of what we’d have paid for mass-produced crap at a regular furniture store.  We also had them modify the hutch considerably from the sample we chose – it came out perfectly and they didn’t charge any extra.

I’ll post pictures later, and my pie crust recipe too.  For now, I get to go buy lots more wine!  Yippee!

Lemon Chess Pie

According to Wikipedia, “Chess pie is a dessert characteristic of Southern U.S. cuisine. Recipes vary, but are generally similar in that they call for the preparation of a single crust and a filling composed of eggs, butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla. What sets chess pie apart from many other custard pies is the substitution of corn meal for flour. Some recipes also call for corn syrup, which tends to create a more gelatinous consistency. The pie is then baked. The resulting pie is very sweet and often consumed with coffee in order to offset this…”  The addition of lemon to the recipe helps the sweetness issue quite a bit, and lends a very pleasing overall tartness to the dessert.

The origin of the name is somewhat unclear, although folklore suggests that when asked by her husband what kind of dessert she was making, a Southern housewife answered “jes’ pie.”   I rather like that explanation, myself.

This was my mother’s hands-down favorite pie and began making an appearance on her holiday table the last ten or so years of her life.  After I moved up north, I realized I hadn’t had one since Mom passed away, and began searching for a recipe that she would have liked.  What I eventually came up with is something she would have loved.  To me, it tastes like home.

Lemon Chess Pie

serves 8

1 unbaked 9″ pie shell

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 teaspoons lemon zest, grated

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)

1/4 cup milk

4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together the sugar, flour, cornmeal and salt. Add the melted butter, zest, lemon juice and milk; mix well.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Pour filling into the unbaked pie shell and bake until the top is a crisp, golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Pecan Pie

Pecan pie seems to have originated as a purely Southern dessert.  It belongs to a group of pies referred to as “transparent pies” and includes such favorites as Shoo-fly, Jefferson Davis and Chess pies.  Fillings are usually based on brown sugar, molasses, or corn syrup.  These are usually thickened with eggs, but sometimes, as in Shoo-fly pie, with a flour base, or Chess Pie, which includes eggs and corn meal.

Pecan pie is Beloved and Darling Daughter’s favorite pie, and I’ve made the same recipe for many, many years – the one on the back of the bottle of Karo syrup.  It’s the recipe my grandmother made, and is the pie I grew up with; it is comforting and intensely sweet.  However, over the last few years, I’ve made a couple of modifications to the recipe that reduces that sweetness a little and keeps the pecans crisp instead of “chewy.”  If you can’t find Lyle’s Golden Syrup, feel free to use light corn syrup.

Note: If you omit the pecans and substitute the vanilla with 3 tablespoons bourbon, you will have a Bourbon Pie.

Pecan Pie

serves 8

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup sugar

1 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/4 cup pecans

1 – 9″ unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Spread the pecans on a cookie sheet or other shallow baking pan and toast in the oven, stirring frequently, 7 – 10 minutes, or until fragrant.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  (If making ahead, keep in an airtight container until ready to use.)

Increase oven heat to 350 F.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, syrup, salt, butter and vanilla together well; stir in the pecans.  Pour into pie crust.

Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between the center and edge comes out clean (the middle may look slightly underdone; this is fine).  Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.