The Holy Trinity

You were warned. After Shuna’s awesome pie-making class a couple of weeks ago, you knew, or should have known, that pies were coming. And come they did.

As we had an event to attend the Friday after Thanksgiving, we offered to make pies so we could flex our newfound muscles. Gotta put that training into action. Use it or lose it, right?

We’re talking pie here, and we’re talking Thanksgiving. There are three and only three flavors that resonate with holiday: Pumpkin (sorry, punkin), apple and pecan. The Holy Trinity. Could we have tried something more adventurous? Probably. Will we branch out and try new and exotic flavor combinations in the future? You better believe it. But we’re aiming to please the masses here, so no curried sweet potato chiffon this time, even if that does sound rather good.

So. We set to work, freezing our butter, chilling our ingredients, our
bowl, our hands, everything. We stuck to our training. With relatively
little difficulty, we turned out three almost gorgeous pies. Why almost
gorgeous? Well, a day’s training does not impart the 15 years of
experience of a skilled pastry chef like Shuna. While our crusts rolled
well and evenly, our spazmodic fingers fumbled with the dough while
crimping the edges. But hey, they looked homemade anyway. Undeniably

The verdict? Let’s just say, good for a first sincere effort at pie-making. DPaul and I agreed: The crust was tough. Tasty, sure, but tough. Disappointing. We failed you, Shuna!

But I am undaunted. I learned so much in the process. For example: Shuna says that, when she weighs a cup of flour in her kitchen, it averages out around 11 ounces. One cup of flour in our kitchen was 9 ounces! I was not prepared for such a massive delta in weight. Granted, our flat is dry and warm, and it was a very dry day. My assumption, then, was that the dough would come out short, as we did not change the quantity of butter by weight. Same number of ounced of butter to fewer ounces of flour equals higher fat-to-flour ratio, right?

Apparently not. The dough was dry, taking on a bit more water than I would have expected. And therein lies the problem. We had to add more water to hydrate the dough, and were using the mixer to do it, thereby (duh) forming more gluten. Next time if it is as dry again, I would incorporate the water by hand, folding instead of mixing.

One of the things I liked about Shuna’s fillings was their unsweetness, and we stuck more or less to that approach as well. The pumpkin custard was quite good, with a pronounced pumpkin flavor leaning much closer to the savory. We also opted to add the optional chopped sage. Upon cooking, all the little flecks of olive green leaves rose to the top, and I worried that the pie would be overpoweringly sage-y, but in fact it was a completely subtle note on the palate if not the eyes.

The apples were Pink Ladies from the farmer’s market, though I don’t remember which vendor. They were crisp and tart and completely held their structure in baking … so much so as not to give off any good, pectinous goo to bind into a coherent filling. Tasty, but a little to the left of your traditional apple pie.

The pecan pie filling recipe came from Simply Recipes, and was muchly touted by commenters as the best pecan pie ever. It was undeniably good. I liked the notched-down sweetness and the pronounced molasses flavor, though I might have pulled back on the molasses just a hair and kicked in some bourbon or another honeyed liquor to round out the flavor. Or Frangelico. Hmmm …

But as always, it is our failures more than our successes that teach us and allow us to evolve and grow. I consider this the best kind of failure — the kind that is not only still edible but actually delicious, just requiring fine-tuning and practice. As anyone who works in an office environment knows, there is never any difficulty ridding one’s kitchen of practice baked goods. Let the pie games begin.

  • I wish I had taken her class, I needs to learn how to make pie!

  • That made me hungry. Congratulations, and keep learning.
    I see you like less-sweet desserts, as I do. So I’ll tell you what I do with pecan pie this time of year: Add a handful of (uncooked, washed) cranberries.
    Pie fight!

  • Sean & DPaul! You will never fail me. NO! Not ever ever! Pie dough is a work in rogress. Indeed more water will create a tough dough. But look at those pies! Wondrous. Keep makin’ ’em, they’ll get better and better.
    And Garrett? Come down Dec 17…

  • Garrett: Definitely keep your eye out for future classes from her. She’s a wonder.
    CC: Cranberries and pecans … sounds divine! I think dried fruit would work well too, no?
    Shuna: Without your guidance, our first pies would have been significantly worse than these, so I am overall pleased with our efforts. We will keep trying and bettering our crust technique!