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What we have here is a failure to bake

Recipe: Lemon Ginger Pie

Anyone can't make pie. In the box.

Yeah yeah yeah, I know, I’ve heard it all before. You can’t make pie. It’s too hard. You just want to run out to the bakery and buy one instead.

Well listen up, you bunch of neurasthenic, crust-fearing maggots, I’m not here to make it easy on you or wipe your snotty noses. But since you are the biggest bunch of whiny, thumb-sitting kitchen monkeys I have ever personally laid eyes on, I see that I have no choice but to offer up the most dumbed-down, bare bones, easy-ass recipe known to man. Even a four year-old could make this, people. If it was any easier, it’d be on Semi-Homemade.

Warden Sandy courtesy US Weekly

So I don’t want to hear any lame excuses or scaredy-pants back-chat. This is remedial pie. If you can’t make this, you know where you’re going. No, not in the box. This ain’t no damned movie.

No, you fail to make this simple pie and I’ll have no choice but to turn you over to Warden Sandy for Kwanzaa cake duty. Now, you’re not gonna’ be a bunch of hard cases, are you?

(Recipe follows)

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Get your pie on!

Gorgeous Gruyère

Over at Phill’s blog, there’s a recipe for potato, cheese and onion pie that elevates my pedestrian potato gratin to an art form. Don’t be fooled by the straightforward name, it’s a gorgeous, glorious gourmet treat. (For those of you cooking on this side of the pond, 200 degrees C is equal to 392 F, but I think you could safely set your oven to 400.)  And if you need a little tech support on making pie crust, I’m happy to provide it.

Better pies are a snap, not that I’d know anything about THAT

So easy even a monkey could do it!

I’m visiting my sister, who does everything better than I do, not that I hold it against her or resent it in any way, even though our parents clearly loved her more and gave her better presents at every goddamned Christmas and birthday of our lives. So today she made a pie in the time it takes me to floss my teeth and even cleaned up after it on the same day, but again, no resentment here. I am big enough to share her triumphs, rather than being embittered by them, no matter how much I have suffered at her hands over the years.

So, pies. She uses one of these groovy plastic mats to roll out the dough. Not only does it tell you exactly how big the crust should be for every conceivable size pie plate, but it also saves you from cleaning up a big sticky, floury mess afterward. Or scraping the dried dough gobs and petrified flour remains off the counter with a butter knife once you emerge from the sugar coma eight hours after consuming the entire pie, a la mode, straight from the dish with a spoon. Not that Miss Perfect would ever do anything like that.

I’m going to get one. And I am NOT copying her!

You can make pie, and you should

As mentioned, I feel strongly about pie for cultural reasons.  If you can’t make it, find a decent bakery where you can buy one. To my way of thinking there aren’t many. Usually a manufactured crust (the kind you see in the freezer at the grocery store) is a dead giveaway that the product will suck. So is a big blocky rim on the pie or anything that looks like this.

So dry it makes me choke just looking at it.

As I’ve said, making pie crust from a mix is not hard. You just follow the directions on the box and fill the damn thing with fruit, sugar, flour and butter and shove it in the oven.  But a few tricks are worth pointing out:

You can mix the dough with a fork. If I’m feeling particularly lazy, and I usually am, I use the electric mixer (for me, the Kitchenaid stand mixer is a gift from God) for about 15 seconds, just until the dough comes together.

Recipes always tell you to chill the dough before rolling it out, but if you leave it in the fridge for more than about 10 minutes it gets too hard to roll. Just saying.

For pumpkin pie, do not, I repeat DO NOT, bake the shell before filling it. That’s just crazy and the rim will burn before the filling is set. Speaking of which, never use anything but canned pumpkin. Fresh pumpkin pie is stringy and dealing with a whole pumpkin is a giant pain in the ass from start (lugging it home, cutting it up, seeding it, removing all that stringy stuff) to finish (Do I have enough puree? Too much? What is all this stringy crap in my pie? Eww). It is always disappointing, especially if you spent a whole freaking day making it when you could have just opened the damned can (always use plain puree and add your own spices, eggs, etc.) and caught up on Project Runway while it baked.

Making a prebaked shell for one crust pie gives me fits. The crusts always collapse or they shrink and become unusable, or the recipe calls for pie weights (what?) or tells you to fill the thing with dried beans while you bake it. Screw that. Just avoid them. Make a graham cracker crust (or use ginger snaps) or chuck the whole project and make brownies instead.

You can crimp the top and bottom crusts with a fork if you must, but I think this looks gross and it always burns because the crust is too thin. Plus the crust bonds with the pie plate and makes it really hard to cut and serve. See?

Ugly, overdone crimped edge. Yuck.

Better to use your thumb to pinch the edge between your index and middle fingers. It’s a tad Martha, but it looks so much nicer and the pieces hold together better. Look.

Nicely crimped and properly vented.

Apple pie: For the love of God, use only Macintosh or Rome apples.  Any guest who requests a slice of cheddar for his pie should be asked to leave. Enough said.

Fill ‘er up: Go on, mound the fruit up high. There is nothing worse than a skimpy layer of filling. See top photo.

Lattice top pies: What are you on, crack?

Pie crust: NO FEAR

That’s right, ladies, I said PIE CRUST. I’m opening strong, gambling that this will not scare off the one or two readers I have straight out of the gate, and I’m doing it because I am not afraid.

I grew up in Maine where chowder, baked beans and pie are the holy trinity of soul food and standards for all are ridiculously high. My Grammie Sue taught me to make crust from scratch, and I have even been known to do it from time to time; however, state visits are relatively rare in my house these days, and Anthony Bourdain doesn’t drop by as often as he once did. Generally, the folks I entertain are not what we would call gourmands, especially when it comes to baked goods. As a rule, they find a homemade pie sufficiently impressive to skip over a detailed investigation of what went into it. And I have never had a piece pushed away after one bite accompanied by a moue of distaste and an incredulous pie crust from a mix?.

That’s correct. I use a pie crust mix. And on the subject I have two words for you: BETTY CROCKER. The mix, not the book. It is the only palatable alternative to scratch crust, and in my world, unless you’re making lard piecrust – yup, lard as in rendered animal fat – there’s really no point in putting in the effort. In case you’re interested, here’s a good recipe for lard pie crust, though I think you can safely skip over the madness about the wood stove and canning up front.

Here’s what you should never do: use premade frozen crusts, buy those vile floppy rounds by Pillsbury (they taste like plastic), make crust using a Jiffy mix (beyond inedible). These are all gag inducing, utterly revolting.

Now, with the Betty Crocker crust mix, you do have to roll out the dough, but it’s a pie ferchrissakes, as my angel mother would say, and there’s no way to make a decent one without a modicum of effort. You’ll need a rolling pin, but a wine bottle will do in a pinch.

Want to make a pie? Here’s what you do.

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