Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Pies!

 I tend to be a person that goes overboard with baking.  Constantly.  Ever year I say "oh my word, that was too much.  Next year, I am not making seven pies."

Famous last words.  Ha.

But some friends have asked me how I do it, so I thought I'd write the exhaustive guide to how I plan for this sort of thing.  (a la Rachel, from Heart of Light.  She's the queen of creative DIY planning with just enough OCD thrown in to stay on top of things.  A friend once asked me why I wasn't freaking out when throwing a dinner party for 40 people, and it's because I had people like Rachel to look to in terms of lists and planning.  Everything was prepared, if things go wrong, there's a plan B already set up.  No need to worry.  None of that allowed).  So.  Here goes!

While all of those life magazines say don't overdo it during the holidays, don't make things overly stressful, I've found that over-doing it so often, holidays or not, well, it has been very good practice to learn how to be a good and resourceful cook and baker.  Part of it lies in knowing a recipe, and making sure that you don't make too many new things when you're on a time crunch.  But part of it also relies strictly on preparation.  Thanksgiving is particularly hard for me since I don't take the day off to bake.  If I did, that would be perfect...but as a grad student, it is not to be.  So knowing exactly what I'm doing, the order of operations, that is what's important.  The one ringer last year that I made was sweet potato pie, complete with sweet potatoes put through a ricer.  Dude, no one wants to be ricing sweet potatoes at 2 am.  Just sayin'.  And I love cooking.  Pick your battles. 

So yes, it's all about the preparation.  Making sure you have enough pans, ingredients, time, space, storage of the finished product...especially enough butter.  There's also the very important factor that doubling or tripling things very rarely works well in baking since you're dealing with complex chemical reactions.  You're far better off doing things in series to avoid the issues that come with, overloading a pan or oven. This is why when I did cupcakes, I did one batch at a time.  Slower, yes.  But more precise, and I'm certain that it was better-tasting because I didn't try and over-do it.

Then there's the whole issue of having enough pie pans to do the whole thing...which is why one pies is being made in a 9x13 pan and another is being made in tart pans.  In particular, while I love key lime pie, I don't have covers for my pie pans and not enough room in my freezer for a foil-covered frozen pie pan (for those of you who have seen my freezer, you know exactly what I'm talking about).  But making key lime bars still gives me that lovely key lime taste without the fuss of juggling bags of corn and ice cube trays to get things to fit in the freezer. 

So how do I start?  I choose a bunch of pies that I want to make and then prioritize.  Sure, I want to make 12 pies, but that is really getting unreasonable. And I don't have enough pie tins anyways.

Starting list
1.  double crust apple
2.  dutch apple with pecan crumble
3.  traditional pumpkin pie
4.  pumpkin tart with a gingerbread cookie crust
5.  key lime
6.  pecan
7.  strawberry rhubarb
8.  pear with gruyere crust (the Pushing Daisies pie!)
9.  banoffee pie
10.  cheesecake
11.  blueberry pie
12. maple buttermilk pie

Then I sit back and remember that every single pie I want to make does not have to be made for Thanksgiving.  This is important.  Pies can be made at other times.  Panic attack, relieved! 

So, I decided I'd make the pear and gruyere pie the weekend after as a treat.  And while I want to make a banoffee pie, that's one I've never made before, and right now I'm in a bit of a vendetta against  bananas (curse you, fruit flies!) so I'm going to wait on that one, too.  The maple buttermilk and blueberry are also on my list for January pies.

That leaves me seven pies in total, and only one of them that I haven't made before (strawberry rhubarb).  I know this is completely a summer pie.  But I have a freezer full of frozen fruit from this year that needs to be emptied a bit so I can fill it with breakfast sausage from Blood Farm to take home to the family for Christmas.  So---a summer pie for Thanksgiving it is!

The next step is matching each of these pies to their respective baking vessesls.  I have three glass pie tins, two metal pie tins (from grandma), oodles of tart pans (confirmed addict) and 9x13 pans to use. 

1.  double crust apple
--glass.  Apples are heavy, and I like my apples with about 1.5x as many apples as a recipe calls for.  Using the glass pan makes things easier to handle, that's for sure.

2.  dutch apple with pecan crumble

3.  traditional pumpkin pie

4.  pumpkin tart with a gingerbread cookie crust
--deep well tart pan

5.  key lime
--glass 9x13 pan

6.  pecan

7.  strawberry rhubarb
--glass (also a heavy pie)

Ideally, I would have more glass pie plates, and I keep an eye open for this sort of thing on amazon.  Does a person really need that many?  But if they get used, that's something.

Next, I look to the crusts.  First thing--there are many different recipes and methods for making pie crusts.  Butter tastes better, but shortening is flakier.  I just use super cold butter (bring to room temperature, cube, and put back into the fridge) and keep all my utensils cold to preserve flakiness and butter chunks in the dough.  I also make all of my crusts the day before, so they have a chance to chill overnight.  I just put the dough into my pyrex glass storage containers and stack them in the fridge, ready to be used the next day.  This whole process includes other crusts, too---I crumb up all of the graham crackers ahead of time as well, so I can get the food processor out of the way for the minimal counter space that I have.

For this set of 7 pies, I need six single crusts (apple, pumpkin, pecan, strawberry rhubarb), a gingerbread crust (pumpkin tart), and a graham crust (key lime).  So--the way that I'll do this is Monday evening right after work, I'll take out all the butter that I need for the dough.  Right before I go to bed, I will cut the now-room temperature butter into small cubes and aliquot into 2 cup pyrex containers and put back into the fridge.  Each dough recipe requires 1 cup of butter (two sticks), so I cut up six sticks total.

Tuesday, I make dough and crumble up gingersnaps and graham crackers (I do the latter first, since they're not messy, and I'm all about not making more mess than necessary in the kitchen).

My simple dough recipe (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, method adapted from Alton Brown)

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cubed and COLD
3/4 cup (ish) cold water (from the fridge)

Put flour, sugar, and salt into the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.  Add butter and pulse about 15 times, or until butter chunks are about pea sized.  Add water through the feed tube while continuing to pulse, pulsing a few times after all the water is added to thoroughly combine.  Since this dough makes two 9" pie crusts, split in half and put each crust into a separate container and refrigerate until tomorrow. 

Wednesday is when the real fun begins.  As soon as I get home, I'll take out two pie crusts and get started on the double crust apple pie.  I preheat the oven, and then go crazy with my favorite apple peeler in the world (save the peels for bread pudding!  just puree in a food processor with buttermilk, then add to the mix of milk, eggs, and sugar.  Seriously delicious).  I peel enough apples for both pies, put them in two separate bowls, and then clean up the apple peeling equipment (it makes a bit of a mess).  Cleaning as you go is key.  By this time, the dough is soft enough to roll out, so I roll it out, put it in the pie pan, and put back in the fridge for 10 minutes.  I make the pie filling, roll out of the top of the pie, then fill with apples.  I put pie number one in the oven, and add a timer to my computer browser. (actually, this is kind of a lie.  I stole my lab timer from work, because I can clip it to my skirt!  Brilliant).

Double crust apple pie with traditional filling

My adaption from many recipes


3-4 pounds apples (weight is post-peeling and coring)
1 cup brown sugar (ish.  This is for tart apples, use less if you have sweeter apples)
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon/apple pie spice (my combination, a gift from a friend, has two kinds of cinnamon, mace, and cloves)
1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy)
chunks butter+sugar for topping

1.  Mix together brown sugar, flour and spices.  Pour over apples in a large bowl, and toss to coat.
2.  Add a splash of brandy, and let sit for a few minutes before stirring again.  If it super liquidy, add a bit more flour. 
3.  Put filling into crust, and dot with chunks of butter and a sprinkling of sugar.
4.  Put on the top crust, score five times, and wash with an egg wash (beat a whole egg and a bit of water together, pain on the crust with a brush).
3.  Bake at 400ºF for 10 minutes, then bring temperature down to 350ºF and bake for an additional 50 minutes.

Now onto pie number two!  (the other apple).  But before this, I check all my recipes and see if there are things that need to be taken out and at room temperature.  In this case, I need eggs for the pecan pie, eggs for the pumpkin pies, butter for the crumb topping of the dutch apple pie, and 6 egg yolks for the key lime pie (egg whites become dinner!).

Once that is taken care of, I take out the pie crust for pie number two, roll it out, place it in the pan, and put it back into the fridge.  I make the filling, add the crumble to the top, and about at this point, pie number 1 is ready to come out of the oven.  I put in pie number two. 

Dutch apple pie (a single crust apple pie with a pecan crumble and dairy included in the filling)
adapted from Heart of Light

Next, I do crusts for my key lime pie and pumpkin tart, and make the pecan pie.

Pecan pie
Originally from the lovely family of MK

(quilted leaf-patterned table runner from my aunt)

Next up are the two pumpkin pies:

Traditional pumpkin pie  
Originally from the Libby's can!  It's the kind my grandma made.

Alas, not as photogenic as a store-bought pie, but still pretty delicious.

Pumpkin tart with a gingerbread cookie crust
Originally from Martha Stewart

(camera died before being able to take this picture, sorry!)

and then the strawberry rhubarb:

Strawberry rhubarb pie 
Originally from Smitten Kitchen

Confession:  this was supposed to have a crust on top.  Whoops.

Last but not least, I make the key lime pie (it uses a mixer, and the counter with the mixer is my pie-rolling station, so it's covered in flour until the end).

Frozen key lime pie
Originally from Ina Garten

No picture either, sorry!  And the housemasters wouldn't let me leave any pie, but I did let their son know that the key lime was still in their freezer.

Now, the above is a fine basic schedule, but if you want to be really on top of things, you want to make a full-blown timetable:

(yes, this does go on until it finishes)

I'm still trying to find a template that has times on the "lines" instead of in boxes so when things start and end is a bit clearer.  But this certainly keeps one organized and on point.  Cleaning up in the free spaces is also pretty crucial.  But yes, there you are!  Many pies made for many happy young ladies.  And let's be serious, having pie for two breakfasts in a row is pretty wonderful. 


Mary Kay said...

Wow! I thought that I was organized in the kitchen but your prep takes baking to an entirely new level. Are you sure that you aren't missing your real calling?

I feel honored that the pecan pie made the final cut. Thanks for the link.

Mmm...gruyere and pear pie-you've got my attention!

Bridget said...

I'm not entirely sure that I'd enjoy baking and cooking as much if it was my day job. I'm just glad I'm able to cook and bake things that make people happy!

I think I'm going to make the pie on Friday for girl's night, should be delicious!

Anonymous said...

I know I'm a year late but I loved reading how you planned out everything for the pies. I have similar systems for Thanksgiving day itself and smiled when I saw the pumpkin pie being the Libby's recipe. I'm all about the pie fillings and not the crust but it nice to know someone so motivated as you uses the same recipe I pour into a premade pie shell every year.

Bridget said...

You know, it's so funny, but I've tried about eight other pumpkin pie recipes, and I always try a new one every year at Thanksgiving...but none of them quite match my grandmother's libby-pumpkin-filling recipe. I'm sure it's a bit of nostalgia, but some tried and true recipes are that way not because they are easy, but because they're delicious! :)