Su's Home Baked Treats!
"the official family baker"
Apple Pie & Ice Cream
or Pumpkin Pie & Whipping Cream?
Can't you just smell it? If I'm baking pies, it must be Thanksgiving weekend.
Pies, or to be more precise, pastry has got to be just about the most deceptive of all the things that can be baked. There really are only four main ingredients; flour, salt for flavour, a fat and water. That's it, but if you get any of those four things wrong, by just a tiny little bit, or you over work the dough, then you might as well throw it all out and start again. This is before you even get around to trying to roll it out and place it over the pie plate, or into the muffin cup if you're making Butter Tarts, and this is Canada, so you will at some point in your baking life, make Butter Tarts. If you consider yourself a baker, and you don't bake Butter Tarts, then it's time to turn in your citizenship & your Tim's card. Butter Tarts made with real maple syrup are just too sacred a thing to traditionalist. They're like hockey & Tim Horton's; you have to love them, it's part of who we are.
Before you get to the Butter Tarts, the pumpkin or apple pies for Thanksgiving, you still have to tackle the pastry issue. I was always a lard person. I was raised on Tenderflake ® lard. As a kid I remember watching Loretta Lynn doing commercials for Crisco Shortening ®, and thinking she didn't know what she was talking about, she was a singer, besides she was American and what did they know anyway? I never did try shortening, but recently while leafing through my Grandmother's recipe box, I found a recipe for pastry dated in the 1930's pre-WWII, and this recipe called for butter as the fat. Butter! I'd never seen butter in a pastry recipe before, it was unthinkable, far too sweet, wrong melting temperature, no way this could work. What was she thinking? So I did what every 21st century geek does, I Googled ® it, and it turns out it's a real thing, or it was before the war.
After I did some asking around and Googleing a bit, I found that it seems that once the war started, because of rationing, (most of the butter went to the armed forces), there was very little available back home, so housewives had to improvise. That's when they started looking around for other forms of fat to use in lieu of the butter, and they started using the lard, aka animal fats. I guess it caught on because after the war, they never really went back to using butter, I'm guessing, but lard was probably cheaper to use, and by that time, everyone had grown accustomed to baking with it. So, this past Thanksgiving weekend, I made my first pie crust using butter, and I have to admit I was very dubious. I needn't have been, as you can see in the photo above, the crusts turned out flaky, light and the sweetness of butter added to the flavour. I also found it easier to work with, just as long as I kept the butter cold, it rolled out perfectly. So I'm now a convert, it's butter in my pastry from now on.
I'm kind of reassessing this. I made some butter tarts for this past Canada Day, it was our 150th Birthday so it was a big one and the occassion called for something truly Canadian. I made the butter based pasty and it just didn't cut it. With the tart forms being so small there was very little room for the pasty to flake up, so for butter tarts, it's back to using lard. But I'm sticking with the butter pastry for my pies!
I'm also a purist, I don't buy the pre-packaged, pre-rolled pie shells, and I don't buy the pie-filling in a can either. I cut up my own apples, peaches, or whatever fruit is in season that I'm working with, and make my own pie fillings. The end result is just so much better, and you control the sugar content. Often I use fruit I've gone out and picked myself so I do actually know where the fruit came from and what if any pesticides were used on them, also a bonus. For pumpkin, I buy the raw pumpkin and add all my own spices, and I love very spicy pumpkin pie, there is nothing worse than an orange pumpkin pie, yuck! Why bother making it at all, if that's what you're going to end up with. The fall is about warm fires, crisp walks in the leaves, mulled wines, and spices like ginger, nutmeg & cinnamon just seem to go along perfectly with them. I also insist on 100% pure whipping cream, that I whip myself just before serving. None of that canned stuff on my pies. If I'm going to spend a couple of hours making the pie, then I'm not going to allow someone to spray some canned crap onto it and ruin it. These are the things that make a difference in the experience of enjoying the pie. Here's a hint, if you have some whipping cream left over, add some in your coffee instead of the regular cream or half & half that you would usually use. It's yummy and goes great with the pie!
To take a look at some pie photos.