Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Spy A Beautiful Pie

Week 2 of my culinary course covered all things Pie! We talked about the science behind making pie crust, the differences between pie dough and other kinds of dough, the different types of pans and tools that can be used in pie making as well as the difference between American pies and European tarts.... and then we baked!

When I think of pies, I think of classic American holiday flavors — the quintessential apple pie, the cherry pie and my personal favorite: the pumpkin pie. All of these pies are simple by nature and focus on the flavor of the filling rather than the decorative elements. While each of these pies can have decorative edges or toppings such as a lattice top crust, these are sturdy, no-frill pies at heart.

When I think of tarts, I think of the intricate and methodical decoration — fruit arranged with perfect symmetry, leaves shaped out of crust, whipped cream piped with precision. Compared to pies, the flavor of tarts is a secondary thought for me. I figure most tarts have some kind of custardy or chocolate filling and utilize fruit in its natural state as opposed to cooked down into a filling for pies.

What I learned in my class is that the only real difference between a pie and a tart is the shape of the pan it's baked in. Pie pans are cylindrical deep dishes designed to hold plentiful filling. Tart pans or dishes come in a variety of shapes and styles and are often very shallow compared to a pie pan. All tarts can be made as pies and vice versa.

Following a demonstration of pie dough making (by hand of course), each student selected a recipe they wanted to test. Ever the overachiever, I selected the one recipe in our booklet that was a double layer pie — a pie with a bottom crust as well as a crust (baked whole or in pieces) on top. Go big or go home, right?

Always sign your artwork (or mark it with a B)!

We took to our stations and got to work as our chefs made rounds to offer tips and suggestions, give instructions and offer feedback to the taste and look of our creations. As with the first week, sweet aromas filled the room immediately, rolling pins started working, knives started chopping, zesters were zesting and 4 hours flew by in no time!

Throughout the room, we were working on fruit and custard pies, blueberry white chocolate pies, lemon meringue pies and savory quishes.

My pie? Pear and Dried Cherry Pie topped with Leaf Cutouts.

Pretty isn't it?

To create this masterpiece, I prepped every component individually and then assembled each of the parts at the end. My teacher and master chef explained that this might be a good idea for a few reasons:
  1. My pears were not very ripe. They were delicious and flavorful but hard as bricks. My first step after rolling and refrigerating my pie dough was to cut up and roast the pears to a softer texture.
  2. Dried cherries react differently when cooked in an oven or over a stovetop with liquid and sugar — I cooked them over a stovetop with the already roasted pears, water, brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, and rosemary so that instead of drying out as they may have in the oven, the cherries soaked in the moisture and flavor of the other ingredients
  3. Baking my leaf toppings separately before assembling everything offered much more flexibility
I cut out my leaves with a paring knife — they are merely oblong disks with shallow cuts to depict leaf shapes and were far easier than I would have guessed!

I took a few pictures of my classmates' pies to show you the variety of incredible things that were made. 

Fruit pies following two different aesthetics — symmetrical and elegant vs. fun and playful (I love them both!)

The toasting of the meringue on the lemon meringue pies was very exciting to watch. One day, when I'm confident I won't burn down my kitchen, I'll want a blow torch like this.

Next week it's all about bread! Thanks for following this journey with me - I'm absolutely loving it!

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