Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Rules

I've had some people ask me a few questions about the boundaries of this challenge I've undertaken. If you've got others, please leave them in the comments and I'll address them there.

1. Am I allowed to make repeat pies? Yes. I figure asking me to make 1,000 unique pies while I and the ones I love have clear favorites is a bit much. Also, I try not to go too wildly astray from seasonally available ingredients. I often will use a similar ingredient that I have on hand instead of going to the store to buy something as well, thereby slightly altering one apple pie from another.

2. Can I receive help in making any part of the pies? No. I've decided to do this thing myself, so I have not counted any pies that my husband or others have helped with.

3. What about tarts and galettes and things? Those don't count. While I may make some on occasion and post about them here, they will not go toward the pie tally.

4. Do meat pies count? Yes. I feel that savory pies are true pies as well. In fact, I have plans to make a chicken pot pie or two in the near future. In "Humble Pie", Anne Dimock writes that some consider fruit pies to be the only true pies. I am not one of these purists and will make custards, creams, meats, etc. in addition to fruit pies.

5. Are all of the pie recipes you use your original recipes? No. Wherever possible, I will post the link to the recipe or state which book it comes from. However, if I feel I have altered a recipe enough to call it my own, I will write it out for everyone.

6. Can I use prepared ingredients like frozen crusts and canned fillings? No, that's totally cheating and I have no desire to ruin a pie experience that way.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Homecoming Pie

What better way to arrive home from a conference than to an enormously pregnant wife and a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie? I usually hold off on making this until husband's birthday, but it's only a couple weeks away, so I thought I'd kick off the celebration early. Whole Foods had a tempting display of local rhubarb, so I went for it. Though the organic strawberries are from California. Shame on me.

Strawberry Rhubarb Homecoming Pie (filling for 9" pie)
1.5 lbs. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2" thick slices
16 oz. strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered depending on size
1/2 c. brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 c. white sugar
5 T. flour
1 t. ground cinnamon (I used Penzey's)
1/4 t. salt

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a large bowl. Line your 9" pie dish with the bottom crust. Pour and heap filling mix into crust. Set upper crust on top. Trim edges and seal (I use a fork to crimp the edges). Cut a vent into the top crust. Bake at 400 F for 20 min, then reduce oven temperature to 350 F and bake for an additional 35-40 min. When magenta goo erupts from the crust vent (or other cracks in the crust), the pie is generally done. Serve warm.

Current Pie Tally: 15 (9 in 2009; 6 so far for 2010)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Additional Notes on Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

The Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie was delightful. I couldn't distinguish any difference in flavor as a result of using some lime juice and the taste was plenty citrus-infused. Also, no one got sick, so the egg yolks were fine. Next time I make this pie, I'll use the 9-inch pie plate instead of the 10-inch. That way I can heap the meringue on top more obnoxiously.

In an attempt to simplify my life and pie and avoid using unnecessary processed ingredients, I did some research on cream of tartar before deciding to go out and buy some since I didn't have any on hand. I have made this pie without cream of tartar before, but admittedly the meringue did not come out as fluffy or creamy. Regardless, if you make this pie with or without cream of tartar, expect that some little liquid blobs will start to separate out of the meringue after a day or two. I think it's liquid sugar, but don't hold me to that. If you look closely at the top of the pie slice in the photo, you can see a few pools.

According to, cream of tartar is the culinary name for potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate, a byproduct of winemaking. Crystals form during the fermentation of grape juice or on the underside of a cork in wine bottles that have been stored at temperatures below 50 F. In its crude form, cream of tartar is referred to as "beeswing". The processed cream of tartar is a white, odorless, acidic powder that is often used to stabilize egg whites, prevent the crystallization of sweet syrups, or reduce the discoloration of boiled vegetables. It can also be combined with baking soda to create baking powder or with potassium chloride to create salt substitutes.

I feel it is also necessary to comment on cornstarch. I generally avoid using processed forms of corn (high-fructose corn syrup and corn syrup being high on the list), and plan to phase out my use of cornstarch once my current box is finished. A friend of mine said she uses arrowroot starch instead, so I'll give that a try. If it works as well in making Chinese food (my husband's specialty), I will switch permanently. Some of you may be wondering what to do about the corn syrup called for in some pies. I substitute any other naturally sweet syrup instead. I use molasses most often, but if a recipe calls for a large amount of corn syrup, I will probably use a combination of molasses and maple syrup or honey. Large amounts of molasses carry a VERY strong flavor. I haven't tried using sweet sorghum syrup yet, though I just picked some local organic Wisconsin stuff up at the farmer's market this past weekend. It is said to be comparable to molasses, so I look forward to trying it. I'll let you know how it is.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

For this pie, I used this recipe, except that I used a mixture of lemon and lime juices instead of pure lemon juice. Things were going smoothly, until I failed to read the line in the directions that reads, "Simmer mixture, whisking 3 minutes." I had already whisked in the butter, lemon-lime juice, and zest before I caught my oversight. Considering this is the part that involved raw egg yolks, I decided to put everything back on the burner and do the 3-minute simmer-whisking with all the citrus goodness and butter having already being added. Doing this thickened the mixture up a bit more and most likely cooked the egg yolks sufficiently. Hopefully, I didn't lose any citrus flavor to evaporation in the process. I'll let you know after I try a slice.

For meringue novices out there, here are some tips, complete with the first video clip to adorn the blog! When it says to beat until soft peaks form before you add the sugar, it took me about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed on my mixer. The resulting liquid was white and frothy (small bubbles throughout) and made little mounds when I dipped a spoon in. After I added the sugar, I beat the mixture on high for about 5 minutes, until it looked white and creamy (like whipped cream) and you could see clear swirls forming from the electric beater. For a look at "just until stiff peaks form," check out my video clip:

Current Pie Tally: 14

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Organic honey graham cracker smeared with Skippy Natural peanut butter and dappled with semi-sweet chocolate chips. Washed down with a glass of organic 2% milk (Sassy Cow Creamery). Interestingly enough, the chocolate chips are leftover from a Derby Pie I made a month or so ago.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Rolling Pin

You don't need a fancy rolling pin to make pie crust. In fact, I'd recommend holding off on buying one until you've made about 20 pies. In the interim, try a bunch of different bottles and things to get a feel for the weight and size you prefer. When I was living in Vienna and baking my pies in a Coleman camping oven (a metal box that sat on top of my stove-top burner), my makeshift rolling pins included thermos bottles, empty wine bottles, full wine bottles, and partially full rum bottles - whatever was on hand at the time. Just be sure to wash and dry the surface of your "bottle" before and after using.

Now that I've been reunited with all my stuff in the US, I have my proper rolling pin back. This one is a solid piece of pine and was a gift from my mother. I think it came from T.J. Maxx and is probably about 10 years old. It's fairly modest as far as rolling pins go, but in many ways I think that makes it a superior tool. It doesn't flaunt any moving parts or fancy heavy marble barrel. It is very lightweight and easy to control, so that I can get my pie crust just as thick or thin as I want it and even throughout. My only complaint is that pine is a weak wood, and this rolling pin does get dings and dents easily. So, I have to be careful when washing, handling, and storing it.

You might be able to tell from the photo that this one is also starting to lose its finish. I consider the weathered look a mark of pride in having used it well over the years, but I do have a tinge of worry about having to replace it someday. If I had to decide on a replacement now, I think I'd get something similar, but made of a sturdier wood - maybe a fancy varnished log of cherry wood.

On the pie horizon, my father in law and his wife are coming to visit this weekend. Which means enough people will be around to warrant making a pie. The top contender right now is Lemon Meringue, so I can use up the lemons and limes leftover from the party last weekend. Stay tuned...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mini Pumpkin Tart Wedges

In my party-going and party-throwing experiences over the years, I've learned a thing or two. One is that bite-size desserts are much easier to eat. They tend to be more popular also, perhaps because the diminutive size offers less guilt. So, for the bash I threw recently, I decided to make these mini pumpkin tart wedges.

The recipe is adapted from the Pumpkin Pie recipe in "Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook." I did not get all fussy with the crust like she did. I used Anne Dimock's Pie Chart for Piecrust* in the book "Humble Pie" and made enough dough for a one-crust pie. I also used up a couple dough scraps I had in the freezer. The end result was six 4.5-inch tart shells. (Wedges from five are in the photo.)

Another adaptation lies in the preparation of the filling. My husband made the filling for these, and they aren't in the form of a true pie anyway, so they won't go toward the pie tally. For this filling, winter squash was used instead of pumpkin. Also, the exact proportions are probably a bit off compared to Martha's recipe. We use a higher ratio of squash to other ingredients, so that no squash is wasted. My husband initially made a large batch (maybe a double or triple recipe) and froze any extras. These tarts are the remnants of those frozen extras. Not a tart wedge was left standing at the end of the party, so I'd say they were a hit.

current pie tally: 13 (still)

*I use unsalted butter instead of shortening in my crust (in the same proportion).

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Homemade egg salad on sauerkraut rye.

Egg Salad:
12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped
1/4 - 1/3 c. mayonnaise
1 T. Dijon mustard
handful of chopped fresh dill
handful of chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Don't Fill Up on Bread

It occurred to me that some of you faithful readers might get bored sitting around waiting for the next pie project. One thousand pies in a lifetime isn't exactly a whirlwind pace. So, I'll do my best to woo your affections throughout with posts related to the daily happenings of a Midwestern Pie Princess. For this one, we check in with my faithful bread machine.

I stopped buying bread* after moving back to the US from Austria, where fresh amazing bread is very affordable and addictive. The high-fructose, hydrogenated crap we peddle on our supermarket shelves in the US doesn't measure up. The book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver, inspired me to shanghai my mother's forlorn bread machine (used maybe twice). In the book, Kingsolver's husband divulges how you can make hearty and healthy homemade bread from scratch with one of those bread machines of yesteryear. I Googled some recipes and have been adapting them to my liking ever since.

My recent favorite is this Cinnamon Raisin Bread:
3/4 c. warm milk
1 T. butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 T. white sugar
2 t. cinnamon (I recommend Penzey's)
1 t. salt
2 c. bread flour
2/3 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t. bread machine yeast
1/2 c. raisins, heaped
1/2 c. walnut pieces, heaped

Place the first six ingredients into the bread machine first. Then, add the flours and yeast. Select the Fruit & Nut Bread Cycle (light crust if possible) on the machine and push "Start." After about 10 min., open the machine and add the raisins and walnuts.

*I still occasionally buy fresh-baked baguettes and the like.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The First Step

At the Easter dinner my husband and I attended yesterday, the hostess officially challenged me to blog about my journey on the Path of 1,000 Pies. So here I am. Easter seems like an appropriate time for such an undertaking. New birth. New beginnings. A call to serve...pie.

I brought two apple pies to Easter dinner and received rave reviews: "I can tell you're an experienced hand at making that crust" (Uncle Bob) and "Those pies you brought were delicious! Thank you for bringing them" (Marcia, the hostess).

Partly, making the pies was an exercise in the humane demise of some less-than-great apples I picked up at the Dane County Farmer's Market last weekend. Yes, I know that it is not currently apple season, but they were locally grown and stored in a fancy-sounding humidity-and-temperature-controlled environment. So I bought them. Lots of them, probably about 20, thinking I would eat some fresh and make a pie with the rest.

After choking a couple down, I decided to make two pies instead of just one. They weren't awful; they just weren't the Macouns I know and love. They had more of a McIntosh consistency (quite soft) and the flavor was watered down and rather bland. I recently received a birthday card that read, "Birthday cake is just about the happiest outcome flour can hope for." Pie was the happiest outcome for these apples.

Current pie tally for 2009 and 2010: 13 pies (15 if you count two pumpkin ones that my husband made the filling for)

Easter Apple Pie Filling Recipe (we'll get into crust later); makes one 9-inch pie:
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/8 c. lemon juice
1/8 c. apricot/pear juice
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 T. molasses
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. ginger
1/8 t. allspice
8-10 peeled & cored Macoun apples, sliced about 1/3" thick

In a large non-metal bowl, stir together the sugars, juices, flour, molasses, and spices. Fold in the apples. Pour the mixture into your pie shell, including all the juicy goo at the bottom of the bowl. Roll out your remaining crust and place over the filled bottom shell. Trim and crimp edges and slit or cut a hole in the middle to allow steam to vent. Bake at 450F for 15 min., then reduce heat to 350F and bake for 35 min. more. Allow to cool and serve warm.