Monday, December 26, 2016

Cherry Pie, Episode 2--Oops, Awws, and Ahhs

Previously in "Cherry Pie, Episode 1--the Newish Baker Challenge", I wrote that I would put the recipe in the next article (meaning this one). Well, this blog article WAS going to be about the complete cherry pie recipe process, along with a link to a YouTube video. However, a big snag came up. The big snag and other factors nudged me to write this interim article instead.

Oops and aww (biggest snag): My camera battery ran out before I could finish recording all of pie #2 process.

My camera died about halfway through the lattice-cutting stage. My final video will be a composite of steps I took for making pie #2 and pie #3. It'll be a Frankenstein assemblage of video clips and edits—more clips of the better results and omission of some of the not-so-hot ones. The entire recipe will be in Episode 3 article.

Oops and ahh: I missed integrating the butter into the dry ingredients, but the crust came out fine anyway.

I had forgotten the step of slowly mixing the cut butter into the stirred dry ingredients (flour, salt, sugar) before adding water. (I'd interrupted my dough process to eat breakfast.) I put the bowl of butter and dry ingredients into the refrigerator, to resume the process afterward in about an hour.

After breakfast, I resumed the dough process. I trickled icy water into the slowly moving mixer, watching for dough texture to become acceptable. After turning out the dough onto my floured work surface, I pressed it, folded it towards me, pressed, folded, left-right, pressed, wrapped in plastic wrap, and refrigerated it.

When I realized I'd omitted the intermediate step, I compensated by refrigerating the mixed, plastic-wrapped dough for about three hours before rollout. (Numerous sites recommend at least one hour.)
Anyway, the missed step did not affect the outcome of the crust. Two possible actions that might have helped the crust results:
  • Tossing the cut butter pieces through the dry ingredients, thus coarse-integrating the ingredients while coating the butter
  • Refrigerating the bowlful of butter and dry ingredients for an hour during my leisurely breakfast, thus chilling the ingredients before further mixing
For pie #3, I'll refrigerate the plastic-wrapped dough for only an hour and see if the crust quality differs.

Oops: The fruit fluid was a bit thick for my pasta drainer to strain the cherries.

For the fruit-and-sugar-overnight process, I used my pasta drainer, similar to the "Stainless Steel Pot Drainer with Handle". The task was awkward. The holes were a bit undersized for draining the viscous fluid from the cherries. Also, holding the drainer against the bowl was somewhat unwieldy.

I decided to root around my kitchen gadgets for a more suitable straining device. Next pie, I'll try my fry basket, which resembles one from Lionsdeal. One possible workaround for easier draining is warming up the fruit mixture in the microwave until the fluid becomes runnier.

Oops: The length of the new Joseph adjustable rolling pin overspanned the existing cutting board that I used for dough rollout.

The cutting board I used was 13 inches wide. The roller (between the gauges) measures more than that, thus, making the roller's thickness wheel gauges ineffective. I've bought and will use a 16" x 16" plastic cutting board that will more than accommodate the roller.

Aww: My latticing skills still need work.

My pressing down of the rectangular cooling rack didn't help me with cutting lattice strips very straight. Next pie, I'll use a pizza cutter with cooling rack together to make the cuts. It'll be like using an X-Acto knife and a straightedge that has yoked multiple edges.

Ahh: My crust for pies #1 and #2 seemed tough as time passed, but dough treatment wasn't the reason.

The key is that refrigerated pie crust gets harder because of butter getting more solid when chilled. The day after the pie was in the refrigerator, I cut a piece and warmed it in the microwave. Eureka! Yummy pie with tender crust! The Other likes his pie cold, and my entreaties to warm his were soundly rejected. Anyway, if your cooled-down pie crust seems tough, warm it up.

Speaking of pie crust, I did some research on economics of DIY crust. Ingredients are cheaper for homemade, and you know all the items you're putting in. Prices are approximate, and YMMV for amounts, as humidity and measurement methods can differ.

For scratch crust ingredients, the most significant for cost are flour and butter. I'm excluding cost and weight for sugar and salt, as their bulk and cost impacts are negligible. Estimates:

flour (~ $2 for 5 pounds, estimation of 20-25 cents for 2 1/4 C flour)
butter (~$3.50 per pound, estimation of $1.30 for 3/8 pound)

Calculating about $1.50 for ~9 oz flour, 5 oz butter, 6 oz water and weight of about 1 1/4 pounds (20 oz).

For pre-made crusts:
Ahh: I discovered that baking the pie at one temperature was as effective as baking initially at higher temperature, then lowering it.

I baked the pie at 375° for 30 minutes, placed my pie shield on it, and baked it for another 30 minutes. Upon cutting it open three hours later, I felt that another 5 minutes baking might have browned the underside more without burning it.

Ahh: The fruit sauce held together well, barely pooling. By the last day, only a little of the sauce pooled. Incidentally, this pie lasted us only three days; pie #1 lasted four days.

One more incidental: This unbaked pie weighed 2 pounds, 15 ½ ounces with pan; pan weighs 2 ounces. The baked pie and pan (20 minutes after removal from oven and reweighed ~ 1 hour later) weighed 2 pounds, 14 ounces. Net weight loss through water vapor evaporation was 2 ½ ounces.

Visit "Cherry Pie, Episode 3--Using Frozen Cherries and Scratch Crust Ingredients", my assessment of cherry pie #3, which also includes links to YouTube video segments for making cherry pie.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cherry Pie, Episode 1--the Newish Baker Challenge



This article is an assessment of a cherry pie I made last month. I'd not made a scratch pie in many years—scratch meaning pie dough from scratch ingredients and fresh filling. My recollection of the most recent crusts were frozen pre-made ones in pans or rolled up disks, all of which required thawing. They were really convenient! As for filling, the previous cherry pie was years ago that required two cans of filling. Or maybe they were cans of fruit that I needed to make cornstarch sauce.

Anyway, I wanted to try my new tilt-head stand mixer for pie crust, hoping to save shoulders and arms from elbow-grease effort of a manual pastry blender. I pored over numerous sites for guidance for pie making, particularly crust ingredients and processes. For the cherry filling, I decided I'd use frozen cherries rather than fresh that would need pitting, or canned, whether they were pre-sauced or required fluid thickening.

The big-picture pie-making process is as follows:
  1. Acquire two pie crusts or make your own. Ingredients are flour, fat, salt, sugar (optional), and water. The amounts vary from recipe to recipe. The sequence of additions and process are similar among recipes.
  2. Acquire filling or make from ingredients you buy. For fruit pies, ingredients are mainly fruit, sugar, cornstarch or other thickening agents, and fluid. The sequence of additions and process are similar among recipes, but can vary widely.
  3. Assemble (crust in pan, then filling, then "vented" top crust), and bake. Single-crust pies can require pre-baking. Lattice-top pies provide venting as well as decoration. Temperatures and durations vary widely among recipes. Some recipes include extra efforts and more items than others. A pie crust shield or foil at the rim is helpful for avoiding edge overbaking.
My pie tasted good, but had some issues that I hope to improve my process for the next pass. Before I get into the next-time discussion, I'm noting some innovations I implemented.

Home Innovations
During my research of pie making, I thought of implements that I had that might help in my pie making.

 Using a Vintage French Fry Cutter for Cutting Butter
I saw various approaches to butter use—tablespoon slices, pat-size slices, 1 cm (.39”) cubes, and whole-stick. I myself used a hand-held French fry cutter and butter knife to easily cut butter into cubes as follows:
  1. Halved one stick so three sections are small enough to fit the cutter sideways.
  2. Pushed the cutter halfway down.
  3. Used the butter knife to cut at the grid wires.
  4. Pushed the cutter farther down.
  5. Used the knife to finish pushing the rest of the butter from the opposite side.
Using Two-Color Alternating-Stripe Cutting Board for Dough Surface
I used a cutting board (12” x 13”) that had alternating dark and light wood sections. The size was helpful for easily rotating the dough 90° at a time during rolling out time. The stripes, although not consistent widths, were helpful guidelines for cutting the lattice strips.

Post-Pie Implementation Thoughts
The thawed cherries were fragile and required tender treatment when stirring in 1 C sugar. Next time, will stir sugar with the frozen cherries, then refrigerate so the cherries juice up and thaw overnight. Stirring will be minimal the next day.

The baked pie crust seemed normal the first day, but seemed tougher in the three subsequent days. I might not have handled the dough as well as I could have. Next time, I will try improving methodology and equipment.
The latticing was awkward, and I ended up with three strips for one axis and five in the other axis. Next time I’ll cut 12 strips and be more methodical about weaving them. (For marking strips, I'm going to use a cooling rack and pizza cutter—press the rack's rack wires along the top crust, then cut the strips.) Some sites for latticing guidance:
The fruit sauce pooled somewhat at the bottom of the pie, even on the fourth day. Next time, I’ll drain the fruit liquid more thoroughly into the saucepan and be sure that the cornstarch sauce thickens up well.

Additional helpful links—admittedly mostly crust-centric:
Note: Pie pan size selection will greatly influence the amount of ingredients and time required for baking. The pie pan I used was an 8" Marie Callender metal pan (~1 1/2 pints water capacity), which was a good size for my fruit filling (1 pound rozen cherries processed with sugar, cornstarch, and water).

Visit blog articles of my other two cherry pie learning processes.
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