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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