No More Mr. Nice Pie

No More Mr. Nice Pie
Drawing by Retsu Takahashi

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving- DAY 1 Drew's Wild Nut Pie

I am so very close to the Thanksgiving pie finish line, I can almost taste it. Leaving work last night, the air inside the bakery was thick with a tangle of sweet apples, lemon and vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and just a hit of Jack Daniels. For the baked goods, not for the bakers. The flavors permeated the tiny bakery that has been pumping out a ridiculous number of holiday pies. Folks keep asking "how many?" to which I reply, "too many." People fabricate stories declaring they can't remember if they placed an order. Lies, flagrant untruths. There is no way to make people understand that they are not ordering t-shirts from the Gap. We can't just call the warehouse and have shipping send over an additional case of pies in assorted flavors. If one more person uses the word "fun" in conjunction with the phrase ‘working in a bakery over the holidays,’ I may lose my ability to filter my response. I might say, "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND??!” I could silence them with one quick roll up of my shirt sleeve so they can see where the oven door left it's mark on my forearm. The red burn mark is in lovely contrast to the pumpkin puree directly below. And for the very last time, no, no, NO to gluten free Thanksgiving pies.

Wednesday's forecast has thrown a monkey wrench into the pie retrieval mix. Everyone is panicked that the snow will fall before they can claim their baked goods. The line will snake out the front door, a disgruntled mob crowding the sidewalk. It conjures the scene in the Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast" when the angry townspeople, armed with pitch forks are crying "Kill the Beast!" One would think the holiday would bring out the cheery in people. I am here to remind you, it does not. 

In the midst of yesterday's Olympic bake-athon, I had a moment of unraveling. The bakers bench was covered in scraps of pate brisée, splashes of pumpkin, puddles of egg wash and sugar. Trying to maintain a safe distance between pie shells, buckets of pumpkin filling and a bowl of gluten free cranberry orange bread glaze, I uttered the following phrase; "This is when things start to get wacky and somebody's somethin' ends up in your whatever." My most eloquent moment of the day. My co-workers exchanged knowing glances. Clearly they share the sentiment that I am both crazy and nuts. There may be some truth to that.

I suppose you could say that I am crazy because I talk not only to myself, but to the pies in the oven. When I'm twirling the hot trays round and round again because there's a pronounced hotspot on the left side and I’ve overfilled the oven, I am indeed, a Pie Whisperer.

To the pumpkin pies, "Please don't crack, Please, oh, please, do not crack.... Just hold it together, will you?” To the apple pies, "Can’t you tuck your head, preserve your lattice integrity? There’s an oven rack directly above you- damn. Too close. Too late.” To the cranberry pies with the almond crumble, "Would you kindly bake yourselves golden, not dark brown?" This entire week my voice took on more of a stage whisper when I directed the pies to "Bake FASTER."

The pies can be deceptive, particularly the pumpkin, exiting the oven with just the right amount of jiggle in the center. Until you check back a bit later in the day to find that they betrayed you and there's a nice pronounced crack running down the middle. It's exhausting.

As for being nuts, anyone who bakes all day then returns home and bakes a little something in the evening should qualify as nutty. (Tonight I'm baking a Thanksgiving family favorite, Drew's Wild Nut Pie.) Admittedly, next week Thanksgiving will be drowned out by Christmas music and way too many cookie cutters vying for attention. There will be a brand new holiday to bemoan.

I am oh-so-close, and yet so many pies away.

Drew's Wild Nut Pie

all butter pie crust
2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teas. salt
1 teas. sugar
16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) cold butter, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup cold water

Combine flour, salt and sugar in bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade.
Pulse once or twice to combine.  Add butter to flour and pulse just until the butter resembles coarse meal.  With machine running, add cold water gradually through feed tube just until it holds together. Turn mixture out of processor bowl onto plastic wrap, form dough into a disc, wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
Roll dough approx. 1/8" thick, dusting with minimal flour to prevent sticking.  Line 9 and 1/2," pie plate with dough, fluting edges.  Chill crust then partially blind bake.

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 and 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 Tablespoon good quality vanilla extract
2 and 1/2 cups total, assorted nuts (I use pecans, cashews, macadamia, and walnuts)

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.
In the top of a simmering double boiler, combine butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup.  Stir over heat until butter is incorporated into sugar and corn syrup.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs.  Remove the sugar/syrup mixture from over the double boiler and gradually whisk the warm mixture into the eggs.  Take your time- you don't want to scramble the eggs.  Return the mixture to the top of the double boiler, stir in vanilla extract and continue gently stirring the filling until it is quite warm to the touch.  (On an instant-read thermometer, 130 degrees.)
(If you added your syrup to the eggs too quickly and you spy tiny flecks of egg, you can strain the mixture.). Spread mixed nuts into partially blind baked shell, pour pie filling over nuts.  Bake in pre-heated 300 degree oven for approximately 1 hour and fifteen minutes. (Once again, check your instant-read thermometer; the internal temperature of the pie should read 205 degrees.)

The pie must rest for several hours before slicing.  Torturous, but well worth it.

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