As onions saute in the kitchen and Tami sings along to Frosty the Snowman, I sit staring out a window that frames palm and cypress trees, layers of houses built into rising hills. I just got back from the beach. I’m south of San Francisco in a small coastal town aptly called Pacifica, with gloriously mild, sunny weather–not to mention babies, cats, friends, and delicious smells. I am thankful.
Christine and I went to a farmer’s market yesterday and then for an afternoon glass of wine at a small wine bar. Something about the way of interacting with the strangers we met, the casual California manner, made me so distinctly nostalgic for it. I am a Californian and can live anywhere, and can love many places, but something here connects to my synapses in a very visceral way. Doesn’t hurt that I’m surrounded by great people and sunshine and the ocean.
I think the thing I’m most thankful for is just capacity. The fact that I continue to be able to feel passionate about places and ideas, that I have so much love in my life. And that it doesn’t sort of ever reach its bottom.
We spent all day yesterday cooking, especially attending to the pie portion of the meal. Tami is a pie maven. She is known far and wide for these pies she makes, so naturally she lined up four for us to make for this extravagant meal. I’ve asked her to blog about them. And I’ve dubbed her the Pie-lette, for both her pie skills and her organizational (though not necessarily geographical) navigatory skills. Please note that, though she likes to make these pies, she does not like to eat pies. I dunno. Ask her.
Kate asked that I guest blog about my pie. Not a girl to turn down talking about my pie (nor to pass on an enjoyable double entendre), I naturally agreed. In anticipation of that great gluttonous celebration that is the giving of thanks, I baked four pies. For a dinner that will be attended by, at most, 6 adults and 2 toddlers. Most people view this as a very favorable pie:person ratio, made even more so by the fact that while I adore (baking) pie, I do not enjoy (eating) pie (usually).
My pie strategy is intricate. I spend months before gratitude-day reading about, and then test-baking pies. The menu is determined not as much by the size of the crowd (though certainly to an extent by the guests’ personal tastes and favorites), but by the success of my experiments. This year’s menu, the culmination of months of hard work and research, includes the following offerings: (1) Pumpkin Pie (x2, because we needed some pie after thinking about pie all day and could not possibly wait one whole other day for the consumption of pie), (2) Apple Pie (because people like apple pie), and (3) Pear Tart (because if anything is more fun than eating pie it’s eating a tart!)
The plan was to make first the apple pie, then the pumpkin, and finally the tart. But crust debacles intervened, and the tart decided to debut first. Hers is a simple crust, in a butter-rubbed dish, with pear halves dusted with cinnamon sugar on top. She’s lovely, and tasty, and an obviously rich addition to a day centered on giving thanks.
Pressed Pear Tart
from Real Simple
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for your fingers
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 c. sugar, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons
1 large egg
2 to 3 Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 c. apricot jam
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
whipped cream (optional)
Heat oven to 350° F.
Butter a 14-inch rectangular tart pan and set aside.
Combine the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and 1/2 cup sugar at high speed in a large bowl. Lower speed to medium, add the egg, and beat until incorporated. Gradually add the flour mixture until fully incorporated. The dough will be very soft.
Push the dough into the pan with floured fingers to form an even crust. Arrange the pear halves, top to bottom, cut-side down. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and the remaining sugar. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 45 minutes; let cool.
Heat the apricot jam and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mixing until combined. Remove from heat and brush gently over the entire tart. Serve with the whipped cream, if desired.
**** The Pie-Lette’s Apple Pie:
Next came the apple pie – a classic, deviation-free, retelling of Mark Bittman’s recipe. Being not in general a fan of pie (in this context), I especially abhor fruit pies. To me, they are like jello sandwiches. On Wonderbread. But, as with most food I cook, I bake apple pie to please others (most especially my father, an apple pie true believer). And this recipe, I have come to discover through years of reuse, is well-loved. I note also that this pie permitted us to introduce Kate to the apple corer-slicer-peeler that is pleasant on functional as well as aesthetic levels. She was appropriately enthusiastic.
¼ c. brown sugar
¼ c. white sugar, or more if you would like a very sweet pie, plus a little for the top of the pie
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg [I use jarred nutmeg, being obviously not as awesome as Mark Bittman]
5 or 6 Cortland, McIntosh, or other good cooking applies [we used 4 large Granny Smith]
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice [I squeezed mine straight from the plastic lemon in my fridge; don’t tell]
1 ½ tsp. cornstarch or 2 tablespoons instant tapioca (optional) [I view tapioca flour as essential, and cornstarch unthinkable]
2 pie crusts
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into bits
Milk as needed
Toss together the sugars, spices, and salt. Peel and core the apples and cut them into ½- to ¾-inch-thick slices. Toss the apples and lemon juice with the dry ingredients, adding the cornstarch or tapioca if you want a less runny pie.
Pile the apples into the rolled-out bottom crust, making the pile a little higher in the center than at the sides. Dot with butter. Cover with the top crust. Decorate the edges with a fork or your fingers. Refrigerate while you preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the pie on a cookie sheet and brush the top lightly with milk; sprinkle with sugar. Use a sharp paring knife to cut two or three 2-inch-long vent holes in the top crust; this will allow steam to escape. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for another 40 or 50 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown. Do not underbake. Cool on a rack before serving warm or at room temperature.
And finally, after a turkey brining and cranberry relish crafting interlude, it was time to bake the pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie is not an optional pie when it comes to Thanksgiving. It is the only sort of pie (well, not the only but among the few varietals) I am willing to eat. Again, I stick to tried and true Mark Bittman, though I have test-baked my way through dozens of recipes to determine that his is the best. I have used canned pumpkin and fresh, frozen crusts and scratch baked, all manner of spices and milks, and the below recipe provides the best spicy, sassy flavor and smooth, luscious texture. Mmmmmmpie.
¾ c. sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg [again, I used jarred nutmeg because we cannot all be Mr. Bittman]
½ tsp. ground ginger [which I omit as I am not a ginger fan]
Pinch ground cloves
2 c. canned or fresh pumpkin puree or cooked [I used canned this time; I find the texture preferable to fresh]
2 c. half-and-half, light cream, or whole milk [I have tried all, and prefer half-and-half]
Prebake the crust [at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, for about 10 minutes or as long as it takes to finish the rest of the filling preparation.] When the crust is done, turn the oven down to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beat the eggs with the sugar, then add the spices and salt. Stir in the pumpkin puree and then the half-and-half. While the crust is baking, warm this mixture in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it is hot to the touch; do not boil.
Place the pie plate on a baking sheet. Pour this mixture into the still-hot crust and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until the mixture shakes like Jell-O but is still quite moist. Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature.