I'm going to go ahead and rate this after my second pie, Honey Pumpkin-Date Pie with Marshmallow Topping (pg. 288). The previous pumpkin pie I made out of this book (detailed below) was good-but-not-repeatable - I would never make it again, but it was a fine experiment. This one - now this is fantastic. I made my first graham cracker crust which seems silly - how many pies have I made? Dozens - but store-bought has always been so wonderfully easy. (The only thing is that those crusts tend to be the teeny tiny 8" kind, and this calls for a deep dish, so beware if you go store-bought.)
The filling though, omg. More your traditional custard, but very light and velvety. The pie is sweetened with both honey and molasses, so it has this burnt edge to it like gingerbread or molasses cookies. The dates settle on the bottom and plump into an almost nutty layer. Jeez, it's so amazing. I left off the marshmallow top, because that makes me sneer - why would you go through all the bother of making this from scratch and put marshmallows
on it? - philistine. But then, I swear to god, I bought whipped cream from a can and slathered that over everything. My snobberies are inconsistent.
I'm certain to make more out of this book, and I get the feeling even the failures will be good experiments. I'm not going for five, because writer has this annoying tendency to say things like, "If you find yourself making this sort of crust often, keep a box of graham cracker crumb on hand rather than starting with crackers and grinding them yourself." You think, Sherlock? I like when cookbook-writers assume I'm going to need every step laid out - I can skip over the stuff I know - but don't talk down to me. (And, as a related aside, I find I like cookbooks that don't necessarily yield great results just because I like the persona of the writer, and the reverse. This guy, I don't dislike him, but he's kind of a fussbudget and can lecture from on high.)
I'm not rating this yet, as I think I should make a few more pies out of this book before I decide. A few years ago I made an effort to learn how to make pie - read: how to make crust - because my mother's side has some astonishing pie-makers, women whose pies are still spoken about with reverence, despite the fact that the pie-makers are long-dead, and the pies long-ago eaten. My grandfather, who was an admittedly maudlin man, with a worshipfulness about his mother that is hard to find in generations born after the first world war, would nearly weep when he spoke of his mother's peach pie. I'm named after her. My mother's cousin, Grace, appears at every family function with two pies that are so casually amazing that I understand his tearing up.
When I was learning to make pie, I started with store-bought frozen crusts, because might as well learn how to roll before learning how to make the crust. This book follows my opinion that the "advice" about rolling out dough between pieces of wax paper is unhelpful advice. Everything slips around in a frustrating manner. Just flour the board and the pin liberally and keep flouring if things start to stick.
When I started making dough myself, my biggest mistake was that I worked the flour into the butter too much, so that the meal was like fine-grained sand. (Crust is pretty much just flour cut into butter, with water to hold it just together. Anything else is optional.) Bigger grains, with visible bits of unmixed butter, lead to a flakier crust - something about the steam the butter gives off. While it is true that you should strive for as little water holding the crust together as possible, I would argue that for someone just learning, too much water is better than not enough. Too little water will make you cry with frustration when you go to roll out the dough; too much, and you have to flour like crazy when you roll it out, but that is a better problem. I have shed tears over this, I assure you.
So I started with a pumpkin pie recipe, because I had a bunch of squashes from my CSA, and I hate squash. My hatred is the edge of an allergy to sweet potatoes, and something about squash reminds my palate of sweet potatoes. Barf. But pumpkin (or squash) pie is secretly a custard, a colloid of orange hanging in a matrix of dairy and eggs, and that is enough for me to get over my distaste of orange vegetables. (Not you, carrots.) I've made a lot of pumpkin pies in my day, mostly using The Fannie Farmer Cookbook: Twelfth Edition.
Which brings me to another thing. The Fannie Farmer book - and I'm talking about the late-70s edition - is seriously old-school in its sensibilities - there is way too much sugar in any given recipe (as a general rule, the sugar can be cut by half), but there is very little mucking about parceling ingredients into sixteen bowls and then mixing them together all dainty-like. From what I can tell, this book fails the too-many-freaking-bowls test. There is nothing wrong with mixing the wet ingredients, and then dumping all the dry ingredients on top. I do not have staff to wash all those dishes.
I started with a pumpkin pie recipe that uses maple syrup as a sweetener based on the scientific method of what ingredients I have in the house right this second. Halfway into the recipe, because I did not read through it twice like you're supposed to (which is good advice, and given by this cookbook) I figured out that the filling required a cup and a half of flour. This is sheer ungodly madness, I thought, but I was too far in to disengage. Pumpkin pie is a custard
, for crying out loud; flour has no place in this. So I made it, and spent the next 24 hours poking at the weirdly solid top of the pie - springy like bread - and wondering if I had just wasted a lot of time and squash.
But it turned out to be totally good. I expected, because of the flour, for the pie to be grainy, but it reads more like a fluffy bread pudding. The maple syrup adds a smoky finish, though I would say the pie is too sweet. (I like my pies to be close to unsweetened so the feel of the fruit is forefront, but that is just me.) As far as the crust goes, I ended up making an all-butter crust, because I was out of margarine. I'm a firm believer in the half-butter, half-shortening crust - all-butter is too hard, and all-margarine is too soft, but together they are just right. And twss. There are a number of crust recipes here I need to try, like one that includes ground nuts, and variations on the graham cracker crust that look interesting. All of my ancestral pie-making ladies made crusts with lard, which I have tried, and lard makes really spectacular crusts, if you are okay with the eating-animals thing. The only thing to note is that lard makes for a saltier crust than usual, so it doesn't work for some fillings, like straight custards.
I'll try the pumpkin recipe that calls for dates next - yum - so I'll deliver my stars at that point. So far, we're at at least three.