High Pies and Misdemeanors
July 31, 2007

Last night, I massacred a peach pie. Not in eating, but in cooking. It's totally my fault. The non-baker tried to embark upon two new baking things: double crust and fruit pie. I should never have tempted fate with task too bold.

If there's one thing that culinary school taught me about pastry, is that pie crust gives as good as it gets. Treat it rough and the crust will break your friggin' teeth. Give it a light, tender touch. and that crust will happily yield to the side of a fork and melt in your mouth. Having been assiduously trained in the "barely touch the crust" way of things, my crusts have always been so flakey, so delicate, so gentle that they are so much better than their contents.

The problem with that type of insubstantial crust is that goes all wilty under the weight of everything. So, after going over to the dark side and deciding that there was no abuse I could inflict on a raw crust that the fridge or freezer wouldn't poultice, my crust fears subsided. Which was, clearly, the perfect time for me to go all gung-ho on double-crusted summer fruit pies. Not content to simply try my hand at STREUSEL-TOPPED summer pies, oh no, I have to go all the way and meddle with a hard-to-handle, melting, fussy, double-crust, along with fruit that WON'T STOP WEEPING!

The first day was peach pie, and I followed Mark Bittman's recipe to the letter. What did I get? A peach pie with a crust that allowed oozings out of all the wrong places. But that wasn't the worst: when I cut into the pie and pulled out the first piece, all that liquid rushed into the empty space. Whuh? Bittman said I could serve it warm -- why all the weeping and wetness? I plated the sacrificial first piece and tried another. Collapse and more Biblical flooding. How did it taste? Well, the crust was its same old perfect self, and the peach...stuff was as transcendently delicious as summer-ripe California peaches can be, but the twain just didn't want to look normal.

Fine. While my husband busied himself with pulling off the crust and ravaging the peach pie's innards, I sourced some Cook's Illustrated recipes from The Dessert Bible and saw that they recommended letting the pie sit for at LEAST an HOUR (thanks Bittman. NOT!) to allow things to fully thicken and solidify.

The second day was a new crust recipe -- this one actually told dumb ol' me to make sure that the crust that went into the pie plate was larger in diameter than the top crust -- and blueberries. I still followed Bittman's recipe for the filling, and this time, my top crust held in the baking process without too many seeps. I also let the baked pie cool its luscious heels for several hours before attempting the first cut.

My pie bled. True, it bled a House of Windsor blue, but it still bled. I don't understand -- I used a thickener (2 tablespoons cornstarch per 5 cups berries), but it was still a mess on the plate. A delicious, amazingly addictive mess, but still, very much, a mess.

On the other hand, my husband tried to reason, "It's just that your fruit is TOO good, and it's got all this great liquid." And compliment, "It's got its own coulis built right in!" And burp, "So, can I have another piece or are you too mad?"

What the hell people? What am I doing wrong? The crust is fine -- if a bit insubstantial in its supreme daintiness -- but what's up with the fruit?

All I did was combine fresh fruit with a tablespoon of lemon juice, some minor amounts of spices, a little over 1/2 cup of sugar, and two tablespoons of cornstarch. That entire mass went into the bottom crust. The recipe never specified, but should I just have kept the dry ingredients that specifically clung to the fruit and discarded all else? Cooked and drained the fruit before adding it to the crust? Blind baked the base crust? Used tapioca instead of cornstarch? Does cornstarch ever go bad?

People, it's stuff like this that makes me whine annoyingly, "Whyyyyyy can't I baaaaaaake?" And no one likes a whiner.

All I can say is, Big Cheese (who is, among other things, a former pastry chef) better get her butt back from ACS pronto, because we're scheduling an emergency pie intervention.

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