Food Friday: Me Oh My! Pie!


One of my favorite movie scenes is when Andie McDowell is sitting in a cramped restaurant booth as she sings her pie song in the Nora Ephron movie Michael. This is a terrible copy: The character Dorothy is earnest and awkward and sweet – rather like one of my less-than-perfect pies.

The possibilities of pie are endless. And I do not mean just the numerical constant that is π: 3.14159… I do like baking a pie on March 14, π Day, but that is the end of my fascination with the number. I do not bake many pies a year, which is probably why I have never yet rolled out a round pie shell. Amoebas R us, even with our almost weekly home-baked pizza pie. Among the kitchen skills I would like to master: round, flaky pie crusts (and within that set, nicely plaited lattice tops for cherry pies); round, thin-crusted pizza pies, and bread that will not break a bone when it is dropped on my foot. You can have sweet pies, savory pies, cream pies, hand pies, fried pies, and humble pies.

With Thanksgiving coming next week there is pressure to bake something amazing – a Thanksgiving pie that will go down in family history, although, frankly, I don’t think anything is ever going to beat that Easter when the spider crawled out from under the freshly picked nasturtium on the lemon cheesecake. I have been looking at various pie recipes, and the beautiful versions that Food52 and the New York Times kitchens are sharing are quite intimidating. They can’t leave well enough alone, and have gentrified and gilded the lilies on all of the comforting pies from our childhood memories.

My mother baked a plain and servicable pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving, and it was very tasty, and we looked forward to it every year. It had a nicely crimped, evenly baked, homemade piecrust. I crimp awkwardly, and I have to remember to turn the pie around halfway through the baking process so the crust browns evenly.

Some years we had a lemon meringue pie, too. The lemon filling came straight from Jell-o or My-T-Fine, but the meringue was homemade and towering and diaphanous. Divine.

We used to know a couple who scorned ritual birthday cakes, and served pie instead. An apple pie for your birthday? You might as well rake leaves or fold laundry on your birthday, too, while wearing a hair shirt and practicing good posture. The pie couple has since divorced.

Our ritual birthday cake is a Boston Cream Pie. I am not being a hypocrite here – Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake. I bake a round, yellow cake, split it, slather one half with vanilla pudding, and pour a generous thick, gleaming coating of chocolate ganache over the reassembled cake. If I have tempered the chocolate correctly, it cools into a shiny, slick surface. Perfect for reflecting those myriad birthday candles.

It took a few years to master the art of the Boston Cream Pie. It was hit or miss for a while. There were the couple of times I was bent of heeding Martha who whispered tauntingly to me that the best way to slice the cake into two perfect halves was by using dental floss. She did not say to use plain dental floss. Our BCP had a faint hint of peppermint a couple of times, before I decided that the serrated bread knife did a masterful slicing job.

I can never remember my favorite ganache recipe and have to go look it up in a chocolate-speckled cookbook that opens to just one single recipe.It is really meant to cover an incredible flourless chocolate cake. I think I like the wicked requirement of bourbon, instead of the vanilla that the faint-hearted use.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon

Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides. (The ganache recipe is from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which I cannot find digitized or linked to any place. But if you need a good flourless cake recipe, drop me a line!)

So bake what you love on Thanksgiving. And as you gather together, think of past Thanksgivings, and remember to sing:

Me oh my
Nothing tastes sweet, wet, salty and dry
all at once o well it’s pie
an’ wet bottom.
Come to your place everyday if you’ve got em’
Me o my
I love pie”
-Andie McDowell

About Jean Sanders

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