cooking

Pie failures

For Thanksgiving last year I made pumpkin pie. While I have made quite a few apple and strawberry rhubarb pies by now, I was not very experienced with making pumpkin pie, and my mom doesn’t really like pumpkin much, so she wasn’t that helpful in this case either. I did some research, and finally decided on a recipe from Sally’s baking addiction – I made my mom’s standard crust, but I did pre-bake it. Interestingly enough, about half of the pumpkin pie recipes I found said to pre-bake, while about half did not. I haven’t tried it without pre-baking, but it seems like a good idea to me, since the custardy filling is very liquidy when you put it in, and it seems likely that without pre-baking, it would tend to get soggy. So I decided to pre-bake. I had actually done this a couple years back, and remembered that the crust puffed up some, which I wanted to avoid. I had read about pie weights online, but I didn’t have any, and I also didn’t have any dried beans, which is another common solution. So I looked around my kitchen at what I could use to weight down the pie crust, and my eyes landed on my Hario ceramic pour-over coffee filter. That seemed like a good solution. I simply put it directly onto the crust and put it in for 10 minutes. It worked like a charm, almost as if it had been designed for this purpose.

Now it was time to put the filling in. But first I had to take the coffee filter out. I wish that I had a video of what happened next. It probably would win an award at America’s funniest home videos, or Tik-tok, or whatever it is today that people use. I suppose out of habit, I grabbed the coffee filter with my bare hand, even though I had just used my oven mitts to take this hot pie crust out of the oven about one minute earlier. It immediately registered what an idiotic thing I had done, and my first instinct was to throw the coffee filter across the kitchen, shattering it against the wall. In fact, it basically only cracked in one spot. I probably could have super-glued it back together, but I didn’t really want to be drinking coffee possibly tainted with super glue, so I threw it out. I ran my hand under cold water for awhile, and took some deep breaths. I think I was in a bit of shock, because I was feeling sort of light-headed. But it was Thanksgiving day, and the show had to go on! So I filled the pie, put it in the oven, and then asked Clare for a bit of help, and sat down to inspect my fingers, considering whether I should go to the hospital or not. I decided that it was just 2nd degree burn, not 3rd, and that I would survive. Clare put some aloe on it, and I put a bandage on, and drank some water. It took several weeks to fully heal, but it is fine now.

The pie turned out great though, so it was worth it. The whole family agreed it was the best pumpkin pie they had ever eaten, and I believe them, because they are very honest about these sorts of things.

PIe weights in the pie pan

Fast forward to today. Clare got me some ceramic pie weights for Christmas, and I wanted to try them out, even though it is just a normal Sunday, and not Thanksgiving. We happened to have several cans of pureed pumpkin, since it is very hard to find in Germany, and when we found it, we stocked up. My fingers are blister free, and the pie looks great, but I did have another failure along the way. Again, based on my internet research, about half of the instructions for pie weights that I found used aluminum foil, and the other half parchment paper. This may be a Europe vs. American difference. Germans use parchment paper very frequently, and it is quite cheap here, maybe $1-2 per roll. I seem to recall it being more like $4 per roll in the USA. It can get brittle though, and I worried that it might break as I was trying to lift the pie weights out of the pie plate, making a big hot mess. So I decided to try the 2 layers of aluminum foil approach. Unfortunately, the foil stuck to the crust, and I had to start over.

The foil stuck to the crust and ruined it

One of 2 things caused failure. Since I was more interested in eating pumpkin pie today than following the scientific practice of changing one variable at a time, I decided to cover my bases on the second try. I determined that the failure was due to either:

  1. Foil is too sticky, while parchment paper is non-stick by design
  2. I brushed the crust with an egg wash before pre-baking, and the egg wash is what stuck to the foil.
Successfully pre-baked pie crust

I mixed up another half recipe of dough and rolled it out and tried again. I did not apply the egg wash. I used one layer of parchment paper, and one layer of aluminum foil. I thought that this would be good insurance in case the parchment paper broke. It was a success! I then applied the egg wash after pre-baking, before I put the filling in.

I decided to add the recipe to my family website, and didn’t mention the failures there, but I did want to mention them somewhere. Especially in these days of Pinterest and Instagram, it is really easy to get the impression that everyone is making these incredible foods without making any mistakes along the way. I am fairly certain that is not the case for most people. And in fact, that is frequently one of the qualities of the late great Julia Child which people loved most – she let people see her flaws (apparently she never dropped a turkey on the floor and ate it afterwards, unlike what many people believe. ( but one of my cousins did once drop a beef roast on Thanksgiving on the floor, wash it off with water, and then serve it ( I was vegetarian at the time, so I didn’t have any, but I’m sure it was fine ))).