Thursday, March 27, 2008

Holiday baking stress

When I talked to my mother last week, something possessed me to volunteer to make everything but the ham for Easter dinner. We're not really a get-dressed-to-go-to-church bunch, and Dad's a chocoholic, so the holiday is pretty much about food and springtime in our family. So... spring eats would be things like asparagus, mom's lemon meringue pie and sweet, fluffy rolls like my grandmother always makes. And bacon. My aunt swears that there is very little that can't be improved by the addition of bacon.

Please note that I named other people in relation to some of the food choices. That's because these are items I have never made. I've never had to, mom and/or her mother always has. My mother is gluten-free, so that makes baking interesting at times. It generally means two pies (one with gluten free crust, which has it's own special challenges). I was confident I could juggle all of this noooo problem. Which isn't untrue... I can generally pull off family catering, but the no problem part should never be an assumption. I do it to myself every time, despite the "Abort Mission" faces my Better Half makes when he hears me rattle off menu selections and available time frame. "Don't worry" I say "it will be fine". It usually is... often with his help.

I had pie dough in the fridge leftover from a pie fit a few days earlier, and figured I could just use it for my lemon meringue. This is the point where I found out that pie dough really needs to be used the next day (not the day after the next day), and that I was completely unprepared for the rigors of pre-baking the shell. Don't laugh, it stressed me out! When I saw my first attempt, I shuddered... butter should never be applied towards something so nasty. Frankencrust met trash can in a matter of seconds. I bought a "pie chain" recently, for exactly this kind of thing, to keep the bottom crust from bubbling up. Wasted my money... not big enough, not heavy enough, and the sides slid down like a pair of queen sized pantyhose on a toddler. I now know that a pie plate full of good ol' dried beans would have been fine. Steve helped me mix up fresh dough, and I used that lame pie chain and another pie plate to force the crust to keep its shape, and it worked. Lemon filling from scratch... no problem. Meringue? Completely intimidating. I broiled it just before we left the house, and to my great relief, it was lovely. A nice high mound of fluffy sugar. We packed it carefully, and it was transported without event. Only to find out, when we pulled it out for dessert that meringue shrinks. A lot. I even piled it right to the crust, hoping to anchor it a bit. My mother tried to console me by admitting that she always has that problem no matter what she does. But the image of beautiful meringue skating around the lemon filling committed me to some research on this subject (anyone have any tricks?).

Rolls. One of those things that seem easy to make until you actually think about how much time it takes to let things rise. I didn't realize what a family tradition dinner rolls were for me until I found myself stressing out about whether or not these would be able to meet the expectation of our collective tastebuds, conditioned after years to Gram's parker house rolls. Thanks go to my other grandmother for the gift of her bread machine! On the dough setting it kneaded the rolls for me, and the recipe I used gave me very simple shaping instructions. A relief to my ugly-crust traumatized brain. They turned out quite well actually. Not the same of course, but I will definitely make them again.

Very rarely am I worried about trying new recipes. I usually dive right in, and grumble about the results later. But this time, it felt like I had the ghosts of the bakers in my life peeking over my shoulder. Worse, they were joined by the ghosts of those accustomed to eating their baking! I'm pretty conscious about family tradition, particularly when it comes to food, so I was a little surprised to discover this anxiety in myself. It really was fine, and the bacon in the scalloped potatoes was heavenly... and I just may have finally learned not to be such a smarty pants about my baking.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Weird Pie the First

It could have been a disaster to blog about, but it wasn't. I made an Avocado Pie last week. Think key lime but creamier. Crumb crust (store bought, not Heather's homemade yummy crumb crust), sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, egg yolks, lime juice and a mashed avocado. The recipe called for lemon juice, but never one to follow any instructions to a T... I'll try the lemon next time, as the lime dominated the pie and I'm not sure that was the intent. Once out of the oven, I poured on the sweetened sour cream topping and chilled it. It was pretty good! There was a bit of greeny avocado flavor and the creaminess of the fruit held through baking. The sour cream top was a nice contrast. It was a pretty pie, the avocado baked to a nice light green color - the same green people seem to want key lime to be, and I sprinkled lime zest on the white top.

The recipe came from a book called Blue Ribbon Pies, which takes recipes from state, county and local fairs. Most recipes are quite simple, with few ingredients. I may have to try the Southern Buttermilk Lemon Pie, or the Zucchini Pie next. The latter promises to taste like apple crisp!