A Flour By Any Other Name- Why Not Just Any Flour Will Do (all the time)

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

So in addition to being an amazing piano teacher and partner, my wife Emily also tends to act as my editor. She doesn’t just proofread my work, but tests it for readability. IS what I’m writing actually coming across? IS the blog post actually meeting it’s purpose?

Sometimes this comes out by her asking follow-up questions. While she was reading through last week’s post on yeast and fermentation, she got to the part about the different sugars and starches present in wheat.

“Why does the yeast have trouble with starches?
“Why isn’t there enough alpha amylase in the wheat, and why does malted grain provide it?
“Is this why there are different kinds of flour? What’s the difference between bleached/unbleached/enriched/bread flour/pastry/cake/all purpose? Hey, you should write a blog about that!”

“Yes, dear.”

So this week, let’s do a deep dive on the science of flour!

… Ok guys, but I ain’t sweeping it up.
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It’s “Pie” Time I Wrote Something About This

Good morning, friends and neighbors!After last weeks “crash course” in chocolate, another discussion popped up that I couldn’t help but stick my beak in as the topic was very close to my heart:Hey everyone, of all things in the kitchen, I know next to NOTHING about fruit pies. Help?”

Bakers and chefs chimed in, and I scrolled through their responses before finally saying,

“Yeah, everything here is about right to my experience. Here’s a couple other things I do that you might find helpful..”

My friend from last time popped up. “Oh thank God, I was wondering this too. Have you written about this?”

I went back and found my previous pie-related entries, only to realize I NEVER COVERED FILLINGS.

“Dude, GET ON IT, and then send me the link! Maybe a video how-to?”

Well, I like to correct my mistakes, and I’m here to please, so strap in all. I’m going to take you through baking pies and my personal Top 5 Fruit Pie recipes! Video how-to will come soon!

So What’s My Deal with Pie?
Pie, to me, is the ultimate homecooking icon. It’s the real symbol of hospitality and comfort food (get out of here with your pineapple symbolism,) and it’s ingrained in our culture going back centuries:
“Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie…”
“American as apple pie.”
“Easy as pie.”
Beyond that, it’s also the most direct (and beautiful) example of my personal culinary philosophy:    Simplicity, with ElegancePie is, by its nature, not a fussy affair. It’s a crust with a filling. Simple in appearance, seemingly simple in execution. To make a truly excellent pie is a work of art and a demonstration of real craftsmanship. If something goes wrong with the crust, there’s NO HIDING IT. If the filling is off, there’s NO HIDING it. No icing. No sauce. No sprinkles. No piling a little mound of microgreens on top of a burned bit.Pie is honest. It is honest about itself, and about your skill as a baker. That is a beautiful thing. Pumpkin PiePumpkin Pie
Back when I was a kid, I loved pie- it just felt more… fun. I don’t think I ever had a birthday cake after the age of 10- simply because I always just wanted pie instead.
That’s something that persists to today, by the way. You know, in case anyone is in the Portland area in July. *hint hint* Cheddar Apple Pie
Cheddar Apple Pie

Crust And Assembly Recap!

As I mentioned above, I’ve done a couple of posts about pie before- one on making and handling a perfect crust, including my favorite recipe, and another on assembly once you have everything ready. You should really go read those first:
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: The Season Is Upon Us!
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: Pie of the Tiger
For those of you in a hurry, though, I’ll touch on the most important bits here. Since writing those, I’ve changed up my method a bit so I’ll include that here:
Pie Dough

My Favorite Recipe
(from The Joy of Baking. Good for 2 single-crust pies or one double-crust pie)

2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon (30 grams) granulated white sugar (leave out if you want it savory)
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 – 120 ml) ice water or other chilled liquid (experiment with different liquids to get interesting flavors!)
Herbs or Spices as you see fit

If you are using an electric mixer, freeze the butter. If not, chilled is fine.
Mix all the dry together, and then the butter until the mix resembles coarse meal (if making by hand, use your fingers or a pastry blender to cut in the butter. You DON’T want any large lumps. By keeping the butter chilled/frozen, you break up the butter before it can melt.
Add the liquid all at once. If it’s too dry, add a bit more. Your dough should be cold, but not wet or very sticky. Pulling apart a lump, you should be able to see layers inside. Split into two equal size discs, wrap in plastic and chill.

Basic pie dough is 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part liquid- hence, 3-2-1 Dough
Keep everything as cold as possible, and use as little flour as possible when rolling. Otherwise the dough will absorb it and dry out.
If your dough is shrinking back after you roll it, it means it’s been overworked. Let it sit for a few minutes before rolling again.
Pie Assembly

  • Mise en place, mise en place,
    After lining your pie tin, let it rest in the fridge.
    Cook your fillings ahead of time and store them. Hot filling + cold pie dough = melty, greasy dough.
    When sealing your pie, be sure to moisten BOTH pieces of dough with whatever wash you are using, and then crimp/fold to ensure a good seal.
    Egg yolk wash will make your pie look shiny and golden when baked, milk will make it look crusty and rustic.
    Got all that? Go look at those blog post for a bit more detail, as well as demo pictures!
    An assortment of berries

Basic Stuff

When it comes to fruit pie fillings, you can absolutely follow a (tested and proven) recipe, but between you and me, I rarely have one.
Want it a little sweeter? Add some more sugar! A little thicker? Add some more thickener. Remember- Baking is chemistry. With practice, you’ll understand which rules you can bend or break- and which ones you can use to have fun!

My Fruit Filling Ratio

4 parts fruit to 1 part sugar
8 parts sugar to 1 part cornstarch.Let me say it again here- this is not set in stone. This ratio will just give you a good idea for how to assemble a fruit filling. You should ALWAYS feel free to experiment and figure your own best recipe out!
Be a mad scientist!Is the Cornstarch Necessary?
Well, yes and no.
Cornstarch is a thickener, or a “gelling agent” in fancy industry lingo. It works better than flour, and is less expensive than other thickeners like arrowroot.
It’s a popular addition for people who make their own jellies or jams, and it’s often used as a vegan substitute for gelatin in cooking and baking.
Thicker filling- your slice of pie remains a SLICE. The filling stays in place, under the crust, picture perfect.
Thinner filling- you want a juicy, runny pie. You want the filling to go all over the plate, and you wanna lick it clean when you’re done.
In the end, it’s your pie! Experiment and do your own thing! PictureNo judgments- You do you!

To Pre-cook, or not to Pre-cook?

This is another one of those divisive questions in the pie world- do you pre-cook your filling, cool it, and THEN put it in the pie? Or do you let the filling cook and thicken in the shell?

Again, it’s up to you! For me, I personally like to pre-cook. It means I can spread out the time necessary to make a pie (having dough and filling made a day before means that I can just assemble and bake when I’m ready!)

It also leads to a thicker filling, since you are really just heating the pre-cooked filling and baking the crust.

How Do I Know When It’s Cooked?

Regardless of whether you pre-cook or not, the tell-tale sign that your filling is properly cooked is watching for bubbling in the vents of your top crust.As your pie bakes, the filling will bubble up. It’ll start out with small, fast bubbles- like a boiling pot of water. What you are looking for is the bubbles to come up slow and thick, like bubbling tar. That means that your filling has been thickened to the point that the cornstarch is well-cooked, and you’ll have thick, shiny goop!Alright, got the basics down? Here’s some of my favorite filling ideas! Depending on how big a pie you are making, some of these may make a bit too much. Hold on to it and make another pie, or just scale it down! 

Got all that? Good!

Here’s some of my favorite pie fillings!

The Über Apple Pie!

This is the pie I made for my recent blogs. It’s a fall favorite of mine, and a wonderful demonstration of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth OVERdoing!” The pie crust is seasoned with apple pie spice and made with apple cider. The filling gets dosed with Applejack Brandy, and the selection of apples just screams fall!
3 lbs Apples (my favorites are Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, and Honeycrisp)
½ cup of brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tbsp Brandy
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Cook over medium heat until the apples release a noticeable amount of liquid in the bottom of the pot.
Add the sugar, and whisk the cornstarch, spices, brandy, and extract together into a slurry. Pour in and stir regularly.
Cook until thick, with a shiny layer of goop forming on your spoon!

Blueberry Lemon Mint

Coming from New Jersey, summer meant BLUEBERRIES. Adding citrus to berry pies brightens them up and highlights their tartness, and the addition of mint lends an herbaceous, cooling feeling that makes this pie legitimately refreshing.
(adapted from The Joy Of Baking)4 cups blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup chopped fresh mint

Peach Jalapeño

Gotta love that sweet heat!

4 lbs chopped fresh peaches
1 lb. sugar
About 1 oz. cornstarch
Any spices you like (for a smoky hit, add a little ground chipotle pepper!)
A few jalapeno peppers, diced and seeded.

Cook as for the blueberry pie, whisking the dry ingredients into the cooking fruit, and adding the jalapenos at the end. Just like with the herbs, adding the peppers toward the end preserves their heat! If you cook them with the filling, they wind up just tasting like green pepper.Cherry Almond Cardamom

This is another go-to fall/winter pie! Despite cherries being very much a summer fruit, their combination with cardamom and toasty almonds makes this pie unnaturally filling and warming- like a hug in your belly, perfect for a cooler night in fall!Filling
4 lbs cherries (a mix of sour pie cherries and dark sweet cherries)
1 lbs sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
About ½ c toasted, chopped almonds
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanillaFollow the same directions as above, but this time mixing in the almonds.Tips and TricksFrozen fruit is fine to use, as is canned! Seasonal is obviously best, but don’t be afraid of getting the best frozen/canned stuff you can. If it’s canned, though, you don’t want to use the syrup or juice it’s in. Save that stuff for sweetening things later!Cardamom is awesome but a SUPER STRONG spice! Don’t overdo it on this one!

  • This pie demonstrates one of my favorite principles in flavor-matching- combining related produce! Cherries and almonds taste great together because they are actually closely related- as are almond and rose, and rose and peach! When putting flavors together, try keeping it in the family!

Strawberry Rhubarb with Goat Cheese and Black Pepper

Now this one is the master course, and a demo of everything we’ve gone over in this blog.
It’s creamy. It’s fresh. It’s spicy. It’s sweet. It’s YUM.Filling
3 lbs. Strawberries
1 lbs. Chopped rhubarb
1 lbs. Sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
4 oz. soft goat cheese
Black pepper, to tasteCook fruit and rhubarb as above, whisking the sugar, cornstarch, and black pepper together and adding together.
Before baking, spread or otherwise evenly distribute the goat cheese over the bottom of the pie shell. Pour fruit filling on top.There You Go!
Now you know how to make your own fruit pies, just in time for the holidays!
Think you’re family will be pleased? Which pie is your favorite?
Let me know in the comments!Stay Classy,

Eating Healthy, Part II- 5 Tips for Going Shopping and Beating Your Food Budget

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

No matter where you are on Earth, certain things drive food culture forward- geography, climate, population, social mores, and so on. Right at the heart of it though, from the salt-of-the-earth origins of cuisines all over the world- from the Soul Food of the Southeastern United States to the multifaceted mosaic of Chinese food- is economics, and the single question every cook asks:


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Making Time: The Need for Family Dinner

Good evening, friends and neighbors.
It has been months since I have had dinner with my family.
The last time I sat down to dinner with my family was when Emily and I were back in New Jersey for our wedding. Even with just two of us, Emily and I only get to sit down to a homecooked meal together maybe twice a week.
It’s quite a change from when I grew up, one I tend to feel often. It’s no surprise then that when I saw this early this morning, trawling through social media, it struck a chord.
I was extremely fortunate as a kid- I had both parents, one of whom (my mom) didn’t need to work. She became a librarian when my sisters and I were in high school/college- not through necessity, but because she was bored and wanted something to do.
The whole time she was a stay-at-home mom, though, my mother insisted on a family dinner every night, and that that dinner should be homemade. Of course, all stereotypes have a seed of truth to them- some dinners were hits, others misses (my father will tell you stories of black bean burgers, and nuclear-hot buffalo wings where the red color was entirely from paprika.)
Hit or miss, though, the intent was the same. Dinner was when the family talked. It was where we shared our day and our thoughts. Books were forbidden at the dinner table (quite the imposition on three exceptionally bookish kids. A common game when out to dinner was “Guess the literary work from the first line that I’m reciting from memory.”)
Comic books, toys, and any other diversion where likewise banned. It was family time.
Since moving away, I have missed those dinners more and more- not just the food, but the conversation. The experience of eating and sharing together. Living on my own has gotten me used to… well, being on my own.
I do enjoy my alone time. It’s when I do some of my best work, and when I can think most clearly. At home or out on the town though, the most enjoyable of those dinners I remember involve friends. They involve laughing, sharing stories and jokes, and just enjoying each others presence in our lives.
I talk a lot on this blog on the virtues of food as communication, as well as the economic and experiential joys of home cooking. Of all the things cooking communicates, though- the very best is love.
There is something profoundly primal about the emotional impact of sharing with, cooking for, and feeding others.
Looking after your friends and loved ones at this most basic, biologically necessary level communicates- in a way deeper than words can conjure- that you love them, care for their well-being, and want them around.

“The fact is, I love to feed other people. I love their pleasure, their comfort, their delight in being cared for. Cooking gives me the means to make other people feel better, which in a very simple equation makes me feel better. I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words. My Gruyere cheese puffs straight from the oven say ‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll look after everything.’

– Ann Patchett, “Dinner For One, Please, James”

Four years ago this month, my grandmother passed on- and some of my most treasured memories happened around her dinner table. Holiday dinners- when family would come from afar and gather around her huge dining table with the carved wooden legs- are some of the happiest moments of my life.
The food and drink would flow, the family would laugh and share jokes and stories. To quote Vonnegut, in those moments “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
In retrospect, that was one reason I became a cook and a baker- I wanted to help EVERYONE find those moments of happiness. Whether I was cooking for them, or teaching people to do it themselves, I wanted everyone to have at least one moment around their dinner table like I did.
You have a busy life, though. You have so many things demanding your time and attention. Dinners tend to be afterthoughts, and lonely ones- or when you are not alone, it is so easy to be distracted.
There’s a club for people that deal with that- it’s called “everyone.” I attend the meetings every now and then.

When I decided that I was going to get in shape, one of the challenges was finding the time. I didn’t know when was best, when I’d have the most energy, when I’d feel the most motivated- “when I’d have the chance.”

One of the biggest lessons I learned from that was “You always have time for the things you make time for.” Thirty minutes I spent dithering on the computer could be spent running. Time in front of the tv could easily be active.

The same applies to your family dinner- “you have time for the things you make time for.”

Pick a time after which you will NOT be disturbed by work or other activity. If that’s too much, pick just one night a week. Keep it open for family dinner, and keep it sacred.

That sounds dramatic, but it really is what you need to do- make that time or that night special, to yourself and the ones you love.

It can be a homecooked family dinner right out a Norman Rockwell painting- or just swinging by a friends place with Chinese take-out.

It’s not hard, or even a really big ask- but it can mean the world.
You don’t need to cook well- or even at all. You just need to BE THERE.
Be there to witness- to listen, to laugh, and to tell.
Be there to love the people you love- they will know.

It’s not that hard at all- and it’s worth it.

Stay Classy,

Culinary Drivers

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

As I said last entry, I try to keep things on here apolitical. I really hate bringing up social policy, economics, and other junk on here that would encourage any of my readers to assign me to a specific camp- or assign themselves to one. Instead, I like covering things everyone loves and can agree or disagree on good-naturedly: food and drink, and how to enjoy it.


I’ll drink to that!

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