Thursday, November 28, 2013

Holiday Pies

I'm writing this in Portland. We drove up early for our Thanksgiving visit so that we could spend a few days with Maria. She's the designated pie maker at all holiday events with her family and friends in Seattle and although they consider her a master pie maker, she looks to The Master and her mentor, Chef Verno, for cooking and baking tips and inspiration. In particular, this year she wanted to hone her pie making skills and learn the secrets of Verne's butter crust and his new rustic mini pies. Here's a picture of Maria with her teacher...and, yes, there is a cat on the counter!

We've been making and eating the rustic mini pies all summer. Not only are they a perfect size for two people, but they are quick to make and can even be made ahead, frozen, and then baked fresh when you're ready to serve. There's not a more forgiving pie. The free-form crust, which is one-fourth of a single crust, is rolled out to measure about 8" in diameter. Anything goes...misshapen, raggedy edges, more or less's all okay and they all end up with a rustic look that has pie-appeal!

Every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday Maria makes several traditional pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies. After collaborating with her mentor, she decided to mix it up a bit this year and make two traditional pumpkin pies, pecan pie bars (I'll get to that in a minute), and a few rustic mini pies, including apple and minced meat. We've found that whether making a full sized apple pie or one of the mini pies, it's best to partially cook the filling (thinly sliced apples, sugar, spices, butter, and apple juice). In the case of the mini pies, we use one cup of cooked filling for an 8" crust and bake it for 45 minutes if freshly made and 55 minutes if frozen. The filling may be frozen in the pie crust or separately, in which case it should be thawed and used in a fresh pastry. These little pies are a great do-ahead dessert...and I mean well ahead. They may be frozen for up to three months.

Now to the mincemeat...or should I say minced meat(less), which is what I'm calling the filling I made and canned. I know that mincemeat pie is NOT universally loved. But, I love it! My mother made it every Thanksgiving and Christmas and it was my favorite. The holiday season is lacking if I don't get at least one piece of mincemeat pie. Scanning my Ball book on preserving, I found a few recipes for mincemeat and decided to try it last week. I'll give you an idea of the ingredients ...apples, light and dark raisins, dried figs and cranberries, currants, minced citrus (including the rind), candied peel, spices, brandy, sherry, and apple cider. NO MEAT! Yes, originally mincemeat pie was a savory pie that included meat. But, not anymore. It's basically a dried fruit pie and it is delicious. I need to tweak my recipe just a bit, but overall it has an excellent, fresh taste of the mincemeat pie I remember having as a child. I canned the filling in 8 ounce jars - perfect for one mini rustic pie and perfect to have for those few people at a dinner party who like mincemeat pie!

As for the pecan pie bar, it's just that...a "bar". Imagine the same ingredients that are used in a pecan pie placed in a 9"x13" cake pan, baked, cooled, and cut into bars. One of our egg customers (and excellent cook and baker) gave us this recipe last week. She raved about it! From past experience with her recipes, I knew that we'd love it. The bottom layer is a typical butter crust, but it's patted into the pan and baked until golden brown. The top layer includes all of the usual ingredients found in a pecan pie, but slightly different amounts (an extra egg and a bit less liquid) so that the filling is firmer than in the traditional pie. We made 24 bars, although they may be cut smaller to yield more. They are the perfect finger-food to top off a festive dinner or to take home in a to-go bag! Ideal for a buffet table!

If you happen to be making a butter crust, here are a few tips from The Master:

1. Use unsalted butter;

2. Cut cold butter into very small cubes;

3. Add a few cubes at a time to dry ingredients in a food processor using the "pulse" mode;

4. Stop processing as soon as the pie dough comes other words, DON'T overmix!;

5. Chill before using;

6. Roll to desired size and place in pie dish and chill again before baking.
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