>20 Pies in 2018 (and why setting goals is a bad idea)

I made more than 20 pies in about 40 weeks. I didn’t set a goal. I didn’t feel bad when I didn’t have time to bake or blog. I simply enjoyed baking and sharing these beauties, while messing up and learning.

In other decades of my life I have set goals–to train for a half marathon, to plan a new course, to lose weight, to finish a first draft of a novel. Routine and habits help me eat the elephant. But in every case, after days and weeks of making myself do the thing I used to enjoy, I’d hit a time when I just didn’t feel like doing the thing, but I’d kick myself into guilt for not doing it, and then feel bad about myself while I was doing it. In the end I always felt good that the thing got done, the elephant eaten, and all that jazz. There was just no need to make myself feel bad about something I was supposed to enjoy.

So, with this series of pies, I found my way to have a hobby that I love without feeling bad about the time it takes from my obligations. Sharing the pictures, the fun, the mistakes, the mess, and the taste of these pies from SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR was a highlight of my 2018 year. Here are my pies, and if you keep scrolling, I added a set of favorite pictures and bloopers.

When it can’t get any worse, you might as well smile and eat some pie.

I got a new cookbook yesterday as a gift from my daughter. It’s a bread cookbook, so someday soon stop by for a peek at Bread 1.0.

Pie 18.0

Pie 18.0

Let’s cheer up this black Friday. The turkey drippings and butter have been wiped up, the pies cut, and the Alka Seltzer and Pepto consumed. We slept off whatever we overdrank or ate. Coffee pot is gurgling, dear husband (DH) still snoozing, and it’s time to blog a pie.

Pie 18.0, chosen by my DH and called “Life’s a Rocky Road Macadamia Mousse Pies” on page 141 in the SUGAR BUTTER FLOUR cookbook, was constructed in three dozen easy to follow steps side-by-side with Pie 19.0 (coming soon). I told you I can juggle.

First step: SHOP. Publix had everything I needed, including (to my delight) a dozen 4 ounce jelly jars.

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Second step: CHOP. Macadamia nuts are soft. I chopped a couple of cups to begin the mess.

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Next, I made a cookie dough, and baked 50 macadamia chocolate cookies. The chocolate was supposed to be white, but I used semi-sweet regular old chips. Only 15 cookies were actually needed for the “pies” so the cookie jar is full. DH declared them “really good” so the cookie recipe is on my short list now.

The cookies cooled, got crumbled, pulsed in the ancient blender and met up with some melted butter before they were squished in the bottom of the little jelly jars and baked for a few minutes.

I do try to use only the finest ingredients, but I am inherently frugal (aka cheap). I could not resist this grandiose claim on the cheapest vanilla bottle, reassuring me I wasn’t purchasing mere brown water.

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I’d like to add that my novels are presented by special request and are excellent quality products. Just FYI. In case you needed reassurance before spending a week reading them. They are not merely brown water either. But, really, why can’t authors self-promote when it’s acceptable (and even effective) for cheap vanilla distributors to do so? My books cost less than a bottle of brown water, they took decades to write, were revised and polished dozens of times, and painstakingly proofread and tweaked. And I can’t even claim they are excellent quality products? So silly.

OK, down from my soapbox now. The air was cool and refreshing up there. Read on if you will.

The filling had a whipped component folded into a creamy white chocolate concoction. Absolutely dreamy, but ruined (to my taste) by introduction of more chopped nuts. I might be nuts, but I don’t like ’em.

This white fluffiness got spooned over the double-baked cookie bottom in each jar. More crushed cookies and nuts were sprinkled on top. The jars were sealed closed and stored in the fridge.

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We took a few jars to a dessert gathering after Thanksgiving dinner. They were a hit. Another win in the record book of my virtual bakery.

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Pies 18.0 and 19.0 were created in parallel. That means I chopped nuts and sliced bananas in a concerted fashion. (My orgo students know “concerted” means “at the same time” and can imagine what my transition state looked like.) Alas, although I can make two concerted pies, I cannot blog them in unison. Pie 19.0, pending permission from two bakers/sisters/photographers, is coming soon. You won’t want to miss that story–it will be high quality as promised in black and while indelible ink, just like that indisputable non-fiction claim on the vanilla bottle.

 

Pie 15.0

Pie 15.0

Remember that old song lyric “If I knew you were coming I’da baked a cake”? That always sounded so welcoming, so I never do a drop in. I always call ahead before I visit so I’ll be greeted with a cake. It doesn’t work, but I still try. I mean, there’s a song, so somebody must make cakes for expected guests, right?

Anyway, my sister was coming, and I knew she was coming, and it was all a big secret surprise for my other sister, so I baked a pie.

Pie 15.0. Baked late at night in an ill-equipped kitchen. No rolling pin. No teaspoon (but I always have my palm). No whisk. No blades for the mixer (so I brought mine from home). No big bowl (so I used a cereal bowl). No pie pan (so I bought an aluminum one from the stupid market). You get the picture.

Speaking of stupid market–they didn’t sell chocolate covered coffee beans. Nowhere to be found. So I compromised.

Back up the bus. I forgot to describe the pie. It’s officially called “Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Pie” from page 123 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook. It was chosen while in the stupid market, when my sister responded to my text question about what we should eat for the weekend we would spend together with this: “Sat morning coffee. Sat evening eat out. Sunday morning coffee. Sunday lunch your choice.” We are Irish twins, live 1000 miles apart, and both love coffee.

Anyway, I started the pie in the dark by crushing the package of graham crackers with my hands and mixing them with melted butter. I pressed the mush into the tiny pan, chilled, baked and chilled. You know the drill by now.

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Then I made espresso in my little pot. Drank some, let some cool, and made the filling.

20181012_165534Here is the nasty smelling unflavored gelatin.

20181011_20111020181011_201050I had to whip some egg whites to fold into the cooked coffee/gelatin/other ingredient concoction, but I should have used a bigger bowl.

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There was way too much filling for the tiny pie shell.

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This had to set and cool in the fridge for many hours, so I went to sleep.

The topping called for Kahlua, but I didn’t have any, so I made some by boiling down some espresso and mixing with whiskey.

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Then I whipped the cream and added the yummy tasty ingredients and spread it on the pie filling.

 

As I mentioned, the store didn’t sell the required chocolate covered coffee beans, so I shredded a tiny Hershey bar and sprinkled it on top. Voila!

Yummy Beige Pie.

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I love my sisters more than coffee.

Pie 14.0

Pie 14.0

This is the best pie I have ever tasted.

(So far.)

I made Pie 14.0 in my sunny kitchen yesterday morning. I started at 8 am and didn’t take a taste until 7:30 pm. I found her on page 83 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook.

It only took two trips to the store to buy all the ingredients. Two trips are annoying, but they were both during my 2-hour Friday evening commute, and together they extended my commute to 3 hours, but what’s an hour in a long work week in the 7th week of a semester that’s blowing by like a typhoon?

I awoke yesterday before the sun. Weekends cannot dent my internal clock during the semester. My brain snaps awake and wonders what it forgot to do. My first thought was pie. My second thought was coffee. Instantly I stopped worrying about the tortuous mess we are in and set my brain on bake. This is my self-soothe. Let me share it with you, at least in words and pictures, if not in the hug it brought me to bake and taste.

The crumb crust called for chocolate wafers and both stores did not sell any. I used chocolate graham crackers because, obviously, I’m a genius.

Instead of my normal crumble technique with a Ziploc bag and a rolling pin, I slammed a whole pack of crackers on the counter and then squeezed them with my bare hands around the throat until they were pulverized. Like I said, I’m a(n angry) genius.

While the crumb crust chilled and baked and cooled (an hour process, at least) I tackled the strawberries. First, I hulled all the strawberries as directed. Then, I crushed five of them with a fork until they were mush and put them in the fridge. Next, I melted chocolate chips with a secret ingredient in the microwave at reduced power for many, many cycles of 30 seconds. I stirred until glossy. I did not lick my fingers.

And then I was momentarily stumped by the directions “Holding the berries by the stem end, dip them one at a time into the bowl.” The stem end was obvious, but the stem for holding was gone, hulled away by the genius. That made the task tricky. How the –bleep- to hold the stemless berries while dipping? Needless to say, the genius got quite sticky. Yet, still she did not lick her fingers.

Here I am! Back from third-person-land, a blackhole that tried to suck me in. Anyway, almost half of the melted chocolate was left over after the strawberry-dipping. I considered re-dipping them. Then I considered eating it all with a spoon. (No, Laura!) And then I poured it all onto waxed paper to harden and save for another pie.

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I was delighted by the next step. I snuck some strawberry preserves from the fridge and added a secret ingredient. I spread the mush onto the bottom of the crust and put her back in the fridge so I could attack the filling.

I forgot to mention the formal name of this pie: “Jenna’s Devil’s Food Chocolate Oasis Pie.” The filling needs some separated eggs, a LOT of milk, the magic of cornstarch, and bittersweet chocolate. There is boiling and whisking and sieving involved. It was all too complicated to describe and almost beyond the ability of this baking genius. The hardest parts required three hands. Like the pouring of the massive quantity of milk in a “slow steady steam” while whisking (and holding the handle of the pan). And the pouring of the heavy hot chocolate concoction through a sieve while pressing with a spatula. I only swore a little. Most of the chocolate I spilled has been found and wiped up.

The hot chocolate concoction had to be cooled to room temperature under a buttered wax paper in a glass bowl. The cooling took 2.5 hours. The buttered wax paper was the butter wrapper. What? It’s clean on the inside and it was already buttered.

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I eversocarefully dumped the filling over the surprise strawberry layer in the crust and got to work on the topping (5 hours later). In the meantime I napped and watched football. The chocolate filling had to cool for half a day. Eventually I got to the topping.

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After a dozen pies, I’m finally pretty good at whipping cream. I folded in another secret ingredient (listen, if you want to know the secrets, you have to buy the cookbook) and spread the deliciousness over the chocolate. Then I pressed on the huge chocolate covered strawberries and Pie 14.0 was complete in all her splendor.

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I ate just a tiny sliver (what? I’m on diet again, ok?) and almost groaned at the light and fluffy combination of strawberry/chocolate/whipped cream/crunchy crust in my mouth. This was the best pie I’ve ever tasted. Yet. There’s a lot left if you want to come by for a slice.

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky Pie 13.0 LIVE

Lucky Pie 13.0 LIVE

When I began this pie adventure, I envisioned stories where I wowed readers with my baking skill. Instead, I’m humbled by my mistakes, grateful you still read, and incredulous by my luck that the pies taste incredible. (Usually. There was that burned one. And that savory one.)

My routine is to endure the stupid market, enjoy the bake, eat the pie, and then finally in about a week write a blog post about the experience. Today, things are going quite badly already, so I’ve decided to blog LIVE, as the bake progresses. It won’t be as fun as watching Mary Berry and her pals, but let’s give it a try.

Last night, by candlelight, I made the double pie crust for Pie 13.0, aka “Big Guy Strawberry Pie” from page 41 of the Sugar Butter Flour cookbook. Today I have time to type and drink coffee while I wait for the crust to be ready to roll. There she is late last night when she was but a good idea, and right now–too cold and hard to roll. That’s why we’re waiting. (We = me + my crust)

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There was a slight measurement (or perhaps reading comprehension) problem last night having to do with the appropriate quantity of butter. (It’s always the butter, isn’t it?) Anyway, when the error was discovered, the second half of the forgotten / missing / necessary butter was chunked up and added in last. (Not my brightest idea. The dough has globs of butter. I’m hoping it somehow comes out–I don’t know–flaky?)

Just tried to roll it. Not ready yet. So I’m just sitting here in a dirty apron and hairnet, drinking coffee and wondering what my wet hair will look like later when I release it from captivity.

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Made a little progress…

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OMG. I had to add a lot of flour to combat the globs of butter spots. Here she is in the pan.

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And here she is napping in the fridge with her top half ready to roll (on the right). Thank goodness it’s time to slice strawberries.

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It took an hour to slice the strawberries because I talked on the phone with my daughter while I sliced and she fed eggs to the baby and laughed at her silly little ones. There’s a cookie pan in my oven right now getting nice and hot at 425F so the bottom of the crust cooks quickly to avoid a soggy bottom. The recipe calls for some strawberry jam but I only have preserves, so there’s modification number two (after the crust/butter fiasco). I’m rolling out the top crust right now…

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I placed it on after cutting 8 little circles out of the edge. I tucked the top crust around and under the bottom one and pinched it the way my momma showed me when I was small and she made apple pie and blueberry pie with the fruit from the can. I pinched the little circles to make them look like strawberries and glued them down with an egg wash. (They look like acorns.) I cut open the little window in the center of the crust just like the picture. Egg washed the whole enchilada and sprinkled with the expensive large crystal sugar. While she bakes for 45 minutes in two temperature stages, I have time to make the weird basil infused whipped cream.

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{My hair is completely dry under the hairnet and matted to my head. Lovely. And I’m sticky almost up to my armpits with egg and butter and flour, so much so that my electronic devices and mousepad refuse to notice my touch. My fingertips are invisible. See? You just can’t get this depth of detail without the live blog feature.}

Hey, so something worked out pretty good. The pie is on it’s second stage of cooking for the exact same time the cream is cooling. Of course, the cooling cream should have been about ten minutes ahead, but we must account for the time it takes to make a mistake. See, the heavy cream gets heated BEFORE the basil is added. This is what the basil looks like when you remove it with a fork from the pan of heating cream because it shouldn’t be in there yet. Whoops.

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I’m on break for about a half an hour. I think I’ll clean up the mess.

I whipped the weird cream after it chilled in a bowl nestled in another bowl of water and ice in the fridge for an hour. An hour. In a bowl of ice. I’m not kidding. Details, people. Anyway, it took 7 freaking minutes to whip. I didn’t think it would ever get there. I scooped it into the icing bag and put it in the fridge for later. And, yes, I tasted it. I popped that test blob on the spoon right into my mouth and, man, basil tastes (and smells) weird in whipped cream. Like I made Italian spaghetti sauce and then used the dirty bowl to whip the cream. Maybe it’ll taste incredible with the sweet pie. You-know-who has no idea of the weirdness of the whipped cream in his future. I bet you a dollar he scarfs it up and asks for more.

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Pie 13.0 is a beauty. She’s too hot to eat, and there’s nobody here to share her with right now. But I will surely garnish each slice with a sprig of basil and a dollop of whipped cream as instructed. You’ll have to just imagine it, as usual, unless you go ahead and buy the cookbook and make one yourself.

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