Episode 62: Pie School is Back in Session!

Andrea updates Stefin on her attempt at the vegan and gluten-free Brownie Truffle, first discussed in January Bonus Episode 61.5. Though she was eager to try new-to-her maca, and though she is a die-hard root vegetable lover, Andrea decided she is not a fan of this particular “pleasant-tasting” root veggie powder. Instead, she created a winning variation on Emma Spitzer’s delicious, vegan and gluten-free “nourishing nibble” and is calling them Brownie Bites.

Stefin also has a nutritional update: She’s finally lost the first pound … of wheat germ, that is! Loyal listeners will remember that due to an error in metric conversion, she purchased six pounds of the stuff and has been slowly working her way through its wholesomeness since August. Gold star for Stefin!

It’s always time for pie, and Stefin and Andrea are back with their Second Annual Pie School! First up is an intriguing variation on an old classic: Butterscotch Pie with Curry Crust. Inspired by her husband’s love for exotic and unusual flavor combinations, Andrea hopes this pie will be more than the sum of its parts. The cookie-crumb crust, which features vanilla wafers, curry powder and fennel seed (reminiscent of the bizcochito cookies from Episode 28!) holds a decadent butterscotch filling. Stefin will put her investigative skills to work to find both Nilla Wafers and powdered gelatin in the UK. Andrea recommends agar agar or the delightfully named Irish Moss as vegetarian gelatin substitutes.

First lesson of pie school: Crust! Andrea loves Mary Beth’s Reliable Pie Crust with its combo of leaf lard and butter; egg and vinegar make it super easy to roll out. Bonus: It doesn’t need to chill! While Stefin relied on Ina Garten’s butter/shortening Perfect Pie Crust for many years, she’s back to Crisco after her success with the pastry used in Amish Apple Dumplings (Episode 47) which also includes egg and vinegar.

If the idea of crust in a round pie tin is intimidating, Andrea suggests experimenting with pie bars in an 8×8 or 9×13 square — a square shape can feel more relaxed. This works particularly well, too, for very rich pies, like the Peanut Butter Pie featured in Episode 60. Stefin tells listeners to forgive themselves if they have to cobble together tears or use a “patchwork quilt” technique on their crust. No one will ever see the bottom crust but you! Remember, too, that there are scads of pies that don’t require a pastry crust. Stefin’s Key Lime Pie with Mile-High Meringue, for example, features a shortbread cookie crust. You could also experiment with single crusts with pastry cut-outs for a topping.

Listeners: What is your go-to pie crust recipe?

Blind baking (or par-baking) can present its own challenges and bakers use a variety of devices to weigh down the empty crust as it bakes, including dried beans and pie weights. Stefin relies on her weighted pie chains while Andrea is enamored of German listener Andrea’s suggestion to use a mound of sugar. The bonus here being that as your crust cooks, you also toast your sugar, which is perfect for use on yogurt, cereal or even buttered bread.

In the Language Lab, Andrea defines “short crust” as any pastry using half fat to flour ratio, resulting in short strands of gluten (unlike in relatively low-fat bread, which has long strands of gluten). Finally, Stefin surprises Andrea by reading an excerpt of an essay on flaky pastry, which takes on new meaning now that the hosts know exactly what short crust is.

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If  you’re intrigued by our podcast, make it easy on yourself and subscribe on Apple Podcasts. That way you can listen to more than one episode, and have them download automatically on your phone or tablet. You can also bake along with us in our Facebook group, Preheated.

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