First, let me start by saying that I love my job. I really do. I get to play with food all day long and get paid for it. I experiment, create, and sometimes, with the occasional accident, kill something for a second time (ovens and stoves can burn things you know).
However, there are things with every job that people dislike to do. As a Chef, I have admittedly quite a few. However, there is one of all the tasks that I absolutely dread. I hate more than anything— more than digging through food waste, or being elbow deep in chicken bones and feet cleaning out large stock kettles, or cleaning the walk-in refrigerator when someone spills an entire crate of eggs (okay that was me) — more than ALL these things… is making pie.
Pie. I love eating it, but making it is horrible. I can make cookies, I can make fabulous cakes, crème brûlée, tiramisu, flan, ice cream even! But not pie… It’s the bane of my existence. There is nothing so infuriating as making pie. There is no other task that makes me question my professional and personal abilities as a chef as making pie does. “Oh easy as pie!” Those old ladies say — Ooooohhhh no. Oh. No. There is NOTHING easy about pie.
First — you have to make the dough. The dough — I’m shuddering as I write this —so many decisions where things can go wrong right from the start. Do you use shortening, butter or a mix? Do you use vodka? Do you mix by hand (of course you don’t when you’re making enough dough for sixty pies) or a mixer? Do you go to pea size morsels or hazelnuts? Can you even tell the difference when it’s a crumble of flour?!?! Really people? Peas and hazelnuts? That’s what you’re giving me to go off of? What if it’s a large pea and a small hazelnut? Who made the standard pea size the standard?
Regardless, you make these decisions and HOPEFULLY you have some resemblance of a dough. I can usually get to this point. HOPEFULLY you didn’t overwork it, HOPEFULLY you got the right pea/hazelnut sizing down, and gluten hasn’t developed so it turns out flakey but sturdy. This is where I can have some trouble.
Next, you have to make the filling. This isn’t so bad, it’s more cooking to me. But there are tricky parts. Moisture is key, but you can’t have too much or it will make your, hopefully flakey, crust soggy. You can’t have too little or you’ll have dehydrated fruit filling and last time I checked nobody has ordered a fruit leather pie. You have to have the right amount of a starch so the liquid thickens as it bakes, or you need to pre-cook the filling to thicken it and cool it before you put it in the pie.
Then you need to decide, do you blind bake your crust? Or do you just go for it, like sending your first child off to pre-school. You don’t know the teachers or the classroom. It’s just – “Hey, here’s your lunch kid, hope you don’t crash and burn! But we’ll find out when I come back to pick you up” And that’s it, you just have to hope for the best.
HALF-BAKED OR FULLY-BAKED?
And after all of that — you make the crust, you make the filling, you assemble it, you brush it with egg wash, cover with foil for the first 45 minutes if needed, then uncover (hopefully your dough didn’t stick to the foil!) and finish baking — you let it cool which takes enough time to make you feel as though you’ve aged five years, and cut into it.
Now is when the big question comes — did you bake your crust fully? You can always tell. If you look very, very closely you can see where the fully baked crust meets the under-baked. The under-baked is slightly darker and more dense than the properly baked half. It’s kind of like the divide you can see among siblings. They both have the same eyes, nose and overall “related” appearance, but yet you can tell how one is much more successful in life than the other. This is where the fully cooked meets the under-baked.
More importantly, this is where I lose my mind. Every time, it looks like Martha Stewart gone wrong on the top. My lattice is the equivalent of the pattern on a hobo picnic basket that got run over by an F150 twice. Not only that, but crust on the bottom half is always under-baked. Even with a blind bake, somehow it never turns out perfectly. It’s this particular aspect that is the bane of my existence. I can tell you when a cookie is done without even touching it. I can tell you when chicken or beef is cooked properly by the feel alone. Pie? I can temp the darn thing with a probe thermometer that looks as if it’s designed for laser tag and that crust will still be half baked, dense and chewy.
I don’t know what it is. I don’t know. All of these things to say — Pie is not for me. And the next time you have a piece of pie – thank your lucky stars for the person who made it.
Disclaimer: After two years I can now make a pretty good pie – but I still feel that it’s the bane of my existence.