Two Pals Pop Their Pie-Making Cherries for National Pi Day, March 14

A sordid tale of two pie-making neophytes rolling in dough

As odd as it may seem at age 62, after having been in the restaurant and cooking business in some form or another since the age of 14, I was still a pie virgin. I’ve certainly been around a zillion pies as they were being made, and have eaten more than my share, but never actually made dough and formed it into pie myownself. High time to pop the pie cherry.

The fruity goodness of homemade apple pie (Photo by Mick Vann)

Ditto with my pal, Princess Di Winlow, whose father Surly Earl, the King of Pies, baked them all the time to perfection. So, with the advent of National Pi Day on the March 14th, Di and I decided both our pie cherries needed popping.

I had a recipe from the ever-anal Christopher Kimble at America’s Test Kitchen on PBS for a vodka-laced dough that was guaranteed to be flaky and forgiving. I’m also pals and food writing/restaurant consulting partners with master baker Art Meyer, who provided me with his no-fail pie dough for a fruit pie. Armed with two recipes and apple and cherry fillings, the top two most popular fillings in this country, Di and I trudged reluctantly into the breach.

Pie used to be ubiquitous; time was when every café, restaurant, and diner had the multilevel glass pie safe on the counter, holding different freshly baked offerings. When we were in school at the University of Texas, there were pies available all over the place (Sid’s, Toddle House, The Frisco Shop, etc.); whenever we were in San Antone for a concert, a late-night visit to Earl Able’s for coffee and pie was a requisite. When I was managing a restaurant in the Alamo City, a banana cream pie fix at DeWeese’s Tip Top Café was always on my radar. No place in Austin comes close to the amazing pies made by Kathy Leverett at R.O.’s Outpost in Spicewood, but they are rare around these parts today. Director David Lynch had it right in Twin Peaks when he had his character Gordon Cole and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) constantly obsess over the cherry pie at the fictitious Double R Diner; I like to think of it as Lynch’s celluloid lament over the vanishing pies of America.

Anyway, our first attempt was an abject failure; we lacked not only Crisco but a pastry blender, so pie-making plans were postponed to the following weekend. The next weekend, when fully equipped, we attacked pie making head-on. We decided to make both dough recipes, side-by-side, by hand: no mixers or processors, using just an old school pastry blender. For the ATK vodka recipe, we were using canned cherry pie filling, but doctoring it up a little; for Art’s dough, we were using fresh apples. The Rancho Winslow ovens were pre-heated, and the madness began.

The edges of the cherry pie browned a little too much (Photo by Mick Vann)
The edge of the cherry pie got a little browned, but not as burnt as it appears in the low-light photo. I should have put a foil collar around the edge….live and learn. I added some sugar, lemon zest, a touch of cinnamon, and flour to the canned filling, hoping to counter the canned quality, and to thicken it up a tad, to prevent massive post-slice filling slump-age. It slumped a little, but not as much as it could have; I think the flour helped. It certainly tasted fine, and was adequately flaky.
Mouth-watering slice of cherry pie with minimum filling slump-age (Photo by Mick Vann)

Once the peeled and cored slices were in the shell, we topped them with a generous layer of cinnamon sugar before adding the top crust and brushing that with a little egg glaze to make it shine. We dusted the top of the two-crust apple pie with a little cinnamon, sugar, and a touch of cayenne pepper for zing. We dabbed a bit of the gooey ooze from the edge earlier, and it cooked longer than we thought it should have, but Art’s dough was flaky and pretty much foolproof. Granted, I rolled the top a little too thick, but all in all, for a first pie ever, it was damn good.

Homemade pie shell filled with apple slices, covered with cinnamon sugar (Photo by Mick Vann)
Two crust apple pie with an egg-wash glaze and a sprinkling of seasoned sugar, ready for the oven (Photo by Mick Vann)

C-Boy grilled steaks, we made salad and sides, and had HOMEMADE PIE for dessert!

Homemade pie for dessert! (Photo by Mick Vann)

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