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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving pies

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Despite my desire for a long holiday weekend like the rest of the world gets (or at least it appears to me that the rest of the world gets a 4-day weekend), it didn't happen.  Thus, I am forced to again repeat my dart-from-work-to-the-subway-to-the-train-to-my-aunt's-house-shove-Thanksgiving-dinner-in-my-face (though this year I get to avoid the rush-back-to-the-city-so-I-can-get-a-decent-night's-sleep-before-going-back-to-work-early-Friday-morning part of my) routine of Thanksgivings past...only this year the first half of that will be done while carrying two pies and trying to maneuver around Grand Central station while keeping said pies intact.

In my family, almost all the holidays are divided up between my mom, her sisters, and my grandmother. Thanksgiving has been - for as long as I can remember - my aunt's holiday.  This year I offered to bake the pies (in the past, one guest insisted on bringing pies from a bakery she thought made the best pies.  The rest of the guests disagreed.  But since she won't be there this year, I offered to bake).  The request for pies this year was simple - pumpkin and blueberry - although the biggest request was for homemade whipped cream.  To quote my aunt's email, she said "HOMEMADE whipped cream (with the emphasis on homemade)."  (An aside: for those of you whom have never made homemade whipped cream before, it is quite easy.  All you need is a kitchenaid, a hand mixer, or a whisk and some really good upper arm strength.  Oh, and the ingredients: cold whipping cream, sugar (to taste), and I like a few drops of vanilla extract.  Add ingredients to a bowl.  Whip until peaks form.  Congratulations, you've just made homemade whipped cream!).

But back to the pies, the request was for one pumpkin pie and one blueberry pie.  As I'm sure you can imagine, November is not blueberry season, especially in New York, so I had to adjust the pie by substituting frozen blueberries for the fresh ones the recipe called for.  (I did manage to find fresh blueberries, at $2.50 for 4 oz, but I had no idea if they'd be good or not, so I bought 2 containers to mix in with the frozen berries.)  I also wanted to make the crusts from scratch, but during my recipe search I came across a few recipes that called for a frozen pie crusts, so given the fact that my week leading up to Thanksgiving was swamped and I don't have a food processor (I know...surprising, right?  But Manhattan kitchens leave a lot to be desired in both storage space and counter space), I used frozen crusts for both pies.  If you have the time, counter space, and a food processor, here's a pie-crust-from-scratch recipe.

To be completely honest, I hate making something for the first time and bringing it to someone's home, having never tasted it before.  Brownies and cookies aren't that big of an issue, because I can taste one before I bring them, and no one will know (there will just be one fewer cookie/brownie on the platter).  Cakes, pies, and breads are a little different.  When making a cake, I'll sometimes make a mini cupcake with the batter to taste it without having to cut into the cake.  I'll bake a mini roll out of bread dough to see if it's tasty and if it rises well.  But, with the exception of baking a mini pie (and I don't have mini pie tins), I didn't know how to test the blueberry pie.  So I did the next best thing - I baked a blueberry pie on Monday night to test it out.  The flavor was great, but it seemed to take a little longer to set up than the recipe said.  Here's a picture of the "demo" pie, as I've been calling it:

I don't know if it was that ther recipe didn't call for enough corn starch, or if I made a mistake by not thawing and straining the frozen blueberries before folding them in, but 2 hours after I poured the filling into the crust, it was still quite runny.  I let the pie sit overnight, and the middle was just as runny as it was the night before (the edges set up a little more overnight).  So, I learned two lessons from this: (1) while it may be more work for me, doing a test run before bring my baked goods elsewhere (or serving them to others) is a good idea, and (2) when I make this pie for Thanksgiving, I now know what I need to do.  And in the mean time, I also have a great blueberry sauce for vanilla ice cream!  Tuesday night, I decided to try out my hypotheses, and made a second "demo" pie - I added an extra 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch to the water-corn starch mixture, and I also thawed and strained (most of) the frozen blueberries.  Lastly, I didn't fill crust with the entire mixture, and have some leftover filling (blueberry yogurt for breakfast?).  The second pie set up much better:

Though still a little runny, in this version, there is no soupy
puddle where the slice is missing, so that's a big improvement!

The Thanksgiving blueberry pie was even more of a success (thanks to my test runs on Monday and Tuesday).  I followed the pumkpin pie recipe although I did add some extra spices, as people on the website recommended.  I added an extra half teaspoon each of ground ginger and cinnamon, and added a splash of nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice.  I also needed to bake it for an extra 10 minutes.  I used deep dish pie crusts for both of the Thanksgiving pies, and this time I had extra filling for the pumpkin pie.

Now the pies are all baked and cooling, getting ready to be packed into - what I can only hope are sturdy-enough - boxes for their trek to Thanksgiving dinner.  Fingers crossed that they make it through a half-mile walk to the subway, the subway to work, two subway trains from work to Grand Central, the crazy hecticness of Grand Central on Thanksgiving, and the 50 minute train ride home! 

Here are the finished pies:

Happy Thanksgiving!

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