Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Marvelous Misadventures of the Fabulous Baker Girls

Plot Summary:

Scene 1:  Our three heroines decide to enter a local pie contest on a whim, mostly because the pushy one* coerces the other two into it. 

Pushy One (to sister):  You definitely need to enter!   Should I sign you up for your cherry pie??? (YES!!!!)
Sister of Pushy One:  I don't know...
PO:  Your pie rocks.  I signed you up!
[There is no return email.  Cut.]

PO (to Innocent Neighbor):  Hopefully you entered today!!!!  We will drop your pie off for you, no problem!
IN: I did... and thank you for that drop off offer!
[cue ominous music, foreshadowing that there may, in fact, be a problem...]

Scene 2:   All of them feign disinterest in winning, but are found at the wee hours of the night rolling out crusts and baking tester pies.  Their puzzled yet grateful families provide a series of witty, humorous one-liners as part of the video montage of quick cuts, set to upbeat soundtrack, possibly by Dolly Parton or Ke$ha.

Quick Cut 1: SOPO provides sample pie for potluck dinner attended by PO.   Crowd is unimpressed, citing "slightly gummy" texture of filling, aversion to almond meal in crust and too-crunchy streusel.  PO steps away from party to immediately break bad news furtively on cell phone.  SOPO curses the day she was born, then immediately phones distant husband, waking him, to request that he unearth tattered recipe and read ingredients for crumble topping over the phone.  We see her measuring flour as we fade to...

Quick Cut 2:  PO attempting crust method espoused on helpful how-to-video that has worked beautifully for SOPO.   Steals tiny spray bottle from niece's American Girl collection, fills with apple juice concoction, then spritzes.   Parchment paper crackles in background as we see soggy crust after soggy crust being dumped into the trash.  Close up of fingernails caked with dough as we fade to...

Quick Cut 3:  IN posting frantically on Facebook,  "Does anyone have a really good coconut cream pie recipe?"  and then "Failed miserably at a coconut cream pie attempt... I seem to be getting worse at this baking thing, not better..." and then "As in "Tin Cup," I am just going to keep making coconut cream pies until I get it just right..." Finally we see her pull out a recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie instead.  Pan away to see companionable wise cat with knowing look on its face.

Scene 3:  The day of the event finally arrives.  It is nearly 100 degrees outside, yet both ovens have been on for nearly 24 hours.  In wacky non-sequitur, PO has whipped up a batch of peanut butter cookies Everyone is sweating, but not in a gross way.   IN brings two gorgeous pies in the door.  Oohs and ahhs all around.  The mood is edgy yet jubilant for our three bakers.  Family has vacated the premises. [Possible shot of dog with nose buried between paws here for effect]  

PO and SOPO begin carrying pies (and incongruous container of cookies) out to car carefully.   They belt in the apple pie, and settle box with lemon and cherry pies securely.  PO is walking around to place IN's incredibly beautiful, still warm, nutmeg-laced sure-to-be-a-winner lattice-topped peach pie on seat when she slips.   Super slo mo shot of pie twirling in the air as PO's face becomes a mask of horror in background.   Pie lands upside down with resounding splat.  [Extra foley work here to enhance the tragedy].  PO begins to scream expletives uncontrollably.  SOPO runs out like an avenging Ninja brandishing three different spatulas, a roll of paper towels, and plastic wrap.   Together the sisters gather the scraps back into the dish, but the pie is clearly a goner.  They weep a little, then go into crisis management mode.

SOPO:  I have some extra crust.  We could use that.
PO:  What?  There's NO TIME! Even if we could quickly form a matching lattice, bake it and somehow invisibly attach it to the existing pie, we'd miss the delivery deadline.
SOPO:  Damn!  You're right.  What if we just sprinkled it with powdered sugar?  That's saved my butt loads of times.  It's worth a try, right?
PO:  [inspirational look to the sky, asking forgiveness and pleading for a miracle at the same time]. It sure is.  Get the shaker!

Scene 4:  The two culprits, along with adorable niece in booster seat, pull into the parking lot to drop off the entries.  Adorable niece provides huge cuteness quotient by telling team of pie-receiving volunteers that "my Auntie Shar's pie is going to win, but she wants my mommy's pie to win." Everyone smiles indulgently, and a festive, welcoming atmosphere prevails among the hopefuls.  
Check in proceeds.  We see a pen scratching out "Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie" on one card and then, as camera backs away to reveal the wreckage, "Free Form Peach Pie" on another.   

Scene 5:  PO, having left rambling confessional message on IN's phone, approaches the entrance to the contest site fearfully.   IN's kind, lovely face lights up.  Clearly, she has not listened to her voice mail.  PO and SOPO abjectly tell the tale.  Instead of lashing out in fury, IN instead reproaches herself for even allowing the pie to leave her own custody for a moment.    The three embrace warmly and say they will definitely have a good laugh about this. Someday.  In the future.  [potential sequel?]

Scene 6:  The Fabulous Baker Girls enter a vast tent.  There are long tables laden with 122 different pies.   Other entrants are scoping out the competition.   Some are in jeans.  Several wear vintage aprons.  A few are in stilettos.    Evan Kleiman, the hostess, is greeting the crowd of bakers, supporters, and hungry onlookers as they pour in.  Our three intrepid girls begin to mentally prepare to "plate their pie for the judges*",  an ordeal cited from participants in the first year's contest as "nerve wracking".   Each has stashed proven serving utensils in their purse.  Each is therefore shocked to discover a large wedge has gone missing from their pies.  And not just entries 56, 57, 58 and 59.  Every single pie has been...

...attacked. [Cue sharp, harsh chords from string section]

PO (accosting passing person from KCRW):  Um, excuse me!  What happened to the pies?
Passing Person from KCRW: Well, the judges already ate some pie up in the hotel room.
PO (now PO'd): WHAT?!?
PPFKCRW:  They did a little, um, pre-judging.  
SOPO:  No plating?  What about the plating?  I was practicing the plating!  I'm ready for the plating!

IN enters, sees that her impeccable lemon curd is now lemon soup with some meringue islands floating in it, looks up helplessly, reeling from yet another body blow as her back-up pie is now in ruins.

IN: Refrigerator?  Wasn't there supposed to be a refrigerator?
PPFKCRW:  I wasn't in charge of that part.  I have to go now.
PO, SOPO, IN (in unison):  But...wait!

Suddenly, there is a flurry of activity at the judging stand.   Evan's voice booms over the throng, announcing the finalists in each category.   The camera pulls in close on three hopeful, exhausted faces as their numbers are not among the chosen few.   The Fabulous Baker Girls have been shut out. 
[cue heart-tugging piano solo as they turn to each other in sorrow]

EK:  And now, I have a bonus category that I added this year.  Best Crust!   The finalists in this category are...42! 114! and...58!

Their eyes widen.  Fists are raised in the air.  Whoops of joy explode simultaneously!  Expressions of elation and disbelief alternate on their faces...because pie #58 is none other than...

...the FREE FORM PEACH PIE!!!   

IN raises the misshapen, crippled thing high in the air and walks triumphantly to the winners table.  PO and SOPO are jumping up and down and hugging each other, overwhelmed with the feeling of redemption and relief.

A moment later, IN comes back, pie in hand.  
IN:  It was crust number 28.  28.  Not 58.  I mean really.  What were we thinking?

Scene 7 (Credit roll sequence):   The Still-Fabulous Non-Award-Winning Baker Girls are cheerfully passing out samples of their pies to a mob of people queued up for free dessert.   There is a gratifying line for tastes of everything, including several who are specifically anxious to get some of that Free Form Peach Pie.    Compliments fly in.

Man back for seconds (to IN):  What's in this peach pie?  The flavor's terrific.
Texture-insensitive lady:  Can I have a piece of the lemon meringue?   I love a good lemon meringue pie.  Don't worry, I can sip it.  No problem.
Guy with beard (to PO):  That's good pie.  Really good pie. 
Woman in shorts (to SOPO):  The topping is amazing. And are those fresh cherries?  Incredible!

IN is seen happily sampling all of the other pies, and chasing down the maker of the key lime meringue pie (entry 54) for her business card***.

Our heroines clear away their now-empty pie plates and congratulate each other, and their fellow contestants, on a job well done.

Bonus Scene (post credits):  

SOPO:  Hey, I got a piece of the winning fruit pie.
PO:  Oh yeah?  How is it?
SOPO:  We totally should have won.  This tastes like prunes.
They grin at each other and walk slowly down the ramp.

Fade out.

For more about the contest, check out these links:
The recipe for the "Best in Show" Meat Pie
A compendium of photos from KCRW's blog
Other stories about this - here, here, here and here.

My Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie
1 3/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbs. (1 1/4 sticks) butter, frozen
1/4 c. cold apple cider mixed with 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl.   Grate frozen butter into the flour mixture, tossing gently with a fork to create coarse crumbs.  Add the liquids and continue to toss until evenly moistened.  Gather gently into a ball.  Transfer to a lightly floured surface (or put between two pieces of parchment paper) and roll out into a circle an inch or two wider than a 10 inch pie plate.   Transfer to pie dish, turning edges under to create a nice edge.   Put into the fridge and move on.

1 2/3 c. sour cream
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
5 large Pink Lady apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced

Pre heat oven to 400.  In a large bowl, whisk together everything except apples to create a thick custard.   Stir in apples.  Pour into prepared pie crust.   Bake for 15 minutes.   While baking, prepare topping.

1 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbs. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. almond paste
2/3 c. cold butter, cut into pieces
1 c. good walnuts

In a food processor, combine dry ingredients.   Add almond paste and butter, pulsing until you have a mix with the consistency of cookie dough.   Pulse in nuts just until they are roughly chopped but still noticeable.  

Remove pie from oven, and reduce temperature to 325.  Crumble topping all over the pie.   Return to oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove pie from oven, reduce temperature to 300.   If crust and topping are brown (they should be), cover pie loosely with aluminum foil.   Return to oven for 15 more minutes.   Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.  

My Sister’s Fresh Cherry Pie

Buy a cherry pitter
Find a good farmer’s market and buy 7 cups of fresh sweet cherries – depending on size of cherries could be 2 – 2.5 lbs. Buy extra because if you are like us, you pit one, you eat one!

Use your favorite recipe or buy frozen pie crust from Trader Joe’s

I like using a ratio of 1 part cake flour to 1 part regular flour, and a combo of 1 part butter to 2 parts shortening, with 1 tsp of grated lemon zest and 2 TBSP sugar added per crust you are making.  An additional option is to use Amaretto liqueur as the liquid for the dough.  I froze ½ cup of Amaretto until it was like slush (overnight) and then added 2 TBSP of ice water to it.  I then added this liquid to the dry crust mix, 2 TBSP at a time until just moistened (you will have extra).  I chill the dough for at least an hour and then roll it out and put into pie plate and prick bottom with a fork several times.  Chill crust (in plate) again for another hour or up to a day then par bake.  If you are using premade crust, I still recommend par baking it for this pie.

For me, par bake means placing pie weights (or dried beans or rice) generously into pie plate and bake crust at 400-degrees for 10 minutes, then remove the weights and bake for another 6-8 minutes or until light brown.  Let crust cool for at least 10-15 minutes and then brush with egg white to seal crust before filling.

7 cups fresh cherries, halved and pitted (I used a 9 inch pie plate – I like a lot of cherries, and they will bake down)
Juice from 1 large lemon (add less if cherries are tart, add more if lemons are small)
¾ cup sugar (add more if cherries are tart)
2 TBSP minute tapioca (if cherries are really juicy you may need to add a little more, can substitute equal part cornstarch OR 1/3 cup flour)
¼ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp salt

Combine filling ingredients and let sit for 30 minutes, stirring several times.  This time will soften the tapioca so you don’t get little white pieces in the filling.  After this wait time, taste cherries and add sugar and/or lemon juice and possibly a little salt to taste. 

Crumb topping (can increase recipe proportions if you really like topping!):
1 cup flour
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup butter, room temperature
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
2 TBSP almond paste (optional but very tasty!)

Put in food processor and mix until thick, grainy paste/dough.  Fill par baked (and egg white brushed) pie crust with cherry filling, cover entire pie lightly with foil and bake at 400-degrees for 20 minutes. Be sure to put a baking sheet under pie plate because juice from these types of pies will spill over.   Take pie out of oven and add crumb topping by breaking dough into pea-sized bits and covering pie generously and LIGHTLY packing it down.  Put foil cover back over entire pie and bake at 350-degrees for 1 hour.  If pie had not browned to your satisfaction, remove foil for last 5 – 10 minutes of bake time.

Let pie sit for at least 3 hours before serving.  Enjoy!

FG4's Peach Pie
"I just cut up the fruit (necta-peaches in this case) and toss it with some sugar and flour and lemon juice.   Oh, and I added some nutmeg.  And bits of butter.  That's it."   She used Ina Garten's recipe for the Lemon Meringue entry.

* She's the Lucy, but is shaped like the Ethel.
** The judges, none of whom we met or got to see eat our pies, were:
Jonathan Gold (Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer for the LA Weekly)
Roxanna Jullapat (Pastry Chef at Ammo Cafe)
Zoe Nathan (Chef / Owner of Huckleberry Cafe)
Akasha Richmond (Chef / Owner of Akasha)
Karen Hatfield (Pastry Chef at Hatfield’s)
Eric Greenspan (The Foundry on Melrose)
Christine Moore (Little Flower Candy Company)
Sang Yoon (Father’s Office)
*** It turns out that she owned a real live bakery.  As did several other contestants.  Lots of these proessionals didn't win either, so we felt better.

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