Thursday, August 4, 2011

Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts

I recently bought the Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts book, and it is fabulous (though I am slightly biased because I am just a little obsessed with all things Martha). The recipes are genius, though I would honestly buy it just for the beautiful color photos of each recipe. While I do not have the time (or the money) to cook all of the 150 pies and tarts in one year Julia and Julia style, I am really excited to try to make as many new pies and tarts as possible.

Karen (a post-doc with me in the Crane lab) and I made a blueberry and buttermilk tart soon after I bought the book, which went very well despite our unfocused approach to baking it. (I forgot to take photographic proof, so you will have to take our word for it.) However, as anyone that uses Martha's recipes regularly knows, there are usually extreme consequences when Martha's directions are not followed exactly as written. I refer to these consequences as the wrath of Martha. Laziness and shortcuts are not allowed when "cooking with Martha," and she will punish you if you ignore her lengthy (and sometimes annoyingly detailed) advice. (If you would like to cook without fear, I suggest cooking recipes from Rachael Ray or Paula Deen. Their recipes can be doctored like crazy before reaching the point of failure.)

When I was visiting Amanda and Paul a few weeks ago, I offered to bake Paul a pie of his choosing from the book. He chose banana cream pie, and I set about making the pie crust, which I did according to every single detail Martha demanded (even though I have made pie crusts several times without incident just by using my grandmother's approximations). Above is the finished pie crust dough waiting to be pre-baked. When it came time for pre-baking this awesome-looking crust, I did not add pie crust weights to fill the crust as Martha asked me to. My first reason for not listening to Martha was a practical one - Amanda did not have pie crust weights (who does really, unless there are centerpieces around that contain marbles). My second reason was based on my own experience and instincts - I have baked many pie crusts in my short lifetime that have turned out beautifully and have never, ever used pie weights before. And so, for both of these reasons, I decided this detail in the recipe was not so crucial. I figured it was more of a suggestion from Martha than a demand, and I put the pie crust in the oven without the pie weights.

I miscalculated BIG TIME. I should have known better than to trust my own experience over hers (she's Martha freaking Stewart after all!), and she was most definitely not kidding about the pie weights. In fact, Martha got pretty pissed off at me for not using pie weights, as shown in this photo. Epic fail. Without those blasted pie weights, the crust puffed up and shrunk up around the edges! It looked like and had the texture of a giant tortilla shell used in taco salad. The rest of the banana cream pie-making process went downhill from there. Frustrated over this crappy crust, I did not cook the custard long enough and it did not set. (Though that may have been a blessing in disguise, because I doubt the custard would have tasted very good inside this mess of a crust anyway.) When I got back from North Carolina, I compared Martha's pie crust recipe to my grandmother's to see what could have possibly made such a difference, and was not surprised to discover the ingredients and their proportions are essentially the same in both (Martha uses a pinch more sugar in her crust than Grandmom Lola does). There is obviously no reasonable explanation for the failure of this pie crust other than the wrath of Martha.

After a little time off to repent my mistake, I got out the cookbook last night and made this Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Galette with some swiss chard from our garden. I followed Martha's directions exactly, and it turned out perfectly. (For those of you who do not have the cookbook, you can find the recipe here.) The crust of this galette was particularly interesting because it included oatmeal, which was a unique crust ingredient for me but added a lot of texture to this dish.

Now that our squash plants are beginning to produce, I am considering this as my next Martha-based challenge!

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