Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Preheat Your Ovens - It's The Mini Pie Revolution

Maybe you've always preferred pie to cake. Maybe you like tiny things. Maybe you feel, in your gut, that the cupcake's so last year. Well now it's time to preheat your ovens, fill your cupcake tins with mini pies, and aim your cameras at the delicious results. If you're not with us, you don't get any mini pie.

Your Mission

Bake a mini pie from scratch. Mini pies should be baked in a cupcake or muffin tins, but we'll let you get away with other pans if the resulting pies remain miniature. Just how small are mini pies? Aim for mini cupcake or cupcake-sized pies. No mini pie should serve more than one person. Still, we're no size-ists here at The Mini Pie Revolution HQ. We're not going to pull out tape measures.

We prefer that you use legal ingredients, as clever as "pot" pies might sound. So no endangered animals or mind-enhacing drugs, people! Your mini pies can be sweet or savory, single-crusted, double-crusted, open-faced, baby-faced or ugly-faced. We only ask that the pie has some sort of crust (pastry pie dough, as in apple pie) or other topping (mashed potatoes on shepherd's pie, cornbread crust on Mexican pot pie, etc.). No completely naked pies, as that is indecent and illegal we'd have to call the pie authorities.

Really, the sky's the mini pie limit. Have you always wanted to make sushi pie? Here's your chance! Eggplant custard pies? We won't say "no." Do you want to miniaturize your favorite tried-and-true gooseberry pie recipe? Go ahead! Simply put, your mini pie can be anything and everything you want to bake.

The Strategem

Create your mini pies. Photograph your mini pies. Write about your mini pies on your blog. Include a link back to this event announcement. Then:

E-mail Ann (at redactedrecipes@gmail.com) or Karyn (at Kosmicfish27ATaolDOTcom) the following:

1) A 100 X 100 mini pie portrait
2) Brief description of your mini pie (just the name of the recipe is fine)
3) The title of your blog and a link to your blog
4) A link to your mini pie entry
5) Make sure your e-mail's subject head is "The Mini Pie Revolution"

Please send us your entry by Midnight EST on December 25, and we will post the results by January 1, 2008. Let's make 2008 the year of mini pies! The winning mini pie baker will be chosen by Ann and Karyn and will receive a fabulous prize. So get baking!

Feel free to use the Mini Pie Revolution Logo in our sidebar on your post or on your blog.

A Subversive Guide To Basic Pie Crust and Cheats

"Sedition is a term of law which refers to covert conduct such as speech and organization that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order."

Lately I have been attracted to pies. Little pies. So much so that Karyn and I have hatched a seditious plot to overthrow the cupcake overlords. But before you mark me as some sort of Pie Subject Matter Expert, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am compelled to admit that I have, in the past, made many more cakes and breads than I have pies. Oh sure, I have a few favorite pie and tart and quiche recipes, of course I do. But historically my first whip-something-up impulse has not been about pie. There. I said it.

I can explain. I suffer from Fear Of Pie Crust, and I experience fits of anxiety whenever I make one. People like my pies. They even, occasionally, compliment the crust. But my Inner Pie Child still nervously expects the dough to stick to the rolling pin or to the counter or to crumble into pieces as I try to move the dough to the pie dish, or to shrink, or to be tough or soggy or both.

Luckily, some of these fears are assuaged by the mini pie concept. Making a batch of mini pies (yes, mini pies come in batches! How cool is that?) means the dreaded transfer of dough to pie dish is completely eliminated. You're just moving little circles into little muffin cups! How easy! And the shrinkage problem just doesn't seem to be a factor with mini pies... or it's just not as noticable.

Here's one of my mostly foolproof recipes and some cheats I swear by:

Basic Shortcrust Pastry With Cheats Included

The lowdown on shortcrust pastry is that you must have twice the amount of flour to fat (so for a single pie crust you'll need about 2 cups of flour to one stick of butter and a half cup of shortening or lard). You must use butter AND shortening or lard. Sorry, but the shortening or lard is key. All-butter crusts tend to weep butter and are not as tender, in my opinion, but maybe that's just me.

The fat needs to be at room temperature if you're mixing by hand, or really, really cold if you're cheating and using a food processor (my preferred method). This distinction is important. Don't mix them up and try to use cold hard fat with your hands or softened fat with the processor. It won't be pretty. I speak from experience, so trust me on this.

You need a pinch of salt. I know a lot of people swear you should just use flour and fat and water, but I think the pastry tastes flat without a little salt.

The last ingredient is ice water. Really, the colder the water, the better. How much water varies, and this is where it gets tricky, as you need to go by feel.

Making the Dough:

(Cheater Method)

1) Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and put it in your freezer for about 10 minutes so that's it's seriously cold. Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into your food processor and pulse. Add the cold butter and shortening and pulse about 6 or 7 times-- it should look good and crumbly.

2) Tip the crumbles into a bowl and start adding water as described in step 2 below. This is because you will get a much better feel for how much water you need if you use your hands. If you're in a hurry or just really lazy you can ignore this advice and add the ice water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the dough starts to come together. You can test it by pulling a piece off and pinching it to see if it holds together. If it doesn't you'll need a little more water. This is a much less reliable method and one I seldom resort to.

(By Hand Method)

1) Sift the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Cut the softened butter and shortening into small lumps and drop it into the flour. Use a knife to roughly cut the fat into the flour until you feel you can't make any more blending progress and then rub the fat into the flour with your fingers. Try to work quickly and yet gently (keep your touch light... you are coaxing pastry into being, not punishing it) until the mixture is crumbly. A few recalcitrant lumps are okay-- you don't want to overmix it.

2) Once it's nice and crumbly, add ice water one tablespoon at a time and mix it in with your hands. Depending on the day, the position of the stars, the dryness of the flour you used and the mood of the gods, you may need to add more water. Do this a very little at a time and work the dough until all of the fat and flour have been incorporated and the the sides and bottom of the bowl are free of crumbs. Now take a rest and let the pastry rest. Wrap it in plastic and put in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (you can leave it for a few days, too).

Rolling Out the Dough

1) Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before you mess with it. Place it on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle it with a light coating of flour. Dust your rolling pin with flour. Take a deep breath. Lightly begin to roll out the dough from the center, re-dusting your rolling pin and the top of the dough as needed. For a round crust give it quarter turns as you go, and roll backwards and forwards. Don't be like me and think you can control the shape by rolling in different directions. It really doesn't work. I have never managed a neat square, so I won't try to advise you on this. If you notice that the dough is starting to stick as you turn it, sprinkle a little more flour under it. When the dough is about 1/8 of an inch thick you're done.

Not Worrying About Getting the Dough Into A Pie Plate

Here is the best part about mini pies! You don't have to try to move a large fragile round of dough into a single large pie dish! Instead you use a pastry or biscuit round and cut out the circles you need.

Usurp Authority: Make Your Own Pastry Pie Crust

So you want to join the revolution, but you’re still clinging to your last box of cupcake mix. Why? Because cupcakes, you say, don’t bake in crusts. Store-bought crusts don’t appeal, and nothing seems scarier than recreating that dense, flour-dusted hockey-puck of a crust you made way back when. Never fear! Yes, pastry pie crust can prove temperamental. But a few simple tricks will have you turning out pie crusts so good, your friends will wonder just when you spent time on an Amish homestead.

Choose Your Fat Wisely

Pastry pie dough’s a simple creature. It contains flour, liquid, fat, and salt. The flour’s easy. Use all-purpose flour (some books will say to use half all-purpose flour, half pastry flour). If you’re feeling fancy, feel free to test out polenta or gluten-free flours, but when it comes to pie, simplicity never hurt anyone. I use ice water for the liquid, though you might find some recipes that call for chilled milk, cream, vinegar, or buttermilk. When it comes to pie dough, fat’s the key. Lard, shortening, or butter? That’s the question – and the answer depends on how you like your pie.

Lard’s what Grandma used. Lard, or rendered pork fat, makes for tender, flaky pie crusts. I don’t eat pigs, so I’ve yet to use lard. My mother claims she never liked lard crusts – she says they tasted too animal, too greasy. Professional food writers like lard pie crusts’ texture, but dislike it’s flavor.

Vegetable shortening’s what Mom uses. Like lard, it creates a flaky pie crust. Unlike lard, vegetable shortening won’t taste like animal product, so it works better in sweet pies. Vegetable shortening comes from hydrogenated oil, so be prepared to eat your trans fats and like them, too. Even if the label says there’s no trans fat, read the ingredient list: if the list says: “hydrogenated oil,” you’re consuming trans fat.

Butter’s what I use. It creates a better flavored pie crust, but the flavor comes with some textural drawbacks. With butter, you’re more likely to create a soft pie crust. And if something goes horribly wrong, the crust could go greasy. Some bakers will mix butter with shortening for a flaky pie crust that tastes like butter. Personally, I just make an all-butter crust and use special fancy tricks to get a flaky texture.

Special Fancy Tricks

Special Fancy Trick Number One: whatever fat you choose, keep it cold. Keep the fat in the refrigerator or the freezer until you’re ready to make your dough.

I make pie crust by hand. To make pie crust, I use a metal mixing bowl, a knife, a fork or a pastry cutter, a tablespoon, and a rolling pin.

First, measure two cups of flour into the mixing bowl. Special Fancy Trick Number Two: use a new bag of flour. Older flour might have absorbed moisture, which will result in mini hockey pucks. Special Fancy Trick Number Three: don’t scoop the flour out of its bag or bowl with your measuring cup – this will pack the flour. Instead, use two measuring cups. Use one cup to remove the flour from the bag, then gently shake the flour into your second measuring cup. You want level cups, but do not pack the flour.

Put the measured flour in the mixing bowl. Pour a little salt into your palm – no more than a tablespoon, and throw it into the mixing bowl with the flour. Here, you can either sift the flour and the salt together (the proper method), or fluff the flour and salt together with a fork (the lazy cook’s method).

Chop up a stick and a half of cold butter into one-tablespoon measurements. Drop the cold butter into the mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut the butter into the flour. Really use your muscles. Work quickly - if the butter starts to melt, put the bowl straight into the freezer. Melting butter = bad pie dough. You know you’re finished when the mix looks dry and crumbly, and there are no more large pieces of butter in the bowl.

Take your ice water from the freezer or refrigerator. Measure three tablespoons of ice water into the into the middle of your mixing bowl. Now, using a rolling motion and the back of your hand, work the flour, butter, and ice water into a ball. If the ball forms easily, you’re done. If not, add another tablespoon of water. Knead the dough. If it still doesn’t come together, add another tablespoon of ice water. It should take between three and five tablespoons of ice water to make pie crust dough.

Put the mixing bowl with the dough inside in the refrigerator or freezer for ten to fifteen minutes. While the dough cools, pour a little flour onto a flat surface. Spread a little where you will roll out your dough. Lightly dust your rolling pin. Special Fancy Trick Number Four: do not over flour your rolling pin or your flat surface – too much flour will make inedible mini pies.

Take half of your dough from the mixing bowl. Plop it onto your floured surface. Starting in the middle of your dough ball, flatten out the dough. If your rolling pin picks up some pie dough, flour it again. Rotate the dough after every roll with the rolling pin. You want the dough to form a circle. If the dough becomes too thin to rotate, don’t pick it up again, but do continue rolling the dough. Special Fancy Trick Number Five: do not overwork the pie dough. Ideally, you should roll it out only once. Make the dough as thin as you can – this is especially important for mini pies.

Take a mug or a cup with a wide rim. Put it on the rolled-out pie dough. Using a knife, cut out a circle of pie dough. Put the pie dough circle in one cup of your cupcake pan's cups. Press it into the cup’s bottom. Using a fork, poke the dough at the bottom of your cup. Crimp the edges for an open-faced pie. For a double-crusted pie, scoop filling into the cup, top it with a second layer of pie dough (make sure the top crust has holes in it, too), and then crimp the mini pie’s edges. Continue filling the cupcake tin with mini pie crusts (the dough recipe I gave will make two nine inch pies and at least twelve mini pies, depending on the size of the pans used).

There, you have it. You can go on and fill cupcake tins, then the world, with mini pies!

Unless you don't trust me. Then, check out these pie dough resources:

The New York Times Recipe for All-Butter Pie Crust

Epicurious.com's Search Results for Pie Crust

I'll leave you with Special Fancy Trick Number Six: keep graham crackers in your pantry, just in case your pastry pie crust fails. No one ever hated a cookie crust.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Mini Pie Manifesto

The history of all hitherto existing bake sales, PTA functions, potlucks, children’s birthday parties, weddings, vegan cookbooks, Hostess snack boxes, and SNL rap parodies is the history of cakes and their “cup”-sized brethren. The cupcake stands in direct opposition to the flaky-crusted, fruit-scented, best-with-vanilla-ice-cream pies that define everything good and wholesome and pure in this world.

The History of The Cupcake Oppression

People have been loving pies since before 2000 B.C.. People loved pies so much that they called their loved ones “honey pie” and “cutie pie.” Eve sinned for an apple (or was that a quince?) pie. Shepherds wooed their shepherdesses with shepherd’s pie (it’s in Arcadia). The British ate mince meat pies every Christmas, Ancient Greeks built monuments honoring spanakopita, and Gwenyth Paltrow christened her daughter after Vermont’s State Pie. Soon afterwards, Europeans “discovered” America away from the Native Americans, and populated places like Boston Cream, the Florida Key Limes, and Kentucky Derby, which they named after pies.

Cupcake domination began in nineteenth century America, when bakers started to make cakes in one-cup measurements. Pretty soon, Little Debbie started selling cupcakes at Magnolia bakery , and the blogosphere went crazy, and major newspapers said, “Hey, cupcakes are awesome.” But cupcakes aren’t awesome - they have crushed the voiceless pie class for far too long.

How have cupcakes continued to reign supreme? In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell banned pie-eating on Christmas. Betty Crocker, being a proper capitalist, used the opportunity to fill every Wal-Mart shelf with cake mixes and Funfetti icing. Wal-Mart shoppers (being a wily race) realized they could make a lot of cupcakes quickly without having to do much more than heat up their ovens. Pretty soon everyone thought that cupcakes were cute and easy – even easier than pie! So while people confined pies to county fairs, the freezer section, and binge-eating contests, the cupcake became the go-to treat for children and adults worldwide.

The Cupcake’s Appeal

The cupcake class perpetuates a mythology to maintain its class status:

Cupcakes lovers say that cupcakes are sweet.

Cupcakes lovers say that cupcakes are easy.

Cupcakes lovers say that cupcakes appeal to children and adults.

Cupcake lovers says that cupcakes come in cute single-servings.

The weapons with which the cupcake felled the pie are now turned against the cupcake itself. To make cupcakes, Modern Industry created cupcake tins. In manufacturing cupcake tins, Modern Industry also created the cupcake’s downfall. Cheap bakers who didn’t feel like buying tart pans filled them with pie crust and fruit-flavored filling. The mini pie was born. And the mini pie beats the cupcake on all counts.

The Mini Pie Rebuttal

Mini pies can be sweet or savory. Mini pies can contain eggs, meat, chocolate, custard, pulses, vegetables, and fruit. Mini pies can be made with fresh, seasonal ingredients all year long. Mini pies can be eaten at breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, or snack-time. Mini pies span races, cultures, and continents, and they look cute and tasty no matter where they’re made.

Mini pies are so easy-as-pie, they literally take down the cake. Mini pie dough can be made ahead of time and frozen in pie tins, allowing cooks to pull together mini pies in mere minutes (not including baking time).

Mini pies prove social creatures: they like sides. Cheese, ice cream, custards, coffee, wine, whipped cream, fruit sauce, chocolate drizzle – mini pies provide the perfect excuse to eat any and all manners of special happy toppings.

Mini pies appeal to everyone who likes pie (i.e., everyone).

Mini pies, like cupcakes, come in cute single-servings. Unlike cupcakes, mini pies fill your house with pie-baking aromas, can make complete meals, and go towards your three-a-days. Also, they’re pies. In miniature.

Join the Revolution

The mini pie epoch has arrived. Don’t resist – do you really want to go down in history as that loser who just didn't get that "whole mini pie thing?" Pick up your “mini pie” pan. Throw out your cupcake mix. Dust off your rolling pin and start flattening some pie dough. Fill the world with peace, joy, and mini pies!