Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Apple Pie + Mom = What baking's all about

There's always something a little mysterious about baking. Cooking is something you have to do every day (well, most of us do, anyway), and while that makes it no less magical, it makes it more familiar, and perhaps a little less daunting. Baking is less quotidien and more precise, involving more strictly-measured ingredients, cooking times and methods. Like a chemistry experiment. Or a magic potion (sorry, I'm on a six-book Harry Potter-thon before the final book comes out).

I lived the first years of my life in England, where I remember my mom would make pies from scratch, which is sort of a big deal now, when everyone picks up a pie from the supermarket rather than embark on the delicate and demanding journey that is pastry-making. But I think it was the pastry element that made it so magical to my little-kid eyes – the fingers-in-the-dough squishiness of it, and the delightful smell that pastry exudes – flour and richness and warmth.

I think there's a reason that we often introduce kids to the making of food through baking and not cooking. We don't usually ask kids to help us whip up a beef wellington or chop some veg for the stir-fry, but we quite happily put them in charge of doling out the chocolate chips and stirring the batter (and usually swiping some of it from the bowl with a finger!).

Back at 20 Meads Lane, in Seven Kings, Essex, England, Mom would be putting together the pie, and I would get the leftover bits that hung over the edges of the dish, the trimmed pastry that would be formed into a ball again and handed to me to do with as I wished. Frankly, you're not supposed to handle pastry too much. It's finnicky - it doesn't like your warm oily fingers, and if you work it too much it won't be as flaky as you want it to be.

But as a kid you don't care about that, you just like the tactileness of it all. We would shape the remaining pastry into little tart shells, and fill them with strawberry jam and lemon curd, which I remember being my Uncle David's favourite. I don't encounter quite so much lemon curd over here.

Good old Wiki says lemon curd is "a traditional British dessert topping and sandwich spread[!]. The basic ingredients are beaten egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice and zest which are gently cooked together until thick and then allowed to cool, forming a soft, smooth, intensely flavoured spread. Some recipes also include egg whites and/or butter. In late 19th and early 20th century England, home made lemon curd was traditionally served with bread or scones at afternoon tea as an alternative to jam, and as a filling for cakes, small pastries and tarts."

I can only imagine Michelle's look of horror reading this description of several different kinds of cooked fruit. But as for lemon curd, and the little tarts I used to make, is it really that different from this? Here's 'the reveal' of the finished pie (well, the mock-reveal, in any case).

I'm so glad my Mom agreed to have another go at apple pie, just the two of us for old times' sake. We used Ina Garten's recipe, which (as you can imagine) was rich, but we think we would eschew the orange peel in the future, and just use the lemon. The combination of Crisco and butter was good, but there were perhaps too many cups of flour. We sliced lots of apples, and when I saw my mom heaping spoonful after spoonful in the pie I thought 'how is this going to work?,' but it did! It all baked down and produced a beautifully-rounded, golden-crisp apple pie.

Which we enjoyed with some vanilla ice cream and sunshine outside on the deck. Ah, the mystery that is baking.


Meg said...

Lovely post Laura! I also think a lot about the difference between baking and cooking, since I've been much more into the later (it's all that room for haphazard creativity). But you're so right baking being what you do as a kid – I did tons of it back then. I even had a Betty Crocker kids cookbook – my favorite recipe was the cheese pretzels.

And lemon curd! I love lemon curd! My mom gave my sister and I a jar of it this xmas and we totally devoured it. It kind of reminds me of my grandma's "lemon foam" which I think will always be my favourite dessert.

Next time we make a quiche, or chicken pie, or... we should make our own pastry. And eat all of the little cuttings – you've got me craving raw pastry now.

YoonJu said...

The site looks lovely! And that apple pie looks so delicious. It's actually making me hungry. I just wanted to drop by and say 'I miss you all!!'

YoonJu said...

Laura, I wish I could be doing a six-book-Harry-Potter-thon before the last book comes out! I booked a copy here at the Borders Bookstore in SF. I'm not sure if I'll be able to read it straight away once I get it, but at least I will have a copy in my hands! Ah, Harry Potter is coming to an end, it's the end of a great era. How tragic.