Monday, September 14, 2009

Pastries Without Fear: Magical Muffin Pies Oh My

The genesis of this project actually began during one of my baking kicks last winter. I came across an entry in Megan Reardon's Not Martha website about making pies baked in tiny jars. The inherent adorable-ness of this idea tickled my taste buds and imagination, and yet my lack of experience with pastry crusts scared me off. While I had previously had success with graham cracker crusts, cookies, and cupcakes, the creation of pastry's delicate flakiness seemed to require a meticulousness and patience for chemistry which I would never be capable.

Fast forward almost a year later. I am sitting at my computer, having just done an ichat test in preparation for a talk-back with Bradley Theater's senior seminar class. With two hours to kill before the scheduled talk-back, I attempt to turn my attentions to my current writing projects. Complete and utter failure. Restless, I needed to do something active but with the clock ticking, I knew a bike ride was out of the question. My thoughts drifted to baking, and I rattled off in my mind the ingredients I had: flour, water, salt, butter. All they key ingredients for a pastry crusts. Once again the jar pies popped back into my mind. Though the chemistry of it was still daunting, the thought of something warm inside of a flaking crust was too much to resist on a cold, rainy day.

So I trolled the web until I found a basic pie crust recipe that seemed simple enough even I couldn't screw up. With trepidation, I began following the steps outlined, careful not to let my insecurity and impatience cause me to lose faith in the instructions and screw it up completely. It's a similar fear to programming a destination into your GPS: though 95% of the time it gets you to where you need to be, there are those once-in-a-blue moon cases where it decides to have a conniption fit and leads you toward an abandoned warehouse during an Oklahoma tornado warning instead of the Motel 6. If I follow the recipe and do as I am told will I be rewarded with crisp, flaky, goodness or will the fruits of my labor be limp, mushy, and bland?

And while at first the outlook was bleak--this is absurd, I thought, cutting frozen butter bit by bit into the bowl of flour. Once I added began adding bits of water, however, I began to feel something vaguely dough-like taking shape. Still I was anxious, but by the time I was ready to put the dough in the freezer, it was about time for the ichat talk and I was forced to walk away.

45 minutes later, I take the dough out of the freezer and roll it out. Seems normal enough. Though the original intend had been to use an empty salsa jar for my jar-pie, I abandoned that idea when I realized the method was intended for more heat-resistant canning jars, and the last thing I needed was the jeers from my roommates once my jar exploded in the oven. So I instead resolved to take this opportunity to inaugurate my new muffin tin. For my first batch, I decided to make half veggie pies and half apple. The amount of dough I created ended up being enough for 8 pies.

Holding my breath, I popped them into the oven. About 40 minutes later, I took them out.

And planted my fork into the crust. It crackled and was just as flaky, warm and comforting as promised.

The next day, I was entertaining a guest and decided to try my hand at another batch, this time making half peanut butter and half apple. Here you will see the lovely Jen Ring modeling the result:

And now, finally, Miraculous Magical Muffin Pies

2 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 sticks cold butter
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Ice water as needed

Fillings (these fillings are all measured for making six pies each. To make a full batch, simply double each recipe)

Vegetable Pot Pie
1 cup chopped veggies, can include peas, mushrooms, onions, corn, potatoes, etc.
l cup vegetable broth (a bouillon cube in water should do the trick)
Flour, corn starch or arrowroot to thicken
salt, pepper to taste

Apple Pie
1 apple, diced
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp of water
1 tsp corn starch or arrowroot

Peanut Butter Pie
1/2 cup karo (can also dissolve sugar in boiling water to substitute)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup peanut butter

Add flour to a medium bowl. Cut butter pieces about 1/2-tablespoon big and add to flour along with salt. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, blend together until the dough resembles pea-sized crumbs.

Add ice water a tablespoon at a time mixing with a fork just until the dough starts to come together. Using your hands, knead dough in the bowl two or three times until it comes together in a ball. Turn out onto a floured cutting board and knead another two to three times.

Flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in the freezer for 15 minutes to use immediately according to pie recipe. Or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and use any time within a week. Crust can also be frozen for up to a month and defrosted in the refrigerator overnight for later use.

Once ready to bake, remove the dough from the freezer and roll out onto counter until dough is about 1/8 inch thick. Press half of the dough into greased muffin tin and cover the rest. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 and prepare the fillings.
For the veggie pot pie, combine chopped veggies and cook in the method you prefer. Next, combine broth in a small sauce pan with arrowroot, corn starch and flour and heat until sauce begins to thicken. Pour sauce over the veggies and combine until coated. Pour into pie shells.

For the apple pot pie, dice apples and set aside in lemon juice. Next, heat sugar, water, corn starch and cinnamon in a small saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Pour into pie shells.

For the peanut butter pie, combine all ingredients until smooth and pour into pie shells.

Next, take the rest of the dough and cover the tops of each pie. You can be simple and just do a solid cover, or get creative and weave strips together to create a traditional basket look. When finished, pop the little suckers into the oven and let bake for 30-45 minutes or until the crust starts to get golden brown.

Remove from the oven, grab a fork, and you know the rest!

In the rare case that there are leftovers, pop them into a bag and pop them into the microwave for a quick lunch on the run, midnight snack, or rainy day.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds delicious! And I made the correction in the make mistakes when you're typing the blog at 5:30 at the start of a busy day.