Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pie: Epic Fail

With the frequency of my blog entries being so shamefully low, it might appear that I'm obsessed about pie, given that this will be the second entry of the last three about pie. I'm not obsessed, but I have had another memorable pie-centered event.

You see, March 14 was Pi Day. Get it? Pi begins with the numbers 3.14, so, 3/14 every year is Pi Day. Congress even made it official this year. So, the natural way to celebrate Pi Day is to eat some pie. Not only are the two words homonyms, but pies have the added advantage of being circular. Ha.

Pi Day was on a Saturday this year, but since I have a new range that needed a workout, I thought I'd make a pie to take to work on Friday. Since I work in IT, I knew that my coworkers would be all over Pi Day and wouldn't look at me with that "you're a nerd, aren't you?" look I've gotten at other jobs.

I decided to make a basic chocolate cream, assuming that that would have the broadest appeal and wouldn't require too much work on a weeknight. (Despite the original intention to give the oven a workout, I wound up with a type of pie that wasn't baked, except for a brief stint for the crumb crust.) Not having a stand-by recipe, I perused my usual sources and narrowed it down to two candidates: A recipe from Gourmet, and one in Ruth Levy Beranbaum's
The Pie and Pastry Bible.

For the filling, I chose Ruth's -- the two recipes were very similar, but Ruth's promised to be a little darker chocolate-wise, and called for whole eggs, which appealed to me more than the egg-yolk-only formula from Gourmet. If you are unfamiliar with Ruth's books, she's a food scientist at heart, and the recipes are calculated and tested to the nth degree, so I had no fear of making a recipe of hers to serve to others without a trial run. I did use the chocolate crumb crust from the Gourmet recipe since I wouldn't have time for the dough resting needed for a good pastry crust.

Naturally, my hubris got me.

The end result, while tasting fine, was not something I'd be proud to present. You see, both recipes call for mixing cornstarch with the egg/egg yolk at the beginning; milk is added later. This runs counter to every recipe and rule of thumb I know about cornstarch, which states you should always dissolve it in cold liquid before adding to the other ingredients. I trusted that Ruth (and Gourmet) new what they were doing, and that the cornstarch would dissolve and mix in well with the eggs.

It didn't.

Now, I freely admit that this could be as much user error as anything else; perhaps I didn't use a sufficient whisking technique. The fact remains, though, that the egg was just too viscous to readily absorb the cornstarch. I soldiered on, hoping the rest of the process, including the straining called for at the end, would redeem the mixture. To make a long story short, it didn't. The end result was the right consistency, and tasted good; it had a grainy texture rather than the dead-smooth texture you expect in a cream pie, though.

So, I did not take it to work -- it just wasn't up to my standards. I did enjoy a slice Friday night, just for testing purposes, mind you.

I will make another of these pies another day ... the difference is that I will be sure to mix the cornstarch with a little of the milk before mixing with the eggs!