Sunday, March 18, 2007

Shaker Lemon Pie

I got a wonderful gift from oddjob this week. It's "The Pie and Pastry Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It is a beautiful volume. She takes great care to explain the science and reasoning behind her techniques. She also gives weight measurements in her recipes, which, when dealing with things like flour is very important. Understanding the process, the reactions and interactions of the ingredients can make a huge difference in successful cooking.

So, yesterday I'm idling around the house. Half watching the NCAA tournament and half beginning to stress out over the St. Patrick's Day performance I let myself get bullied into. So, there I am, leafing through this gorgeous cookbook when this recipe catches my eye. For those of you who are not regular readers of Shakespeare's Sister then I must explain that the term she uses to describe the regular readers and commenters there is "Shakers." So, when I normally am talking about Shakers I'm not talking about the 19th century cult that pretty much doomed itself with a commitment to celibacy, I'm talking about denizens of a delightful progressive blog.

I'm reading through the ingredients, and there, right outside my window I see my neighbor's Meyer Lemon tree heavy with fruit. I don't know about anyone else, but lately I've been trying not to argue with the happy confluence of events.

I decide to distract myself from fretting over the show by cooking. I send MedschoolGirl and her buddy Aruna next door with a bucket to cadge some lemons from the neighbors (they know they will get their issue of any good products coming out of their donation to the cause).

Just like the book suggests I divide the cooking of this pie over the course of two days.

In honor of the original Shakers, I was humming Simple Gifts.

Tis a gift to be simple
Tis a gift to be free
Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be

And when you find yourself
In the place that is right
It will be in the valley
Of love and delight

For when true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend
We shan't be ashamed
To turn and turn
Will be our delight
Till by turning, turning
We come round right

Tis a gift to be simple
Tis a gift to be free
For the proud are cast down
Deeper than the sea
The first shall be last
And the last shall be first
And the meek shall inherit
All of God's earth

For when true. . . "

Which, come to think of it, is an excellent reminder to not overcomplicate this recipe.

Day one tasks

Make crust dough
Slice and macerate lemons.

Crust Ingedients

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold)
2 cups unbleached flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 1/2 ounces cream cheese (cold)
2 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoon chilled apple cider vinegar

Cut the butter into small (3/4" ) cubes. Wrap in plastic and freeze until frozen solid, at least 30 minutes. Place the flour, salt, and baking powder in a reclosable gallon-size freezer bag and freeze that for at least 30 minutes.

Put the flour mixture in the food processor with the metal blade attachment and pulse a couple of times to mix the dry ingredients well and bust up and little nuggets that might have formed in the freezer. Save the bag.

Cut the cream cheese into three or four pieces and add to the flour. Pulse mix it until it resembles a coarse meal. Add the frozen butter cubes and pulse until none of the butter chunks are larger than the size of a pea. (you can root around with an ice tea spoon to thoroughly check this) Add the water and the vinager. Pulse that until most of the butter is reduced to the size of small peas. This will be a loose mix of particles and will not hold together on its own. Divide this in half. Put one half into the plastic bag you saved. While in the bag, knead this mixture from the outside by alternately pressing it with the heel of your hand and the knuckles, until the mixture holds together in one piece and feels stretchy and elastic when pulled. Wrap in plastic wrap, flatten it into a disc and refrigerate overnight. (do this with both halves of the dough)
(aside to the audience, this is, as of today my favorite pie crust, it combines a delicious flavor, is tender to the mouth but strong enough to hold the ingredients, and it is flakey )

Macerated lemons

2 Large Meyer Lemons, rinsed and lightly scrubbed
2 cups baker's sugar

Cut the lemons in half lengthwise. Slice off the ends to just where pith ends and the pulp begins, save that for twists of lemon in your espresso, or put it aside to dry, or just fucking throw it out if you're a lazy, wasteful git. With a very sharp, thin blade knife slice paper thin. Communion wafer thin. Translucent thin. Collecting all the juice while you do this, but picking out and discarding the seeds. Do this until you have two cups of lemon slices.

In a medium bowl (non-reactive of course), stir together gently the lemon slices, the juices you collected and the sugar. Set this aside, closely covered with plastic wrap at room temperature until the next day.

Day 2

Roll out the crust
Assemble the filling.

Remove the bottom crust (just so you won't stand there trying to remember shit, the bottom crust is the one you take out first) from the refrigerator, allow it to sit for 10 minutes or until it is soft enough to roll without cracking.

On a floured pastry cloth, or if you're a barbarian and don't have a treasured pastry cloth use two sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap, roll the bottom crust out 1/8" thick or less, but large enough to cut out a 12" circle. Transfer the circle to a pie pan and trim off almost even with the edge of the pan. Cover this closely with plastic wrap and return it to the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl beat 4 large eggs plus one yolk until they are well mixed and lemon colored. Stir this into the macerated lemons. Transfer this to the pie shell.

Roll out the top crust large enough to cut another 12" circle. Moisten the edges of the bottom crust with water and place the top crust over the fruit. Tuck the overhang under the bottom crust border and press down all the way around the rim to seal it. Crimp a border with a fork. Make a star of five two inch slashes with the inside edge of each slash about 1" from the center of the pie. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour before baking to chill and relax the pastry. This will maintain flakiness (in pie crust flakey is fucking king) and help to keep the crust from shrinking.

Heat oven to 450° with a baking stone or heavy baking sheet on the bottom rack on the bottom slot. Heat this for at least 20 minutes before beginning to bake the pie to ensure that your baking stone is hot all the way through.

Set the pie directly on the baking stone and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350° and continue baking for another 30 minutes. At this point a knife blade inserted into one of the slashes should come out fairly clean and the crust should be a beautiful golden brown. You can shield the edges of the pie with foil if you see it beginning to brown unevenly.

Cool on a baking rack at least two hours (or, like me, wait 90 minutes until you just can't stand it any more)

The maceration process with the lemons and the sugar candies the peels so they provide a slightly bitter counterpoint to the sweet/sour action.

This is a great pie. Thanks again Oddjob.

3 B's


Blogger Sherry said...

oh my goodness, that sounds wonderful!

one of the best cookbooks i have is "cooking from quilt country" by marcia adams

amish and mennonite cooking.
not a bad recipe in that book!

the amish half a pound cake is the best i've ever baked and the photographs are glorious.

4:57 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

it really is wonderful. i love amish and mennonite cooking. one of my sisters lives near tehachipi in california and there is a solid mennonite community in the south central valley. every time i visit we make sure to tour the farmer's roadside stands and sample the wonderful foods. she's not as obsessive a cook as i am but she loves good quality foods prepared in a straightforward simple way.

this pie is exquisite.

7:04 PM  
Blogger litbrit said...

Omigod, but I love lemons. I absolutely love lemons.

I make a killer lemon poundcake (from an ancient Fannie Farmer cookbook, being extra-generous with the lemon peel) that I punch up by adding a 1/2 cup of Limoncello to the batter, and when the cake is done and still warm, I poke it with a toothpick and drizzle more Limoncello over it. Evil and delicious!

See, I figure I was meant to live in Italy one day, somewhere around the Amalfi coast. That's why I was born with this lemon obsession.

I must try this pie when I recover from the flu; it sounds gorgeous.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Sherry said...

it sounds amazing.
another great book that i've had for years and years is "farm journal's country cookbook"


there's a carrot pecan spice cake in there that i've made over the years that always gets rave reviews.

i'm a goodie freak.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Pogo said...

Sounds terrific, and I'm not even much of a lemon pie fan.I did a late comment to your Friday random ten post. Short recap - "Jessica" by the Alman brothers.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Shakespeare's Sister said...

This post just made me all kinds of happy. :-)

7:38 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

not as happy as me when i'm brushing crust flakes off of my shirt. . .glad you liked it darlin'.

"jessica" is a great song. it shouldn't be all that rough. one of the things to remember about allman brothers stuff though is that a great deal of their chording was done by duane who was working with a guitar in open tuning. usually "D" or "G". send me an email and i will lay out the string pitches. since you have that old squier sitting around while you play with your casino you might want to consider putting it into open tunings for just such times. in open "G" the chords are pretty much the same as those for five string banjo. (it's also the key to keith richards sound, tune your axe to "G" and honky tonk women plays itself). i'm putting together a post about playing the Line6 Variax. about all i can say about it right now is "Wow, fucking Wow!"

9:39 AM  
Blogger Petulant said...

It does sound delicious. I might try it out this weekend. Every few months I make a huge batch of pastry dough and freeze it. That way it is always on hand.

Litbrit- I love the idea of Limoncello drizzled over your poundcake. Limoncello is one of my favorite drinks on the planet especially in champagne.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, given the composition of a lemon I'm sure it's not the "peel" that gives the bitter, but rather the white pith, and you might find that with a "regular" lemon the punch is more intense and less sweet (since Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter than "regular" lemons, to the point that some speculate a Meyer is actually a hybrid between a lemon and an orange).

As to the gift, you're more than welcome. Your truffles are pricey, but my brother's family absolutely freaked over them from what I was able to gather!

To those reading this, while I haven't yet tried out any of the recipes, one of the real benefits of this particular cookbook is Rose's careful attention to the "why" of the various details of a recipe. Once you get this book you'll never ever wonder again why a particular technique works when baking a pie or making a pastry (yes, the book covers both pies and also pastries). MB is using her basic pie dough recpie. Note that it's more complicated than a "typical" pie dough recipe. That's because she's examined not only the possibilities, but the food chemistry behind why a pie dough comes out as it does. Then she's modified it carefully so that it's not only more dependable, but also more flavorful and also texturally more satisfying (read "more flakey").

- oddjob (who saw the raves for this cookbook in Fine Cooking magazine and knew this was the real thing, and not something to hide from a serious cook like Minstrel Boy)

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, as a parting thought I offer this.

My information is now a good twenty-five years out of date, but when I took a post-harvest physiology course at Penn State (as a horticulture undergraduate student), I wrote a term paper on the process by which citrus fruits were prepared for grocery shelves after harvest.

I was struck (and somewhat appalled) at the number of pesticide treatments the fruits went through (which preserved the rind from a variety of funal infections).

As a consequence, since I've been on my own I have always gone out of my way to use organically raised fruit whenever I wanted to use Citrus peel in a recipe (or as a flavoring). The peel is gloriously flavorful, but until I learn otherwise (& it may well be otherwise now since I haven't checked since), I have been very leery of using conventionally raised and harvested citrus rind.

- oddjob (who has no problem with buying a bag of organic lemons and freezing those rinds as he used them for use in later cooking since one often needs only a very little rind for extra kick)

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Believe it or not I believe there is still (in New England) one final, still functioning Shaker settlement, but there are only about four members left. One man is in his fourties, another in his fifties or sixties, but the women are in their seventies.

- oddjob (who adores the "Simple Gifts" hymn, and Appalachian Spring, too!)

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those of you who aren't already aware of this, the reason for the constant refrigeration/freezing of all the dough ingredients whenever possible is because there is a protein in wheat flour called "gluten". Gluten is a structural protein, so when it becomes prominent in a dough it makes the dough tough. Consequently it's a useful thing in a bread dough (it gives the dough the necessary structure for those delicious holes in the bread loaf), but in a pie dough that same toughness makes an unpleasant dough, and one that can be a bitch to roll!

The low temperature interferes with the development/expression of gluten, and that's why keeping a pie dough as cool as possible allows the dough to be pliable and also flakey. Warm pie dough will be tough and a little rubbery instead of flakey.

I haven't yet made this recipe, but when I make the pie dough from the recipe I use (one that calls only for flour, salt, vegetable shortening, and water), I make sure the water is cold, and whenever the dough starts becoming difficult to roll I stop rolling it and put it in the freezer for five minutes to cool down. At Thanksgiving (near Boston) I don't have much need to put it in the freezer, but for a pie made for July 4?


(My housemate refuses to be in the same room with me during the July 4 pie making. He hates it when I throw temper tantrums, even when he likes the results.........)

The rescipe I use is flakey too, but I doubt it's as elegant as Rose's is.

Oh, and I'm even more of a barbarian than Minstrel Boy allows for.

I roll my dough between two sheets of waxed paper.......

It works.

- oddjob

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(I suspect a big part of the reason the waxed paper works is because I don't have to add the extra flour I would have to add if I used plastic wrap. Remember, that extra flour (the flour of "lightly floured") is flour that can add extra gluten, and you don't want gluten in a pie dough.)

- oddjob (who also reminds you all that every time you roll a pie dough - every single time you press it further out with your rolling pin - you necessarily raise the dough's temperature because the rolling necessarily causes friction, which raises the dough's temperature, and thus encourages the dough's gluten to join into long chains and express itself structurally, when that's exactly what you don't want to happen; when making a pie dough, the freezer is your friend!)

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I have another observation.

Do please note that the cooking instructions (the preheated heavy cooking sheet or the baking stone) apply to many pie crusts, not just this particular pie. Sitting a pie on a hot baking stone will help the bottom to cook as thoroughly (and end up as flakey) as the top.

- oddjob

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Understanding the process, the reactions and interactions of the ingredients can make a huge difference in successful cooking.

ESPECIALLY in baking, where the food chemistry gets serious!

- oddjob

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about anyone else, but lately I've been trying not to argue with the happy confluence of events.

Whether one thinks The Celestine Prophecy is ripe, nasty, utter bullshit or not, a wise man exploits the "synchronicities" in his life!

- oddjob

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just fucking throw it out if you're a lazy, wasteful git

Pretty much!

I mean, really, if you don't have a neighbor's tree to provide you with healthy lemon peel, what the fuck are you throwing away such a healthy part of the plant for (assuming the peel hasn't been pesticided to death)?

- oddjob (who, btw, thinks litbrit's addition of Limoncello to lemon pound cake is fucking EVIL......)

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally, thanks to Frances Mayes ("Under The Tuscan Sun), I've learned that lemons are a huge part of the Tuscan Christmas.

I can sooooooo imagine this pie being served at a Christmas dinner!

- oddjob

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i love amish and mennonite cooking.

You haven't lived until you've had a good shoo-fly pie!

- oddjob (who knew that a molasses custard pie could be seriously good pie???)

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's why I was born with this lemon obsession.

Which, to a real extent I share!

Unfortunately, my housemate, being a proper Colombiano, does not share it. His passion is for limes.

Lemon trees grow best in an arid environment, "limones verdes" grow best in a humid one. I don't complain since what he does with lime is wizard!

- oddjob (who was taught to love avocado by his housemate's avocado/tomato/red onion/lime juice salad!)

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(I don't usually "sound" like konagod on a tear at Shakes's virtual bar, I promise!)

- oddjob

8:53 PM  
Blogger skaterina said...

oh my i had that pie when i was a young woman in 1955 and when i was a young bride i tried to duplicate it for one of my first dinner parties / smile / i didnt know about macerating the lemon slices or didnt know from nothing about meyer lemons so guests were pulling lemon rinds out their mouths / oh yummy / thanks for the memory

saw your comment at steve gilliard's

6:09 PM  
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6:03 PM  

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