Finding time for the process. And pie.
I like to try to organize my life into a collection of to-do lists—multiple seemingly self-perpetuating lists of things I want, need or ought to do. The lists themselves are organized and categorized in numerous ways. Some lists are kept online for ease of accessibility. These lists often contain items that require leaving the house or the purchase of other items for their completion. More personal to-dos I jot down in mini moleskin notebooks. In one you might find a list of career or personal skill development to-dos, while in another a list of 30 things I want to do before I’m 30. Lastly, there are to-dos scribbled down on scrap pieces of paper and old receipts. These include life’s more mundane to-dos—house chores and other items I wouldn’t mind losing track of. Scrap pieces of paper have a habit of being misplaced. Their use for to-do lists is more strategic than a reflection of attentiveness to the recycling of waste.
But despite this seemingly awe-inspiring level of organization, life’s little contingencies often act to interrupt or impede the successful or timely completion of many items on my lists. To-do lists have a deceptive way of simplifying tasks and life. They encourage task completion (who doesn’t like to cross items off their list?) without fully acknowledging the quality of time the actual process of completion may take. The result can sometimes be that rather than appreciating and enjoying the actual undertaking of the tasks on the list—exploring the value of the process and discovering learning opportunities—a get-it-done mentality can take over and it becomes easy to lose sight of the pleasure of process, such as the adventure of seeking out a number of obscure ingredients and the meditative benefits of taking care to prepare your mise en place for what might turn out to be an incredibly simple meal.
I do not think it is presumptuous to say that this to-do list mentality permeates much of our every day lives—that we are continuously adding more items to our lists than we have the time to do—scurrying to finish as many tasks as we can to get ahead or to say we did, trying to get to the cheese without enjoying the beauty of the maze.
Pie. Pie was on my to-do list. Despite the title of this blog, I had never made a pie before and I thought it would be appropriate for my first baking project for the relaunch of piecurious. That and the farmer’s markets were bursting forth with bushels of round, succulent stone fruit perfect for tucking beneath a blanket of butter and flour. And while I envisioned myself in my kitchen wearing my rooster apron on a sunny afternoon, taking the care to incorporate the cold butter into the flour, paying attention to the texture and size of the meal in order to promote flakiness and to avoid overdeveloping the gluten of the crust, this pie is actually a reflection and product of the go-go-go- and get-it-done mentality that the to-do list aims to manage.
Unexpected events led to thirteen-hour workdays. The pie dough was whipped together and then left to chill in the fridge for two days, rather than overnight. The fresh fruit filling could no longer said to be fresh as it, too, lingered in the fridge, the plums, nectarines and peaches ripe and ready, but the pie architect unable to find the time to turn it into the stone fruit pie it was determined to become.
The end result was not as aesthetically pleasing as I had envisioned. The process itself was stressful and frustrating, with many mistakes being made along the way. Doubtful of how appealing it would be to the palate, I nevertheless called together a small group to evaluate and partake in its consumption. Gathered down by the waterfront on a surprisingly chilly and windy day, with makeshift cutlery and plates, we indulged in what, despite all the tribulations, turned out to be a delicious stone fruit pie. The crust, my biggest fear, was flaky without being dry, and moist without being soggy. The aroma of butter was ever-present and enveloped the tart flavour of the stone fruit within.
The baking of this pie turned out to be less of a learning experience about pastry, and more of a reminder about how we ought not to treat life as a series of to-dos on a list. That the process can be just as rewarding, if not more so, than the achievement of the goal—to slow down, to be sensitive to all five senses and the satisfying sensations the smallest things can produce if only we stop to pay attention. To find time for the process. And for pie.
The recipe I used as the foundation for the piecrust came from the fifth edition of Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen. The recipe called for the use of shortening, as shortening is able to produce a flakier crust as the plasticity of its texture allows it to be molded and handled at room temperature without absorbing into the flour. However, due to my partiality for butter, and my reluctance to use a substance that relies on a process of high heat hydrogenation in its creation, I substituted butter in place of the shortening. I increased the amount of butter by ¼ as suggested by Gisslen, but I did not decrease the amount of liquid required. I think the crust benefited from the use of butter—it remained flaky and with the benefit of the sweet flavours and aromas of butter.
I also took the advice of Joy the Baker and chopped the butter before freezing it. Pre-chopping reduces the amount of time you handle the butter before attempting to incorporate it with the flour and therefore reduces the likelihood that you will overwork the butter into the dough and develop too much gluten in the crust.
For the filling I loosely followed this recipe for a stone fruit lattice pie published by Bon Appetit. The Master Pie Crust recipe they provide is not too dissimilar to Gisslen’s, except in its use of all-purpose flour, instead of pastry flour, and again, shortening instead of butter. I enjoyed the filling immensely for the fact it was not overly sweet. The ½ cup of sugar provides just enough sweetness to balance the tartness of the stone fruit, without overpowering the nuanced flavours of the plums, nectarines and peaches.