July is one of two months of the year when we reach the inconceivable point where there are too many desserts in the house. My birthday is on the 17th, and my brother’s is on the 23rd, meaning there is a full sized dessert that gets made for each of us, in addition to the ice cream, chocolate, and s’mores supplies that are usually found in our kitchen this time of year. The only other time when we have more sweets is in December during the holidays. In the past my brother and I both requested chocolate cakes, so by August we were pretty sick of it all. However since I’ve started baking things for myself I’ve tried to play it up a bit, hence why for my birthday this year I made the lemon cheesecake.
My brother is a bit of an enigma when it comes to deciphering what he wants and doesn’t want. Getting him to even make a birthday wish list can require some intense nagging. Luckily he’s pretty set in his ways when it comes to dessert, and for him if it isn’t chocolate it probably isn’t worth his time. He’s usually pretty pleased with my mom’s standard chocolate bundt recipe, but a few weeks ago we happened to get in a dinner table argument about pie’s superiority over other desserts. I am obviously pro-pie; my mom and my brother were leaning towards cake. My brother commented, “Pie’s not as good because there’s never any chocolate!” to which I responded “What the fuck are you talking about?” (Except more PG because my mommy was there) and enlightened him on the concept of chocolate pies. He seemed genuinely surprised and interested, so I offered to make him a chocolate pie for his birthday. I gave him the choice between a standard chocolate cream pie or a fudge pie (which I had made before) and he chose fudge.
Sometimes when I choose a recipe I pick it because it requires the least special ingredients, or ingredients that I would have a hard time using up if there were any leftover. This is why I stay away from special flours (sorry gluten free people) and recipes that call for like, one teaspoon of some spice that I don’t already have. (Spices are expensive, okay? I’m not about to pay 10 bucks for something I don’t use on the reg). The fudge pie recipe I had made before called for heavy cream, and although this isn’t the weirdest ingredient, I don’t really use cream that much, so I opted for one that only called for butter from the mom blog Perfect is Boring https://perfectisboringblog.com/2019/02/15/traditional-southern-fudge-pie/
One of my favorite parts of getting better at baking is being able to sniff out a recipe that isn’t doing things right. For example, I used a recipe for a 4th of July berry pie that didn’t start off with the oven at a higher temperature, and instead called for baking the pie at one consistent temp the entire time. (Starting at a higher temp when baking a pie gives the crust an initial blast of heat that helps it crisp up and prevents a sOgGy bOtToM, then the temp gets lowered after about 20 minutes so that the filling can cook through.) The Perfect is Boring recipe also didn’t call for different oven temperatures; honestly the instructions for the entire recipe are a little bare-bones. It’s basically “mix, bake”. This wouldn’t be a problem, but I was suspicious that the temp was only at 350 (usually I would start at 425, THEN lower to 350-375) and only called for 30 minutes of bake time whereas most pies can take up to an hour of baking in order to cook the crust and filling all the way. But this is a fudge pie, which is more susceptible to burning than a fruit pie, and I didn’t want to throw the whole thing in for an hour only to end up with charcoal. So I decided….to blind bake.
I am, and I cannot stress this enough, bad at blind baking pie crusts. At least I’m bad at doing them without the proper tools. This seems obvious, but there are a plethora of “hacks” on the internet that supposedly teach you how to blind bake a crust without using pie weights. In case you didn’t know, blind baking is when you bake a crust without the filling in it. Usually this is reserved for cream pies that get chilled, so the crust needs to be baked before the filling goes in. However, if you just put a crust in a pie pan and shove it in the oven, it will shrink, crack, burn, leak fat everywhere, or all of the goddamn above. I am telling from experience. The CORRECT way to blind bake a crust is to put the crust in the pan, lay down some parchment paper on top of it and pour in what are known as “pie weights” aka little ceramic balls with no other purpose than to weigh down pie crust. Apparently you can also use rice or dried beans, but then you can’t really cook and eat the rice and dried beans so you just have a bunch of pie rice that’s getting baked over and over again and that seems wasteful. So rather than just giving in and buying the goddamn pie weights, I have been on a quest to try and find the most roundabout, complicated way of blind-baking a crust that I can.
The first time I’ve attempted this was when I followed a hack that told me to just put a second pie plate on top of the crust and bake it that way, but crust needs to be weighed the fuck down otherwise it will just shrink right in between the two pie dishes and be sad and pathetic. So for my brother’s pie I did more research (meaning I clicked on the second result from my Google search) and read an article claiming that what you should ACTUALLY do is put in the second pie plate, then flip it all UPSIDE DOWN and bake it that way, so that you are working with gravity and the crust will actually “Shrink up” the sides of the pie pan. If this seems stupid and complicated, you are correct and smarter than I was when I decided to use this method.
The first problem with this upside down method is that when you press the second pie plate into the crust it kind of severs the top crimping from the rest of the dough, meaning that when it cooks the edge of the crust will literally just fall off. The second thing I did wrong is that even though the pie was going in upside down, I still preheated the cookie sheet that the pie was going to cook on, which is usually done to give the bottom of the crust that extra blast of instant heat. However, since the pie is flipped upside down the bottom is now on the top and the crimped edges of my pie crust burnt on contact with the heated cookie sheet. LASTLY, apparently gravity doesn’t do DICK because the pie STILL shrunk down into the pan, even though the blog post told me it was going to SHRINK UP. Shrinking up is not a thing. It doesn’t shrink up. It shrinks down like a sad deflated helium balloon. When I took the crust out of the oven and flipped it back over it immediately fell the fuck apart. Unusable. And I was out of butter and could not feasibly make another crust, chill it, and bake a new pie in time for my brother’s party that evening. I was already upset because the first crust had NOT cooperated even when I was trying to roll it out, and now it was ruined. So I calmly and rationally cried like a dumb baby and cursed blind baking while getting my car keys to go to the store.
Sometimes you have to give in and buy a pre-made pie crust. For some reason (well, for packaging and shelf stability reasons) they don’t sell pre-made all-butter pie crusts in the store, so I had to settle for the one with the least skeevy ingredient list. (It turned out to be Marie Callendar’s frozn pie crusts, you know, the kind that already comes rolled out and in a pie pan) In the end the pie took 20 minutes longer to cook than the recipe said anyway, so I probably could have just baked everything all together and it would have been fine. But you know what, my brother only cares about the chocolate anyway and the filling turned out delicious and I received many compliments from the party-guests. Yay for me and my self-esteem. So in the end, I learned that:
- Hacks for blind baking without pie weights are a lie and don’t trust anyone who says otherwise.
- Buying a store-bought crust is okay sometimes and doesn’t mean you are a sham of a baker.
- Don’t assume that you can just change a recipe around before even trying it out, even if you think you’re super smart and know better. Maybe you do know better sometimes, but not enough to know not to try and bake a pie upside down, apparently.
Happy birthday to my brother, and happy Pie July.