Please don’t hate me, but I’m that girl. No, not the one from Brewster with the ornery father and the boyfriend named Donald. I’m the one who emptied the rhubarb bin of its early season blush-pink stalks, leaving nary a stalk of sour behind. This sort of behavior is out of character because I tend to think about the next ‘me’ dashing down the produce aisle, desperately seeking pie plant. Peter Rabbit-ing the rhubarb will no doubt result in bad karma. My selfish actions may be akin to the fact that spring refuses to take hold. Maybe Mother Nature is still hunkered down in Boca Raton, waiting to make the trek north armed with warmer climes in her Samsonite carry-on, just in time for next week’s holidays. My morning trek to the bakery is still bitterly cold, the blazing convection ovens offering a warm haven. Notice the deliberate avoidance of the phrase safe haven. There’s not a safe thing to be said about the next 10 days prompting me to snatch the last of the rhubarb.
I am aware of the historical significance linking Passover with Easter, but this year’s confluence of Elijah and the Easter Bunny means nothing but trouble around the baker’s bench. Ample time is imperative in order to regroup from one holiday before crashing into the next. A peculiar sense of déjà vu washes over me; December boasted Hanukkah and Christmas neck and neck with each other. At least the December holidays shared the common denominator of flour. Next weekend however, will be infinitely more challenging as the flourless desserts battle it out with baskets of bunnies, a myriad of coconut macaroons and carrot cakes fighting the red velvets for cream cheese frosting. It’s dizzying to think about, so in anticipation, I will drown my sorrows in a rhubarb custard pie with flour in both the crust and the ginger crumble. No matzoh cake meal, no potato starch, thank you- that will have to wait until next week.
If Passover were a triathlon, it would feature macarooning, egg separating and egg white leavening. It also requires pretending that the absence of flour and bread and thin crust pizza doesn’t irritate you. After several days, the novelty indeed wears off. Some people dream about artisanal loaves of bread, waking up to find part of their pillow missing. Yet at the same time it allows a bit of martyr-play in my workplace. As the Passover soloist in an orchestra of Easter celebrants, it can be lonely in my (cue Pippin) corner-of-the-pie bench, nibbling on matzoh surrounded by flour-laden treats. No, no, don’t you worry about me.
The pie offerings for Easter have yet to be finalized because it is unclear whether or not rhubarb will be available. As one who has eaten her fair share of chocolate bunnies (preferably solid, too often hollow) I am aware that spring heralds the arrival of all manner of cloying sweets. Which leads to my belief that rhubarb in all its crimson/sour glory is the perfect foil to everything sugarcoated this holiday season. You can have your marshmallow bunnies and chicks attired in technicolor sugar crystals. Enjoy the gourmet Jelly Beans, the Coconut Cream Eggs and the Jellied Fruit Slices with the understanding they will pinpoint any cavity lying in wait.
When Elijah breezes through next week, I am hopeful that he will be armed with a case or two of what farmers call ‘Pie Plant’ aka rhubarb, and a few flats of strawberries. I would very much like to make up for my brazen act of rhubarb pilfering this week and offer strawberry/rhubarb pies to the masses. In the event Elijah doesn’t come through, I will be forced to choose an alternate spring-like filling for the pie shells. How fortunate that this baker will easily adapt to whatever fruit happens to come hoppin’ down the bunny trail. And when there’s a small uprising because the rhubarb is a no show? You won’t hear a peep out of me.
Boston is a pie development think tank, particularly when great minds assemble to discuss the trifecta of Pi/Pie Day. According to Master/Master’s sage friend Cori, Pi/Pie Day embraces Math, Education and Eating. Amidst a soundtrack of pie inspired tunes, and a kitchen table dressed in its pie best, a bakers dozen of pie enthusiasts gathered to enjoy, analyze and consume. The majority of the pie plates held sweet offerings- a delicious chocolate chip creation was painstakingly decorated with chips forming the Pi sign. Another captured the flavors of the classic Girl Scout Samoa cookies. Strawberry Rhubarb and Drew’s Wild Nut Pie were eyeing the half gallon container of vanilla ice cream. Where to begin?
Armed with a chef’s knife of terrifying proportions, I began to slice. The one savory pie in the group was hot out of the oven. Brilliantly crafted using store bought biscuits to form the crust, it tempted with spinach, onions and mozzarella cheese. I dubbed it Lightening Pizza Pie- ready in a flash. As we sat, balancing plates and musing on crusts, it was interesting to learn that for many in the room, this marked their initial foray into pie making. When questioned, it appeared that the most daunting part of the process was the crust. Which made the idea of using biscuits all the more inspired.
Steering the conversation towards flavor trends, we all agreed there’s a good bit of bacon and maple going on in the food world, bordering on overkill. But the general consensus among the crowd assembled for 3.14.15 seated beneath the Pie-Oh-My banner was bacon and maple has its place. Particularly when feeling fragile on the heels of a festive evening, or an all day event such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Southie. So here it is, inspired by the Upstairs Girls of Harvard Street with superlative input from the Pi/Pie Day socialites.
You can certainly omit the hash brown (sweet potato and onion) component, but if you happen to have some spuds and onion hanging around following a Trader Joe’s run, by all means bring them to the biscuit party. I would be remiss without offering heartfelt thanks to Kayleigh, Meagan, Amanda and Kat for being the hostesses with the mostess. And shout out to Allston who knows all about merrymaking and to Master/Master for bringing great folks together.
Check out the recipe for Hangover Morning Biscuits.
For math and science enthusiasts, Saturday is all about Pi. For one who wields a rolling pin, it’s all about Pie. Boasting a less than stellar academic math career, it seems both amusing and cruel that I spend a good fraction of my workday performing math skills. This translates into grabbing a Sharpee marker and scribbling down numbers on wayward scraps of parchment paper and over the top of my coffee cup. It’s interesting to note that as a group, the majority of bakers assembled around the bench suffer the same math deficiency. It becomes particularly interesting when we ask each other for help solving simple math problems. “The eggs look smaller this week. How many ounces should there have been in that recipe?” or “Does this look like two pounds of apple slices to you?” I like to think this has something to do with right brain/left brain tendencies. Math is even more difficult before the morning caffeine kicks in, which is why in lieu of working out a word problem, sometimes it’s easier to spend a few moments washing out the Hobart mixing bowl.
For many years, I worked in a bakery tucked behind a Bucks County farm owned and operated by an engineer. Roger’s vernacular was peppered with grams and ounces, I spoke in teaspoons and cups. Under his tutelage, it wasn’t long before I could casually remark, “Oh, an ounce? You mean 28.3 grams?” In my eight year stint at the farm, I witnessed the engineering of baking. Pie dough was mixed in 60 quart mixers, shells rolled and crimped by a pie press. Hundreds, yes hundreds! of pies baked in a wall of deck ovens. Despite my new respect for math, I decided it was best not to tell Roger about my sordid high school geometry past. Suffice to say that an extra credit project allowed me to pass the class. It was based on concentric circles that were baked in three 9” cake pans, frosted in chocolate and yielded a checkerboard cake. And yes, part of the project involved pie charts.
In anticipation of 3.1415 Day, I will spend Friday the 13th toiling over bakery math problems and pie shells.. On Saturday, I’m Boston-bound, hoping to squeeze in a bit of Pies-About-Towning and Pie Socializing. Happy Pie Day to all!
Queen Esther was a brave and plucky gal who would have been a great addition to the bakery kitchen crew. I would have aligned myself right alongside her, marveling at her patience as she explained Hamantaschen to the barista staff. Esther would be the one responsible for maintaining peace between the Gluten-Free-ers and the Non, the No-Dairy-No-Soy-No-Nut Nuts. We would reign over the kitchen, donning crowns instead of bandanas, looking fabulous sans make-up. Neither the oppressive kitchen heat nor the frigid winter air would encumber our culinary triumphs.
As a tribute to the heroine of Purim, and after filling way too many Hamantaschen with apricot jam this week, I’m stepping outside of the triangle. Why not lemon curd filling snuggled up inside rich cream cheese dough? Not wanting to stray too far from tradition, I tossed in a few poppy seeds for good measure. Yes, I know, lemon curd is a delicate commodity that should be treated with respect. Some may think that three hundred and fifty degrees in the oven borders on the criminal. Yet after researching dozens of traditional and contemporary recipes, I’m sticking with fresh lemon curd this go around. Please note you need to roll your Hamantaschen dough uber thin and chill the filled triangles for a good 20 minutes before baking them off. There is also a chance that the lemon filling may start to sigh in the baking process, expanding a touch, but it’s worth it. If you are unhappy that the baked curd loses a bit of its shine, the drizzle of lemon glaze will make everything right again. And once the Hamantaschen are cooling on a rack, I think Esther and I deserve the rest of the day off. We may just go out to lunch, or enjoy a brisk run, crowns and all. Happy Purim.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm