Tartine Baking Project: #39 Shaker Lemon Pie

I really like baking things without really knowing where the end product is going to end up, especially when I am making something for the first time. (which goes for everything I make on this blog!)  When I make something without picturing the people who will be partaking in the good there is a layer of anxiety that is removed.  As I made this pie, I pictured the sweet faces of friends that’d be digging into it at our friends’ winter bonfire, and I started sweating.  Just a little glow, not like a full-on sweat or anything.  It’s actually a very simple pie to put together – those Shakers had things figured out.  Regardless of simplicity, sometimes there are just tiny little snags in the works to really keep you on your toes.

My first hurdle: a set of crappy old knives.  These lemons needed to be sliced paper thin, as you put it all into the pie and no one wants to bite into what seems like half of a lemon.  There was a bit of sawing and mangling of the lemons even though I chilled them so they’d be easier to slice, and I used that sharpener thing too.  I don’t know, maybe someone who calls it a “sharpener thing” shouldn’t have a kitchen sheath of sharp knives.  No, I take that back.  I need better knives.

My second hurdle: uh, what kind of lemons do I have?  I really thought I’d bought Meyer lemons even though the ones I brought home were huge.  The type of lemon is important because it dictates how long the sliced lemons need to marinate in the sugar.  In a weird crunch for time, it made sense to meet in the middle of the marinating times.  It made sense at the time, but now?  Not so much.

I will say this is the best flaky tart dough I’ve whipped up yet.  I really think I did everything the same exact way, but for whatever reason it was a lot more moist than I’ve made in the past.  And, I got to use my rolling mat that easily measures the dough I’m rolling out!  No more old, gross tape measure around my food!  (It was really that gross.)

I contemplated creating some sort of footballish design, but I decided a crooked star thing was more beautiful.

The crust was golden and delicious, and there were no seeds.  At least, none that I know of, and that’s really what matters.  On the other hand, it turns out the lemons should have marinated a just a little longer, especially since they were sliced a little thicker than I would have liked… Even with all of this, the pie wasn’t bad.  It was pretty tasty, I just think I’m hyper critical of anything I create.  The whole pie was gone pretty quickly, and everyone said they liked it.  I know that it could have been better.  It’s a strange thing, making things just once with this project.  I’m a wee bit of a perfectionist, and sometimes I want a do-over.  What I’m trying to say is that while many people have cooked their way through cookbooks, who’s ever cooked through the same cookbook twice?  Come September I am going to go through the Tartine cookbook again!  Just kidding.  But I do look forward to making this again though and serving it to the same people to prove that I can make a perfect Shaker Lemon Pie.


Recipe #13: Banana Cream Pie with chocolate and caramel

One of the first things I did when I decided to get serious about baking everything in the Tartine cookbook was to designate what I wanted to bake for the pretty important holidays.  Namely, my birthday.  A friend actually saw the list sitting on my dining room table and asked what it was.  I barely got the words out to explain it and she sort of freaked out, “Banana Cream pie for your birthday?  You can’t make your own birthday cake!”  To which I replied, “Not a cake, it’s a pie.” (This didn’t amuse her.) “And I can make my own birthday goodies, and I will, and it’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever tasted.  Totally not weird.”  By the way, choosing the banana cream pie with chocolate and caramel was no accident, friends.  Selecting the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and the soft-glazed gingerbread and Bûche de Noël for my mom’s Christmas birthday just makes sense, just as having a banana cream pie with CHOCOLATE and CARAMEL makes sense for my birthday.

In order to maintain a sense of sanity and fun with this project, I have to plan things out very well.  For the non-holiday recipes, I always plan what I’m baking  a week or more in advance.  I read every recipe a billion times to make sure I have the proper tools and ingredients, and to figure when I need to prepare all of the necessary components.  For some recipes, this is simple.  And then you have something like this pie – and before you even get to the pie you’ve got to make some flaky tart dough (to which I’m no stranger!), pastry cream, caramel, and whipped cream.  Three out of four of these were made a few days in advance, which helped me get in the birthday spirit.

An amazing amount of butter to behold, no?

Throwing together this dough is becoming second nature.  I’m ready to say it is second nature because, unlike Ina Garten who can accurately pour a teaspoon with her eyes closed, I’m still reading the measurements of things.  I’m not reliant on the directions any more though, which is a step in the direction of feeling like a real deal pastry chef.  (Mind you, that’s just one step when the end goal is roughly a million miles away)

Next up, the pastry cream.  Not gonna lie, this was crazy intimidating.  In the introduction of the book it’s brought to the reader’s attention that “when cooks try out for a position at Tartine the first thing they do is bake a batch of pastry cream” because it’s relatively easy but “with enough variables to make them challenging tests of the baker’s skill and focus.”  This words have sort of lingered in my mind in a haunting way, just waiting to freak me out when I tackled a recipe that involved the pastry cream.  I mean, it’s a real test of bakers.  A test!  I don’t think this was added to the book in order to purposefully impart fear and pressure on the home baker, but…maybe it was added to subconsciously impart a little fear and tiny bit of pressure? 

It involved vanilla bean, which is part of “My Top 10 Favorite Things Ever” list.

Mixing together eggs, cornstarch and sugar.

And the final step: a fine mesh sieve. 

This pastry cream was the most difficult thing to capture in photos as I was making it.  It was a fast moving train and stepping off to take a picture was not in the cards for fear of being left in the dust.  I plan on making a video of the process the next time I make this, because it is pretty exciting.  More exciting than chopping chocolate, I promise.

The next day I prepped the caramel.  When we were devouring the pie on my birthday, I was sure to point out to my friends that I had made all the components.  A friend casually asked, “So what did you do, like melt little caramels?”  He was serious and I immediately was taken over with that smug nature you see Martha Stewart get when someone asks her a silly question.  Ina Garten does it too.  I love them both to pieces, and with all those hours perfecting things in the kitchen and writing cookbooks they’re allowed to be a little smug every now and again.  So when asked if I just melted caramels the air of those east coast kitchen gurus took over me.  “No, silly friend, I didn’t melt caramels!  I made the caramel from scratch!” 

It involves manning two saucepans.

You look at the pan and it doesn’t look like anything that could be mistaken for caramel, ever.  Then it starts boiling, you’re not allowed to stir it and it subtly changes to a shade of amber, and as it bubbles and you think you’re some kind of mad scientist.  The smell of caramelized sugar reminds me of a lab I used to do with my students – they’d place test tubes of sugar and salt over Bunsen burners in order to detect what the compounds were as well as what kind of chemical bonds they had.  Sugar, with its weaker covalent bond, melts, and would make my classroom smell like burning sugar throughout the day.   

Fancy stuff is happening in this kitchen: You add sugar and butter to the mix to heighten the flavors. 

This pie was a brilliant choice for my birthday because preparation the actual day of my birthday was more of a fun assembly of perfect parts, than real focus in the kitchen.

A little helping hand. (I’ll go ahead and pretend this remained a very sweet moment after I took this picture, and I didn’t roll over his fingers.)

Melting chocolate…

All that was left was to layer up all of the treats I’d already made.

A layer of delicious melted chocolate spread over a baked tart shell, which then was put in the fridge to set up.

Drizzling caramel over the chocolate.

Spreading the pastry cream over the chocolate and caramel.  Turns out I do have some skill and focus after all, that pastry cream was so delicious.

Prepping the banana slices.

I‘d never made whipped cream before, but it was fast and easy.

One thing I definitely need to improve on?  Curling chocolate!  I read the directions countless times, and then had to resort to a YouTube tutorial.  Even after all that work, my chocolate curls were weak.  The peeler was a trick from the tutorial and helped a little bit.  I had envisioned the big fat beautiful curls, as pictured next to the recipe.  This baby curls tasted just the same, just lacked the jaw-dropping aesthetic I was seeking.

I couldn’t convince those holding true to their distaste for banana cream pie to try this amazing dessert.  I could have spoken about how different this pie really is from any other banana cream pie I’ve ever had.  The bananas are subtle, I’m guessing that’s because they’re not incorporated into the actual pastry cream.  There’s no strange film in your mouth after you’ve finished a bite, like what you have to deal with after digging into pie with the same name you find at Big Boy’s or Denny’s.  This pie right here is amazing, and I’m honestly shocked that this came out of my kitchen.  I’m so glad I didn’t work at convincing everyone to try it because that means I have some waiting for me today.  Happy birthday, indeed!