The Learn To Cook series encourages home cooks to learn the techniques needed for guaranteed success in the kitchen, sponsored by the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School. Start a free trial membership today. Five lucky bloggers have won a 1-year scholarship to the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School, and over the next few months, will be giving you an inside look at the school. Meet the winning bloggers here.
“If you can make pie you can do anything!”
This is what I said to America’s Test Kitchen when they asked food bloggers to compete for a 1-year scholarship to their America’s Test Kitchen’s online Cooking School. I am a beginning cook. Everything is a wonderful new adventure for me, and that’s the premise of my blog. I had never made pie before I entered this contest, and I wanted to learn how. And while I fully believed that phrase when I wrote it, I certainly wasn’t expecting to learn how to make pie anytime soon. I applied for the much needed scholarship — as I think a lot of us do when we enter contests — with the excitement and hope of “what if,” but the reality of “probably not.”
And I won!
There I was, faced with the reality of soon being able “to do anything,” according to my own bold statement. And I was now armed with my prize: the online course in which I was to learn how to make pies, photograph the process and the results, and write about it. And I’m happy to report that while my superhero status is still somewhat questionable, I can now make pie, and I do feel like I can make lots and lots of other good stuff with my pie mojo (not to mention the vast course catalogue of other cooking superhero secrets I’ve obtained along the way).
I should mention that I don’t like to make mistakes when I’m cooking, so when I am about to try something new, I always think about it for a long time. And read about it, and visualize the process. The Cooking School helped me with this whole routine immensely. I was able to read about how to make pie in depth on their website, look at the recipes, see step-by-step photos of the process, and watch a video of making pie crust before I even got started making it myself! I watched that video of how to roll out pie dough a few times to try to break through my first pie wall. I set up my computer in the kitchen, I printed out the recipes several times, and kept all of it right in the kitchen with me. This made everything so much easier.
Please keep in mind when looking at these below photographs and reading about my pies that this was actually my second attempt. The first attempt I photographed and sent to Bridget Lancaster — my teacher at the Cooking School — and she gave me some great advice, so I started again. I want to give kudos to Bridget because it illustrates how personalized this program can be.
So let’s get on with it! My pies:
Here are my ingredients for Foolproof Pie Dough. It’s pretty easy to make and it comes together quickly. It’s what I like to call “the lazy way to cook.” You mix it in a food processor, wrap it in plastic, put it in the fridge, and sometime in the next 48 hours you pull it out and make a pie. I love that! No pressure!
Here’s some dough, rolled out. This one came out very pretty. I must admit that I rolled four crusts before I got to one that I liked enough to use. I’m not ashamed of that! It’s good practice for me. It’s not easy to roll something into a circle exactly the same thickness all across. The blessing is that this recipe allows you to use tons of flour on your work surface, which helps move the dough around and keeps it from sticking. It really is forgiving. Must be the magical vodka!
Once the dough is in the pie pan, use your fingers to make the cool zigzag pattern around the top. This is a photograph of the crust that I used for the Dutch Apple Pie. It is about to be “blind baked” (prebaked before filling is added).
All three of the apple pie recipes in the Online Cooking School curriculum (Deep-Dish Apple, Cranberry-Apple, and Dutch Apple) call for you to precook the apples and then drain their cooking juices away. This keeps the piecrust from getting soggy and it also helps the pie keep its shape.
Yes, these recipes have a lot of steps, but each step makes sense and it’s totally worth it to follow the recipes to the letter. A sage piece of advice that Bridget gave me was to do everything in steps and take a few hours — or even days — in between the steps, to take the pressure off. So that’s what I did. And it made a huge difference in how I felt about making pies.
Now, I can almost say I am fearless in the face of pie. I still can’t quite believe I made these myself. They are beautiful, they are quite delicious, and they are within your grasp too — along with making pasta, breads and pizza and cooking meat. These are all things America’s Test Kitchen teaches.
This photo is the second pie I’ve ever made in my life before, just before it went into the oven: America’s Test Kitchen Deep-Dish Apple Pie. Isn’t it beautiful?
And here it is just out of the oven.
And here are a couple of delicious slices.
Here is the Cranberry-Apple Pie. This one blows me away! So pretty, and really delicious. This was the winner of the “which one is the favorite” contest.
Look at how the light shines through the slice! Sunshine on a plate. For this one, you make a simple jam from cranberries and layer it with the precooked apples. So easy you won’t believe it.
The Dutch Apple Pie was easy to make: a simple streusel topping and a bit of cream added to the apple’s cooking juices and boiled down together really concentrates the apple flavor and brings an interesting dimension to the pie.
Remember when I mentioned earlier… that I rolled out extra pie crusts for the double crust pies? Well, I didn’t ask for any advice, but I am sure that the little circles of Foolproof Pie Dough filled with homemade jam folded in half and crimped together, then baked for about 35 minutes were a huge hit! Superhero status—to the moon!
Want a chance to become a Cooking School superhero like Darla? Let us know which Cooking School Technique Lesson you’d like to learn and why in the comments. Those who comment before August 7th, 2012 at noon EST will have a chance to win a 1-year scholarship to the America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School.