I don’t know why my failures crack me up, but they do. I guess when things go so unexpectedly bad, it’s really hard to take it all too seriously (as long as no one dies or gets maimed (or, as I originally typo’d, “mimed.” I wouldn’t wish mimes on anyone)).
So, there was a Mardi Gras shindig at work (our company has a lot of shindigs. Food is always the central theme, whatever the, uh, theme. Fat Tuesday ain’t about the beads in this joint.). As part of the festivities, there was a Southern sweets contest, in which I decided to enter a chocolate bourbon pecan pie.
Now, what could be so disastrous about a pecan pie, you might ask? Well, when the crust goes South (so to speak), you’re just plain screwed.
My first mistake was using a new crust recipe, and not my old tried-and-true, multiple-award-winning shortening/butter crust. For some reason, it just seemed a really good idea to try a brand new crust on a contest pie. Not just a pie, but a contest pie. But of course!
I got the recipe for this all butter crust — which I am NOT repeating here, lest the dreadful thing be further spread around the world — from a foodie blog I really like (and since I like it, I’m not going to name it here). The blog author often sings the praises of an all-butter crust and has photos of various confections with clearly homemade pie crusts.
I’ve always been skeptical of butter crusts. From a scientific standpoint, the only way they make any sense at all is if the quality you value most in a crust is flakiness. The bits of butter work their way into the dough and, as the butter bubbles and melts early on within the still-raw dough, it creates a pocket. Then, while the melted butter works its way into the baking dough, that pocket remains, filled with air, as do the dozens of other pockets similarly created, and you have a crust consisting of a series of sheets of very thin dough. AKA flaky crust
Shortening, on the other hand, binds to the flour and, with its higher melting point, bakes more slowly into the dough without leaving pockets in its wake. You have a full-bodied crust. Mix in some butter, and you’ve got the best of both worlds. A degree of flakiness, a light, buttery taste, a crust that holds its own against juicy fillings.
So, anyway, I’m working this all-butter dough, cutting the enormous amount of butter into the flour. When the butter bits are reduced to pea size, I start adding water. Hm. Thiiiss … is … weird. Into the fridge. Then onto the silicone mat for rolling. It’s rolling okay — I have the balance correct — but. Um. Yeah. The flour isn’t going to support the butter. No way. No how.
I power on.
For the butter crust lovers among you, you’re thinking, oh yeah, baby, that’s it. Me, my brow is furrowing ever more deeply into my skull. The dough is too soft … the dough is too soft … the dough is too soft. It’s cohesive, but it’s too silky.
It’s probably a family thing. I grew up on bakery pies. Bakery pies are so perfect and delicious because they’re made with butter.
HA! As if, people! They’re made with SHORTENING. Whenever I would eat someone’s homemade pie, I would think, oh, how cute, a homemade pie, unevenly browned, butter crust and all [like the aforementioned foodie blogger’s photos], and then smile through a mouthful of awkwardly crumbling flakes, politely giving the thumbs-up.
Maybe it’s a texture thing. Like the texture of flaked coconut, which makes me gag, and if not expelled voluntarily and immediately, will be expelled forcefully by my stomach, which also hates flaked coconut. Probably got the aversion from all-butter pie crusts.
Anyway, back to the pecan pie. So, it comes out of the oven, with its all-butter, unevenly browned crust signature. At this point, the pie looks good (or, cutely homemade). I should’ve taken a picture of it then, as that was its high point.
This was Sunday evening, and I spend some time eyeballing the pie, walking past it every half hour or so, giving it sidelong glances. Not sure about that sucker. I really wanted to taste it, but you can’t enter a partially eaten pie in a contest, and once I tasted it, I knew I’d keep the whole thing for myself, whether the crust sucks or not (after all, I knew the filling would be good (and it was good)).
So, I enter the pie. The second mistake was apparently preparing the pie too far in advance (Sunday, for a Tuesday afternoon judging). When I first saw the cut up pie in its post-judging state, I think I laughed out loud. OMG. Did that come from my hands? The crust under the filling was too soggy and sticking stubbornly to the pie plate, while the exposed outer ring of crust was too crunchy (flaky, I mean, flaky). It did not slice well. It was far from picture-perfect. And from the looks of the leftovers (below), I think the party-goers just started scooping out the center filling, scraping up some crust here and there as they went.
So, did I win, all you all-butter-crust-lovin-crazies are wondering? Hell, no. I didn’t even place. And lest you think I’m a sore loser with my all-butter-crust grumbling, I’m here to say, the winner — a derby pie — was absolutely delish, and so deserved first place. And I got a really good chuckle out of my own pie. That counts for something, right? (BTW, I took the pie home, snapped some photos for posterity, and then ate the rest while watching NCIS. Soggy butter crust and all. Hit the spot.)
I also made and brought a King Cake, which turned out really well. The party planners also brought bakery King Cakes, so, when all was said and done, there was about 630 lbs. of King Cake left. Oddly, someone stole the duck off my cake. Not sure what that means.