For me, it’s making pie.
I don’t know why that is. I can cook (not gourmet, but I can make a decent meal) and even bake. This time of year, I bake a lot. I make cakes, brownies, cake truffles and cookies, mainly at the request of family, friends and co-workers. I’m pretty sure they’re good, or else no one would ask me to make them again.
No one has ever asked me to make a pie again.
I’ve watched various TV cooks, including Martha Stewart, demonstrate making pie dough and all assuring me that it’s as easy as . . . well, pie.
I do everything they say. I make sure the butter is cold, cold, cold. I use only a little bit of cold, cold, cold water. I let the dough rest a proper time in the fridge. I use their techniques for rolling out the dough.
Every time, something goes wrong. I’ve had nervous breakdowns in the kitchen over epically failed pie dough, so I’ve totally given up making my own. I took a chance on pie dough mix and had no better results. Premade pie dough? No. Even premade pie dough already IN the pie tin–still didn’t work. They always came out wrong.
Graham cracker or cookie crust, the favorite alternative of those who can’t make a pastry crust?
I CAN’T EVEN MAKE THAT TURN OUT RIGHT.
My first attempt at making pie, when I was about eight years old, set the tone for my pie making career. It was a recipe in a Betty Crocker cook book for kids, a chocolate pudding affair with pastel-colored marshmallows folded into it and poured into a graham cracker crust.
It took me the longest time to figure out why the filling never set. I even put it in the freezer, hoping it would set. I eventually realized my mistake–I had folded the whipped topping into the pudding BEFORE the pudding had set. Resulting in a soupy sludge with disintegrating pink and blue marshmallows slowly sinking to the bottom.
The thing is, my first attempt at cake–for my dad’s birthday–was also a disaster. (My sister and I forgot to let the cake cool before frosting it, resulting in layers that kept sliding.) Yet I eventually managed to learn how to make a good cake.
Thanksgiving has been the bane of my existence because of pie. I once almost broke my hand after slamming it on the kitchen table out of frustration over a pie I had promised to bring to my friend’s house. The only reason I brought the resulting pie was because her mother wasn’t that great a cook and I knew it wouldn’t be the worst dish.
One year, I made pumpkin mousse so I could avoid making the pastry, and it came out fantastic. Nobody ate it. They all ate the banana cream pie one of the guests had brought because IT’S THANKSGIVING AND YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO EAT PIE.
A couple of years ago I got the bright idea to make a crostata. It’s the easiest kind of pie there is and no one cares if it looks a little rough because it’s supposed to be rustic. I found a recipe online by Ina Garten that people were raving about in the comments section. It looked incredibly fool-proof.
It was a disaster. The dough looked like it had broken out in boils. The apple filling did not look like it did in the picture. I tasted a bit of it and immediately threw it out. I had to find a store still open so I could buy an emergency Mrs. Smith’s Apple Pie. The pumpkin pie I made came out marginally better, with only a slightly burnt crust, but the custard had collapsed and was very grainy.
Sure, I could always buy pies, and have–and then the following year I’ll decide to attempt making the pies again.
This year, I didn’t have to worry about it–we went out to eat.
The restaurant had fantastic pie, the best crust I’ve ever eaten. Perfectly flaky, just the right amount of salt so it’s not too sweet, none of it soggy, not one bit of it burnt, beautifully fluted edges. The filling was lusciously creamy and not a bit grainy.
It’s frustrating being a creative person who can’t master something that’s supposed to be relatively easy, like making a pie. I’ve long ago come to terms with the fact that I can’t sing, dance or draw. The verdict is still out on whether or not I can write stories people want to buy.
But, dammit, I should be able to make a pie!
Maybe I’ll try again next year.