I’m a terrible dancer, though I enjoy dancing. In college, I was in a production of A Funny Thing Happened to the Way to the Forum (I played Hysterium; such typecasting) and learned the box step. That’s the extent of my dancing prowess. Give me a bouncy Sondheim score and a solid square of dance floor, and I’m there.
So I’ve been organizing all of my old posts into categories. It’s a huge process — over 3,500 posts covering a 15 year span — but it’s also oddly satisfying; like cleaning up a hoarder house. My goal is for you to be able to click “cakes” and to see every cake recipe I’ve ever posted.
On a personal level, reading through my archives is like watching myself grow up. My early posts were so dopey (remember when I wrote a song about frozen yogurt?) but also so innocent. Now I’m a jaded old man in my 40s! I started this blog when I was *gulp* 25. At least there’s the wisdom that comes with age. And nothing embodies how much I’ve grown than my relationship to pie dough.
Memorize this fact about apple pie making, and you’ll be set for life: it’s not about the recipe, it’s about your state of mind.
That nugget comes from Craig’s dad, the master of apple pie (see here), who’s said to me, in the past: “I think you’re overthinking it.” And in the past I had overthought it over and over again. But the truth is once you understand the WHY of everything, the rest takes care of itself. And that’s what helped me produce the best apple pie I’ve ever made, the one you see above.
When we were in Berlin this past July, at a restaurant called Renger-Patzsch, our dinner ended with the perfect punctuation mark of a dessert: a chocolate tart with apricots and vanilla ice cream. It was memorable for its combination of elegance and simplicity; a tart isn’t easy to do, but this one, somehow, seemed effortless. I made a mental note that if I were ever going to cook a meal with European flair, I’d end it in a similar way. My moment came on Saturday, after I served that pork shoulder braised in Guinness to some friends.
If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I tend to make a huge stink about pie dough. How I can’t roll it out, how I don’t have the magic touch (like Craig’s dad), how even after learning all of the rules–keep things cold, move the dough around as you roll it–it rarely works out for me.
Well, the other day I had a breakthrough. It went something like this: I saw ripe nectarines and plums from my CSA on the counter and realized they were just on the verge of becoming overripe. So I decided to whip up a crostata and I told myself not to think too much about it.
I’m a pie fool which isn’t the same thing as being a fool for pie. Julie Klausner recently pointed out in her podcast that Jews are cake people, Christians are pie people. From my own life experience, I find that to be true: my Jewish parents and grandparents, when at a social gathering, would put out cake. My dad would eat Entenmann’s crumb cake or lemon coconut cake at home for breakfast or dessert. I can’t recall a single time that a pie ever made an appearance at my house in my childhood. Whereas Craig, who grew up in a Christian family in Bellingham, Washington, ate pie. His dad makes a killer apple pie; pie is part of the fabric of their existence. Which is probably why when I make a cake, I could eat the whole thing and Craig will have a little slice; when I make a pie (especially apple), he goes nuts for it.
It’s Father’s Day this weekend and no dessert makes me think more of my dad than Key Lime Pie.
The association isn’t based on any particular memory; it’s based on a series of memories of dinners at steakhouses or seafood restaurants where my mom would be taking too long tearing apart her lobster, my dad would look impatiently at his watch, until finally he could order his decaf coffee and a slice of Key Lime Pie.
I suppose I must really like a challenge because, on the night that I made the bouillabaisse, I also attempted a famously difficult dessert: Lindsey Shere’s Almond Tart.
Lindsey Shere, in case you don’t know, helped open Chez Panisse in 1971 and stayed there as pastry chef until 1998. I first heard about her famous almond tart on my trip to San Francisco in 2007; I think it was at a place called Jojo in Oakland, with my friends Derrick and Melissa, that I first heard tell about it. The word “legendary” might’ve been applied.