This week’s experiments in baking…

With all of the baking I have been doing the past week or so for our “Baking for Philmont” fundraising efforts, I have been doing some experimenting because I can and simply because I have to. There are some things that I just cannot bring myself to do this year.
One of the biggest things I am struggling with as we go into this holiday baking season is the “hidden sources” of pork. It can be a sneaky thing. I ultimately knew that it could be in pie crust because one of my favorite pie crust recipes from back in the day from before I had three children and was a much “less lazy” chef called for lard. I knew that lard was a key ingredient to a good pie crust. Of course that was back in the day. 
Now it is confession time. I have not made a pie crust in several years. If you think about the fact that Lance is 9 years old and I do not think that I have actually made a pie crust in the 9 years he has been alive, that means that I have not made pie crust in a very long time. I used to make them for every pie – sweet or savory. I was not even afraid to try to make things like Pork Pies that called for interesting concoctions. Then I had a third child and I grasped onto reality with both hands. At least that is my cover story and I am sticking to it. May all the lazy chefs in the world unite!
All of that aside, I could not bring myself to invest in “lard free” and ultimately “pig free” pie crusts. I could not bring myself to invest the money or the time and ultimately the emotions that go with that time that would be involved to find “safe” pie crusts. I just cannot support the “lard laden” pie crusts. If not for myself, not for my family, not for my friends. I suppose it should have been acceptable for complete strangers, friends, and even family, but I emotionally could not bring myself to do it. What happens when I have pie crusts left over? Those end up in my freezer where they will rot. So for me it does matter.
The time had come for me to move past “lazy” and just trust that the little bit of effort would pay off in the end. The thought kept going through my mind, “but I have so many pies to make.” The reality was, however, that I did not have that many more pies to make than I would normally make. It was just a few more. I knew that I could not use my original recipe. I originally thought that I could just modify it and change out the source of fats. Then I could not find it. It is amazing how things get misplaced conveniently over the years. I might have even thrown it away in the past few years since my pork aversion started. 
Thus the hunt for a new pie crust recipe started. I needed something that was universal, trusted, and easy. Notice that I am still showing my “lazy” tendencies? Yes, those are hard to break. I do not want to spend hours dealing with pie crusts. If I am going to do this, it has got to be quick and painless or I will probably never do it again. 
I personally did not want anything with shortening in it. I do not like shortening. I personally do not buy shortening. I do have some shortening but I only have it in very small quantities – just enough to grease and flour my cake pans, nothing more and nothing less. That is the only thing I ever use it for. I wanted a recipe that was flavorful over anything else. I wanted something that would hold up to the Pecan Pie Custard over flakiness. I wanted flaky but it was not the priority for this experiment because you do not need a flaky pie crust for a Pecan Pie. 
Alas the problem I kept running into was that pie crusts recipes all called for shortening. What is up with that. Do people not understand how gross that is? I found some that called for coconut oil but I have never used coconut oil so I do not know anything about how it cooks or holds up when cooking. Looking at the various coconut oils available around here, they appear to be suitable for the temperatures I would be cooking the Pecan Pies at but how would they hold up with the custard in them? There were just too many unknowns in the whole coconut oil scenario for me to be comfortable with that. Remember I said I liked comfortable when it comes to food? Needless to say I was having a lot of problems finding anything that I was really happy with. I figured I could substitute 100% butter for the shortening, but the reality started to hit me. This was going to get very expensive very quickly and while it would be fine for feeding to my own family, it was going to be cutting into the profits for the boys’ fundraising efforts very quickly if I went that route. 
After going through online sources and pulling out several of the tried and true cookbooks on my shelves, I finally pulled out a cookbook that Ben had bought me for Christmas a couple of years ago. He bought it for me because he thought that I would enjoy it. At the time I was not too thrilled about it. I am not ecstatic about it right now, but I will give it another look. Why not the “love” for it? I do not like cookbooks without pictures. If I buy a cookbook, it needs to have pictures for the recipes in it. How do I know if something looks good? How do I know if I want to make something? I am a visual person. I look at something and if it looks good, I will try it. I am not a read something and it sounds good. It never does. If I look at something, it does not matter what is in the recipe. If it looks good, I will give the recipe a lot of consideration. This cookbook that Ben bought has very few picture in it. It is very disappointing, almost heartbreaking, from that perspective. The only thing that peaks my interest is that it is a dessert cookbook. I do not care if it is a cookbook from a fancy chef because often times those recipes require a lot more work than they are often worth. Let me rephrase that, recipes from fancy chefs are often way too much work for way too little in return. Look there are my lazy chef tendencies showing up again. This cookbook has sat on the shelf ever since that Christmas. I would say that it has been taunting me, but that would be a flat out lie. It has been sitting on the shelf with every other unused cookbook waiting for the day that it would get its cover dusted off and opened up. 
That day was on Friday last week and after much deliberation and review of the various recipes, I decided that the All American Pie Crust Recipe in this cookbook was the one that I was going to use. Why? The reasoning all made sense from the various things I read and the ratios all seemed to make sense in this recipe. They had the best balance. I did modify it a little bit because it was a “shortening” recipe like the others. I substituted 1/3 of the called for shortening with butter and I used butter flavored shortening for the remaining 2/3 required parts shortening. I have to say that tasting the raw pie crust was a delight. It was tasty. Working with it was even more pleasant. It was soft and pliable. The recipe said that it was for a 2 crust 9″ pie. I ended up having enough to do 3 one crust 10″ pies from a single batch of the recipe. It was wonderful! I am glad that I made the recipe. In fact I am considering not substituting the butter for the shortening at all in a future batch.
I have baked six 10″ Pecan Pies and I have enough dough left over to make at least one more, maybe two more 10″ pies. I have also baked 3 dozen Sugar Cookies, 3 dozen Snickerdoodles, 8 dozen Jammie Dodgers, and about 18 dozen Chocolate Chip Cookies in the past five days. Here are to the many more dozens of cookies and pies ahead…

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