Before I tell you how I brought flaky back, don't forget to check back next week for the Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie I will be making to celebrate my son’s birthday. I don’t have a recipe to share with you this week because I didn’t make a pie this week.
Instead, I spent the weekend with my sister in Rochester, Minnesota, at the North Central Hearts at Home Conference. Hearts at Home is a Christian-oriented resource for moms whose mission, according to their website, is to “encourage, educate, and equip every mom in every season of motherhood using Christian values to strengthen families.” The conference was beyond uplifting and inspiring, with keynotes from Dr. Juli Slattery, formerly of Focus on the Family, and my personal favorites, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. (You might remember me sharing with you that my dad could feed their whole family with his massive vegetable garden.) They certainly fulfilled their mission.
Last night after putting the kids to bed, because I was not home to cook all weekend, my husband and I shared some Chinese take-out for a late dinner. After devouring the lo mein, egg rolls, and crab rangoon, I cracked open my fortune cookie: “I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it.”
Huh. Whaddya know.
I thought it was interesting timing, considering the weekend I spent learning more about my job as a mom. Not that I don’t know how to be a mom already. But I always want to improve and learn anything I can that will help me do it better.
As a teacher, I approached my job in the same way. I was in a constant search for a better way to help my individual students learn in their individual ways, and the best way to figure that out was simply by doing it.
I’m a firm believer that the search for meaning is innate. We are born with a desire to make sense of life and everything in it. It’s what drives us deep within, whether we do that by making connections, asking questions, inferring, etc. Whatever our strategy, whatever the context, our ultimate goal is to make sense of the situation. And one powerful tool for doing so is analogy.
Analogy is the vehicle that gets us from what we already know to what we need to know. It’s a tool I used multiple times in each lesson as a reading teacher. And I’ve found it can be used effectively in pie baking as well.
I’m not sure you’ve noticed in the photos, but for a while, my pie crusts were not very flaky. They were lacking the quality I’m accustomed to producing, and I didn’t understand why. So I began to investigate. I didn’t do it simply by researching methods other pie bakers were successfully using. I did it by changing and testing my own methods.
What I first realized was that the quality of my crusts began changing shortly after I switched from using store-bought commercial lard to locally-produced lard, the kind without all the preservatives and hydrogenation. But I knew it couldn’t be the lard itself that was causing the lack of flakiness. So I began adjusting one step at a time, from the amount of water I was using, to how much mixing of the dough I was doing, to the time the dough spent chilling. Then I thought about the amount of lard I was using.
When using store-bought lard, which comes in one-pound blocks, rather than measuring by volume in a measuring cup, I would just use half the block, or eight ounces, which I figured was about one cup, the amount I use for making my pie crust recipe. When I switched to using locally-produced lard, which comes in a large tub, I had to measure the lard by scooping it into a measuring cup.
Here’s where the analogy comes in.
Several years ago, I drove four hours north to take a bread-baking class at a popular kitchen shop in Minneapolis. (Back then, I had not yet learned about the value of time, or of gas.) I don’t really spend much time baking bread these days. I tend to let my bread machine do most of the work for me, so I can spend my time baking pies. (Maybe someday someone will invent a pie-baking machine.) Even so, I did get something valuable out of the class, which recently came in very handy while I was working to regain the quality of my pie crusts.
What if I measured the lard by weight, rather than by volume?
In the bread-baking class, I learned that the flour should always be measured by weighing it, to ensure that the same amount of flour was used every time, for consistent results. I realized when measuring the locally-produced lard that I probably was getting some variation each time since what actually made it into the measuring cup could vary. Perhaps my pie crust no longer had enough fat to make it flaky because I wasn’t measuring the amount I was previously using.
So I started weighing my lard with a kitchen scale, instead of using a measuring cup. And it worked.
It all made sense, and I brought flaky back.
The moral of the story? The next time you want to learn something new or improve what you are already doing, just consider what you are already doing, do it differently, and do that which you cannot do.
Make sense of that.
Yours in pie,