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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Champagne Grape Pie

Belonging to a produce co-op has given us the opportunity to save money on fresh fruits and veggies while we also increase the amount of these foods that we eat, but the best part is that we have received foods that we probably would not have tried otherwise.  It's so easy to get into a rut with fruits and vegetables, always eating the same old thing. We've also had chances to try new varieties of the standard foods we've always bought - this week it was a kind of grape we've never had: "Champagne Grapes".  Oh my goodness, these things are DELICIOUS!

I usually suspect smallish grapes of being overly tart, but that is definitely not the case with Champagne grapes.  They are smaller than the grapes we usually eat, perhaps the size of beads or pearls, but they are also sweeter than the grapes we normally find in the supermarket.

This weekend we decided to invite our neighbor Kim over for a visit since her husband was out on the road driving truck.  I got out a pie cookbook to look for ideas using whatever I had on hand, and was surprised to find a recipe for Champagne Grape Pie!  Naturally, I had to try this one out.  The recipe is from the book Pie by Ken Haedrich.

I have simplified this recipe a little, because in the cookbook he goes through all sorts of steps about chilling the pie dough and freezing the pie shell and stuff like that which I never do and do not find necessary.  My pie crust is nice and tender and flaky without going through all that foolishness, so I don't see any point in typing all that up.  If you're gentle with your pastry dough you don't need all those extra steps.  Here's my easier version of the recipe.


1 recipe double crust pastry
4 cups champagne grapes, stemmed
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
coarse or sanding sugar

  • Combine the grapes, sugar and lemon juice in a medium bowl.  Mix well and set aside to juice.
  • Prepare pastry and roll out half.  Line a standard 9-inch pie pan with the pastry.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Stir the cornstarch into the filling, then turn the filling into the pie shell, smoothing the top with a spoon.  Roll out remaining pastry and put on top of the pie.  Trim and flute the edges.  Brush the top with ice water and sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Cut steam vents into the top of the pie.
  • Place the pie in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  Reduce oven heat to 375 degrees and cook an additional 30 minutes.
  • Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.
We thought this pie was great topped with sweetened whipped cream.  I'm sure it would be fabulous with ice cream too!  We all liked this pie...Eight year-old Ryan devoured two pieces!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The great pie crust debate

I recently realized that I've been making pies for about 35 years.  That's a long time - especially considering that I don't feel old enough to have done anything for 35 years!  I first started wanting to learn when I was in junior high school.  I watched my mom make pies, and I remember a friend of hers giving me a formal pie making lesson (I still remember how impressed I was that Carole used ice water in her pastry dough, and I have done the same ever since - it does make a difference in getting a flaky crust!)  From there, pie making took some trial and error and a lot of practice.  (I don't remember anybody ever complaining about the pie making practice.)  Through the years I developed a pie crust recipe preference.

Many people like the "no fail" pie dough recipes that use an egg and vinegar.  It's true that almost anybody can make an acceptable crust with this method.  It's the kind of pie crust that is usually found in restaurant pies.  But I don't love the flavor or texture of it - it seems a little "bready" to me.

Using lard is an old fashioned favorite.  I've used it and I've tasted the pie crust other people have made with lard. It's pretty easy to get a tender pie crust with lard, but I think it has a nasty aftertaste and leaves an oily mouth feel.  So even though my mother keeps telling me that I should use lard, and apparently even tells other people she thinks I should use lard (I guess my flaky pie crust isn't acceptable, LOL) I prefer to have a pie crust that tastes good.

I use pure vegetable shortening in my pie crust.  This is NOT a health food.  Pie is a treat and not an every day food.  But pure vegetable shortening in a traditional pastry recipe makes a tender and flaky pie crust that is hard to beat.  It takes a bit more skill and practice than the vinegar recipe or using lard, but it's got a nicer texture and better flavor so it's definitely worth it!  And, of course, nobody minds eating the results of a few pie making practice sessions!

I will post step-by-step pastry making directions when I get some time.  Do you have an opinion about what makes a good pie crust?