After the insanity of the Pie or Die contest weekend, you’d think I’d be totally pie-d out. As in, I never want to see a pie ever again….or at least for a week or two. But that didn’t happen. Why? Because my friend Stacy was visiting right after the event and she LOVES LOVES LOVES pies. And who am I to deny her pie? I decided to head back into the kitchen, see what I had around the house and bake up another one. Luckily I had a some pie crust leftover from the SF Food Wars in the back of the fridge (this made me think that EVERYONE should have pie crust at their disposable. Pies are really so easy to make if you already have ready made pie crust! I think I might have to make some pie crust and freeze it). Though a bit of a hodgepodge of flavors, this Vanilla & Almond Scented Apricot Plum Summerberry Pie summarizes my personality in one tasty flaky crust package. A bit of this, a bit of that, slightly sweet, slightly flaky, slightly spicy with a kick and completely pragmatic (use up fruit in the fridge before it goes bad!) and dare I say it, pretty darn easy (Hmmm. Now what does that say about me?).
Stacy is a total global jet setter. AJ taught with her years ago when he first moved here to SF and was teaching at a high school. Stacy tells a funny story when a coworker of her’s introduced the two of them. Apparently he thought they would “hit it off” as AJ was a single man. Stacy looked at the coworker, and said “well yeah, I guess we could hang out, AJ’s seems cool…but you know he’s gay, right?” Ha!
AJ left the high school to go teach at community college and Stacy decide to go teach abroad. She bounced from Kuwait (we decided not to visit her there) to Buenos Aires (we did visit her there) to India where she is now. In between she’s vacationed all over the world (as only a teacher with the summer off can do) and most every year came back to San Francisco to visit her adopted hometown.
We always try to make it a point to see her when she comes into town (through circumstance, she always has a place in SF to stay – conveniently two blocks away from us). And she always talks about how much she loves pie.
Growing up Stacy’s mom baked pies. Tons of pies. Her specialty was a coconut cream pie and a lemon meringue pie. Stacy, of course, does not bake. She doesn’t even own measuring cups or spoons. But her mom! Oh how she bakes pies. But she doesn’t bake them anymore…. And therein lies a story.
Like the rest of the family, Stacy’s dad loves pies. A few years ago (probably five or six years ago) her dad went out to the backyard and picked lemons off their lemon tree and put them on the counter of the kitchen, as a hint to Stacy’s mom that she should make a lemon meringue pie. Stacy’s mom, of course, got the hint, but while her dad was a work, a neighbor stopped by to say hello and commented on how lovely the lemons looked.
Well, to be neighborly, Stacy’s mom gave the neighbor the lemons, thinking she’ll either pick more from the tree or get some at the farmer’s market. Stacy’s dad was rather distraught by this turn of events, especially since he did NOT like the neighbor to begin with (and apparently now he liked the neighbor even less).
A week went by and Stacy’s mom eventually picks up some lemons at the farmer’s market and proceeds to make a lemon meringue pie. Coming home from work, Stacy’s dad saw the pie on the counter, and in a fit of passive aggressiveness, picks up the pie from the counter and throws the entire pie into the trashcan. He then proclaims “I didn’t want a pie now! I wanted a pie last week!”
Stacy’s mom, understandably, was a livid. In the coldest tone of voice she could muster she turned to her husband and stated “For the rest of my life, I will NEVER bake you another pie.” And she hasn’t.
To this day, when Stacy or her brother visits her parent’s house, her dad will pull one or the other aside and ask them to ask their mom to bake a pie for them. Because Stacy’s mom has no problem baking a pie for her kids. But she’ll never bake a pie for her husband again. It’s the only way he’ll ever get pie from her, via the kids.
Taking this all into consideration, pie is LOADED with meaning to Stacy (and her family). She told me that she dismisses cakes and cupcakes, as fluffy sugary confection. Pie, she told me over dinner, is full of nostalgia and craft. It’s something that is full of feeling and sentiment while cake, though cute, doesn’t have the same resonance. I can understand where she’s coming from, though I still love a good slice of cake.
That said, I know she would have loved the SF Food Wars Pie or Die contest. Sadly it didn’t fit into her schedule as she was in San Francisco for less than 24 hours. AJ hung out with her during the day when I was at work and they both went back to my place to have the last leftover slice of my winning pie. She swooned over the the lemon and blackberry flavors and said it was definitely award worthy, which, coming from her, a pie aficionado, means nearly as much as winning the two awards.
I came home, to find the pie I had baked from the night before cooled (AJ had tucked it away in the cake box I had bought at Sur la Table, to hide it from Stacy). As I picked it up, I noticed that it seemed a little runny. I poured a little filling out and discovered that it was TOTALLY runny and the filling wasn’t cooked all the way through! HORROR!
How could an award winning pie maker show up with a pie with runny filling? What was I going to do?!?!?
I quickly stuck it back in the oven for a little bit, but we were running late to the dinner so it only warmed up the crust a little bit. *Sigh* I guess I would have to explain it to the restaurant and hope they could help me out.
I was in luck. Frances, over in the Castro, is nothing but professional and extremely helpful! I pulled the maître d’ aside and explained it to him. “Um. So I made this pie, and I unfortunately didn’t bake it long enough. When you slice it up for us, could you maybe stick it in a microwave or something to firm it up?” He was aghast. “Microwave! What sort of restaurant do you think this is?” and then he said he would talk to the pastry chef and take care of it. I told him I didn’t want to take up any valuable oven space in the kitchen, but he brushed my concerns aside and replied back “Don’t worry about it. We will take care of it!” as he whisked it off into the teeny tiny kitchen. I just hoped the pastry chef didn’t hate me too much.
None of us had been to Frances yet but I had read all about it. Melissa Perello, chef and owner was a former James Beard rising star nominee three years in a row and formerly from Fifth Floor. Frances was also a semi-finalist for the 2010 James Beard best new restaurant – which of course made it impossible to get a reservation for awhile. I was impressed that Frances actually puts on their menu the statement “Frances is happy to support the shortest distance between the farm and your table. We bring you local, sustainable, and organic produce whenever possible.” I strive to do the same with my own baked goods, the apricots were actually white apricots, called Angelcots, that were grown in Brentwood CA, while the plums were picked off of my plum tree in the backyard and the berries were from Watsonville and Castroville. I had actually looked at their menu beforehand to make sure they didn’t already serve pie (they didn’t) so I felt comfortable bring my dessert there, as it obviously would fit in with the dinner, but wasn’t overlapping with their desserts.
The meal was superb. Nibbling on spiced rosemary lacquered almonds and rustic bread and butter Stacy, AJ and I were joined by Stacy’s awesome cousin Zara and her boyfriend Jaime. Rounding out the table was our friend Tam who Stacy was staying with. We chatted about the Stacy’s new dog (so cute! His name is Milo) about winning the pie contest, Zara and Jaime and how they got together (he wooed her old school style! With roses!) and about the fabulous places to eat around town.
Our starters include their signature applewood smoked bacon beignets, which were just as fantastic as they sound, grilled calamari with white bean salad (preserved meyer lemons gave them a nice sweet sour touch) and their Panisse Frites, magically crispy and hot chickpea fritters that had a wonderful toothsome bite served with a lemon aioli. Stacy wondered how do they turn legumes into a texture resembling mozzarella cheese (I think they use garbanzo bean flour actually). I didn’t bother thinking about how they were made, I just wanted more!
Each of us order the appetizers – dungness crab salad (huge chunks of sweet crab meat tossed with a tangy vinaigrette and gem lettuce), white corn soup (sweet summer squash and crème fraiche), Chicken liver mousse with tender roasted bing cherries (huge helping – why do they always serve big servings of the liver but not enough bread to go with it?), and the Ricotta Gnochi with corn and heirloom tomato ragout (perfect soft and fluffy texture which played well with the sweet white corn and heirloom tomato sauce).
AJ, Jaime, and I couldn’t resist ordering the Lamb for our entrée. It was amazing, tender, juicy, meaty, everything lamb should be (and no it wasn’t gamey at all). Stacy and Tam split the Crepe Cannelloni which they said was fantastic, packed with melted leeks and spinach with the umami undertones of the mushrooms, while Zara went for the herb stuffed guinea hen, the touch of corn and peach a nice foil to the creamy polenta it was served over.
And then there was silence. The moment of truth. My runny par-baked pie was brought out and presented to the table. It looked pretty good. Photos were taken. Images posted on Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter (we’re so high tech!) But would it taste good?
I was in luck. It was everything I had hoped for, and more. The pastry chef (bless him/her heart) had found a place in the oven and had baked the pie enough for it firm up the filling. The apricot and plum had married well with the berries and the vanilla and almond extract I had used were perfect counterpoints to the apricot and plum fruit flavors. I think this is one my favorite pie I’ve ever made. Seriously.
I have my old faithful book The Flavor Bible to thank for it. Emily Luchetti of Farallon and Waterbar is quoted in the book saying that raw apricots are bland but once you cook them they become a whole different fruit. And I took a chance with them and she was right! I am so not a fan of raw apricots. But baked into a pie. I’m a convert. The few plums added a nice touch of acidity and spice, and the berries just brightened up the whole pie.
Zara and Jaime and Tam all proclaimed it fantastic. And AJ said it was delicious. And Stacy. Pie loving Stacy, said she absolutely loved it.
We had half a pie leftover. We were leaving for a week long vacation in a couple of days, and in the past I’ve always been the person who eats the leftover pie, not AJ. I decided because Frances was so awesome, I would give the rest of the pie to the restaurant. Part of me was hopeful that they would eat it, fall in love with it, call me up and offer me a job as sous-pastry chef (that did not happen) but I figure they helped me out in a bind (who brings a half baked pie to a restaurant to serve? That would be me), they deserved to eat the rest of the pie that took up the precious room in the oven (it’s a tiny restaurant and a tiny kitchen). I just hope they actually ate it and didn’t just throw it away. I don’t know how those fancy restaurant people work. Do they poo poo their patron’s homemade food and toss it aside if offered? They didn’t seem super snotty (though apparently they don’t own a microwave). Oh well.
AJ, by the way, told me on the walk home, that he would have helped me finish the pie had we took it with us. Dang. Oh well. I guess that’s just an excuse for me to make another one!
I’m submitting this pie to the You Want Pie With That? Contest. This month’s theme, chosen by Branny Boils Over is “Choose a pie that best represents your personality” which is quite possible the best contest theme EVER. This hodgepodge of flavors that combine to become something utter wonderful, greater the sum of it’s parts, is exactly me. Maybe that’s why AJ said he’d have another slice. It reminds him of me.
Vanilla & Almond Scented Apricot Plum Summerberry Pie
Almond scented pie crust
This is the same crust that I used for the Blackberry Lemon Chess Pie. It’s a very versatile crust, and the addition of the almond meal adds a nice subtle hint of nuttiness as well as helps brown the crust.
For Pie Filling & Assembly
1 lb pitted white apricots (called Angelcots) or regular apricots
3 small or 2 medium plums
1 1/2 cup raspberries
1 cup blackberries
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon diced candied ginger
6 tablespoon arrowroot starch or tapioca flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, separated
1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F.
2. Roll out one of the pie dough disks with a generous amount of flour (use as much flour as you want, as this dough is sticky) and fit into a 9” deep dish pie tin, leaving a 1” overhang of crust. Brush the bottom and sides dough with an egg white wash (1 egg white beaten with 1 Tbsp of water until frothy).
3. Wash, slice and pit the apricots and plums and put into a large glass bowl.
4. Add the raspberries and blackberries along with the vanilla and almond extract, candied ginger, flour, sugar and salt.
5. Gently fold them all together with a large spatula and pour them into the prepared pie crust.
5. Weave a top over the crust and brush with an egg wash (1 egg yolk with 1 Tbsp of water beaten until frothy). Place the pie on a large sheet pan to catch drippings (I suggest lining it with aluminum foil for easy cleanup.
6 . Bake for 20 minutes at 425˚F and then lower the temperature to 350˚ for 1 hr and 15 minutes or until the pie juices are bubbling. Make sure the pie juices are bubbling in the center of the pie or you’ll be embarrassed when you bring the pie to the restaurant and ask them to finish baking the pie for you, which means you’ll feel guilty afterwards and give them the rest of the pie. Which means no leftover pie for you and your loved one. Which is just sad.
Note: I bought the white apricots from Trader Joe’s. Their tradename is Angelcots, but regular plain apricots will work as well.