Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tim's "Let Me Buy You a Beer" Guinness Pie

Creating a logo for your best friend's wife's not-for-profit pie blog does not pay well. As in, it does not pay at all. Unless, of course you are willing to accept payment in pie.

When I began this little blog of mine and my first pie was merely a twinkle in my eye, my husband offered, "Tim will make a logo for you." Tim is Will's closest and oldest friend, dating back to elementary school when they lived on the same street and passed many an afternoon riding bikes, playing basketball and otherwise causing preteen mischief. Twenty-something years later, their friendship has stood the test of time, although their boyish antics have evolved ever so slightly.

So began my logo endeavor. 

Now, if you have known me for any length of time, you know that I am two things - a perfectionist and terribly indecisive. As you can imagine, these things do not go well together. 

But Tim, a graphic designer by trade, patiently sorted through the sample logos I had accumulated, listened to me babble on about lattice crust, handwritten fonts and vintage color templates, and graciously tolerated my "I don't know"s. He tweaked, improved, offered more choices and tweaked again. For months, emails went back and forth, with different pie slices, backgrounds, banners, fonts and colors. Until the final email when I opened up the attachment and saw this - my logo! 

In retrospect, settling on a logo was not unlike wedding dress shopping or looking for a new home. It was simply a matter of not knowing exactly what it was I was looking for until I had found it. And there it was! My logo! I was so happy, I cried. . . and continued to sneak peeks at the final product every half hour or so for days. I was a bit smitten.

So now, thanks to Tim and his design talent, my little neck of the Internet woods has a beautiful new logo, my brown cardboard pie boxes will be cheerfully adorned with Bake Somebody Happy stickers and I may even have a T-shirt made. Or maybe a apron. Or maybe both.

Yet, there remains this little issue of payment. I mean, how could I ever adequately thank Tim for the time and effort he so generously put into bringing my vision to life? How about with a beer - or rather a beer pie. Pull up a barstool and grab a cold one. I've got Tim's "Let Me Buy You a Beer" Guinness Pie comin' right up.

All this talk of beer got me thinking about bar snacks. So, I opted to replace my traditional pie crust with a take on a graham cracker crust, only using pretzels in place of their more traditional cracker cousin. It seemed to me that the saltiness of the pretzels might be the perfect accompaniment to the rich, chocolatey Guinness filling I had in mind.

I threw a couple of handfuls into the food processor and pulsed them until coarsely ground. Then I added brown sugar and a slightly obscene amount of melted butter to bring the crust together. Into the oven for ten minutes and there it was - the perfect combination of sweet and salty.
While the pretzel crust cooled, I prepared the pudding by gently heating heavy whipping cream and Guinness on the stovetop before melting in chunks of bittersweet chocolate. I whisked together egg yolks and sugar and gradually introduced the resulting paste into the warm ganache before adding cornstarch to thicken. 
Then I poured the creamy Guinness pudding into the cooled pretzel pie crust. 
While the pudding chilled, I set to work preparing a marshmallow meringue topping. I began by creating a reduction of the remaining Guinness in a saucepan over medium heat.
Then I dissolved sugar into a combination of egg whites, water and salt to create my first ever meringue. I must admit, I felt rather fancy.

I added quartered marshmallows to the meringue and whisked until melted and thickened to the consistency of marshmallow fluff. Once combined, I stirred in the Guinness reduction and poured the sticky meringue over top of the entire pie. 
Marshmallow always begs for a little toasting, so I placed the pie under the broiler for a bit of color. Between you and me, I may or may not have slightly scorched this pie, but nothing a sprinkle of powdered sugar couldn't fix.
Tim was the first friend I ever met of my husband's, nearly nine years ago. Over the years, he has been a consistent and positive presence in our family's life - bringing thoughtful gifts when our boys were born, attending more than his fair share of toddler birthday parties and joining our often rowdy crew for dinner. My oldest speaks fondly of how Mr. Tim wears his sunglasses on top of his head, goes fishing with Daddy and drives a truck. These things are terrifically cool when you are four years old. But, I have to admit - even as an adult, I think Tim is pretty cool.

Tim will be an awesome dad someday. In fact, Will has specifically instructed that if something should ever happen to him, I am to make sure that the boys continue to have a relationship with Tim to learn all of the "man things" he would have taught them - fishing, home improvement and the like.

They say all of the good ones are taken, but I am here to tell you that some of the best are still out there. Over the years, I have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to set Tim up with Mrs. Right and he has tolerated my meddling nicely. I undoubtedly will continue to meddle in all things love, if only for the fact that some great girl out there is missing out on this great guy. I mean, who else upon finishing their slice of Guinness pie says, "I feel like I should do something nice for someone." Um, hello. Being such a nice guy is exactly what landed you this pie in the first place.

"The mouth of a perfectly happy man is filled with beer." - Egyptian Proverb

Monday, August 6, 2012

Victoria's "Missouri Loves Company" Missouri Buttermilk Pie

I was on the brink of my thirties, stuck squarely between my father's recent death and my son's quickly approaching first birthday, when I took my seat at Victoria's station and told her I wanted to cut it all off. Oh, and dye it red. And she didn't bat an eye.

I so desperately needed a change, and as my hair fell to the ground, taking with it layers of the old me, Victoria and I chatted about everything from our toddler boys, the joys of being a mommy, marriage, our parents' cancer and how God fit into all of the above. Our conversation was so natural. I felt I had known Victoria for years instead of the hour or so we had actually been acquainted. This was a feeling I had only experienced twice before: when I met my teenage best friend, Joanna, and when I was introduced to my husband, Will. Yet, here it was again - with my hairdresser, of all people.
Within a few months of our first meeting, Victoria had given birth to her second son, Jude, and I found myself expecting once again - also a boy. It seemed only natural to get our little guys together to play trains and burn off some energy running around outside. Despite the drama of our first play date at Victoria's house, which was cut short by Wilson's first asthma attack and subsequent trip to the emergency room, we continued to meet to play and have lunch nearly once a week. As a friendship blossomed between Wilson and Reed, so too did my relationship with Victoria.

I channeled my inner thirteen year old girl, routinely giggling and gabbing on the phone for hours on end after the boys had gone down for the night.
Around this time, Will began teasing me about the intensity of my newfound friendship. He jokingly referred to Victoria as my "BFF," my "bestie" and my "girlfriend." He even gave her a nickname - The Vickster. (Although I think this may be the first time she is hearing that one).

But, for all of the carefree times we shared together, life as Victoria knew it was changing. She was forced to make some hard decisions about what kind of life she wanted for her boys and what she could and could not accept in her marriage. Although I tried my best to walk by her side through this difficult time, the truth is, I really don't think I had any idea what she was going through. Although I continued to pray for her marriage, I can't say I was surprised when it ultimately ended. My heart ached for her and the boys, but I knew that she had only their best interests guiding her every move. Their mommy loves them fiercely.

Following a month long trip to Missouri to visit the boys' paternal grandparents last summer, Victoria returned with news I could not have seen coming. She planned to move to Missouri in just a handful of weeks to attend nursing school. Although I knew she was making the best out of a difficult situation by preparing for her future as a single mom, I was heartbroken. I tried not to take her move personally, but between you and me, I felt abandoned. I had waited all of my adult life for a friend like her and I was having a hard time letting her go out into the world without me.

Life without Victoria was a hard pill to swallow. I relied on the rare phone conversation to assure me that our friendship was still there, waiting. During one of those conversations, Victoria said that she and the boys would be making their first trip home to California to visit her family. I marked my calendar and eagerly began the countdown.

Then, earlier this week, while trying to herd my little ones and get everyone ready to head out the door, I happened to glance out the front window and saw Victoria walking up my driveway! A whole day earlier than expected! I ran outside and grabbed her hard to hug her. The long nine months apart and all of those selfish feelings melted away as I stood on my front lawn, barefoot and beaming, reunited with my best friend.

And, here's what I love about this girl: thousands of miles away, reading these little blogs of mine, Victoria felt moved to bake me happy. Inspired by my first blog where I share my not-so-secret desire to be the kind of mom who makes her own granola, she arrived bearing a lovely little mason jar filled with homemade cranberry almond granola. Little did she know, she had a pie coming her way in just a couple of days.
So, what do you do when you are so happy to see your best friend your cheeks hurt from smiling? Why, you make a pie of course! So, I present, Victoria's "Missouri Loves Company" Missouri Buttermilk Pie.

Victoria's pie has been made in my head dozens of times. When I first began Bake Somebody Happy, I stumbled across a recipe for Missouri Buttermilk Pie - a pie originally prepared by 
the head chef of the U.S.S. Missouri for President Truman during his visit to the ship - and bookmarked it for the appropriate time. Well, the time is now.

I began, as usual, with my tried and true pie crust recipe, made with equal parts butter and shortening. I am pretty sure I could make this crust in my sleep at this point. The old Erin - the one whose muffins never rose - would be extremely impressed by this progress. I guess my childhood piano teacher was right when she nagged me about the importance of practice. 
But, I digress. Back to the pie.

Later that evening, after the boys had gone to bed, I tied on my favorite apron, generously floured my butcher board and rolled out my chilled dough. Once I had achieved a uniform, thin sheet, I transferred it to the pie tin, trimmed the edges with my kitchen shears, tucked the excess dough under and crimped my way around the perimeter.
A Missouri Buttermilk Pie traditionally calls for a topping of toasted, chopped pecans. But I decided to fancy things up a bit by tossing my pecans with melted butter and a sprinkling of coarse sea salt before toasting. Ten minutes in the oven and a warm nuttiness filled my kitchen, stirring in me a longing for fall and all of the holiday pies it will bring with it this year - my first holiday season baking pies. I can't wait!
Typically, I begin the process of baking a pie with a main ingredient, search the internet for inspiration, settle on a handful of recipes and combine and tweak them to make the final result truly my own. But, in this case, I opted for tradition, as every recipe I found reiterated the importance of not altering measurements or substituting ingredients.

So, I began by blending the sugar into the softened butter, as directed.
Once combined, I added three whole eggs, one at a time.

Which reminds me, I am still waiting on my girls to begin laying. Hopefully come October, I will have fresh eggs right in my own backyard, just begging to be used in a custard pie.
Then I added the remaining dry ingredients (flour and salt) before turning to the real star of the show - the buttermilk. Now, I have to admit that I had not previously baked with buttermilk and because of that, was a bit uneasy about it being the predominant flavor. Somehow I just couldn't imagine all that tanginess in pie form. Seeing as how it was both the main ingredient and namesake of the pie, I decided to whip up a couple of muffin-tin sized pies for Will and I to taste test, just in case...
I filled the chilled shell to the brim with the buttermilk filling and topped the pie with a generous amount of chopped, toasty, buttery pecans.
I glossed the edges with an egg wash and placed the pie on the middle rack of the preheated oven for just over an hour.

Then it was time for the taste test. Removing the mini pie from the tin, still warm from the oven, and breaking into that dense, rich custard with a fork was all I had hoped for. I know I was a bit hesitant about the buttermilk flavor, but, let me tell you, this pie is a show stopper! Will has gone so far as to say that this is his favorite pie yet. And I think I may just have to agree with him. 
Although my intent was to reinvent myself with a drastic new haircut, that fateful trip to the salon ushered in my thirties with something much more permanent - the making of a best friend. Not unlike this pie, sometimes you find new favorites in the most unexpected of places.

I still struggle with goodbye, but I am comforted in knowing that our friendship can endure distance and time apart and come out even stronger. Whether in California or Missouri, I still love Victoria's company as much as ever.

"Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold." - Judith Olney