The cliché "easy as pie" needs to be modified.
"Easy as eating pie" is more accurate, because "easy as making pie" is an oxymoron.
I am solid in many immediate- and expert-level kitchen tasks, especially when it comes to proteins. You want venison grilled to perfection, crispy fried chicken, moist baked or smoked salmon or brined brisket for old-school pastrami? I'm your cook.
I can peel a butternut squash in no time without slicing a finger, put up (i.e. can) a half-bushel of fresh tomatoes on a Sunday afternoon or adjust the spiciness of a pot of chili to match any person's heat tolerance.
But if you want to make me question my ability to succeed in the kitchen, give me a pie recipe.
The anxiety starts with the traditional flaky, buttery crust. Many a fruit pie in my kitchen has ended up as a cobbler because I fumbled the pie shell. I'm now a master at salvaging the dough as strips for a less perfection-demanding dessert.
Pie fillings also can be temperamental. High on the drama-queen list are custards and syrups that don't stiffen during cooking. The result is a first slice that lacks triangular definition and the rest of the ingredients oozing to fill the void in the pie plate.
Another sure way to fail: Pour filling for a 10-inch deep-dish pie crust into a smaller 9-inch shell. When you overfill the crust, the spillage during baking will be like concrete at the bottom of the oven once cooled.
My mother-in-law is a master pie baker. As the embodiment of the "easy as pie" cliché, she inspires me to keep trying. The other reason is pie is such a delectable dessert.
Practice is slowly paying off. My efforts of late are more in the middling level of success. The crust is "not bad," as we say in my house for grade B results, and the flavors often are better than the usually misshapen slice conveys visually.
One way to get better at pie making is to find recipes with detailed instructions. For flaky, buttery pie crusts, look to Julia Childs and Alton Brown for guidance. At FoodNetwork.com, there are several variations available that are test-kitchen approved. And, Lee Drummond at her website thepioneerwoman.com has helpful photos with step-by-step directions.
Give a recipe from a reputable source a couple of tries to make sure you have correct technique. The reason is baking is like a chemistry experiment. Precision in measuring and following directions to the seemingly insignificant detail are critical to success.
The following recipe for an indulgent Buttermilk Pecan Pie was featured in "The American Century Cookbook" (1997) by Jean Anderson. She spent 10 years searching out this county's most popular recipes and their history. The cookbook's 500-plus recipes are tried and true, with clear instructions.
She credited the recipe to Mrs. Lev. H. Prichard III (Ella Wall), who was one of the editors for "Fiesta: Favorite Recipes of South Texas" (1973) from the Junior League of Corpus Christi.
Mrs. Prichard wrote that the family recipe "often was prepared by a career U.S. Navy chef for such dignitaries as the late Pres. Harry S. Truman. Through the years of his military career, the chef refused to share his recipe. Finally, when he retired, he allowed it to be published in a Navy newspaper."
The custard looks like it has lived on the wild side of life, with a medium brown caramelized top. The pecans start at the bottom of the crust but float to the underside of a thin, caramelized sugar layer at the top. The result is a decadent custard with a subtle pecan flavor and texture.
My only change is adding some tips to the directions.
This is a recipe that is starting to become a favorite in my own family. And, given my subpar pie-making track record that leans toward rustic, I'm OK with such praise.
Share your favorite recipes or food-related historical recollections by emailing Laura Gutschke at email@example.com.
Buttermilk Pecan Pie
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened enough to cream
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 medium-to-large eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (use whole variety if at all possible)
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
1. Measure ingredients before starting custard. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Cream butter in stand-up mixer bowl or medium bowl using electric hand mixer. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and continue creaming until light.
3. Blend in the vanilla.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just to incorporate. (If you overbeat, the egg whites and extra air could cause the custard to overinflate during baking.)
5. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl and blend into the egg mixture.
6. Mix in buttermilk.
7. Sprinkle pecans on bottom of pie shell. (Avoid the temptation to add more pecans than listed. Extra pecans means less room for the custard, which will spill over the crust during baking.)
8. Pour the buttermilk mixture on top of the pecans. Fill the pie shell to within a 1/2-inch of the top of the shell. The custard will rise during baking. (If you have more filling than pie shell, pour the extra mixture into a ramekin to bake in the oven along with the pie.)
9. Bake about 1 1/2 hours until filling sets like custard. Cool pie on wire rack for several hours to room temperature before cutting. (Chill the pie after coming to room temperature. A chilled pie is easier to slice.)
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Pecans add crunchy texture to rich buttermilk pie