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I remember my first attempt at making pie crust so well because it was the day I almost lost an eye.
I was fourteen years old and had recently begun my foray into baking. I loved baking. It was extraordinary to me that you could mix together a few everyday ingredients, put them into the oven, and watch them puff up into something golden and glorious. It didn’t matter to me that my concoctions rarely turned out the way they were supposed to. My cookies burned. My muffins were so hard my brother could have used them as pucks in street hockey. It was not uncommon to bite into one of my brownies and find yourself crunching on bits of eggshell that I’d failed to fish out of the batter. But to me it was the journey, not the destination, and I blithely pressed on, convinced that one day soon I would make the perfect melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cupcake.
Although I wasted cartons of eggs and mounds of butter, no one in my family objected to my adventures in the kitchen. My parents encouraged me and ate everything I made, even though most of my attmepts were better off used as paperweights than served for dessert.
I did, however, successfully learn to make crepes, and soon after set out to make my first pie. For a change, I followed the directions closely, carefully combining the butter with the flour until it resembled small peas, and put the dough in the refrigerator to chill. I may very well have succeeded in my first pate brisee. I have no way of knowing because on that day I made a terrible, terrible mistake.
I had not yet learned the first rule of the kitchen; clean up as you go along. Every surface, including the kitchen table, was strewn with dirty utensils and mixing bowls. There was so much flour everywhere that it looked like it had snowed. As I waited for the oven to preheat, I put the Pyrex pie plate on the stove, not realizing that I’d left the burner on after making the lemon filling. One moment it looked like a bomb had hit the kitchen, the next–it sounded like one had. Pyrex can withstand high temperatures inside the oven but can’t take direct heat. The heat caused the pie plate to explode with the force of a small bomb, sending a shower of glass through the air.
Someone was watching over me that day. I wasn’t near the plate when it exploded. By some stroke of unbelievable luck, not a single piece of glass landed on me, though the whole kitchen was covered with shards of glass.
I wasn’t the only one who was lucky. Because the hot glass damaged the kitchen carpet (yes, carpet … it was the Eighties!) our insurance picked up the bill for replacing the flooring my mother had wanted to change for years.
Pastry Dough (10-inch pie plate)
Adapted from Classics – Book 1 by Donna Hay
2 cups flour
5 ounces (145g) cold butter
3 or more tablespoons ice water
Blend the flour and butter together in a food processor until the mixture has the texture of breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add ice water tablespoon by tablespoon until it comes together. Make sure you use enough water, otherwise the dough will fall apart once you handle it. You can always add more flour if it’s too sticky once you roll it out.
Knead the dough briefly to form a ball. Put it in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.
Flour your work surface. Roll out the dough until it’s two inches larger than your pie plate or tart pan, taking care not to overwork it. Place the dough over the pan and shape it with your hands to fit the contours. Any excess dough may be removed with a knife.
If your recipe requires that you pre-bake the pastry, make sure to weigh it down with pie weights before you put it in the oven. This will keep it from shrinking or puffing up in bubbles. If you don’t have pie weights, cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to cover the pan and fill it with dry beans or rice–you can re-use them for this purpose. Pre-bake for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly golden.
Bacon, Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Tarts
Preheat oven to 375 F
1 9-inch pie or tart crust, or 12 small tart shells
1 cup milk
1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Heat the butter and oil in a skillet. Add onions and mushrooms and cook over medium heat until the onions are caramelized and mushrooms are cooked, about 20 minutes. Make sure any liquid is reduced or poured off. Add parsley and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Add crumbled bacon, and then the salt and pepper. Combine well.
Spoon mixture into tart shells or pie plate, filling 3/4 of the way. In a large measuring cup, whisk the eggs together. Heat the milk until scalded and add to eggs in a slow steady stream so they do not scramble. Pour the eggs and milk over the filling (using the measuring cup to do this makes it easy). Top with parmesan.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool before serving.