Tag Archives: pie

Let there be pie

It’s 10:45 pm, Monday night. Monday 03-14, Pi(e) day. I breeze into my kitchen after a long day of work and couldn’t NOT make pie on Pi(e) day. I’d been going back and forth on whether to go to the hassle most of the afternoon and evening. When I was still at work at 8:00 pm, I almost convinced myself that I didn’t really need to do it. After all, I have two manuscripts to finish editing, graduate student qualifying exams to review, undergraduate letters of recommendation to write and who knows what else. Pie could wait until another time.

But a thought struck my mind.


It’s the start of spring – I might actually be able to grab some rhubarb from the store and wouldn’t that pair wonderfully with the ginger ice cream I had made a few day ago? Ahhh, the allure of rhubarb is simply too tempting for me to ignore. Store number one – out of luck, I live in Georgia now and wasn’t entirely sure that I would spot it at all. However, store number two (I love residing within walking distance to not one, or two but three grocery stores!) revealed a few vibrant pink stalks. I quickly grabbed the few remaining pieces and silently cursed (or not-so-silently, but hey, I was at the Murder Kroger). Not nearly enough for a full pie. Now what? Another stroll through the produce section had me stopping at the peaches. And the third pass through at the blackberries. Alright, I may be a little off script, but I think, just maybe, not only will it not be a complete disaster, but it may actually be quite good.

I’m quickly and assuredly making decisions as my pie idea forms in my mind – it borderlines on manic. I choose a buttermilk crust since I have some leftover buttermilk from a batch of biscuits I made over the weekend. Yes, I think that should do the trick. Given extra wet nature of the rhubarb, peaches and berries – I think I’ll not only par-bake the bottom crust, but seal it with an egg wash as well. Because the difference between an okay pie and a transformative one is often in the details of the crust. Oh! I’ll do a lattice top – won’t that be pretty! So, perhaps I’ll do 1.5x the recipe for the crust. No big deal.


I toss together my coveted rhubarb, a few bordering on underripe peaches and the handful of blackberries along with some sugar, flour, a dash of cinnamon and a couple of teaspoons of grated ginger and give it all a good toss and let it meld while the pie dough chills. A couple of cocktails, a load of dishes and the beginnings of a long and rambling blog post happen.


Pie, no matter how well done, is impressive and needs to be shared, if only to glory in the accolades it will undoubtedly receive. Perhaps because of the underlying assumption that it is a brave soul who attempts to put together such a concoction of pastry and fruit. The dough could be too tough or crack when rolled, the fruit too watery or worse, sickly sweet from adding too much sugar, the ratios of the two could be completely unbalanced. The sheer thought of baking a pie is overwhelming enough to scare people away. Consequently, offering pie alà mode the day after Pi(e) Day was met with an absurdly high level of enthusiasm from members and friends of my lab.

For the inexperienced, pie seems impossible – and rhubarb-peach-blackberry pie made up on the fly, particularly when paired with homemade fresh ginger ice cream (a stroke of genius) even more so. A number of students expressed awe and wonderment at the ability to tackle such a task, followed by a sad statement regarding their lack of confidence in this arena.


My actions Monday night are reminiscent of the recent days that I’ve spent in my lab. We finally arrived at spring break during my first semester of teaching undergraduates (the semester prior was dedicated to graduate teaching) and it was a busy, and sometimes impossible to maintain semester. I desperately craved a break and contemplated renting a cabin in the north Georgia mountains to escape from it all. Yet, in the end, I spent most of that time in the lab after a seemingly endless hiatus. Regardless of the time spent away, I storm into the lab and begin tying up a number of experimental loose ends.

I’d forgotten how much at home I feel in the lab. I certainly had forgotten the sense of accomplishment one has at the end of the day spent on your feet, running around from the warm room (our yeast like to grow at 30º C) to the bench, to the autoclave, to the glassware cabinet, to the PCR machine, to the centrifuge, to the gel electrophoresis rig, etc. There is an underlying ease and confidence to my actions. It feels good. And if the gel of my PCR is any indication, I haven’t lost my lab hands. Not only is it comforting to spend time back in the lab – it’s genuinely fun.

It’s difficult, after nearly a decade of time spent in the lab, to remember that it wasn’t always second nature. That the very reason that I can waltz into the lab after six months away and nearly immediately encounter experimental success is precisely because I’ve had a decade to slowly, but surely, hone my skills, encountering a turning point that remains imperceivable to me as to when exactly it occurred. One of the more challenging aspects of my job is to to teach people how to think scientifically and importantly, to not judge too quickly when they are not immediately successful. Or to judge too harshly when a young scientist can’t immediately pick up on the nuances of an experiment or how to optimize a protocol or manage their time.

{Note: there are MANY new aspects of my position that I attempt with complete uncertainty – and am learning to forgive myself for not knowing how to do all of them with expertise. But life in the lab? That I know something about.}


What’s it like to be unsure? To not know, or to carry the confidence that what you’ll do will end well? Intellectually, I know I that I did not arrive in the lab (or the kitchen for that matter) fully formed. But now it seems foreign to me, the notion that I didn’t always have such a deep intimacy of my study subject or, when in the kitchen, flavor profiles and techniques or to have a repertoire of resources and accumulated knowledge to draw upon. In hindsight, there are a few things that must have contributed to my development. 1) The sheer repetition of action and consistency in results contributed significantly to my confidence. 2) Learning who to trust with protocols/recipes – just because something is available online does not it will yield reliable outcomes Who are the scientists/chefs that I respect and want to build my own work off of? 3) Appropriately testing a technique and establishing a baseline before making educated modifications – but not to be afraid to try something a little different and outside of my comfort zone. 4) And finally, embracing the notion that sometimes I will fail. And possibly fail spectacularly, knowing that the failure is worthwhile because I will have learned something critical.

I struggle to find ways to extend my patience with naïve scientists, to remember to acknowledge the small victories and to cultivate an environment in which failing is a beautiful learning opportunity. To be able to remind them that the very process of doing something is as important as the result. That we may not know the outcome as we embark on a new project, but, that we can hopefully navigate logically and with our collective knowledge through the murkiness to a breathtaking destination.

And when that fails, sweeten them up with pie.


Rhubarb-Peach-Blackberry Pie with Buttermilk Crust

Buttermilk Crust:

  • 1 7/8 (aka 2 cups – 1 T) cups all purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little water for egg wash


  • 2 ½ cups rhubarb, chopped in ½ inch pieces
  • 3 peaches, peeled and chopped in ½ inch pieces
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-size pieces remaining. Drizzle the buttermilk on top and pulse until the dough just comes together. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather up any crumbs and divide into two disks – one a little larger than the other. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the larger disk of dough to a 12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick. Ease the dough into a 9-inch glass pie plate. Trim the overhanging dough to 1 inch, fold it under itself and crimp the dough decoratively. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust in the lower third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until barely set. Remove the parchment paper and pie weights. Brush with egg wash, reserving remaining wash. Bake for 15  minutes longer, until the crust is lightly browned. Let cool on a rack. Leave the foil strips on the crust rim. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°.

Toss together all ingredients for the filling. Pour filling into par-baked crust. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the smaller disk of dough to a ~12-inch round, a scant 1/4 inch thick. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut into ten, 1-inch strips. Place strips in a lattice pattern (5 in one direction and 5 perpendicular). Brush with remaining egg wash. Cover the edge of the crust with strips of foil and bake for 45-60 minutes until top lattice is browned and filling is bubbling. Let cool.

Serve with homemade fresh ginger ice cream spiked with some Au Thym Sauvage from Farigoule de Haute Provence (and why it has a place in my liquor cabinet is a story for another time). Although, to be fair, most any type of ice cream will suffice.


Rhubarb Pie à la mode and a lesson in kitchen math

Rhubarb. People don’t call it the ‘pie plant’ for nothing.

I decided to keep it simple with the first batch of the season. Straight up rhubarb pie with a citrus twist. À la mode, of course.

But first, a lesson in kitchen math. It’s no secret that I like to bake and share. However, somethings are easier to bring into work than other. Cookies, cupcakes, quick breads, brownies all have a hardiness to them that lends themselves well to transport and sharing. Pies, on the other hand have a certain delicacy to them that does not. I like pies, but eating an entire pie on my own is probably not the greatest idea. Enter the 7-inch pie pan.

I bought this pie pan as part of a set with a standard 9-inch pie pan. Mostly because they are in my favorite shade of green, but with the added benefit that I can now make a more reasonably sized pie. Exactly how much more reasonable, one may ask. Here’s the math: the volume of a pie dish = Π*r*r*h. So for a 9-inch pie pan the volume is (3.14)*(4.5)*(4.5)*(1) ≈ 63.6 cubic inches. A 7-inch pie pan is (3.14)*(3.5)*(3.5)*(1) ≈ 38.5 cubic inches. That’s approximately a 40% reduction in pie volume (38.5/63.6)! Eating 40% less pie – that’s a piece of cake … I mean pie …  well you know what I mean.

So how would one go about making 60% of a recipe? Conversions, conversions, conversions. And as I tell my students when they start working in the lab – keep track of your units! For example, 1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons and 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons. So 1 cup = 16 tablespoons = 48 teaspoons. Working with our 60% recipe analogy, 6/10 cup = 28.8 teaspoons ≈ 9.5 tablespoons ≈ 1/2 cup + 4 1/2 teaspoons. Got it?

I didn’t say this was easy.

For larger volumes, I rely on my kitchen scale. One of the best twenty dollar investments I’ve made for my kitchen. 1 cup flour = 120 g, so 0.6 cups of flour = 72 g. Much, much simpler to keep track of (and doesn’t require multiple measuring devices.). For reference, 1 cup sugar = 240 g.

Let’s get back to pie. Rhubarb pie, specifically. I love this pie. It is bright, tart and sassy, perfectly balanced with a scoop of rich and creamy vanilla ice cream. It practically screams springtime. The rhubarb is cooked with a little bit of orange juice and a dash of cardamom and the flavors complement each other beautifully.

Rhubarb Pie
adjusted from Bon Appetit
serves 6
180 g (1 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water
6 cups 1-inch pieces rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
97 g (0.4 cups) sugar
2 tablespoons + 1 1/4 teaspoons orange juice
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons + 1 1/4 teaspoons raspberry-rhubarb preserves
1 tablespoon whipping cream

For crust:

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter. Using on/off turns, blend until coarse meal forms. Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form, adding more ice water by 1/2 tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball. Divide into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Flatten into disks. Wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

For filling:
Combine rhubarb, sugar, orange juice, orange peel, and cardamom in large deep skillet. Toss over medium-high heat until liquid starts to bubble. Reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer until rhubarb is almost tender, stirring very gently occasionally to keep rhubarb intact, about 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to colander set over bowl. Drain well. Add syrup from bowl to skillet. Boil until juices in skillet are thick and reduced to 1/3 cup, adding any additional drained syrup from bowl, about 7 minutes. Mix in preserves. Cool mixture in skillet 15 minutes. Very gently fold in rhubarb (do not overmix or rhubarb will fall apart).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Roll out larger dough disk on lightly floured surface to 10-inch round. Transfer to 7-inch glass pie dish. Roll out smaller dough disk to 9-inch round; cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spoon filling into pie dish. Arrange 4 dough strips atop filling, spacing evenly apart. Arrange 5 dough strips atop filling in opposite direction, forming lattice. Seal strip ends to crust edge. Stir cream and 2 teaspoons sugar in small bowl to blend. Brush over lattice, but not crust edge.Bake pie until filling bubbles thickly and crust is golden, covering edge with foil if browning too quickly, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely. Cut into wedges; serve with ice cream.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home
makes ~1 quart
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 vanilla bean, split


Mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium batter bowl until smooth.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla seeds and bean in a medium saucepan, bring to a roiling boil over medium-high heat and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Return to heat and cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Chill thoroughly. Freeze in your ice cream maker.


Lemon Meringue Pie

I’m in love.

Sorry Scott, that you had to find out this way (although you had to know this was coming).

Did I mention that my new-found love is a small kitchen appliance?

My mother sent this to me for my upcoming birthday.  Now my birthday isn’t for another six weeks or so (and it’s the dreadful 3-0) but apparently she couldn’t wait.

I am so glad that she didn’t.

I think I wept for joy.  I have been coveting a KitchenAid stand mixer for several years now. Several! But I am picky, and addicted to color so it had to be just right.

I love the green.

I love it.

I love my mother.

I may even love my upcoming birthday.


I couldn’t wait to test it out … but struggled to find the perfect first thing to make.

I consulted the food gods.

I played “What-do-I currently-have-in-my-cupboards-and-don’t-need-to-go-out-in-the-snow-to-the-grocery-store-that-I-could-make?” game.

And decided on Lemon (kind of) Meringue Pie from The Joy of Cooking.

I like this choice.  It serves several purposes.  1) I have all of the necessary ingredients (with a some substitutions). 2) I have to seriously beat some egg whites for the meringue and my new toy is perfect for that. 3) This pie reminds me of my great-grandfather Pete.  Now I am not sure if this was his favorite pie or not, but in my memory it definitely is.  4) This pie also reminds me of summertime with its light and citrus-y flavor, which is perfect as it is about 7 degrees and snowing here in Minneapolis and I could use the escape.

Lemon Meringue Pie (in three parts)

Part I: The crust

So I cheated here and used a store-bought crust that was hanging out in my fridge.  I am not sure why I had this, but I did and because I didn’t want to make a huge mess on my counters by rolling out my own,  I went ahead and used it.

I have to admit – it was pretty damn convenient.

Though I did try and make it pretty by pinching the edges just the way my mother taught me.

Cover with foil and fill with pie weights (or rice in this case) and bake at 450 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Once out of the oven, remove the foil (returning the rice back to its canister) and let cool.

Part II: Lemon Custard

Sift into a pot:

1 1/2 cups sugar

6 T cornstarch

1/4 tsp salt


1/2 cup lemon juice*

1/2 cup cold water

Whisk until smooth.

*Technically, I should call this citrus juice as its part lemon juice and part fresh grapefruit juice (which explains the pink color).

Whisk in:

3 egg yolks, beaten well (keep whites from 2 eggs for meringue)

2 T butter


1 1/2 cups boiling water

Bring to a boil.

Once thick, reduce to a simmer and cook for an additional minute.


1 tsp citrus zest (I used grapefruit)

Pour into cooled pie shell.

Part III: The Meringue, featuring the stand mixer

Whip together:

2 egg whites

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Once stiff, add:

4 T powdered sugar, 1 T at a time

1 tsp vanilla

Top pie with meringue.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until peaks start to brown.

Let cool before cutting into or else you will get lemon soup.

I think I am going to be spending the rest of my Sunday dreaming up what to make next.

It really is love, and unlike Scott (who is in Florida), the KitchenAid will be in my kitchen and by my side while I deal with the Midwestern winter.

Although, hopefully, both Scott and the KitchenAid will be by my side for many years to come.