Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pride goeth before a fall

Everyone has to fail in the kitchen sometimes. Even the most experienced cooks and bakers, and especially the novice ones, should expect to make a lot of mistakes and have results that end up pretty much inedible. I am an extremely novice cook, so I should have expected that my first try at a pie dough would not go over so well. But I'd been thinking about making Celery and Onion Pies, from a baking book we got at Goodwill, for days. I'd spent much more time imagining the perfect result that was going to come out of the oven than I spent actually making sure I knew how to make pie dough. I entered the kitchen this morning with a feeling I can only describe as "hubris". And at first things went really well. The filling, which was a super-easy mixture of celery, onion, garlic, salt, and a little milk and flour, went spectacularly. I had remembered to put my dough ingredients in the fridge so they would be nice and cold when I made the dough. I sifted the flour and salt, rubbed the butter in with my fingers, and mixed it until it looked approximately like dough is supposed to when the butter is mixed in. Then the recipe didn't call for nearly enough water to make a dough, so I had to put some more water in, and a little more flour to balance it out. I slapped it onto one of our counters to roll it out, and here's where I ran into problems.

At the same time as my dough got progressively warmer because our kitchen does not circulate air at all, I used too much flour to roll out the dough. The addition of the water made the dough just slightly sticky, so to ease it in rolling out I added a little bit of flour. I started rolling out the dough, but after just a little while the steadily warming dough started to tear and get too thin. I added more flour. I rolled it out. Every now and then, more flour found its way onto the counter and the dough. By the time I'd managed to roll out a sufficient quantity of dough, everything was probably pretty heavily floured. Did I mention that I used an empty bottle of Arrogant Bastard ale in lieu of a rolling pin? Because I totally did.

Then it was time for Mistake #2. I neglected to check to see if the muffin tin I was going to use to bake these pies in was actually the right size for the job. Turns out it was way too big. In the pretty pictures that accompany the recipe in the cookbook, the pies come up to the top of the pan, but mine only made it about halfway. Next time I make this I'll definitely just make bigger and fewer pies. Determined not to accept complete and total failure, I managed to slap the pies together and throw them in the oven.

The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes in the oven, but after that time they just weren't looking right. I left them in for a little while longer, and then called my mom, who was currently helping my sister pack up her stuff for her imminent move. "Mom," I said, "I have these pies in the oven that turned out really badly, and here's my question: I know what the pies are supposed to look like when you do them right, but how do I know whether I should leave these in the oven for longer or whether they're as done as they're going to get?" I described them to her (as "the dough looks about like it did when I rolled it out, except drier", and she counseled me to admit defeat and take them out.

Talking to my sister on the phone later, I told her I was disappointed that the pies hadn't turned out well, but that I'd had a lot of fun making them. I love getting messy (I'm secretly a five-year-old), and this allowed me to get flour all over myself and the kitchen, including the countertops, sink, floor, table, dishes, and refrigerator door handle. Plus, since the filling actually did turn out to be delicious, I was just going to scrape it out and use it over pasta or rice as a delicious snack.

"Well," she told me, "I think you can call that a win."

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