I am not a great baker. I am good at approximating a seven-part meal for five people and having it done on time. I am (sometimes) good at successfully cooking something I’ve never made before even in a high-pressure situation. But I’m just not good at baking - turning out effortlessly a batch of perfect muffins just like ones I’ve made a hundred times before, knowing exactly how they’ll taste before the batter’s even begun mixing. This isn’t like gardening, where there are mysterious circumstances beyond my control that are preventing my success. In baking, I always know exactly what I’m doing wrong, but I go ahead with it anyway.
This morning I woke up and started a pate brisee crust for a strawberry pie. Specifically, a strawberry pie that we saw once on Man Vs. Food, from Gray Bros. Cafeteria in Indianapolis, some neon pink and goopy concoction that looked a little like a medical disaster but that my boyfriend had his heart set on.
I know how to make a pate brisee crust; I know exactly why it’s so important to use ice-cold water and refrigerate the dough at least an hour and roll it out thin and evenly in the baking dish (if you don’t, here’s a fantastic basic tutorial). But I choose to do it wrong anyway, to refrigerate the dough as long as I feel like it when I’m impatient (today, about half an hour) and, lacking in counter space, press the ball of dough along the bottom and sides of the pie dish without rolling it out first, resulting in a crust that looks (at best) like this:
I also, hypothetically, know how to read directions, know to read a recipe twice before I begin. I almost never do this. More often, I amalgamate three different recipes, sometimes without thinking very hard about how the parts fit together. I guesstimate and substitute. I don’t know where this comes from, this fatal flaw of stubborn carelessness, this insistence on trying to game the system. I’ve been spoiled by a number of happy accidents, and fortunately for me, today was another one.
The strawberry pie I was trying to make requires baking the crust first, then pouring the strawberry syrup filling over sliced fresh strawberries in the pre-baked crust and refrigerating it to set. I didn’t notice that the crust was to be baked separately until after I poured in the filling, which, incidentally, used all but five berries out of the 16 oz I had (half as much as the recipe called for.) I forged ahead anyway, baking the cooked filling (which, of course, didn’t reach the top of the pie dish) in the uncooked crust for about 35 minutes at 425 degrees.
We ate it for breakfast, warm, with homemade whipped cream. The filling, while runnier than it was meant to be, was tart and sweet; the crust, while it wasn’t cold enough before going in the oven to hold its shape, was flaky and buttery. For far from the first time, I thought, I can’t believe I ever doubted myself. How could this possibly have gone wrong?