Friday, September 7, 2012

Making Pie with a Scientist

When I want company and help making a pie, Youngest Daughter is my go-to person.  On Saturday the stars were aligned for the making of a blueberry pie.  So I called upstairs to YD, “Do you want to help me make a pie?” 

YD wasn’t interested, but soon my Son was bounding down the stairs.  “Did someone say ‘pie’?”

I said, “If we want pie we have to make it ourselves.  Would you like to help me make a blueberry pie?” 

It turns out that he could not remember ever making a pie.  I think pie-making, especially making the crust from scratch, is an important life skill.  My son has baked plenty of cakes and cookies with me, and is even willing to bake them himself.  I couldn’t believe that I had neglected to teach him how to make a pie.  Soon Son was scooping the flour into the measuring cup.

I cautioned him, “Don’t pack the flour down into the measuring cup.  If you do, you’ll have too much flour.”

He said, in his chemist-like way, “For a compressible solid like this, you should be using a more accurate measurement method.  Instead of using a volume measure, we should measure the mass.  How much mass of flour do we need?”

We made an oil-based crust, because there was no shortening in the house.
Not knowing the answer, but knowing that we don’t have a balance for measuring mass, I moved on, asking, “What’s the next ingredient?”

He read the recipe and said, “Sucrose.”  That’s sugar, for us reg’lar folk.

My husband entered the room.  He is also a scientist, and contributed this helpful idea:  “Are you going to substitute orange juice for chicken fat?”  This was different from his usual cooking hint, which is “Just add some cream of mushroom soup.”

The pie crust recipe called for one egg white.  I put on my Home Ec Teacher hat, and asked my son, “Do you know how to separate the egg white from the yolk?”  You can’t be Jewish and not know how to separate egg whites.  Making a sponge cake is a Jewish life skill, at least during Passover.

He guessed, “Do you use the separation funnel?”

My husband thought of even more interesting scientific equipment.  “You could use a high-speed centrifuge.”

Son upped the ante.  “Or maybe the nuclear magnetic resonance machine!”

I got out two bowls for separating the egg.  Son said, “Do you have the distillation chamber ready?”  I contributed to his Jewish education; we achieved separation of the egg white.

Then the recipe called for vinegar in ice water.  “We need two teaspoons of this,” I said, handing him the vinegar bottle. 

He said, ‘Acetic acid... Why does the recipe call for acid?” 

This I did know the answer to.  “The vinegar helps make the crust flaky.”  My budding chemist wondered what the acid was reacting with to cause flakiness.  I said, “Maybe it reacts with the salt.” 

“Mom.  An acid reacting with salt could result in hydrochloric acid.  That would NOT be good in a pie.”  This pie crust recipe does call for salt, but it does not end up with hydrochloric acid in it.  The scientific reason for the vinegar remained a mystery.

We made the crust, then the filling.  The last step was to add the blueberries.  The recipe called for 6 cups, but the last cup looked a little scant.  My son said, “It looks like there aren’t enough blueberries.”  I said, “But the first cups were overfull.”  He said, scientifically, “Maybe you should measure this by moles of blueberries.”
This was actually my first blueberry pie.  

After we put the pie in the oven, he reverted from scientist to normal teenager.  “Okay.  It’s lunch time!”

Science Fact Update:  We later consulted The Oracle Google, and found that the acetic acid (vinegar) reacts with the gluten in the flour, negating its effects somewhat.  Gluten is the reason that you knead bread dough, and the reason you don’t knead pie dough.

I had leftover dough, so I made the letter "B" but...

... my son said it looked like a Phantom of the Opera mask.

That beer could come in handy later.

I got to try out my new crust guards - keeps the crust from getting burned.


It was yummy, but had a little too much flour in the filling, I think.


Suzanne said...

I can't make crusts, apparently. I have tried many times over with laughable, sodden, oily results. I would love your recipe though because I am nothing if not stupidly persistent.

When I do make a blueberry pie (with a store bought crust) I use arrowroot flour instead of wheat flour because I feel like it thickens but also disappears.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Nothing is as lovely as pie for dessert.

Cassi Renee said...

Blueberry pie, in particular, sounds so good.

Ever since I started using the food processor to process the butter and flour, and add the water, I've never had trouble making a pie crust. Well, that doesn't include the rolling part --I'm really bad at that!

I love the idea of crust-guards. I might have to look for those. When you get your "separation funnel", let me know how much it cost :-)

Angie said...

I can't get my kids to cook/bake with me anymore. Good for you!

Jenny E said...

I came over from Rachel Held Evans. This is hilarious! My dad is a scientist (mass spectrometry) and I've heard almost all of those jokes before; they must have a compendium somewhere...:)

Pie-crust making is a rite of passage in my family. My maternal grandmother would teach us when we went to stay with her in the summers, then my mom would take over with her little tricks she's picked up over the years. I'm not much of a baker anymore, but I still love to roll out a good crust! I've never tried an oil crust before though... will have to try that. My favorite filling is tart cherries or blackberries. Getting enough blueberries for a pie down here in Texas can be expensive, but it sounds delicious!