“So I said, “I better start thinking about having my own language in cooking.” I didn’t invent anything really. I just went down to my knees, looked around and remembered all the tools from my childhood. I looked around a bit into the mountains and saw what the natives had been doing. I grabbed all that and I started cooking with it.” —Francis Mallmann
I went to the Splendid Table’s 20th anniversary stage show late October. Stephanie Meyer invited me. I said yes mostly because I wanted to meet her in person and see a couple friends. I’d never once listened to a Splendid Table show. Though I had heard Sally Swift, the managing producer, speak the month before. An hour before leaving, I listened to a podcast so I could say I had listened to a podcast. A table of us met beforehand to grab appetizers and drinks. I was late. I sat down to lobster and oysters and immediately had to divulge that I’m incredibly picky with the palette of a young child. That, and I had just eaten dinner. Tacos I told them. My first impression is a always good one.
We went on to the event. Well known food writers, personalities, and chefs graced the stage. Everyone of them unfamiliar to me. I’ve never claimed my name so hard. “I call myself the faux for good reason,” I told them.
I pulled out my phone while Francis Mallmann spoke. Another faux pas I imagine. I added the word grabbed to a note, hoping I’d remember its meaning later. Francis spoke of his highbrow culinary training in France and the arrogance that followed. He talked about how he mimicked other chefs in the early years of his career until he was knee-deep and unhappy with the homogeny. That’s when he started talking about grabbing things from his past to create something meaningful moving forward. Francis went on to make huge fires, simply put, and cook meat for 20 hours or more at a time. It’s an art. You can watch it on the Chef’s Table via Netflix.
But what stuck with me more than anything was the act, both figuratively and literally, of grabbing. I imagine him walking through a grocery store filling his cart with the things of his past and present. He picks up each item, carefully surveying whether he’ll put it back on the shelf or into his cart.
I went home that night feeling inspired and ignorant. I’d spent the last 7 years immersed in the food blogging world, 10,000 miles apart from the professional world. I’m usually an either or person. But that night, or maybe it was the next day, I felt OK with both. I didn’t feel less than. I felt just right. I’m a home cook. Semi-self taught. I watched the Martha Stewart Show all throughout college. And I read the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Book from cover to cover. I thumbed through Cook’s Country magazine, a gift from my dad, whenever it came in the mail. I watched my parents put a hot meal on the table every night. And ate plenty of TexMex growing up. Tacos are a food group at this house. I get my recipe ideas from eating out. Like this Tart Cherry Almond Pie with a generous hit of almond. It’s topped with a crumble and surrounded by a delicate pastry. I first ate it in Traverse City, MI late summer. It’s the best pie I’ve ever had or made. Red Ribbon worthy.
Like Francis, like you, and like me, we grab things from our periphery and make something out of them. Hopefully something great—whether it’s a raging fire or a tart cherry pie. They’re both profound in their own respect. It’s true what they say. We are the sum of our parts. Or maybe it’s the sum of our shopping carts? Formed in a posture so humble, as Francis says, as our knees. 10,000 miles and a world apart, I don’t think we’re all that different.
This pie steals its flavors and composition from the Grand Traverse Pie Company in Traverse City, MI. An almond tart cherry pie with a crumble and soft crust. Look for frozen Montmorency tart cherries at the store. They are picked at the peak of the season in northern Michigan and frozen within hours from harvest. Cherry pie all year long! The filling is cooked ahead of time to get the process started, allowing everything to finish in the oven at the same time. No burnt crust or over-browned crumble. I hate to be presumptuous, but I’m pretty sure this guy could win a ribbon or tow. Best when made a day in advance.
1 1/4 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp. pure cane sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
1/4 c. ice water
1 tbsp. whole milk yogurt or sour cream
5 c. tart cherries, frozen
1 1/4 c. pure cane sugar
1/3 c. organic cornstarch
2 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. almond extract
pinch of kosher salt
1 1/4 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
1/3 c. brown sugar, lightly packed
1/3 c. pure cane sugar
pinch of kosher salt
7 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp. almond extract
Make the crust. At least 2 hours before baking the pie, make the crust. Into a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Cube butter and toss into the flour mixture. Using your both your pointer and middle finger and your thumb, smash the butter cubes into shreds as if you were snapping your fingers. See image above. Do this until all the butter is incorporated and shredded into the flour. Measure water into a liquid measuring cup. Stir in the yogurt and pour over the flour mixture. Incorporate with your hands or a pastry fork until mixture begins to form a shaggy mass. Try to refrain from kneading the dough. We want to develop as little gluten as possible. Form dough into a disk and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. If the dough is a little dry, add more chilled water 1 tablespoon at a time until it just comes together. If your dough is too wet, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it just comes together. Chill in fridge for 30 minutes. Onto a lightly floured surface, roll out chilled dough into a long rectangle. You may need to sprinkle a little more flour on the surface to keep from sticking. Try to use as little as possible. Fold into thirds, like a letter. Rotate the dough 90° and repeat two more times. After the final fold, shape rectangle into a disk once again. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Make filling. About 30 minutes before baking the pie, make the filling. Into a medium saucepan, add the frozen tart cherries. Pour in sugar and cornstarch. Stir to evenly coat. Stir in water. Turn heat to medium. Once cherries begin to thaw, stir occasionally. Once mixture thickens to where it coats the back of a spoon and has an exaggerated drip, remove from heat. This should take about 10 minutes. Stir in butter, almond extract, and pinch of salt. Set aside.
Make crumble. Into a small bowl, stir together flour, sugars, and salt. Pour over melted butter and extract and stir together until evenly combined. You’ll begin to see the crumbles form when you press the mixture together. Set aside.
Assemble pie. Preheat oven to 350°. Set out a baking sheet and a pie tin. With a surface lightly floured once again, roll out pie crust until it will overhang slightly in the pie tin. Gently fold the pie dough into fourths. Place in pie tin and unfold. Using kitchen shears, trim off the excess, leaving a slight overhang. Dough will shrink a tiny bit during the bake. Place pie tin on baking sheet. Crimp the edges if you wish. Pour filling into the pie tin. Sprinkle crumble mixture around the filling, leaving about a 1/2″ free space between the crust and the crumble. I like to give a pie context. You may have leftovers of the crumble. Discard or save. Bake for 30 minutes or until crumble and crust starts to golden. Remove and cool completely before serving to allow the pie to set. An overnight rest is best.
Thanks PieBox for sending over the PieBox! I’ll also being joining our ring leader, Oh, Ladycakes, on the #PIEITFORWARD initiative. She’s encouraging us to drop off a pie to someone working on Christmas. I love that idea. I would have never got there on my own. I might just grab it as an annual Christmas tradition. Speaking of, Merry Christmas friends!