Keepin’ the Main Thing the Main Thing

Made another pie on Thursday and it was not bad. I tend to bake in streaks, and not sure why that is. Couple cookie recipes, then some cakes. Then crisps or bars or pies. I think it has something to do with the seasons, or how one recipe reminds a person of another, or maybe it’s just a quirky thing with no explanation, some kind of habit I’ve embraced over the years, a part of the routine of the days.

People ask what I do with all that I make and bake. It’s a good question. When there are only two in the house (not counting the dog, who actually does count), you’d think the bars and pies and hotdishes would pile up. It can happen that way, but honestly I find a person or a place for everything I make. I just take it with me. Most of what I make is designated. I tend to remember what people like, so if I’m visiting my dearest friend Angela, I’ll make her some shortbread or gingersnaps or something decadent with dark chocolate. When I visit the kids up at school, I know cutout sugar cookies, frosted and decorated, will disappear in a day. Or a pan of bars with chocolate and caramel. Or molasses cookies with cream cheese frosting. I often take baked goods along with me when I visit friends, and my neighbors have never refused a warm apple or cherry pie. And when I visit my writing group, I have a lovely group of people always happy to try something new.

Food is such a great conduit for conversation. Show up at a gathering with a coconut cream pie and there’s bound to be a story about someone’s mother’s coconut cream pie, or how so-and-so got one in the face that one Fourth of July or how so-and-so was allergic to coconut and no one knew and he ended up in the emergency room with a swollen face. Make bars for the kids and they’ll gather round and talk about how you made ‘em for vacation Bible school or how you used to make the one OTHER kind bars with cherries and streusel. Take a coffeecake to the neighbor and who know what conversation might ensue.

Sharing food is easy, but it’s not the main thing. The Main Thing is the connection, the message that I care and want to share something, and here it is to sustain you awhile along the way, and there is conversation to nourish us both, and who could argue with any of this? Long as I bake and cook up new things, I’ll have it in me to take somethin’ to someone, wherever they may be. It’s a way of living I like, and when someone knocks on my door with a warm coffeecake in hand, I’ll tell you, it’s no small thing. An invitation to life, feels like. A welcome to the world, even though I’ve been here a good long while. Keepin’ the Main Thing the Main Thing. Here’s something to say, “I see you. I care about you. Eat and be merry.”

Looks complicated, I know, but take ‘er slow and you’ll find this pie is off the beaten path and definitely worth the time.

Earl Grey Cream Pie

Sugar cookie crust:

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups flour

Filling:

2 1/2 cups whole milk
3 individual Earl Grey tea bags
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 T packed cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
2 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Home-whipped cream, for topping

In a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar and salt on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the egg. Mix on medium until the egg is fully incorporated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the side of the bowl again and add the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Form the dough into a large ball, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

Press the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, evenly so it’s 1/4-inch thick all the way around and up the side. Prick the bottom and side with a fork and chill, unwrapped, in the freezer until it is frozen, about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Take the crust from the freezer, line it with parchment and fill it with pie weights. Bake until the side is golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove the weights and liner and bake 5 minutes more. Let cool.

For the filling, bring the milk to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the tea bags to the hot milk. Set aside and let the tea steep for 30 minutes. Remove the three tea bags from the cooled milk and whisk in the egg yolks. In a medium saucepan whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt.

Whisk the milk mixture into the sugar mixture until there are no lumps. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a low simmer and begins to thicken, about 8 minutes. Continue cooking for about 1 minute, whisking constantly and scraping the sides of the pan until the mixture begins to boil. Still whisking constantly, let it boil for a full minute, then remove it from the heat.

Add the butter and whisk until it is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour the Earl Grey cream into the prebaked crust and, while still hot, cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a film from forming on the top. Refrigerate the pie until the filling has set, at least 4 hours. Before serving, remove the plastic wrap and top with the whipped cream. Serve cold. Serves 6 to 8.

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