Earlier this year I attempted to enter a pie baking competition hosted my KCRW on UCLA’s campus. I have never baked a pie before, but the cocky culinary side of me thought that I was better than most home bakers (I’m not). I entered the competition with the intent to win. In the weeks leading up to the competition, I didn’t plan. I didn’t bake. As a testament to my questionable work ethic, I waited until the day before to come up with a plan and waited until that night to shop for the ingredients. Transcendence was going to smash the judges notions on what pie can be. Mixed berry or steak and ale? Puh-leeze! I’m much more creative, and I can make it taste better too. I entered two divisions, savory and fruit. My pies were going to be French Colonialism pie and Highbrow/Lowbrow pie. Like Plato, the food we make is intellectual and completely obnoxious.
French Colonialism pie was our entry into the savory pie division. It was the Frankenstein lovechild between a quiche and a banh mi sandwich. The plan was to make a half filled quiche and fill the rest of the pie with banh mi ingredients. Lastly, I would bake a separate top crust and place it on top to make it look like a sandwich. We knew that the pie baking competition was going to be disproportionately white and most likely female. It was time to exploit some white guilt with my (slightly questionable) heritage (see Keeping My Coolie).
I knew there were some Vietnamese influences from my dad side. I also spent a year studying abroad in Paris. What connects the these two things? Colonialism! This pie was my attempt to reconcile (what should be conflicting) sides of my life in a harmonious and mutually beneficial pastry. (At least that was what I was going to tell the judges.) Personally, too often I think the narrative of colonialism is negative, especially in academia. Of course colonialism is messed up, but to completely obfuscate it from history or only talk ill of it would be denying the true complexity of the subject matter. Colonialism changes cultures for the better and worse. It’s effects are long lasting, and to only acknowledge the negatives would be short sighted at best. Vietnamese cuisine will forever have French influences. That delicious pho broth? Modified beef consumé. Shaken beef? Vietnamese boeuf bourguignon. From Ethiopian coffee culture (Italian), to curry mayo on fries in Belgium, colonialism has always been a complex and understudied form of cultural exchange. Unsurprisingly, it’s also delicious! Chinese Heineken (Tsingtao) and some mild British curry sounds like a delicious colonial meal to me! It’s messed up, but I’m also hungry.
Before I left for Paris, I talked to my grandpa. Outside of the typical ‘take care of yourself’ and ‘lock your door’ monologue, he said that the French make pretty good bread. Here is a man that was a minority in Vietnam, went through colonialism, eventual fled as a refugee and his only comment was that French bread is tasty. He was probably filtering some of his experiences, but I like to think that I’m quiet close to my grandparents and that he wouldn’t hide something from me. If he had any pressing thoughts about evil French Colonialism he would have told me. This non-action points to a disparity between everyday life and academia that I’ve been noticing. As the first in my family to go to college (not to mention getting a conventional high school diploma) bridging these two worlds has become a personal crusade. Maybe a pie that combines a little bit of everything was the start to an answer. At the very least, if all else fails I could bury my sorrows in flakey flakey crust.The quiche/banh mi sandwich hybrid was my unacademic attempt to start an academic conversation.
The Highbrow/lowbrow pie was somewhat less pretentious. To summarize another article in this issue (see Roquefort and Marshmallow Fluff) mixing what is typically perceived as highbrow with what we typically see as lowbrow leads to delicious and thought provoking results. It’s like Marxism but optimist and edible. (So in essence not Marxist at all. ) I looked at my own dorm room pantry for inspiration. I had canned pineapple from a previous art project (obnoxious, I know) and some organic herbs (also obnoxious, I know) but the combination of the two seem like a (questionable) but groundbreaking idea. Plus, they both cost about the same. A pie idea was born!
With these two battle plans in mind I bought groceries and proceeded to start baking at midnight the night before the competition. With only hours before I had to leave for the competition, I proceeded to pie-bake for my life *Cues a Tina Turner song an prepares to sweat more than usual*. The pies took much longer than expected. I spent at least 2 hours chopping carrots into matchsticks. This is why I strongly recommend buying a mandolin. Tragedy stuck at 4am. I fell asleep for only a few minutes but my Highbrow/lowbrow pie had burned around the edges and the egg in my French colonialism was overcooked. I played my Disco Ennui playlist to cope (see music guide). Both pies were finished around 7AM.
This was when exhaustion set in. Panicking and frantically cooking for seven hours results (surprisingly) in exhaustion. All I wanted to do was sleep. Decisions had to be made. Either my friends (who graciously agreed to join me for the day. Thanks Joel and Narei! Y’all are the best!) and I would spend the day in LA at a pie competition and come back exhausted and grumpy or I could sleep and give out pie to my friends. I chose sleep. But, being the sneaky person I am. I decided to exploit my failure and threw a pie party entitled “Humble Pie” I would commandeer a lounge and served pie to my friends while we watched pie related programming (Pushing Daisies). Eating (slightly burnt) pie with friends and watching a cult TV show is a great way to celebrate failure. The pies were surprisingly tasty considering that they were the first pies I’ve ever baked. This is a good overall life lesson when faced with failure. Gather your friends, do something silly, and savory the bittersweet moment for what it is.
Below I have provided recipes so you can attempt to enter you own pie competition. Besides the dough, the recipes are not exact and purposefully written so you can adjust to your taste. These recipes are almost foolproof, feel free to make some changes. After all, you can always celebrate failure.
Dat Pie Dough Doe.
(adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes enough dough for one pie (top and bottom)
Makes enough dough for one pie (top and bottom)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
Mix all the dry ingredients together. Place butter into mixture. Gently toss to combine making sure that each piece of butter is coated.
Chill mixture for 10 minutes.
Pour mixture onto counter and form a well.
Place a few tablespoons of water into the well and using a pie dough cutter (or fork because let’s be real, dough cutters are a luxury good) mix the water into the mixture while simultaneously cutting the butter into smaller pieces.
Keep adding water, cutting, and mixing, until a dough forms. The dough should be somewhat crumbly (like my façade of competence), but hold together enough to be rolled out. You should still have visible butter chunks. (Unlike current beauty standard, chunks of fat are desirable in this situation). Honestly, don’t fuss over it. What I’ve found in cooking is that when you care a little less, the result tends to be better. Channel the people on Duck Dynasty and give less fucks.
Separate dough into two, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Preheat oven to 400ºF
With flour, roll out one of the dough balls enough to line your pie pan.
Surprise! Place the dough into the pie pan and trim off the excess. (The secret to this is to not care just enough so that the crust looks homemade. Rub it in your friends faces. Rub it good.)
Stab a bunch of holes in the dough with a fork. (Imagine that the crust is the bully you had in elementary school that would call you china-boy. Think about where he is right now. Are you making pie right now Christopher Rosse? ARE YOU?!
Place a bunch of beans or rice in the pan and bake for 25 minutes or until the center of the crust is a pale gold.
You know have a blind baked pie crust! The other half of the dough is top crust. Wasn’t that simple? No it’s not. But in order to gain culinary street cred this is much more reasonable than trying to make cream puffs, or bagels. Try less.
1 daikon radish
1 cup vinegar (something light, like rice, or white wine)
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1.5 tbsp sriracha or sambal (something asian and hot)
few dashes of fish sauce
Chop carrots and daikon into matchsticks. (this step is hell if you don’t have a mandolin with a julienne attachment. You can buy on at Walmart for five dollars, worth the investment)
In a saucepan heat the remaining ingredients until sugar is dissolved.
Take off heat and adjust to taste (this is going to be a pickle brine, think sour and salty, but also a little sweet)
Put carrot and daikon in warm brine. Chill in fridge for a few hours or overnight. Eat and use on everything. They’re delicious.
1 large can (20 ox) of crushed pineapple in juice
3/4 cup of sugar
3 tbsp of cornstarch
1 tbsp (or more) of lemon or lime juice
3 Sprigs of organic tarragon, stems removed, leaves lightly chopped.
In a skillet, combine pineapple, sugar and cornstarch. Make sure there are no cornstarch lumps.
Heat over medium heat until mixture starts to thicken.
Take off heat and let mixture cool slightly.
Stir in lemon/lime juice and organic tarragon.
Pour mixture into a blind baked pie crust (recipe above)
Roll out other half of pie dough with flour and cover the pie. Trim and crimp the edges, make sure the steam can somehow escape. (We recommend a lattice, it’s easy, and looks impressive)
Brush the top crust with some milk or egg wash and bake in a 425ºF oven until the top is to your liking about 30 minutes. (The filling and bottom crust is cooked, just make sure the top crust is cooked and you’re good).
Let cool to room temperature (so the filling jells) and serve. We recommend pairing the pie with a dry wine like a Beaujolais Cru (not Nouveau!) or something like, like Natural Light.
French Colonialism Pie
3 tablespoons of milk (or water if you’re lactose intolerant like me)
salt and pepper to taste
(optional) enough pâte to make a thin layer. (don’t over do it. Liver is liver-y)
Whisk eggs and milk together. Salt and pepper to taste.
Pour mixture into blind baked pie crust (recipe above). It should fill the pie half-way.
Cover the edges of the crust with foil to prevent burning.
Rollout other half of pie dough with flour. Make it large enough to cover the top of the pie. Place on a separate tray lined with parchment paper.
Bake quiche and separate top crust at 350ºF for about 20-30 minutes or until set. (Just make sure nothing burns, you’ll be fine)
Let pie cool and spread a thin layer of pâte over egg. If you can’t find pâte or simply too lazy/cash strapped to buy some slices of ham work well.
Drain quick pickles (see above) and pat dry with paper towel.
Chop cilantro into small quarter size pieces.
Chop cucumbers into matchsticks or use a mandolin with a julienne attachment. Lightly salt and pat dry.
Mix quick pickles, cilantro, and cucumber together in will the rest of the pie crust with the vegetables.
Place top crust onto of pie and there you go! Half pie, half banh mi sandwich. One hundred percent bastardized.