Introduction: Corn & Crack Pie (almost)
About a month ago my wife's girlfriend, Leslie, called to tell us about a baking contest that was going to be held at the farmer’s market. It was sponsored by the Santa Fe Alliance as a way to promote local food production and the local economy. A key part of the challenge was to use as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. Since we already shop from our backyard I figured it wouldn’t be too hard and would make for some great content on our blog.
Fresh fruit?- erm, well, not this year….
Surely we had something that could be teased into a confection? Beets were floated as an option so was corn. I had heard that the Crack pie at Momofuko was really good and for some reason Corn and Crack pie came to mind. I don’t know, it just had a certain ring to it. I had just harvested the last of our sweet corn. I imagined little crunchy bits of caramelized corn encased in a sweet almost toffee filling. I’d never had crack pie before but in my mind it was delicious. The contest was still 3 weeks off but as I rolled the recipe over in my head it just got better and better.
Step 1: Plan A
Make a practice pie a couple weeks before the contest and then a final ‘competition pie’ the day of. I’ve got this.
Oh silly grasshopper
Two weeks before the contest I had to make an emergency trip to Chicago to visit my uncle who had cancer and appeared to be turning for the worse. It seemed like a good idea to go see him while he was still fairly together. It turned out to be a very good idea because he died in his sleep four days after I saw him. He was an important person in my life and I’m so thankful that I got to spend some time with him before he passed. No pies got made that weekend though.
I’ve still got two weeks- no worries.
The weekend before the contest I found time to make my practice pie. I pulled up the crack pie recipe from the Internet and threw a pie together along with three other projects that afternoon. After the pie was done (mostly), Dumpling and I drove over to our friends Steve and Alessandra’s house to glaze some clay trivets that we’re working on over there. Pressed for time, I pulled the pie out of the oven before it had really set. For some reason Dumpling got a little uptight about holding a plate full of 350 degree molten sugar in her lap on the ride over.
In addition to being an amazing ceramicist, Alessandra is a fantastic cook. Steve and Alessandra both are, in fact they have a unique tag team approach to preparing meals. She does all the menu planning and sources the food then he implements her ideas (cooks it) finally, she details the plate. The result is always stunning and delicious. Alessandra is a whiz with garnishes so I had an ulterior motive for bringing the pie to their house. I needed some aesthetic ideas to spruce up the presentation. Her first comment when I walked with my (literally) half baked pie was “looks like you need to work on the curb appeal” We tossed ideas around and came up with candied sage and nasturtiums as a garnish. Luckily, they had both in their garden (yes, she’s a great gardener too!) and the Internet knew how to candy flowers.
The pie? It actually wasn’t all that good. The crack pie filling was too sweet and goopy for the corn. It had potential but I clearly had some recipe testing to do.
Step 2: Plan B
OK, don’t panic, you still have a week. The concept is still good- caramelized corn pie….
What about a pecan pie filling but substitute the caramelized corn for the pecans? Tried that on Tuesday, better but still too sweet. It needs some bite to offset the sugar.
Wednesday- backed off the sugar and added some brandy. (bourbon was too predictable and pecan pie-ish) Closer, but still cloying and needs more brandy. What about browning the butter with sage leaves to add a little base note and play off the candied sage garnish? I’m running out of time here and I’m not seeing how I’m going to be able to make several more iterations of this thing to fine tune the recipe before the contest.
Step 3: The Final Stretch
Thursday- idea!! Divide the recipe into quarters and make four mini pies testing two variables, sage butter and brandy, in different proportions. I made the pies in ceramic bowls and was able to get a result I was happy with- lots of brandy and sage butter- that’s the ticket!
Friday- make a practice/backup pie with the final recipe. Turned out great. Molly candied a bunch of sage and nasturtium petals for me. Back on track but how did I go through a whole pound of butter in 3 days?
Saturday- Get up early and put ‘the pie’ together in the nice pie pan. OK, it’s in the oven….Crap!! Is it overflowing?…. No, that’s just butter bubbling and your nerves….Hover, check the crust, is it brown enough?….Nope, Hover some more….Ready! Take the pie out, wipe the rim of the pan to make it pretty and stick it into the fridge to cool….Still too hot when it’s time to go….Used the air conditioning in the car to cool the pie on the way over….Arrive, set up, relax it’s just some local bake off. I meet the nine other ladies in the competition. We all stand around eyeballing each other while acting casual…
Step 4: The Result
Not for my cooking. The lady to my right won best overall for a zuchinni cake with praline pecans.
No, not for my originality either. Leslie to my left won that with her amazing gluten and dairy free Mint Chocolate Fudge Fat Pants cake. It was really good.
I won by having the largest number of local ingredients in my pie. I had totally forgotten about that part of the contest in my push to get an edible recipe together. Hey, winning is winning and I got a $50 gift certificate to the local fancy schmancy cooking supply store.
I think I’ve had enough of corn pie but if you want to try it here’s the “winning ” recipe…
Step 5: The Recipe
Caramelized Corn Pie
Perfect Pie Crust (from my grandfather, this one never lets me down)
Mix together in a large bowl:
4 cups all purpouse flour
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
Add and cut in with a fork or pastry cutter till you have crumbly pea sized chunks
1 3/4 cups Crisco or lard or butter (room temperature)- I like half lard & half butter
In a small bowl beat together:
1/2 cup cold water
1 Tbs white or cider vinegar
1 large egg
Mix the wet into the dry ingredients with a fork until it just holds together.
Turn out onto the counter. Fold and mash just enough until it is a consistent dough and divide into four equal pieces. Smush (that’s a technical term) each portion into 1″ thick patties and wrap with plastic wrap.
Refrigerate until stiff (at least 1/2 hour).
Makes 2 double crust or 4 single crusts.
Can be frozen indefinitely. (very handy when you have chickens- can you say quiche?)
Make an open pie crust with some of the dough you just made.
3 large eggs
Add and mix in:
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup brandy
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups corn kernels
3/4 sick butter with 8 sage leaves
Remove sage and stir butter into mix
Pour filling into pie shell
Bake at 400 degrees for 10 mins then 350 ~1 hr
Looking for a nice brown crust and a clean knife when inserted into filling.
Let it cool completely (a couple hours at least) before serving.
Participated in the
Halloween Food Challenge