A Practice Pie

Enough with newfangled recipes: in advance of Thanksgiving, I decided to try an old Kentucky recipe for cottage cheese pie.  This Southern pie echoes the flavors and ingredients of the Italian torta di ricotta with which I’m more familiar – and is similarly delicious.

In the time since I started this blog, there hasn’t really been a point when I’ve been truly not-busy; I’ve fit cooking in alongside law school, studying for the bar, and moving into a new apartment, and am now working it in around a high-pressure job. Nothing compared to life with kids, I know, but definitely a full enough schedule that I usually only have time to take one shot at cooking a given recipe.

I’d love to approach recipes scientific method-style and tweak them gradually after rounds of trials and taste-tests. Time constraints, however, usually force me to pull a hypothesis (“I think this would be better with more lemon”) out of thin air – and then to immediately test it and submit my results.

This problem has always been especially pronounced with pies. I do generally make a damn fine pie, if I may say so myself – but I have had my share of pie-sasters. Because I often go months without making a pie, any lessons I learned in the last round of baking/hypothesis-testing are usually gone by the time I make another (OK, to be honest, those “lessons” don’t usually stick around much longer than my pies).

The crux of the issue: this makes Thanksgiving a wee bit stressful. As the designated pie baker in my family, most years I hop off the bus in Boston, whip up about three pies, and then present them to a large gathering of family and close friends – all the while trying to dredge up from my increasingly molasses-like memory (a) what apples I used and liked last time, (b) why my blind-baked crust shrank and how to avoid that pitfall, (c) etc. Since my father is usually having a similar experience with the turkey while I’m trying to claim counter space to roll crusts, things often get a little wacky in the kitchen.

To keep things as low-pressure as possible this year, I decided to do a pie dry run in the comfort of my home to prep for the Main Event later this week. Athletes prep for big games – why shouldn’t bakers? I tried a new filling (cottage cheese, from Out of Kentucky Kitchens, (c) 1949), and I worked slowly and really focused on the details and nuances of crust-making. For example, I was very, very careful not to stretch the crust at all while placing it in the pan, to avoid blind-baking shrinkage. And you know what? The “easy does it” approach produced a gorgeous pie with a perfect non-shrunk crust. And the cottage cheese filling, by the way, was fabulous – this is like cheesecake pie.

Now, I’ve strengthened my pie-rolling muscle memory and I’m feeling confident and calm at the prospect of churning out several pies this Thursday. Though my family has not yet settled on the flavors (I want to do pecan – but there are strong supporters for both apple and pumpkin, so it looks like there will be at least three fillings), I’m sure all will go smoothly. I only hope the Patriots have prepped half as hard for their Turkey Day task.

Cottage Cheese Pie (Makes one 9-inch pie)
1 9-inch pie shell, blind-baked for 10 minutes
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. flour
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. cottage cheese**
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. melted butter
1/2 c. heavy cream
Zest from 1 small lemon, or 1/2 a medium lemon
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt a couple of times in a food processor. Add the eggs and process for about 15 seconds, until the mixture is thick and light yellow.
3. Add the cottage cheese and process until most lumps are gone, then add all remaining ingredients except the cinnamon into the processor and mix for 10 seconds.
4. Pour this mixture into the partially-baked pie shell and sprinkle the cinnamon over it.
5. Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 and cook for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the filling sets. Let the pie cool completely before serving.

** I made this recipe with 4% fat cottage cheese – I may try to health it up in the future, using low-fat cheese and adding yogurt in place of heavy cream.