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`As Easy As Pie' by old school pastry expert Susan G. Purdy is my `go to' book for pie recipes, even after reviewing at least a half dozen very good pastry and dessert books by the likes of Wayne Harley Brachman, Nick Malgieri, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Judith Fertig, Flo Braker, Gayle Ortiz, and the very French Christine Ferber. In fact, I recently went to Wayne Harley Brachman's `American Desserts' for a peach pie recipe and felt just a bit disappointed with the prospects of his recipe. While I think his book is an excellent tutorial on American recipes, I was just a bit apprehensive about his very simple pastry recipe, after having made Ms. Purdy's basic crust for everything from apple pies to tomato tarts to corn pies. I was even a bit apprehensive of Brachman's technique for blanching peaches for peeling, as it called for cutting the fruit in half before blanching. I was really afraid that this would either rob the fruit of some of its juices or make them damper than they naturally were, especially as I was dealing with very ripe fruit, just on that fine edge between ripe and rotten.
So, I rush back to my aging copy of this book and use my old favorite for both the crust and the filling. I have tended to discount Ms. Purdy, as she did not seem to have the cachet of writers such as Nick Malgieri or Rose Levy Beranbaum or Flo Braker, who are routinely cited by other authors as their favorite authority on pastry making. It is true that Ms. Purdy may not spend 10 pages discoursing on the nature of flours or another 10 pages on all the different influences on making pastry dough. But in looking back at the front of her book, I see that this material has not been overlooked. I see that since I started using her book years ago, before I started picking through cookbook texts with a finely toothed comb to review the material, I had gone straight to her superb `Basic All Purpose Flaky Pastry Recipe' and have been using it successfully ever since. I have even used this as the benchmark against which I judged all other `pate brisee' recipes.
Unfortunately, I never sat down to read this volume as carefully as I would later pastry texts, so I never came to appreciate how good a pie reference this is. And yet, I keep coming back to it for my seasonal apple, pumpkin, mincemeat, and corn pie recipes. Upon doing that, I discover really great discussions of all sorts of pie and pastry crusts, including the ephemeral strudel and puff pastries. And, not only are the diagrams on the techniques better than average, the `facts and figures' on making variations in the recipes are up to a professional level, without the professional patois of proportions found in books for bakers.
The very best things about this book is that it is an excellent source of recipes for all the standard crusts and fillings, with methods for hand, food processor, and stand mixer approaches. The primary warning about this book is that good pie crust making is not that easy. I make pies only once in a while, and often forget the practical lessons from the last time I make a standard butter pie crust, which depends a lot on ambient temperature, humidity, and flour properties. Thus, in spite of reading all the experts, my Susan Purdy crust for my most recent pie, made on the very latest Silpat silicone pastry mat, was less than ideal, as I probably added too much water or started working it when the dough got too warm out of the fridge. I also suspect Ms. Purdy's basic pie crust recipe may have too many options and that one should really work on making a successful crust with nothing more than flour, water, and fats. Adding the egg and the vinegar or lemon gives one the sense that you have insurance against the failings of poor technique. They are added to cut down on gluten formation and do nothing for the perils of too much moisture or too much heat when manipulating the dough.
All in all, as I have been using this book successfully for years, I highly recommend it for anyone who wishes to occasionally bake an apple pie or other holiday favorite.