Even when it comes to Thanksgiving, Americans find it hard to reach consensus: Is it all about the turkey or is it all about the pie?
For devotees of the latter, Blue Sky Bakery & Café, 3720 N. Lincoln, is the place to be this weekend. Five bucks will buy you a tasting of three interesting takes on traditional Thanksgiving pies—apple cranberry, pumpkin cheesecake and chocolate pecan—along with a choice of coffee, tea or hot apple cider. The tasting runs Nov. 20-21, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day.
What is it about this dessert that makes it such a perfect complement to holiday meals?
“I think in general people want heartier food once it gets colder outside,” said Lisa Thompson, executive director of Blue Sky Inn, which operates the bakery and café. “The weight of the food increases with people’s clothing.”
All of Blue Sky’s pies, including a regular pumpkin version, are available for order and pick-up through Nov. 24 (aka, Thanksgiving Eve). But plenty of home bakers will attempt their own, and Thompson is uniquely qualified to walk them through the often intimidating process. Since founding Blue Sky Inn, which provides employment at the bakery to a rotating group of homeless and at-risk youth, Thompson has had plenty of experience teaching novice bakers the ins and outs of pie.
“I try to make them understand that you need to have all your ingredients cold,” she said. Blue Sky’s crust is a butter-shortening mix: shortening for flaky texture, butter for flavor. She recommends putting both ingredients in the freezer and pulling them out at the last minute to add to the dough only after the dry ingredients have been measured and mixed. “We also use cold water, which we add one tablespoon at a time.”
Most of her apprentices are keen to get to the rolling phase, where technique is particularly important. “Think of the pie as a bicycle wheel,” she said. “Start in the center and roll it out as spokes.”
And don’t minimize the importance of equipment. Because so many of Blue Sky’s pies are sold as catering orders, most are baked in disposable aluminum tins. But for those kept in-house for individual servings, Thompson’s true preference is a glass pie plate.
What’s the worst mistake a home baker can make? “You can’t do it in 10 minutes,” said Thompson. “You have to think of the crust as its own project—start first thing in the morning or make it the night before. Any time you try to hurry, you’ll regret it.”