In my family cake is something eaten on birthdays and is, as a result, a special treat. My mother is the queen of cooking from scratch, which embarassed me mightily as a child, since my friends always had cake-mix cakes and cupcakes, and other preservative-enriched goodies.
For family birthdays my aunt always made a spectacular dinner followed by a cake-mix cake. It became something of a family joke- someone even gave her a copy of the Cake Mix Doctor book. The writer, Anne Byrne, specializes in recipes that tweak conventional cake mixes to produce a more “homemade” tasting cake. Yeah, that sounded like something written on a box of Japanese sweets.
However, once in awhile my aunt throws everyone a total curveball and goes outside the cake mix box- like for my parents’ birthdays she made a peach pie. From scratch.
I was in awe! It was so delicious- fresh peaches, baked in the oven instead of cooked beforehand, the filling firm and juicy. The crust was only slightly sweet and not cloying. My favorite auntie- the arbiter of style and all that is good had made something so delicious that I was smitten with her anew! This even topped her creme brulee of weeks before.
Her smile was wide and proud as we ooh’d and aah’d over this new development and my mother sat, staring at this miraculous wedge of fruity goodness that her little sister had lovingly crafted with her own two manicured hands.
And then my aunt, basking in the glow of a job well done, spilled her secret like a villain doing a victory dance. The crust was premade. She’d bought it from the refrigerated section.
Still, very tasty. Baby steps, I keep reminding myself, baby steps.
Here’s a pie crust recipe I’ve used that is easy enough for even an aunt:
Butter Pie Crust (adapted from The Taunton Press)
Yields two 12-inch rounds, enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie.
8 oz. (1 cup) cold unsalted butter
9 oz. (2 cups) all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup cold water
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Cut the butter into the mixture and combine with the dry ingredients- gently- until the mixure resembles crumbs.
Stir in water until mixture forms a ball. Divide the dough in half, and shape into balls. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to make the pie, roll the dough out on a floured surface and use as directed in the recipe.