Well, I did it. I made two Thanksgiving pies lined with real crust transformed from flour and butter entirely by me, with the Pillsbury Doughboy nowhere in sight. I had a few fraught moments of calling out, "I'm facing a fear here!" and "AHHH! What if I'm overworking the dough?!" The pies, however, exited the oven and sat cooling on the rack with poise, as if they'd never doubted their perfection.
One was made with a M.Martinez-recommended recipe for pecan pie without corn syrup, and the other recipe came right off the back of a can of pumpkin puree, a filling so healthy someone made these graphics to prove it.
Besides my uncertainty over making dough, I felt another pang of alarm when I ran out of nuts for the top of the pecan pie. Because it lacked the usual solid topping, the filling puffed up in the gaps between pecan halves when baked and ended up looking sort of like meringue. I'm pretty sure that's what lead to this unnerving moment of dialogue on Thanksgiving Day:
"What kind of pie is this one with pecans?"
That didn't do much to help my pie-related fears, which took root about five years ago, the first time I'd tried my hand at pie-making. I'd eaten a slice of pecan pie with Jack Daniel's and chocolate chips at the Gristmill in Gruene, and it was so good that I recreated it at home — unwisely from a sketchy Web site of restaurant copycat recipes — and invited a bunch of folks over. My friends were too kind to say it, but forks were of no use with that gloppy mess. Since then, I've referred to that disaster as the Swamp In A Dish.
On the other hand, my panic over creating pie dough came from lack of experience. I'd never witnessed that moment when dry ingredients plus fat plus water spring to life as pastry; I was afraid I wouldn't know when it was ready. Making this kind of dough seems to have lots of variables ("It says the butter should be pebbly. Is this pebbly? Because I'd say it's more like large gravel."), and everything has to stay cold, then there's that period of adding water by the spoonful, which takes a bit of instinct. I didn't have that instinct going in. My mom's dessert-making involved dipping mini Ritz peanut butter sandwiches or gelled orange candies into melted chocolate, and people on cooking shows always seem to use a food processor. I was starting from scratch. (Har har.)
But, as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. It wasn't so hard, and they turned out tasting great. It's just that I was overly anxious about 16 people trying my very first all-homemade pies on a holiday that might as well be called Everyone Expects Good Pie Day. Now that I've done it, I'm thinking that should be every day.
Pate brisee (pie dough)
Corn-syrup-free pecan pie