Holiday Baking

Just one of the 10 pies from SFBI's Holiday Pies and Tarts workshop
Just one of the 10 pies from SFBI’s Holiday Pies and Tarts workshop

If my jeans could talk, they would say, “Penni’s been baking.”

Like any number of people, I have had more and less success with pies, particularly the dough. So when I saw that the San Francisco Baking Institute was giving a holiday pie and tart making class, I signed up.

Ten years before, I had taken their 5-day Artisan Baking I class. It was heaven to submerge myself in freshly baked bread. Since then, I have been baking sourdough bread using variations on the techniques and recipes I learned there. But we are here to talk about pies and tarts.

Over the course of two, jam-packed weekend days with a 10-minute break in the morning and a 30-minute break for lunch, we baked. We each (all 16 of us) took home ten pies. Chai-spiced apple pie. Gingered Pear and Cranberry Streusel Pie. Dark Chocolate Pie with Cinnamon-Bourbon Cream (pictured above). Pumpkin Pecan Pie. Linzertorte.

Take home loot: pies and more pies, plus pastry ready to roll out
Take home loot: pies and more pies, plus pastry ready to roll out
Linzertorte: only an hour out of the oven and ready to go home and be devoured
Linzertorte: only an hour out of the oven and ready to go home and be devoured

I never really understood the appeal of Linzertorte before. But once you have it fresh from the oven, crisp, fragrant with nuts, glistening. Well. Now I get it. Even if you were to buy it from a pastry shop, it would have been baked in the morning, and you would pick it up in the afternoon, to serve, perhaps, after dinner. By then, the pastry would still be very good but have lost that very special crispness.

I made stops at neighbors’ houses both evenings after the workshop, acting like an out-of-season Easter Bunny. Naturally, now I must practice.

One of the first things we did was to make pie pastry by hand. No bowl. Just a pile of flour, a smaller pile of butter pieces, a small cup of water already portioned out, and our flexible, metal pastry scrapers. I was absolutely sure I could not do it. If I didn’t like how my pastry turned out with the help of an appliance, how could I handle it without? Fine, as it turns out. The secret? To have an expert first demonstrate and then to repeat the exercise for myself. This is why we seek out the experts.

You know an experience was more than worth it when you try the recipes at home and they work! With your pans, your tools, your ingredients, and your new skills.

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I have known her for years and been impressed by her willingness to understand in detail each phase of the wine business. She has vision, common sense and tenacity.

-Robert Mondavi

About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

Contact Penni Wisner