Monday, October 18, 2010

Baking and Baseball: Can of Corn or Torture?

"Statistics are to baseball what a flaky crust is to Mom's apple pie."
(harry reasoner)

It's baseball playoff season and as a S.F. Giants fan, I've been struck lately by how much baking is like baseball.

Sometimes you hit a home run and sometimes it is just pure torture. And there is the every day grind of trying to perform at your highest level and more often than not, falling short.

I've been testing a lot of recipes lately and there is nothing like paying for big talent (ingredients), putting in lots of batting practice (test after test) only to lose the game (an inedible mess).

But what is there to do but start over again, maybe change your batting line up and get to work. And even after the worst kitchen disasters, there is generally either something learned (measuring accurately matters!) or an actual win (let's eat!).

I certainly am a believer that just as in what is called small ball in baseball -- working the count, stealing base, bunting when your manager asks you to, is more effective although not as exciting as long ball -- the big home run. So, researching recipes, talking to baking experts, making sure your equipment works, putting in the time to test, test and test, is going to be the norm -- not the first time success we all wish would happen.

In fact, one of my favorite stats in baseball is how many times you can actually lose a game and still have a winning season. As legendary baseball hitter Ted Williams once said, "Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer."

And even though he is an L.A. Dodger lover, I agree with long-time Dodger manager, Tommy Lasorda, when he said, "No matter how good you are, you're going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are you're going to win one-third of your games. It's the other third that makes the difference."

I recently had the amazing opportunity to be interviewed for an article in Oprah Winfrey's O Magazine about my individual pies (ipies). The reporter asked me how many ipies I had tested before I had a success. As I did the math I was astounded that the number was about 1200 ipies over a five month period! That's a lot of pie!

But I didn't think it was out of the ordinary for what I was trying to accomplish -- the reinvention of the pie.

The article was also about the reinvention of my career -- finding your "true calling" as O Magazine called it. I feel like the time I spent in my "former" life was my time in the minor leagues -- all if it helped prepare me to pursue my passion of writing, baking and teaching -- the major league of my life.

I knew I had to keep practicing, show up every day and wait for talent, luck and hard work to all come together for a win.

I find career inspiration and root for those players that have struggled for years -- maybe even out of baseball (Pat Burrell) or claimed off waivers (Cody Ross) or never made it to a playoff season after more than ten years in the major leagues (Aubrey Huff) than those that didn't have to struggle for their position on the team (Barry Bonds).

As Andres Torres, the feisty outfielder for S.F. said of his friend and teammate Pablo Sandoval the struggling third baseman for the Giants, "He's doing a great job," Torres said. "I told him to be positive. Every day we're going to battle to win. Forget about concentrating on what happened before. We've got to go out and play every game hard. That's the key for us."

I love that every day in baseball is a new day -- a chance to forget about the errors of yesterday and start fresh -- just like in baking.

Karen's Apple Pie

Karen works at my favorite cafe -- Cafe Borrone. I've been known to have breakfast, lunch, wine time and dinner at Cafe Borrone all in one day. Karen is a manager there and is always cheerful and willing to help -- even early in the morning.

I was talking to her one day about baking and the next time I saw her, she gave me her recipe for her favorite apple pie. I thought it would be a good addition to this article -- you know, baseball and apple pie are made for each other right?

Well, little did I know that this recipe of hers would prove my point about trying over and over again to get a recipe right.

The crust in this recipe is oil based. An oil crust is easy to put together and if you don't bake pies a lot -- you don't need to worry about all the so-called rules of pastry: don't overwork the dough, keep it chilled, worry about the weather and so on.

I don't find an oil crust to be a flavorful as a butter or cream cheese crust but I wanted to give her recipe a try.

What a mess. For the life of me I couldn't get the crust to roll out and not fall into pieces. I made it twice and I tried all my tricks. So much for the ease of an oil crust!

I had already made the filling so I was determined to find an oil crust that would work. I turned to one of my classic cookbooks -- As Easy As Pie by Susan Purdy. Her oil crust was similar to Karen's recipe but Purdy's recipe called for more flour and less oil. The resulting crust was easier to roll out between sheets of waxed paper and had a velvety texture compared to the sandy texture of Karen's recipe.

I rolled it out and fitted the bottom crust into my mom's faded pink pie plate. So far so good. I piled the filling high and tried to fit the top crust over the filling but it tore and looked terrible.

So I patched and pulled the crust the best I could and put it in the oven.

It wasn't the prettiest pie I had ever made but the teenagers that devoured it were not judgmental in the least.

(can of corn: an easily caught fly ball)

photos by Scott R. Kline photography