The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition, Episode 24 – Friendsgiving 2020: Sweet Pies

Ah, Friendsgiving! That magical day of the year when Mandy makes her splendid turkey dinner and no one yells at me for eating too many mashed potatoes. Of course now that we have added a bit of competition in the mix, Friendsgivings are all the tastier! Join us, won’t you, for Friendsgiving 2020 – Sweet Pies!

Come to me, my darlings. Fill me with your forbidden, starchy love.

Mandy claims her turkey dinner is easy to make. I don’t see how this is possible. Her mashed potatoes alone are so inhumanly perfect that I refuse to believe she can make them without supernatural assistance. Potatoes this divine require divine intervention. I’m convinced she performs blood rituals to honor at least one Incan god in exchange for her carbohydrate alchemy. There’s no other reasonable explanation for how she can take mere potatoes and transmogrify them into fluffy emotional Nirvana. And whether it’s chickens, goats, people, whatever, blood sacrifices are an all day affair. Just rounding up enough victims to really soak an altar takes hours. There’s no way this meal is easy.

Pictured: The Mandy Mizer Step-Pyramid Test Kitchen And Sacrificial Temple Complex

Yet, again and again, Mandy delivers. No holiday goes by where she doesn’t 100% lay down the smack on some unsuspecting tubers and turkey. She has even devised some kind of miraculous bacon and Asian fusion green bean dish that I love, and I have hated green beans for literally my entire life. The woman is a culinary powerhouse. So when she said this year she wanted sweet pies for Friendsgiving, nobody dared argue. That’s a good way to end up on the slab.

I have always disliked pie crust. Like most people of my age, I grew up eating premade frozen pie crusts, even the best of which taste like barely cooked flour. I used to watch with confusion and growing distaste as my older cousins would pick off pieces of Grandma’s pie crusts during the holidays and savor them. I never understood, and I still don’t. Maybe there’s something wrong with my taste buds, but pie crusts are almost universally gross. Dry. Powdery. Flat. Lifeless. No thank you. I’d rather just eat a bowl of filling and call it a day.

Pictured: Chris’s hopes and dreams.

So you can imagine my surprise as a child when I first encountered graham cracker crusts. What sorcery was this?! A pie crust that not only has flavor, but graham cracker flavor! And the texture of actual food?! It was a revelation. To this day I have never eaten a sweet pie I do not think would be improved by putting it in a graham cracker crust.  They’re just better in every way.

But have you tried one lately? They’ve changed. Premade graham cracker crusts used to have the texture of cracker crumbs. Now the manufacturers pulverize the crackers almost back down to graham flour, so graham cracker crusts now present many of the same problems frozen pie crusts do. They’re powdery. They’re dry. And in their attempt to make them less awful the manufacturers dump in granulated sugar, which not only makes them too sweet but gives them a gritty, thoroughly unpleasant texture. Screw that. I’ll make my own.

Have you ever tried making your own cracker crumbs at home? Crush them, roll them, beat them with a mallet, it doesn’t matter. It makes a huge mess and never works as well as you think it will. I knew I couldn’t get the crumbs I would need without a food processor, which I for some reason have never purchased for myself. So I went looking for one. But as I was walking to the kitchen gadget section to find myself a swirling, bladed food destroyer, I stopped. There, on an end cap alongside those problematic premade graham cracker crusts, was something I had never before seen.

When the hell did this start?? I’ve been in the baking aisles of my local grocers’ approximately one hundred and fifty million times, but I have NEVER seen these. Of course, I was never looking for them, but still. As you can see from the pictures, there are a wide variety of graham cracker crumbs to choose from, apparently even in-house bargain brands. This makes me think they’ve been around for a while, but I swear to whatever dark deity Mandy worships that I have never seen packaged graham cracker crumbs prior to November 23rd, 2020. I felt like Neo when he saw the Matrix.

This is my Deep Dish Dark Chocolate Pie. As you can see, I did end up making my own graham cracker crust, and I have to tell you the taste of homemade is better than anything I’ve ever bought from a store. I think I used the Keebler crumbs, but I’m not certain of that. What I am certain of is that this is one of the best pie crusts I’ve ever eaten, and it was only my first attempt. I’m sure with practice I could knock a graham cracker crust out of the park. Do yourself a favor: the next time you make a pie, go homemade. It doesn’t take long and the difference is profound.

Pictured: Filthy goddamned lies.

While the crust tasted great, it was more of a pain than I thought it would be. There are a thousand life-hacking wannabe know-it-alls online who have posted secrets and shortcuts to packing the perfect homemade graham cracker crust. Exactly none of these “pro-tips” worked for me. The crumbs either stuck to whatever I was pressing them with, or they collapsed and cracked, leaving gaps along the sides. In the end I had to settle for whatever shape would finally adhere to my springform pan. And while I kind of dig the rustic columnar look of a standing crust, I really was going for something a little more symmetrical. And as you can see, the crust was WAY too thick in the corners of the pan. Thick enough that it was difficult to cut. But the flavor was worth it. Mark, in his infinite kindness, voted for my pie, and I suspect he did so based on the strength of my crust. Because it sure wasn’t based on what was inside it.

My crust worked. My filling, on the other hand, was pretty disappointing. I’ve actually made dark chocolate pies before, and this is easily the worst I’ve ever made. To be honest, I’m not really sure what went wrong. At first I blamed the chocolate: I’ve always used Ghirardelli in the past, but it was sold out and I used Dove instead. I’ve always loved the flavor and mouthfeel of Dove dark chocolate, but instead of the silky consistency I’ve gotten in the past, my filling was overly glutinous and surprisingly lacking in flavor. You can see by the way it is mounding up that it was starting to solidify even as I was pouring it. That has never happened before. At the time, the switch in chocolate was the only reason I could think of to explain this failure, but I’ve had a couple of months to reflect and I’ve come to the conclusion that I measured the milk incorrectly. The drop in flavor may have been a problem with the chocolate, but that shouldn’t alter the texture. I think it was a moisture problem. I almost certainly mismeasured the milk. This baby needed more moo juice.

The instant I walked into his house, Dan announced that his Apple Blackberry Pie With Cinnamon Crust was crap. I think he was judging it based on looks alone. As you will see, Mandy’s pie had a beautiful lattice, and my pie, if one were to be exceedingly generous, could be mistaken for intentionally looking rustic. Dan’s pie was unusually crust heavy, but I know that Dan follows recipes to the letter, so I’m sure he made the amount of pastry the recipe called for. But when all was said and done, there was not enough dough to make a crust and the lattice. This displeased Dan. I think he actually called this pie “garbage” at one point, which was ridiculous. It was actually quite tasty.

I’m a big fan of blackberries, so mixing them into any fruit pie probably isn’t going to be a negative in my book. But Dan was not a fan of the seeds, which he found to be an unpleasant contrast to the tenderness of the apples. He wasn’t wrong; the seeds were surprisingly noticeable in the filling. But I’m a frequent blackberry eater, so they didn’t bother me. They’re just sort of part of the experience for me at this point. Despite the seeds, the flavors of the blackberries and apples melded beautifully. This filling was tasty, and is something I hope Dan tries again. So I can eat it. I’m selfish that way.

Dan’s crust, on the other hand, was problematic. I’m not picking on him when I say that. He himself was disappointed with it, as he let us know several times with increasing irritation. As you can see from the pictures, the crust was a bit overbaked, but that wasn’t the real issue. The problem was that this was supposed to be a cinnamon crust, and you couldn’t taste any cinnamon. And I mean none whatsoever. You could see it, but it was like trying to taste a hologram. There was nothing there. After trying various bits and parts of the crust, Mandy and Mark were eventually able to experience a little punch of cinnamaldehyde, but I never did. If I had, I probably would have voted for him, because I love apples, and I love blackberries, and I love cinnamon in a way that is probably medically unsafe. Adding a little more of that good old Cinnamomum cassia to this dish would have bought my vote, no question.

These images, in this sequence, document what happens when you aim a camera at Mark and just keep taking pictures. He can’t help but perform.

In preparation to complete this article, I did one of the things I always do, which was to ask the other bakers what they want me to call their dishes. I will sometimes invent smart ass names for their dishes and threaten the bakers with publishing them if I do not hear back shortly. I’ve never actually used any of these names. But where Mark and Dan gave me the information I needed, Mandy used my request as an opportunity to rudely berate me for not having written this article sooner. So after much reflection, I came up with a nickname for her dish that is both balanced and subtle; an intellectual moniker that would equal the refined, professional nature of the original program upon which our competition is based. In light of Mandy’s unnecessarily confrontational message, it would have been easy to take the low road, but I am proud of myself for not doing so. I’ve kept it classy. I’ve remained a gentleman.

So anyway, this is Mandy’s Crapple Fart. Gorgeous, isn’t it? It’s difficult to tell from this picture, but it was also HUGE. When I said before that Mandy was a culinary powerhouse, I meant it. I called my pie deep dish, but Mandy’s was King Kong compared to the rest of ours. And while I would have thought that the sheer mass of it would have made it difficult to get an even bake, get an even bake she did. The lattice was flaky but not too dark, and the interior was cooked perfectly. I really expected the apples to be underdone, but they were firm enough to retain the slightest Dutch apple crunch, yet tender enough to form a seamless filling. These apples were marvelous.

Mandy’s Crapple Fart only had one flaw as far as I was concerned. She had cut and carved these beautiful little crust leaves and placed them around the edges. Her sculpting work on these things cannot be questioned, but unfortunately they became overly brown in the oven. This gave the pie crust a slight burnt flavor, which is a big turn off for me. I know a lot of people don’t mind an extra toasty crust, but for a guy who generally doesn’t dig crust in the first place, making it taste overdone is just bad going to worse. The leaves were beautiful, but they ended up diminishing the flavor. And NOTHING should be allowed to sully the flavor of Mandy’s food, not even Mandy. Not while I’m around.

Speaking of flavor, Mandy’s Crapple Fart tasted like lemons. I mention this here because everyone else at the table, including Mandy, complained about it. A lot. I don’t know where this psychotic attitude towards the world’s most versatile citrus fruit began, but I watched as my closest friends turned on lemons like starving hyenas smelling blood. Mandy used lemon juice to cut the sweetness of the many, MANY apples it took to fill this pie, and also as protection against the browning that happens so quickly when apple flesh meets atmospheric oxygen. As you can see, her plan worked perfectly. The apples look freshly cut, even after seasoning and baking. Yes, it was a stronger lemon flavor than normal for an apple pie, but it was MARVELOUS. I think Mandy was a victim of her own marketing. I am convinced that if she had simply called this dish a lemon apple pie it would have been the unanimous favorite. It was so good! But I think the unexpected strength of the lemon juice threw my fellow judges, and that is a damned shame. For my money, this was the best pie on the table. But I was the only one who voted for it.

Mark’s Tart Apple Pie With Brown Sugar Crumb was just plain pretty. It looks like a picture stolen straight out of a Southern Living cookbook. I would love to tell you all about it, but for some reason I can’t really remember it. Judging from the pics below I think Mark may have left the peels on some of these apples. That seems like something I’d remember, but I can’t be sure of that. What I am sure of is that this pie was very, very sweet. I remember that distinctly. I also remember that the tastiness of this pie earned Mark the nod as this week’s Star Baker! Great baking, Mark, and congratulations on another win!

So there you have it, folks. Thank you so much for joining us for another festive Friendsgiving! Normally this I where I’d wrap things up with warm wishes from all of us here at The Great British Baking Show: Walton Edition, but this is a holiday. Let’s celebrate! And nothing says holidays more than a good old fashioned sing along. So, to honor the occasion, let’s all sing the Friendsgiving Sweet Pies theme song. Come on, you know the tune!

So no one told you pies were gonna be this hard
You roll the rough puff, chill the butter and the lard
Preheat the oven to blind bake that crust
Then your pastry melts to garbage and your dreams turn into dust

No sweet pies for you!
Should have done a practice bake
No sweet pies for you!
Why couldn’t Mandy ask for cake?
No sweet pies for you!
‘Cause your filling’s turned to goo, eww

You slice those apples up; forgot the peel’s still on
Your chocolate filling looks like dog poop on the lawn
Your mother loaned you her best mandolin
Now your fingernails are in the mix and you’ve gotta start again

No sweet pies for you!
You forgot to add the salt
No sweet pies for you!
Dessert sucks and it’s your fault
No sweet pies for you!
‘Cause you overbaked it, too, ooh

Until next time, bon appétit!

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