Pie Crust, Humble Pie, and Mea Culpa

This was not my week to shine, I will tell you that. I taught my gluten-free pie crust class. I’ve taught it before and things have gone fine. It’s usually fun and students are proud of themselves for actually rolling a pie crust that looks and tastes good. We make a full pie and then many smaller hand pies (what I call Toaster Tarts instead of Pop Tarts).

This time was different.

I arrived early to set up.  I chatted with my assistants. This was a new teaching space for me and it is beautiful–but it is huge! The lone fridge is at one end and the ovens are 15 ft away at the other end.  Since there were going to be about 9 students, we decided to set up at one end of the long counter so we could all talk to and help each other.  I didn’t think it through and we randomly chose an end–the end we chose was next to the ovens and next to the industrial strength dishwashers.  As it turned out, the dishwashers were running and venting steam the whole time I was teaching.

This was going to be a hands on class, so I had pre-measured bags of dry ingredients for the students and set them at each spot. It had been a busy day, so I had been driving around for a few hours with the  ingredients in my car, which meant they were not as cold as they usually are. On top of everything, I incorrectly wrote the recipe I was handing out to the students and it was 1 oz off on my flour (about 2.5 TBL). And I measured the student bags according to this incorrect recipe. Sigh. So many mistakes that I made in one setting. I’m surprised that lightning didn’t strike me.

As you know, making pie crust is a delicate balance of using and mixing cold ingredients for the dough, warming up the resulting dough a tiny bit to be at the correct rolling temperature, then cooling it down a bit before baking, and then placing it  into a hot oven where it almost magically becomes flaky and delicious.

Well, nothing of this delicate balancing act was present on my class night.  I had failed to plan for so many environmental issues and conditions, it was kind of ridiculous.  The space was warm and humid (thanks to the dishwashers and the rainy day).  The many overhead lights were hot.  The rolling counter was kind of warm.  And the mis-measured amount of flour wasn’t that bad, but it was enough to throw the whole thing over the edge into disaster.

Truly, you couldn’t purposefully have designed a worse class.  The dough didn’t respond well to mixing (it was too hot and humid in the kitchen), the countertop was too warm to roll it on with out it sticking and staying, no matter how much we floured it.  The fridge was too far away from me to use gracefully, and I ended up running back and forth from it like a chicken with my head cut off in a desperate attempt to keep the ingredients cool.  These assistants had never seen me teach before and I’m sure they secretly wondered what the heck I was doing in the teaching position.  Seriously.  Nothing worked.

Towards the end, the students and I did manage roll out and bake some nice toaster tarts that tasted good (although I burned the tops of some of them by putting them on a too-high rack in the oven–sigh).  Several students took  non-burned extras home and later wrote to me that their family members loved them.  And I got amazingly high marks on the comment sheets.  I’m guessing they were being kind.

I usually welcome small things to go wrong in class–they allow me to point out what went wrong, why, and how to handle them.  And it helps the students to see that things are never perfect.  But this was over-the-top wrong things.  And I felt so badly that the students really didn’t get a chance to see and experience how fun and truly easy gluten-free pie crust can be to make.

The next day I called the class coordinator for the teaching space and asked if she would mind if I contacted each student and offered each one of them a private pie crust tutorial.  She said that would be fine.  And that’s what I will do.  It’s the least I can do for folks who paid good money for a class that should have been much better than it was.

Also, that night I went home and combed through the pie crust recipe on this site to make sure it was OK–where I found that I had incorrect gram measurements for the flour and the butter.  The ounce and volume measurements are fine.  I have corrected the gram measurements.  If you are one of my international readers who uses the gram measurements, please accept my apologies for the the incorrect measurements.

Wow.  The good thing about all of this is that I’m sure a class of mine will never go as badly as this one did (at least, I hope this is the case).  And I want to apologize to my students and to anyone who used my recipe with the incorrect gram measurements and had bad pie crust.  My mouth is full of humble pie–although I can tell you that the crust is great!

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  1. Mandie says

    I attended this class that you just discussed and although you weren’t able to roll the crust satisfactorily it still tasted great. It made me feel better to see that it can be tricky to make gf crust!

    I went home with the information I learnt and for the first time in 11 years managed to make a good gluten free apple pie that everyone raved about. I also made the pop tarts for my daughter for breakfast one Sunday morning and used marmalade as the center filling – delicious even though I say so myself.

    Thank you for a GREAT class.

    • admin says

      Oh Mandie: Thank you so much for telling me this! So great to know that you still got something out of the class!! Thanks!

  2. MsJan says

    My husband has been GF for almost 3 years and we had given up on home made pie unless it had a crumb crust made from ground pecans and GF cookies. Not bad, but limiting. For our family “almost Christmas” get together this weekend, I made his favorite Coconut custard pie and your Tarheel pie using your crust recipe and both were delicious! There is a bit of learning curve with the pie dough, but I’ll get there. I think I was too sparing with the water because the crust edges shattered when I cut the pies, but it was a small price to pay to be able to bake my husband a REAL pie for once!

    • admin says

      Ms Jan: Oh, I’m so glad! Yes, it takes a bit of time to make the crust well, but once you get it, it will be fab!!

  3. says

    We all have days like this. Yesterday I made huge quantities of (for my standards) horrible, gluggy, gnocchi. We don’t have time to re do it, so we will have to dish it up to our function and hope they don’t notice. Sometimes getting into bed is the best part of the day!

    • admin says

      ITC: Oh, geez. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Let’s hope we both have smooth sailing for awhile from now on! :)

  4. says

    Oh Jeanne, good things come out of the greatest disasters. I have a feeling that from now on out, those pie-crust demonstrations will become legendary. Your mistakes from this class will only enhance your future ones to no avail. Waiting lists will abound to get into them. I am so sorry that the stars were not quite aligned for this one, but it sounds like you have already come to terms with it. And so very gracefully, I might add. Now, I know for certain that I would LOVE to be in one of those classes, disaster-riddled or not! 😉

    • admin says

      Nicole: Thank you so much! I and just went over to look at your crust post–wowee! You did a great job! Congrats. Your crust is so pretty! I’m so glad my recipes are helpful for you! I tried to leave a message, but my crazy computer wouldn’t let me in. I will try again. Thanks again!

  5. Stephanie says

    Jeanne- So sorry for such a challenging situation! I know how it feels. I teach quilting, and I had one class go so hilariously wrong that to this day I still shake my head about it. It didn’t seem so hilarious at the time, believe me. I’m sure you handled the whole thing with grace, and it sounds like you had a great bunch of understanding students. Every challenge we face is a chance to learn. I want you to know how much I respect you and how grateful I am for this blog. I love your style, I love your honesty, and your recipes are great! I was up well past midnight last night baking your fabulous cinnamon rolls, which my husband loved, BTW!

  6. says

    Jeanne: I can only laugh because how many times have we all done that – but maybe not in a class we are teaching. You are such a great cook and mentor to all us who are gluten free that you are allowed to have screw ups. I am sure next time you will be right on point. Thanks for sharing your humaness! Sallie

    • admin says

      Sallie: Oh, thanks! Yes, it was actually very funny (I actually said that during class–what else could I say?). And thank you so much for the kind words!

  7. says

    Oh my, that brings back some memories (I taught cooking classes for 10 years before I switched to food writing). I bow my toque to you, though, for sharing your less-than-perfect class, and for caring enough to offer private classes to each of the students. More than likely, they were not nearly as aware of the issues as you were. You are a terrific teacher and a class act. Bravo.

  8. says

    Oh Jeanne! Please don’t be so hard on yourself…sounds like “life” just happened. I am sure that your students learned a wonderful gf lesson as well. Gf baking isn’t always perfect and the saying usually says’ “practice makes perfect”, but in our home we say: “practice makes progress.” I am sure that you showed perseverance and resolve. I am totally inspired to make an extra crust for thanksgiving so I can make some toaster pastrees too. I have some spiced apple butter that would be soooo yummy in them!

    • admin says

      Kelly: Oh, thank you so much! It was a wacky experience, that’s for sure. Ack. Also, I love “practice makes progress”–that’s a terrific saying! And I’m so glad you are making the Toaster Tarts–they are so fun. Let me know what you think!

  9. says

    It sounds like everyone still had a wonderful time. Offering to teach a private session is so gracious of you.
    I’d love to take a class from you sometime!

  10. says

    I completely sympathize with you, especially since I had similar snafus with GF cupcakes I made for my daughter’s birthday. The kids seemed to enjoy them anyway, though I suspect it helped that I provided cans of squirt-on frosting, and the girls were having so much fun making designs that most of them didn’t notice the cupcakes were dense in a bad way. :-) Take heart — even the folks who participate in those Food Network Challenge competitions find themselves tripped up by different kitchens with unfriendly environments and such. Hey, we all live and learn, right? :-)

    • admin says

      Dorian: Aw, thanks! And I totally understand the cupcake thing. I love the fact that the girls had so much fun with them. And you’re right–at least I didn’t do this on National TV–ack!

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