Joan Baez’ 75th Birthday was celebrated at the Beacon Theater on January 27, 2015. Let’s celebrate with Pie!
I attended the concert at the Beacon theater celebrating the 75th birthday of the folk singer, Joan Baez, with my childhood best friend, and forever friend, Arlene. As I sat in my seat in the concert hall, waiting for Arlene to arrive, I dreamed about honoring Joan Baez upon her birthday, by baking a pie, the Black Bottom Lemon Pie from “The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.”
Arlene’s parents, Sue and Harold Davis, owned the Davis candy store on Washington Street in Hoboken, N.J. Ever behind the counter, her parents, and her older brother Steven, served the store’s customers, who all became good friends over the years. They sold newspapers, candy, cigarettes, greeting cards, soda, magazines, and they had a Book of the Month Rental Library which my mother and all of her friends loved. The Davis family lived right above the store, and to visit Arlene, I would walk through the store, first greeted by her dad who would call out, “hey, freckles,” or “hey, smiley,” or some other such things, as I passed by. In the back of the store, past the coca cola red cooler with all of the glass bottles of sodas, were stairs leading up to the second floor of the building, opening first into the kitchen and then the living room. Up the next flight were the bedrooms, a private area of the house. Arlene and I spent an inordinate amount of time playing “Barbies” on the steps leading up to the kitchen.
As to how I discovered the iconic folksinger, Joan Baez, let me tell you about Karen. When I was in high school, I had a friend Karen, who in those days was what you would call a beatnik. She always wore black tights, and a black scoop necked, and long-sleeved Danskin leotards. In Donna Karan’s autobiography, “My Journey,” Karan claimed to live in such Danskin leotards in her late teens and early twenties. The leotard was the inspiration for all of Donna Karan’s first groundbreaking designs. My new friend Karen lived only with her mother, because her parents were divorced. In all the time that we were friends, I never met her father. Karen’s mother was very critical and tough on her daughter. It was a side of life I had never seen before.
Karen always wore a Greek woven shoulder bag, which I was soon to copy, as did many of my other friends. Karen was the first to introduce me to Greenwich Village. Eventually, my friendships expanded beyond Karen. I soon became a part of a high school clique that would go to NYC as much as possible. On Saturday evenings my friends and I would attend discussion groups at The Ethicsl Culture Society. Groups of teens from the suburbs of NJ and from NYC would gather in a room with a leader, sitting in a circle on the floor. Topics of ethics, religion, philosophy, world events, or personal problems were discussed. Sometimes we were broken up into smaller groups for interactive exercises, and then results would be discussed within the larger group circle. Teen sexuality abounded within the group. There was flirting, crushes, small romances and first kisses. After group, we would rush downtown to Folk Dance House in the Village. We teens would join in with people of all ages and dance the nights away in circle dances, troikas, polkas, and variety of ethnic dances. New dances were taught in the first hour, and then open dancing and the real fun began. Like Cinderella at the ball, we always had to rush away at the end of the evening, to make the last bus back to New Jersey.
I had never heard of Joan Baez. The only records I knew were the show tune albums continuously playing in the background at home. My mom would go to see a Broadway show, most always with her sister Gertie, or the two sisters would go with their husbands too. Gertie was my mom, Ann’s, best friend for life. Earlier than that, in Hoboken, I do remember Arlene showing me the first 45 record I had ever seen. Arlene was ahead of us all, and was already learning about rock and roll. But it was through Karen that I learned about Joan Baez. We, black tight legged girls, would spend hours in Karen’s bedroom listening to Joan Baez’ first record album, which contained a lot of Childe Ballad songs. If you want to read a book that contains a fictional version of Joan Baez’ coffee house years, check out “Braided Lives,” by Marge Piercy. I still consider Joan Baez’ first few albums some of her best. Karen knew how to play the guitar, and I soon got my own guitar and started taking lessons. The first song I tried to learn may have been “Silver Dagger,” or it could have been “Copper Kettle,” as That was one of my favorites. I would play the albums in my own bedroom and sing along with the voice of Joan Baez.
It was shortly after that, that Karen and her mother invited me to go with them to a Joan Baez Concert at Carnegie Hall. I was thrilled. A new world was opening up. At the time I didn’t even know the old chestnut of a joke, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer being, “Practice, practice, practice.” The night arrived and we were sitting in box seats, in a box along the side overlooking the stage. It felt like we were very close to the stage and we had a great view. Joan Baez came out, and asked if we minded if she took off her shoes. The audience applauded and cheered her on, and she took them off and stood barefoot on stage. She tuned her strings, and then the Madonna, as she was called in those days, started to sing in her heavenly voice. Sometime during the concert, in the style of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez asked us to sing along with her on the song “Kumbaya.” At the end of the concert she talked about the growing Peace movement, and asked us to follow her as she walked barefoot through the streets of New York, in the name of Peace. That was part of the beginning of a folk music revival and the peace movement in America.
And now, coming full circle at the Beacon theater, there was a celebration of Joan Baez, with artists old and new, joining her in song. Musical artists such as David Bromberg, David Crosby, Damien Rice, Emmy Lou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Indigo Girls, Richard Thompson, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, Judy Collins, Mavis Staples, and others, paying homage to Joan Baez and honoring her history and her birthday. Many old songs were sung, many with political relevance even now, and newer songs too. The last encore of the evening, sung solo by Joan Baez, was “Forever Young,” one of my husband Dan’s favorite songs. Now that more and more babies are being born to our own next generation, that is to say, our collective grandchildren, I heard the song in a new light. I heard it as a lullaby and wish for the future of those new babies. It is said that Bob Dylan wrote this song upon the birth of one of his children. I heard it this way for the first time, instead of as an anthem for my generation. So, to Becca and Dan’s new son Henry; to Isabelle and Gabe’s son, Julius; to Jessica and Matt’s son, Jack; and to Ellie and Jon’s daughter, Emily:
“May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.
May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.”
In celebration of Joan Baez’ 75th birthday, I chose to cook a recipe for a pie, from “The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop,” by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen. Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a shop that originated in Brooklyn on 3rd Avenue and 8th Street, about a 15 minute walk from where I live. They now have a branch in the Grand Army Plaza Brooklyn Library, as well as another shop at the other end of Park Slope. They sell slices of pies and there is a choice of about five different pies on the chalkboard above the counter, when you go there. There is always a bit of a twist to their pies, with additions of rosemary, salt, or sage and the like to give the pies a bit of something extra.
I think that Joan Baez has proved to be such an extraordinary person in her long life, that she deserves, not a cake, but a pie. Like Joan Baez, this pie is something unconventional, and something special for a very special lady. I hope she would enjoy it, and you too, dear readers. Happy 75th Birthday, Joan Baez!
A Few Notes About This Pie
This pie had a lot of speed bumps along the road to making it, and I really need to make it again in order to perfect the art of pie making. Be prepared. There are a lot of directions to let the dough rest: 1) let the prepared disk of dough rest for at “least 1 hour, but preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow”; 2) “Have your crust rolled, crimped, and rested in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When it is fully chilled, use a fork to prick all over the bottom and sides, 15 to 20 times. This step, called docking, helps eliminate the air bubbles that can form when the dough is exposed to heat and also prevents the crust from striking.; 3) “Place the crust in the freezer…. When the crust is frozen solid (about 10 minutes, line it tightly with a piece or two of aluminum foil. Make sure the crimped edges are completely covered and there are no gaps between the foil and the crust.”; 4) Let the pre-baked crust cool.; 4) Cool the crust with the ganache in the refrigerator, while you make the lemon filling.
My crimping was not artful and is one thing that I need to improve. The authors of this recipe recommend: “T0 prepare the fitted, trimmed dough of a single-crust pie from crimping, roll and pinch the excess dough edge under so that it sits directly on top of the pan’s rim. Do not be afraid to pinch tightly; otherwise, the crust may unravel while baking. If your finger are sticking to the dough, dust them with a little extra flour. Continue to roll and pinch the dough all the way around the circumference of the pan until you have crated a “wall” of dough that can be shaped and fluid.” Therein lay my problem. I believe I did not pinch the dough around the edge of the pie, after I rolled the excess dough under. Also, when my dough edge became too warm to work with, I probably should have put it into the fridge to cool a bit, before trying to crimp the dough. For those of you who do not know how to crimp: “use the index finger and thumb of one hand to create a letter C that the thumb of your opposite hand fits perfectly into. Hold this C at the outside of the crust “wall” and push inward while simultaneously pushing your opposite thumb into the center of the C from the inside of the crust “wall.” Use this as your mold to crimp the edges of the pie all the way around, making sure the final fluted crust sits directly on top of the pan’s rim….Alternatively, for an easier crust edge style, you can use the tines of a fork to press the dough wall flat down onto the pie pan rim….” Dear reader, I prefer the fluted edge.
I had never made chocolate ganache before and found that it is surprisingly easy. It is just a matter of boiling a bit of cream, adding the chopped chocolate, taking the pot off the heat, and swirling the contents of the pot together. Then letting the pot sit, and whisking the contents to combine the elements. It is fun to spread the ganache over the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell, and raise the chocolate halfway up the sides. It feels like painting, with the thick rich bittersweet chocolate, which grabs onto the pie crust nicely along the sides.
Now for the lemon filling. Lemons and oranges in the winter time are considered seasonal. There is a large variety of citrus in the winter. If you cannot find Meyer lemons, I would recommend using the alternate version of this recipe which is to use “Mandarin oranges“, and “reverse the lemon and orange quantities, and reduce the sugar to taste, or by about 1/3 cup.” I used regular lemons, which were a bit too tart. Despite the tartness from regular lemons, I found the pie cloyingly sweet given the 1-1/3 cups granulated sugar called for in the recipe. I would cut back a bit on the sugar if using regular or Meyer lemons. I must say that the pie’s combination of lemon and chocolate was divine, and that is why I do recommend working through this intensive recipe, to make this tasty and special pie. While the authors of the recipe recommend using Mandarins, I think I would try the Sumo oranges, which are now offered for sale at our Park Slope food coop. They are the best oranges I have ever eaten.
It is important that you strain the lemon filling mixture as directed in the recipe. You don’t want those inedible pieces of zest in the creamy smooth filling. So use your strainer. It is easy to strain it directly over the pie shell. No need to strain it into a bowl first, and then into the shell.
The biggest problem I had with this recipe was that my lemon filling did not set. I followed the recipe directions and baked the pie in the “middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 15 to 20 minutes through baking.” For me, after 30 minutes of baking, the lemon filling inside of the pie crust was as fluid as a lake in the country with maybe a little seaweed along the edges, representing a bit of setting of the lemon filling. I was at a cross roads and did not know what to do. What confused me was that the author chided the home baker of this pie to “Be careful not to overtake or the custard can separate.” Had my custard already separated and was that why my lemon filling was like the waves of the ocean lapping at the shoreline of the beach? The authors went on to inform the home baker that “The filing will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours.” I tossed the dice and lost. I took the pie out of the oven thinking maybe it would set while it spent 2 to 3 hours on the wire rack cooling. I chose the wrong road to walk down. Even refrigerating the pie later did not help.
I am sorry that the authors did not direct us home bakers to page 71 on the subject of Techniques, and the heading “Baking Custard Pies,” where there was further clarification regarding cues to look for to identify when a custard is perfectly cooked. “Generally, as it nears finishing, the outer 2 inches of the custard will be set and puffed up slightly while the center will remain a liquid that will slosh a bit, independent of the outer ring, when the pan is shaken. At this point, check the pie’s progress every 30 to 60 seconds. When the center just changes from liquid to barely set, pull the pie from the oven. When the pan is lightly shaken, the filling should still be jiggly but moving as one. The residual heat will continue to cook the filling as it cools.
When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade
Encouraged by my friend Judy, who was hosting our Brooklyn Book Club last night, I brought my soupy pie to the pot luck dinner. My fellow bibliophiles were most kind, and were game to try the pie, despite it’s downfalls. Slices were served up in a bowl, sauce ladled on top, and we ate this treat with spoons. Our discussion of “The Man in the High Castle,” by Philip K. Dick was lively and helped me understand the book a lot better. As I ate my slice of pie, during the end of our discussion, my heart expanded to all sides of the inside of my chest as I breathed in, and whispered to myself in my mind, Happy Birthday, Joan.
- 1-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 stick of butter and a pat of butter for buttering the pie pan
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped into ¼-inch pieces
- 4 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice (from 3 to 4 lemons)
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice
- Finely grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon
- Finely grated zest of ¼ orange
- Make an all-butter crust using 1-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; ½ teaspoon kosher salt; 1-1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar; ¼ pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces; ½ cup cold water; 2 tablespoons cider vinegar; and ½ cup ice. Stir together the dry ingredients and add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly peas-size pieces of butter email Combine the water, cider, vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bow. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture, over the flour mixture, and mix and cut in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary to combine. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.
- Roll out the pie crust and place it in the buttered pie pan. Crimp the outside edge of your pie crust. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Partially pre-bake the pie crust on a preheated baking sheet in a pre-heated oven at 425 degrees F, for 20 minutes, on the middle rack of the oven. Prepare the crust by covering it completely, including the crimped edges, and put pie weights or dry beans in the pan, spread so they are concentrated more around the edge of the shell than in the center.
- Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the foil and pie weights, and let the crust cool for a minute. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of egg white glaze (1egg white whisked with 1 teaspoon of water) to moisture proof the crust. Return the pan, on the baking sheet, to the oven's middle rack and continue baking for 3 more minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.
- To make the ganache layer, bring ¼ cup of the heavy cream just to a boil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour in the chocolate pieces. Swirl the cream around to distribute and cover the chocolate. Let sit for 5 minutes, and then whisk gently to combine. Scrape the ganache into the cooled pie shell and spread evenly over the bottom and halfway up the sides. Refrigerate the shell to set the ganache while making the filling. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and salt, and mix on medium speed until thick and all combined. Stir in the lemon and orange juices and zests and the remaining ½ cup heavy cream and blend well.
- Place the ganache-lined pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet. Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 15 to 20 minutes through the baking. The pie is finished when the edges are set and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate. The filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature or cool.
- The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature for 1 day.