Naperville resident Sally Francis says she’s come a long way when it comes to baking pie. And, she says, her mother’s patience led the way.
Francis earned a home economics degree during college and would come home to share what she learned.
“She had been making pies for years, and I walked in and told her she was doing it wrong,” says Francis, who still is amazed at her mother’s patience. “She just smiled and listened. I think she was proud of me no matter what.”
Francis, 65, went on to complete her doctorate in textiles and clothing. She then became the department chair of design and human environment at Oregon State University. She later became dean of the graduate school and a member of the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C., before retiring almost three years ago.
Although she once thought she knew the right way to make pie crusts, today she realizes that there are many paths to the perfect pie crust.
“When I was young, my grandpa was a butcher, so we always had a container of lard,” says Francis referring to the use of pork fat in cooking. “When he stopped being a butcher, we started using Crisco.”
Several years ago, Francis read a New York Times article that tested different fats for making pie crusts.
“The best was rendered duck fat but that is just too much work,” Francis says. “Both butter and lard were ranked high on the list, so I have always gone with half butter and half lard because all lard seems too much.”
She also does not freeze her butter or use ice water in her crust.
“I know that almost every recipe says to use ice cold butter and water, but I can’t imagine doing that. I have my butter soft.”
Francis maintains that it is the choice of ingredients and the method of mixing that determines the crust.
“It’s the gluten in flour that makes a crust tough,” she says. “The key is to not work the dough too much.”
When it comes to pie filling, Francis prefers fresh fruits. She use flour as a thickener with the exception of cherry pie, in which she uses cornstarch for a thickener pie. When she makes peach or apple pie, she likes to use half brown and half white sugar in the recipe.
“The brown sugar adds a wonderful flavor,” she notes.
Francis has always enjoyed baking more than cooking meals. On Christmas and other holidays when her three adult children come to visit, she tries to make their favorite sticky buns.
“I make the dough and let it rise,” she says. “Then in the evening, I assemble the rolls and put it in the refrigerator over night. I bake them in the morning so we can have them warm out of the oven.”
Several years ago, Francis found an oversized enamel pan that she likes to use for making the rolls because the entire batch can fit into the 10-by-16-inch pan.
“I also found that if we let them cool a little while in the pan before flipping them out, the rolls stick less,” she says. “The sticky stuff sort of hardens a little making it easier to handle.”
Francis has enjoyed trying new things in retirement.
“I really love Naperville, and I love the Newcomers Club,” she says. “I go to quilting, pinochle, the daytime potluck and recently stared going to the movie night.”
She encourages others to find out more about the group by attending the Kick-Off Coffee on Monday.
Francis shares her recipes for sweet dough and sticky bun topping. The sweet dough is a basic dough that can be used in many ways, but her favorite is the pecan sticky bun variety.
If you go
Who: Naperville Newcomers and Neighbors Club, a social group open to both new and long-time area residents
What: Kick-off Coffee to present activities and events for the 2013-2014 season.
When: 10 a.m. until noon Monday, Sept. 9
Where: Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.
Bring: A non-perishable food item to donate to Loaves and Fishes