October 1st, 2010 / 1:09 pm
Craft Notes

An OuLiPian Pie

Yesterday, I baked this apple pie.

I love baking. It’s a completely different experience than cooking or anything else, really. I don’t know exactly what it is, but baking is relieving. Maybe it’s the quasi-precision baking necessitates.

See: when I cook, I don’t follow any recipe. Even if I’m cooking something for the first time, I modify the recipe as I go, adding this spice or that, more cook time or less, substituting ingredients whimsically, etc.

But with baking, there are basic rules I have to follow. For instance, the amount of rising element (eggs, baking soda, baking powder, etc.) and flour can’t really change. I certainly can’t arbitrarily decide the temperature of the oven or how long the thing bakes. I like this.

Whereas I can put in more or less sugar, more or less butter, fewer apples or even a different kind of fruit, there are constraints. There are rules that can’t change.

Cooking, on the other hand, is open. There may be some standard cooking times, but these can be circumnavigated by shifting the heat level or using a different type of pot (a steam-cooker, for instance, defies the cook time for lentils or rice). I mean: with cooking, rules can be broken. They aren’t as definite as with baking.

So maybe this is a stretch, but I think I love baking because the process of baking is not unlike OuLiPian constraints. That is, the more constraints put on the baker during the process of baking, the higher the baked good’s potential.

And constraints or not, the pie was positively delicious.

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  1. mdbell79

      To be fair, I never called you predictable.

  2. lily hoang

      right. just easy. lordy, matt bell. (hey congrats on the believer! yr book deserves the adoration.)

  3. Trey

      I went on a pie-baking kick recently. Your pie looks better than any of the pies I’ve made so far.

  4. jereme

      i disagree lily. constraints do not equal potential. the ingredients and the baker do.

      but i get the gist.

  5. lily hoang

      no, you’re right: constraints alone mean nothing.

  6. jereme

      i think a certain type of person is going to love constraints and a certain type of person is going to hate constraints but both are capable of enjoying the end result.

      your analogy is good. in both literature and food, a lot of bullshit can be found.

      i hear McDonald’s has a new Snooki McNugget dropping soon.

      can’t wait.

  7. mdbell79

      I saw the title of this post on Twitter and knew it was a Lily Hoang. You’re too easy, Lily! (That said, I’m happy to eat any pie you write via the use of any and all literary theorems. Packing my fork next time I see you.)

  8. Tim Horvath


      I assume you are familiar with OuCuiPo, that spin-off of OuLipo that was into cooking with linguistic and other constraints? Zalmanski did a menu whose only vowel is “A”–it’s online at

      http://www.drunkenboat.com/db8/oulipo/feature-oulipo/toward/zalmanski/menu.html. Plus Harry Matthews has something…I think it’s in the D’agata essay anthology.

      I think there’s room for a lot more, though. Lipogrammatic Home Cooking…edible snowballs, larding with actual lard, and plenty of N+1 with ingredients. Of course, a failed OuCuipean experiment is a bit more time-intensive than a mediocre lipogram what with the cleanup, the apologies, and ordering takeout.

  9. lily hoang

      We should have an OuCuiPo N+1 cookoff! And Tim, I’ve never heard of OuCuiPo. So much to learn…

  10. lily hoang

      There will be no pie for you, Matt Bell. Not when you call me easy and predictable!

  11. lily hoang

      I first discovered pie baking six years ago or so. Pumpkin pie. From real pumpkins. And I gained a dozen pounds worth of pie alone. I’m still running it off. Let this be a warning: you eat what you bake. (I thought that would work, as a play on you reap what you sow. Doesn’t work so well, especially because baked pie tastes so much better than reaped sow.)

  12. Pete Michael Smith

      I feel the same way, but for that reason I’m a much better cook than I am a baker. I just can’t bring myself to follow recipes exactly. I’ve had some moderate successes in baking experiments and some major failures, too.

      Also, I’d totally be into an OuCuiPo cook-off.

  13. Trey

      that sounds awesome, but work-intensive. when I was trying to make pumpkin butter but couldn’t find any canned pumpkin in the grocery store I did a little investigating into making my own pumpkin puree. It sounded sort of exhausting.

  14. Tim Horvath

      I’m game. And the Cooking Channel’s always looking for new ideas, no?

  15. mdbell79

      To be fair, I never called you predictable.

  16. lily hoang

      right. just easy. lordy, matt bell. (hey congrats on the believer! yr book deserves the adoration.)

  17. Owen Kaelin

      For what it’s worth: Dalí liked cooking, and tried to liken it to painting. So, he would’ve agreed with you, although he was never a member of Oulipo.

  18. lily hoang

      I can very much so see the connection between painting and cooking. And no, Dali would definitely not have been a member of the OuLiPo, he (and Surrealism) would seem (at least superficially to me, since I have only rudimentary knowledge of Dali and Surrealism) rather contrary to them.

  19. lily hoang

      Would you believe the original incarnation of this post connected baking, writing, and Foucault’s “docile body”? It was too much work though. Maybe next time I bake!

  20. mdbell79

      Fantastic. I promise not to show up here and mock your Foucault Fritters recipe.

  21. Jhon

      I don’t bake but enjoy the fruits of others labor. I write and often don’t care for these same fruits.

  22. christopher.

      Lily, if you like carrot cake, I have a recipe that’ll make you feel reborn.