14 May 2011

Pine Nut Pie

This will be a brief post. While this week's pie is amazingly good--and amazingly, not that bad for you, relatively speaking--I have a Mississippi River bargeful of other things to get done tonight. And to top it all off, I'm nodding off at the keyboard.

Pine nut pie. It's nuts on top of a sweet, slightly gooey filling, so kinda like pecan pie, but totally different. My wife strongly dislikes pecan pie. I had to sacrifice and eat the last piece of Pine Nut Pie because her self-control (and mine too, truthfully) was stretched to the limit.

The nuts come out soft and don't carry much flavor (not that pine nuts often do, in my experience), but the texture is appealing. The filling includes brown sugar, corn syrup, eggs, and flour so it comes off more solid than your standard pecan pie. "Nougat-y" was the wife's comment on the filling.

The recipe for Pine Nut Pie comes from Ken Haedrich's book Pie and I strongly suggest you go and look it up. Depending on your current household economy, you may want to hold off the baking, though, unless you find pine nuts for a decent price. A cup of pine nuts set me back about $11, but admittedly I didn't go hunting for a better price very diligently. I will, however, remember the recipe for the filling and I am looking forward to trying it with other nuts (walnuts, sunflower seeds?, pepitas?) in the future. Maybe even pecans.

07 May 2011

Tar Heel Pie

I'm told that, this weekend, there's some type of equine event down in the Bluegrass State. And that said event has inspired a range of tasty concoctions and confections. While I'm all for mint juleps, this is a pie blog, after all.

When I started this journey, one of the things I wanted to do was to try out some of the pies I had heard of before, but which I had never seen or tasted - Chess Pie, Derby Pie, etc. Going through recipe books, though, I didn't come across any directions for Derby Pie. This week's Tar Heel Pie is apparently the North Carolina cousin of Derby Pie, however, so I'll count that as close enough.

The web abounds with recipes for this pie, which are all pretty much the same. I cribbed my recipe from Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pies, but just search for "Tar Heel Pie" and you'll find the right thing. Make sure to include the pecans!

The pie is effectively a chewy brownie in a pie shell. Don't overcook it or you'll lose the delicious not-quite-cooked gooeyness that is the hallmark of an excellent brownie. This is a very rich pie - skinny slices are the order of the day. The pecans can screw up your neat slices if you're trying too hard, but just go with it - the taste doesn't change. I would recommend serving a small slice of pie, warm, with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cup of coffee.

On a side note, I will try my best to get back on the blogging horse. The month of April threw me a bit - allergies moved in for about three and a half weeks and took over my life. I knew I was getting better when I started getting the piemaking itch back!

09 April 2011

Like Virginia Diner's Peanut Pie

Yes, you read that right. Peanut pie. Not peanut butter pie. Peanut pie. As described in Ken Haedrich's account of the owner of Virginia Diner, "like a pecan pie, only better." I'm not entirely sure I agree with the 'better' part, but Peanut Pie is certainly like a pecan pie made with groundnuts instead.

The story behind the name for this pie derives from that age-old practice of never revealing the secret recipe. Haedrich wanted to get the recipe for Virginia Diner's peanut pie, but was stonewalled and instead referred to a peanut promoter's website, where he found this recipe. Hence, this pie being "like" the Diner's version.

When putting this all together, it looks like nothing so much as liquid peanut brittle - not a bad thing at all! Chopped peanuts float in a sea of dark corn syrup, eggs, and melted butter, which all gets upended into a pie shell. I had problems with my blind-baking foil sticking to the crust, and I ended up with the filling leaking through and cementing the pie to the plate. That's why the slices are so messy, but it all tastes the same!

A la fin du jour, sign me up for a piece of pecan pie over peanut pie. I am certainly a fan of a good Virginia peanut, but in a pie, the peanutty flavor is a bit too bold for me. If you really <3 peanuts, I encourage you to try this pie. Haedrich suggests serving with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and Warm Mocha Sauce (scroll to the end for recipe), which might just tip the scales in favor of the Peanut Pie, but then again, the mocha sauce would make file folders taste good.

03 April 2011

Double Crust Cherry-Blackberry Pie

Just to be clear: "double crust" is usually code for "extra calories." Especially when using a from-scratch crust. (I've found that the refrigerated crusts are fewer calories than the homemade ones). And especially when that crust is a 'Tender Cream Cheese Pastry' which includes two sticks of butter and an entire brick of full-fat cream cheese. Oof.

Inside the pie, the nutrition is pretty good - two pounds of berries sweetened with only a half-cup of sugar. The recipe calls for an even mix of sweet cherries and blackberries. The berries are frozen - the recipe calls for them to be partially thawed before baking - which is a very convenient and perfectly passable way to make berry pies in the 11 months of off-season. It would be a gut-busting shame to have to eat all your berry pies ever during the month of July.

I used tart cherries and most of a pound of blackberries, with an ounce or two of raspberries tossed in to make up the weight. I would definitely recommend you go with the sweet cherries, as the blackberries provide tartness enough for the pie.

A word of caution about the cream cheese pastry crust (which, like the pie, is also from Ken Haedrich's Pie): the double crust recipe makes a lot of dough, probably enough for three crusts. I didn't realize this until too late, but it rolls out very thick if just making two crusts, thick enough that I suspect it insulated the filling and prevented it from thickening properly. The crust also came out a bit on the greasy side, but it has promise.

Also on the subject of thickening, I would probably toss in some quick-cooking tapioca the next time. There was a significant quantity of juices inside the pie (but it helped the too-thick crust with a delicious berry juice soak!).

This was the first pie that I've used pie shields on. I added foil strips about 10 minutes before the end of a 60-65 minute bake time and was pleased with the result.

All in all, I don't think this is a bad pie at all; I just think I could do a few things better next time.

28 March 2011

Blackberry Silk Pie

For every mountaintop, there has to be a valley, right? We've been hiking along the ridge for a few weeks now with some great pies. This week, however, I think we're off the trail.

Blackberry Silk Pie sounded so promising. I was thinking French Silk - yummy, creamy chocolateness - breeded with blackberries - sweet, tart, berryness - and expecting greatness. Instead, I got a purply wobbly mass in a pie shell - essentially, blackberry custard.

This is the pre-baking color

Custard, yum. Blackberries, yum. Blackberry custard, not so much.

Are we back in January?
The pie started out ominously like the sugar and cream pies I made for two months: eggs, sugar, heavy cream. The only spot of color was a blackberry purée, of which there is extra to enjoy over ice cream later.

The resultant mixture is an odd purple color. It would be pretty on fabric, perhaps, or an iris, but food? Not so much. The custard is poured into a par-baked crust and baked low and slow (300° for 60-75 minutes). Baking doesn't improve the color at all - the light purple inside is covered by a darkened purple puddingskin-like top layer.

Post-bake. It's only slightly prettier in real life.

I couldn't help but think "Barney pie" (or Grimace, I suppose)

Flavor-wise, this pie is okay. You can definitely taste blackberries, but the egg custard matrix is somewhat odd. The texture is like a soft baked custard - I thought it was fine but Tiffany couldn't take it. After my sample slice, we hurriedly distributed the pie to friends. I'll let you know what they think of it.

To sum up, we won't be keeping Blackberry Silk Pie as part of our baking repertoire. Save the blackberries to garnish the top of your plain custard, and I think you'll be happier with the results.

22 March 2011

Wild Blueberry-Maple Pie (in a Cornmeal Crust)

A great pie to enjoy with coffee.

Ken Haedrich describes this pie as 'the best of New England' what with blueberries and maple syrup in it. I would think that some lobster, brown bread, and sharp cheddar cheese would be be required in addition, but that's a recipe for another day.

Aside from the lack of seafood, three things piqued my interest in this pie.

  1. The cornmeal crust. I've always liked cornbread, corn muffins, etc. - a cornmeal crust has got to be good, right? More on this later.
  2. The maple syrup. A wonderful flavor which does not tolerate imitation. Get the real stuff, folks.
  3. The blueberries. Not really a novelty, I know, but this is one of the simplest pies I've tackled so far, and except for a couple of basic apple pies (which I haven't officially gotten to yet), this is the first of my fateful Thanksgiving pies to replicate.
Haedrich warns that the cornmeal crust is challenging to work with; I found it to be relatively simple, and pretty to boot. I used plenty of flour and, despite a few cracks here and there, had no problems. I even managed to fix my double crust problems from a couple weeks back - no berry explosions (out the side at least) this time.

The partially thawed berries (yes, frozen berries are fine) are combined with maple syrup, a bit of granulated sugar, and some cornstarch, then poured into the chilled bottom crust.

The top crust goes on, steam vents are cut in, then into the hotbox for just under an hour. As I mentioned above, my double crust edge sealing worked this time, but I had leaks from the steam vents that resulted in my blueberry pie having a nice Glaswegian smile.

Why so serious?
The original recipe for the cornmeal crust also warns that the edge browns quickly and that a pie shield or foil is advised. I used neither and I don't feel that the crust browned too much.

The biggest disappointment was the lack of strong maple flavor. If I thought about it really hard, I could perhaps convince myself that there was a hint of maple in there, but it wasn't forthcoming. I'm not sure how to amp up the flavor - perhaps add maple syrup to the crust?

Regardless, this is a really good blueberry pie and the cornmeal crust certainly adds to the overall package. I think this will be my go-to blueberry pie recipe for the future and I commend it to you with limited reservations. Just don't include 'maple' in the name and we'll get along just fine.


Cornmeal Pastry Crust (adapted from Pie by Ken Haedrich)

(measurements for a double crust; halve all for a single crust)

2.25 cups all-purpose flour
0.5 cups fine yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

0.25 cup cold cubed unsalted butter
0.5 cup cold vegetable shortening (e.g., Crisco)
0.5 cup cold buttermilk (I used whole milk)

Combine drys, cut in fat, moisten with milk. I used about 38 cup of the milk to get the dough to a good consistency. Divide dough into two balls.

Knead dough a couple times, flatten and wrap, then chill at least one hour before rolling out.

This is a great crust with a definite cornmeal flavor and grittiness (in a good, rustic way). Haedrich suggests using this crust for harvest-type pies - pumpkin, cranberry, apple. I will certainly be trying some of those suggestions come the fall.

19 March 2011

Welcoming Committee

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a brief PSA on hospitality and neighborliness:

This is what you get when you move into my neighborhood.

Apple Crumb Pie - still warm!

We recently had a single mom and her son move in across the way from us, so I thought, "What better way to introduce ourselves than to take her a pie?" I had two bags of apple pie filling (homemade, of course!) in the freezer from the fall and a spare refrigerated crust to be used - why not?

This bag of filling was part-Spy, part-Macintosh, with the sugar and spice according to Pillsbury's Perfect Apple Pie recipe. Seeing as I only had one crust, I looked through Ken Haedrich's Pie to find a crumb topping. The oatmeal crumb (page 200) looked good: 1 cup flour, 12 cup rolled oats, 23 cup brown sugar, a bit of salt, and cinnamon. I think the recipe calls for 12 teaspoon of cinnamon; I just shook some in and added ground cloves. Combine with pastry cutter until crumb-y.

The crust and apples cooked for 30 minutes at 400°, then I turned the oven down to 350° and spread the topping over the parbaked filling. As warned in the recipe, this makes a lot of crumb topping; I saved about a cup in the freezer for a future apple crisp. Back in the oven for 25 minutes, et voila!

I hope it tastes as good as it smells. That's the rough part about giving pies away - I don't get to taste them! At least I've still got another bag of filling in the freezer, right?

P.S. - I tagged this as a pantry pie, not because I always have apples around (I've gotten to where I can't stand apples out of season), but because I had frozen pie filling that I made up in the fall sitting in my freezer. I didn't have to make any special plans or shopping trips to throw this together. Just something to think about - if you like a particular pie for which the season is brief, prepare your own filling for long-term storage. Fresh apple pie in March!

Next time - Let's Go Blue(berries)!

14 March 2011

Happy Pi Day!

Not my pie! Maybe next year... (source: NCTM)

In honor of Pi Day (3/14, get it?), I resolved at the very beginning of this project to make three full-size pies and a little mini-pie meant to represent about 14/100ths of a 9-inch pie. After realizing that meant baking at least nine pies throughout the month of March, I scaled it back to just two.

I also had, for some reason, made the connection between my mother (who, as a math major in college, earned the nickname Pi), my mother-in-law (a high school math teacher) and chocolate, so my Pi Day pies were all slated to be chocolate pies.

From there we get to today's entries: Chocolate Malted Pie and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie.


Mmmm... malt balls...
Chocolate Malted Pie

I love malt powder. Not just a malted milk, or a vanilla (or coffee!) malted milkshake, or a dusty road sundae, but dip-a-spoon-into-the-malt-powder-canister-and-eat-dry-mouthfuls is what I'm talking about. In fact, most places I order a malted, I request extra malt, because the flavor doesn't come through strongly enough.

As is the case, unfortunately, with this pie.

Don't get me wrong - this is a delicious, rich pie. Anything that includes four versions of chocolate (Oreo crust, malted ganache, chocolate whipped cream, and malt balls) has to be good. But if it's advertised as a malted pie, I want the sweet malty flavor to be front and center.

Basic construction is as follows:
  • Pour malted ganache (chopped chocolate, simmered heavy cream, and malted milk powder) into a previously-prepared crushed Oreo crust. Chill for two or more hours until ganache solidifies.
    • Whip heavy cream to soft peaks, then add in reserved malted ganache. Beat until fully incorporated.
      • Crush malt balls, press into top of ganache filling, then spread chocolate whipped cream over the top. Garnish with additional whole malt balls.

        Sorry, no slice pictures this round. The large pie was made to be given away to a friend at church. We had to taste it though, so here comes the mini-pie! Better on the calories for us, too.

        Pie and Mini-Pie
        If I try this again, I'll definitely up the malt powder in the ganache until I can actually taste it.


        Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

        Some of you reading this might consider me insane for my next comment, but the truth of the matter is... I'm doing Weight Watchers in the midst of this grand pie adventure. The pie plan came first and was too much fun to cancel, so here we are. I've already lost about ten pounds since the first of the year, even without getting much exercise (I'm waiting for spring to, well, spring so I can get out and walk more frequently).

        All that to say that I've been meticulously calculating WW points (old system) for all of my pies. When I ran the numbers for the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, I nearly fell on the floor. Whereas most of the pies have been in the range of 9-12 points for a reasonable 1/8 slice (lowest so far was Cinnamon Sugar Pie at 7 pts/eighth; highest was Vanilla Cream Pie at 12.5 pts/eighth and the Chocolate Malted Pie above at 16 pts/eighth), CPBP blew them all away.

        The caloric perfect storm of peanut butter, cream cheese, whipped cream, and mocha ganache (not to mention the chocolate cookie crust) results in this pie topping out at a total of 181 points, or 23 points per eighth. Even cut to twelfths, that's still 15 points per slice - more than one-third of my daily total!

        On the other hand, a single bite is sufficient, if you can restrain yourself. This is a really good pie, although I myself am not so keen on the peanut/cream cheese flavor combination (Tiffany loved it). Our strategy for not eating ourselves sick was to pawn it off on others - I think we got rid of the entire pie within a day.

        Cooking Notes
        This pie has a few distinct steps. If you break up the steps and make the peanut butter-cream cheese mixture ahead, be sure to let it fully return to room temp before proceeding (or just re-cream it): it needs to be soft to fold in the whipped cream. Note that the recipe makes a lot of filling and it will seem like it won't fit in the crust. It will - the profile of the pie is high and rounded rather than flat.

        Did someone say "ganache"?
        The real take-home element of this pie, in my opinion, is the Warm Mocha Sauce (essentially a mocha ganache) that is poured over the chilled peanut filling. This sauce is worth making up for anything you want a topping on, including my family's Mildred's Chocolate Cake, which includes a traditional mocha frosting.
        Warm Mocha Sauce, from Pie by Ken Haedrich
        Combine 12 cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon of instant coffee or espresso granules, and 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 cup of semisweet chocolate chips until smooth and glossy dark brown. Stir in 1 tablespoon of light corn syrup and 12 teaspoon vanilla extract; pour into a heatproof container with a spout (like a 1 cup Pyrex measuring cup) and let cool.
        This will set up fairly solidly when cool. If you need to loosen it up before using, microwave for 10-15 seconds, then stir - it should come right back to a pourable consistency.

        Or just drink it straight from the measuring cup.

        Next time: Back to berries with the "best of New England"

        12 March 2011

        Breitbach's Raspberry Pie

        I remember one summer, my sister and I wanted to make a strawberry pie. We had always seen whole-berry strawberry pies - you know, the ones with upside down raw berries covered with an ectoplasmic red fakey gel-sludge that sticks to your fork - but we wanted to make a strawberry pie more like an apple pie, with cooked fruit. If I remember correctly, the adults around us tried to dissuade us, but still assisted in the endeavor. I also seem to recall that it turned out okay.

        I share that reminiscence with you simply because of the fact that today's pie includes cooked berries of even more fragility than a ripe strawberry. Breitbach's Raspberry Pie, named for a popular café in Iowa, includes both raspberries and blackberries, but it's definitely the raspberries that come through most strongly in the flavor.

        This is really a simple pie: berries, sugar, and tapioca in a double crust. The filling is very firm before it is baked, and it is a refreshing shade of deep red-pink. Never mind the little white flecks - that's just the tapioca, waiting to absorb all those lovely berry juices.

        And, now it's apparent that I need work on my double crust skills. I failed to seal the edges properly and the filling exploded all over the pan, my drip tray in the oven, and the oven itself (not to mention the top of the stove after I pulled it out AND my oven mitts!).

        This is not what your pie should look like.
        The proof of the pudding is in the eating, however, and nobody complained about this pie. Trust me, it tastes the same regardless of whether it leaks or not. The raspberry flavor is deliciously intense, although some of my testers found it a bit too sweet and jam-like. I will be trying this one again in the summer with fresh berries, and I may play around with reducing (or eliminating!) the sugar to see how the flavor goes.

        I heartily recommend this pie to you - just take your time and close up your crust properly!

        Next time: The pie too good to eat.

        09 March 2011

        Blueberry-Yogurt Cheese Pie

        Do you like cheesecake? Do you like cheesecake with blueberry topping? Do you like the caloric bomb that (really good) cheesecake drops on your diet?

        If you answered, like me, 'yes', 'yes', and 'not really' to the above, you simply must try this pie. The recipe has a lot of steps, and you need to be sure to start this at least the day before you serve, but it's not really as complicated as it seems.

        Crust: Prebake a graham cracker crust in a 9-inch pie plate.
        Cheese Layer: Drain 32 ounces of the best plain yogurt you can find (full-fat is recommended - I used Stonyfield Farm's Whole Milk Yogurt) for at least 12 hours. Line a colander with cheesecloth, dump in the yogurt, set it over a bowl, and stick it in the back of your fridge.
        Berry Layer: Combine 312 cups IQF blueberries, 18 cup orange juice, and 13 cup white sugar and cook over medium heat about 5 minutes, until the berries have released a good bit of juice.

        In a small bowl, stir together another 18 cup orange juice, 2 tablespoons of white sugar, and 1
        12 tablespoons of cornstarch until dissolved; stir into berries and bring to a boil until thickened (about 90 seconds). Remove from  heat and stir in 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice.

        Turn out berry mixture into a wide container (a spare pie plate worked well for me), cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
        Assembly: Transfer drained yogurt to a medium bowl and stir in 13 cup powdered sugar and 14 teaspoon vanilla extract until smooth. Spoon sweetened yogurt cheese into the chilled pie shell, smoothing it over the bottom and up the sides. Spoon the chilled blueberry mixture over the yogurt and smooth out the top of the pie. Garnish with a dollop of the extra yogurt and long threads of lemon zest (if you're into that sort of thing). Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.
        -adapted from Pie by Ken Haedrich

        Let me just say that after two months of pies that ranged from white to cream to light yellow, working with blueberries was refreshing visually.They stained my wooden spoon, but to tell the truth, I wouldn't mind dyeing the rest of the spoon that color!
        As I started out suggesting, this pie is reminiscent of cheesecake, only lighter. The tang of the yogurt stands in well for cream cheese, and the sweetness of the berries is sufficient to carry the entire show.
        This is how your yogurt cheese should look
        I will caution you that this pie does not keep - and I'm not just being euphemistic here. I brought the pie together for a Sunday morning potluck, so it was assembled and ready to go Saturday night and stored in the fridge. The graham crust tends to get soggy and weepy after just hours, and the whole thing slumps into a glorious mess. I might try it again with a short stint in the freezer before serving to see if it holds up better and slices more cleanly.

        That said, don't be afraid to scoop out a portion with a spoon - it still tastes wonderful even if it's not the prettiest thing on the plate. And the taste is what counts in the end, right?
        Some of the last bits. This is how it's supposed to look.