Category Archives: Pie

I cannot tell a lie…

I scarfed the whole thing down while watching reruns of River Monsters last night. But you’d do the same if a quart of Michigan sour cherries dropped in your lap one August afternoon, don’t tell me you wouldn’t! Anyway I’m not sorry because tart cherry pie is, in the parlance of the kids today, tha bomb. Shape yours in the same way I did here for peach pie. Combine all your ingredients, save for the crust of course, in a large bowl and stir it all together.

Pour it into your pie shell and cut your vents, then let the pie rest for a minimum of half an hour to prevent shrinkage. Don’t worry, your runny filling won’t soak in, even though this is an unbaked crust. For extra insurance you could sprinkle a light dusting of tapioca or a little agar or something on the crust before you pour the cherry mixture in, but only if you plan on resting the unbaked pie for over an hour. After resting apply your pie shield to prevent the crust from over-browning and bake 20 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, then 30 minutes or so at 350.

If you like you can paint on some egg wash for a little extra color. I generally like my fruit pie crusts blonde and rustic, but do what you like (just don’t glue your vent holes shut)!

Allow it to cool at least a couple of hours before cutting it to allow the filling to gel fully. Serve this warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and your guests will pass out.

Filed under:  Cherry Pie, Pastry | 29 Comments

Cherry Pie Recipe

My father loves sour cherry pie so much he planted a cherry tree in our back yard when I was a kid. I can still remember how he draped the thing with nets to keep invading birds out…and the hours my twin sister and I spent pitting cherries for pies. Oh, the stains our our school uniforms! But it was worth it since there’s nothing quite like a good sour cherry pie. To make one you’ll need:

1 recipe standard pie crust
4 cups pitted sour cherries
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup sugar
generous pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl. Shape and fill your pie according to the directions for peach pie, just, you know, using a different filling. Preheat your oven to 425 while the shaped pie is resting. Apply a pie shield a bake for 20 minutes at 425, then turn the oven down and bake a further 25-35 at 350. Cool and enjoy with ice cream!

Filed under:  Cherry Pie, Pastry | 13 Comments

Making Lemon Meringue Pie

This is what you call a classic American lemon meringue pie: a light, frothy-sweet baked egg foam above, a tart and creamy curd filling below, all heaped up on a delicate crumb (or traditional) pie crust. Not much not to like here in my opinion. Indeed lemon meringue consistently ranks about fifth on the list of the America’s favorite pies. It would probably rank higher if more people made this pie at home, but its reputation for fussiness scares a lot of home bakers away.

That reputation is deserved to some extent. Under-baked meringue toppings often cause weeping, and are quite common as the very center of the pie is hard to fully heat without breaking the lemon custard (which causes another kind of weeping). Large pools of syrup are commonly found in pie plates, either upon cutting or the next day after any leftovers have had a chance to sit. The process below is designed to avoid that problem, and it works very well. However it is something of a dance, so I strongly encourage you to have all of your ingredients and component parts prepared and laid out on the counter before you begin. There’ll be much less confusion that way.

Ready? Then let’s begin. Start by preheating your oven to 350 and getting everything prepped and ready for the meringue. First order of business: the cornstarch goo that will serve as your meringue stabilizer. Combine the cornstarch and the water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Like my all-wood cooktop? It’s the latest thing.

Swizzle.

And when the mixture starts to clear and thicken, remove it from the heat. Set it aside to cool.

Now combine cream of tartar and sugar. Just a little whisking will do the trick.

Put your egg whites in the bowl of your mixer or in a whipping bowl. Yes, I know my copper egg bowl is covered with tarnish spots. I’m sure Martha Stewart’s is immaculate if you’d rather go over there. Sheesh!

With all that ready, prepare the lemon curd filling. Put the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and stir them together.

Add the water and the lemon juice. Set that over medium heat and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, swizzle your yolks in a medium bowl. We’re about to make our curd.

Whisk the lemon juice mixture as it heats. When it starts to thicken and clarify, you know it’s time to combine it with your yolks.

Pour about half of it into the yolks to temper them (i.e. bring them gently up to temperature). Yep, it’s thick and goopy.

Whisk the mixture…

…then pour it from the bowl into the saucepan.

Set the saucepan back on the heat and whisk in the butter and lemon zest. Whisk until the thick mixture starts to boil: plop, plop, plop.

Remove it from the heat right away to prevent curdling, then set a piece of plastic wrap on top to prevent a skin from forming.

Tired yet? We’re almost at the finish line. All we need to do is whip up our meringue. Whip the whites until they’re good and frothy, then add the sugar mixture in a heavy stream…more or less all at once. The early addition of the sugar will yield a slightly denser and more stable meringue.

It’ll take almost a full minute to get to soft peaks because sugared whites take on air more slowly, but you’ll get there. When you get peaks that are tall yet still flop over — see below — add the cornstarch goo stabilizer…

…and whip another 20 seconds or so to stiff peaks.

Now to assemble. You want the filling hot for this, so depending on how long you took to whip up the meringue, you might want to give the filing another shot of heat. Remove the plastic wrap and return it to the burner until…plop plop…it starts boiling again. Whisk it as it boils for about five seconds then pour it into the shell. Hmm…this pie plate says “pumpkin” to me more than “lemon”…where IS that Martha when I need her?

Give it a quick level with a spatula…

…then dump on the meringue all at once and promptly spread it around, all the way out to the crust edges. Use broad strokes to spread it evenly and give it a little decorative swirl if you’re so inclined (I wasn’t).

Get it straight away into the preheated oven and bake it for 20 minutes until it looks about like this:

There now, that wasn’t so hectic, was it? Allow the pie to cool completely — at least two hours — before you serve it because the custard needs time to set up. The first piece or two will be a little sloppy, but after that they should hold their shape nicely.

So what about the weeping problem? Well, because this procedure is designed to heat the middle and cook it before it even goes into the oven, you should have little to worry about. The cornstarch goo stabilizer also does a great job of maintaining the integrity of the meringue without compromising the flavor or texture. Here’s what my pan looked like after the leftovers sat in the fridge overnight:

A single drop of syrup at the very tip there. Close enough for jazz, as they say. Of course any meringue pie is best on the day it’s made, but I was surprised at how well this help up in the fridge. The curd had mellowed a bit as well. Now that’s what I call breakfast!

Filed under:  Lemon Meringue, Pastry | 27 Comments

Lemon Meringue Pie Recipe

Lemon meringue pie is a basically a citrus curd pie save for the fact that the “curd” is made with a mixture of water and juice (instead of all juice), and it’s thickened with cornstarch. The water provides added volume (and frankly also keeps the flavor of the filling from becoming overwhelming) and the cornstarch provides thickening as well as insurance against curdling in the oven. This recipe — which steals tricks from both Rose Levy Beranbaum and Cook’s Illustrated — combines a deep pie with a break-resistant American-style meringue.

For the crust

One recipe crumb or conventional (pre-baked) pie crust

For the Meringue

1 tablespoon cornstarch
2.5 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3.5 ounces (1/2 cup) sugar
4 egg whites

For the Filling

3 ounces cornstarch (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
10.5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 egg yolks
16 ounces water (2 cups)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) butter

Procedure

Prepare the crumb crust mixture and press it into a 9″ pie pan. Alternately, prepare and pre-bake a conventional pie crust in a 9″ pie pan.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prep for the meringue step at this point. Combine the cornstarch and the water in a small saucepans bring it to a simmer, just at the point it starts to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat and set the mixture aside. Now’s also a good time to put your egg whites in a medium bowl (if you’re using a hand mixer) or in the bowl a mixer fitted with the whip. Also, whisk together the sugar and cream of tartar in a small bowl.

Now prepare the filling. Whisk the yolks together in a medium bowl. Whisk together the sugar, salt and cornstarch in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the water and lemon juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat (it will start to thicken). Pour about half the hot mixture over the egg yolks and whisk vigorously to combine, then return everything to the saucepan. Whisk in the zest and the butter, and bring the mixture up to a simmer. Immediately remove it from the heat and set the pan aside, placing plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

Promptly prepare the meringue. Whip the whites until they’re very frothy and have a little body to them, then whip in the sugar mixture. By then the whites will be at soft peaks. Add the cornstarch mixture and keep whipping to stiff peaks.

Lastly, assemble. Take the plastic off the filling and pour it into the prepared shell. Then immediately spread the meringue over the filling, making sure you get some over the crust edges (so it won’t pull away as it bakes). Bake it 20 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned. Cool it completely and serve the same day.

Filed under:  Lemon Meringue, Pastry | 10 Comments

Making Pork Pies

I have to admit, these Melton Mowbray-style pork pies aren’t something you just throw together, but for the serious pork pie enthusiast they are well worth the time and effort. To make them the old-fashioned way you’ll need an old-fashioned piece of equipment called a pie dolly plus some rendered leaf lard, for without good quality lard the side walls of the pie won’t stand up in the oven. Oh yes friends, these pies are baked free-standing, didn’t you know? Forms are for sissies. At least they are in Melton Mowbray.

That said you absolutely can adapt this recipe to more conventional ingredients and equipment. A standard hot water pie crust or even an American-style pie crust can be used along with a muffin tin or other form. They’ll come together in an afternoon. Personally, once I read about this technique I couldn’t resist trying it, even if it took three days. The result was the pork pie of the gods.

On day one you’ll need to make your hot water dough and let it chill for at least four hours or overnight (which is better). Next day, take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it warm back up to room temperature, about three hours. What’s the point of the chilling? To hydrate the flour but more importantly to re-firm the fat, since the firm fat helps keep the pie walls standing. But of course too firm is no good for rolling, so it needs to come back to room temperature at which point the fat will still be firm but plastic, and that’s what you want for shaping.

When you’re ready to shape, make your filling. Assemble the ingredients and combine the pork, bacon, salt pepper, spices an anchovy paste (the secret ingredient) in a food processor.

Pulse until the meat is chopped well, but no further. You don’t want it reduced to a paste. Set that aside while you get the dough ready.

Produce your pie dolly and a round cutter (from a cutter set) that’s a bit larger than the circumference of the dolly.

Now separate about a quarter of the dough and roll it to a little less that 1/4″ thick.

Cut out five circles (assuming your dolly is about the same size as mine) and reserve the scraps.

Poke a hole in the centers with a dowel or some other device. Here I’m using a funnel, which is just about perfect, even though the holes it makes aren’t perfectly round. Who cares?

They look good to me!

Now for the shaping. This is really fun. Take a 4.5-ounce piece of dough…

…roll it into a ball…

…and pat it down into a circle.

Now apply the pie dolly and press down hard. I mean really hard…like lean well over it and put your weight on it. You’re trying to crush the center down to about 1/4 inch. If you’re unsure how you’re doing just take the dolly off, pick up the dough and pinch it. If it’s thicker that a pie bottom ought to be, keep pressing. You may get a couple of big splits, that’s not a problem.

Once the bottom is thin enough, it’s time to shape the sides. Here I should say you want to use as little flour as you possibly can. Flour really won’t help with sticking and will create a flat, flaky finish on the outside of the crust when the pie is baked. A very slight dusting is all the more you need. Now then. Plant your thumbs on the top of the dolly…

…and start squeezing with your pinkies, firmly and steadily stretching the dough up the sides. Take your time…there’s no hurry here. Press together any splits in the dough, without extra flour on the dough they’ll come together easily.

After a few minutes of pressing and rotating the dolly, it’ll look about like this.

Now slip off the dolly and…your shell is done. I noticed that some of my pie shells came off more easily that others. One stuck pretty seriously, so I used a wooden coffee stirrer to loosen it. It came off easily after that. Should your walls get compacted during removal, just pinch them thin again.

Plop a ball of filling in…enough to come within about 3/4″ from the rim. The apply a top. If it’s not big enough, roll it a little more the pin.

Pinch it all the way around to seal.

You can leave it like that, press the edge with a fork to give it a decorative frill, or curl it over, which is what I did.

Once that’s done it’s time to rest the pies for a minimum of three hours, though overnight is better. The long rest not only relaxes the dough, it chills the filling thoroughly, and that’s important because a nicely chilled center will help keep the fat in the walls cool even after the pie has gone into the oven. And that’s important. Why? Because the residual chill will help keep interior of the wall firm while the oven’s heat gelates and sets the starch on the exterior. The result being that the unusually tall walls stay up without bowling outward or compressing. Pretty neat.

Now then, when it’s time to bake preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (the high heat will set the outside of the crust quickly). Paint the pies with egg wash and promptly get them in the oven.

Bake them on a middle rack for half an hour, until they start taking on color. Open the oven, rotate the pan and reduce the heat to 350. Keep baking at least another half an hour until the pies are golden and a thermometer inserted into the middle of the pie through the ventilation hole registers 180 or more. If the crust starts getting too dark, tent them with tin foil.

Allow the pies to cool completely. At this point you can eat them, or press on and add the final touch that marks a true Melton Mowbray-style pork pie: the “jelly”. Adding that means another deep chill in the fridge. A minimum of three hours though — say it will me — overnight is better. Why is this important? Because your gelatin-rich stock will be very fluid before you pour it in. to prevent it running out all over the place — as it will even through a well-formed crust — it needs to firm fast. A very cold pie will chill it quick. Pour it in until it reaches the top. I couldn’t get pork bones at the butcher so this is some home-made chicken stock. Works every bit as well. If you really like jelly in your pork pies, do a second application after about five minutes to make sure it completely fill sin the interior gaps.

The good news is that after this step they’re ready to eat as the jelly takes only about five or ten minutes to set. Of course, allowing them to warm for an hour or so is best. I know, it’s even more waiting, but friends you’ll be happy you did. Pour yourself a pint of good ale, cut a piece, close your eyes and pretend you’re in the Midlands.

Cheers!

Filed under:  Pastry, Pork Pie | 12 Comments

English Pork Pie Recipe

A classic pork pie has three components: crust, filling and “jelly” or a gelatin-thickened stock which is poured in through a hole in the top crust while the pie is still warm from the oven. Why the jelly? Because these pies bake for a good 90 minutes. In that time the fresh pork is going to lose some if its moisture. The jelly is a way of putting back some of that moisture, as well as adding extra flavor. Notice my recipe calls for powdered gelatin. If you prefer you can make the stock the traditional way by adding two fresh pork trotters (feet) to the stock. Me, I’d just as soon let the good folks at Knox smell up their kitchen with feet, that’s what I pay them for.

For the Stock

2 pounds pork bones (use chicken if it’s easier…and it probably is)
1 bay leaf
about 20 black peppercorns
1 carrot, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery rib, diced
small bunch fresh parsley
several sprigs fresh thyme
powdered gelatin (one 1 teaspoons per cup of stock)

Place the bones, bay leaf and peppercorns in a large pot, pour in enough cold water to cover. Bring the water to the boil, then turn down to a bare simmer and allow it to barely bubble for 1 1/2 hours. Add the diced vegetables and simmer another half an hour. Add the herbs and simmer for a final 15 minutes or so. Turn off the heat, let the broth cool and strain it through cheesecloth. Let the stock cool and refrigerate it until needed.

On baking day measure the stock to find out how much you have (should be at least 1 1/2 quarts). Pour two cups into a sauce pan and set it over medium heat (reserve the rest for another use). Meanwhile, combine two teaspoons of gelatin with about two tablespoons if ice water and stir to moisten. When the stock heat to a low simmer, whisk in the gelatin mixture and make sure it dissolves completely. Remove the simmering mixture from the heat and allow it to cool (though it needs to remain liquid for the filling process).

For the Filling

1.5 pounds ounces pork shoulder (pork butt) cut in pieces
4 ounces slab bacon, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well chopped but not paste-like. Alternatley you can chop the meat finely by hand before mixing everything together.

For the Crust

One recipe hot water pie crust, chilled overnight then rested at room temperature for about three hours

To Shape and Bake

Shape according to the Making Pork Pies tutorial. Allow them to rest overnight in the refrigerator then coat with egg wash and bake in a preheated 400 degree (Fahrenheit) oven for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan lower the heat to 350 and bake a further 30-45 minutes until the crust is golden and the pies register 180 degrees or more on a digital thermometer. Allow them to cool completely, refrigerate them overnight and while cool, pour in the finished stock to fill. Let sit at least 10 minutes before serving, they’re best if they’re allowed to warm to room temperature.

Filed under:  Pastry, Pork Pie | 13 Comments

Making Sweet Potato Pie

Do you believe pie can expand consciousness? You might after a couple slices of sweet potato pie. It has a creamy, earthy sweetness…and an almost infinite ability to please and comfort. Done right, it’ll change a person. Oh yeah.

Begin yours by assembling your ingredients including your shaped and pre-baked pie shell. Or you can use a store-bought pie shell in a pinch. Peel and cut up about two pounds of sweet potatoes, place them in the steamer insert of a saucepan and steam until they are falling-apart soft. Half an hour to 45 minutes.

Some sweet potatoes have natural pigments in them that can range from brown to black. Don’t worry if yours take on a little color in the steamer. It’s all part of the grand sweet potato pie experience.

Put the sweet potatoes in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle and beat them until they’re completely and evenly mashed. If you find lumps in the mixture after a few minutes of mashing, pass the whole mess through a food mill or process it in a food processor until it’s completely smooth.

You want 1 1/2 to 2 cups of mashed sweet potato for the pie. To that add your sugar and very soft (or melted) butter.

Beat all that together, then add your eggs one at a time and beat them in for about 20 seconds each.

Add the vanilla and spices. Huh…nothing’s pouring in this shot. Dang. I hate that.

Anyway, once your pie shell is ready, sprinkle on the brown sugar.

Add the filling. It’ll look a little shaggy probably. But hey, this is a rustic pie. You want some of that.

Put on a pie shield and bake 40-50 minutes until the pie no longer sloshes in the middle when you move it, but rather jiggles and domes slightly in the center.

About like so.

Let it cool for at least a couple of hours before you serve it. You can add whipped cream to the top, but…why?

Filed under:  Pastry, Sweet Potato Pie | 9 Comments

Sweet Potato Pie Recipe

Sweet potato pie is one of the glories of Southern cooking. The best ones really taste like sweet potato instead of pumpkin, which happens a result of pumpkin pie spice (ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, etc.). A little nutmeg and some brown sugar are really all you need to bring out the best in the spuds. You’ll need:

1 recipe pie crust for a single-crust pie
about 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes cut into chunks
1 cup sugar
2 ounces (1/2 stick) very soft butter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup dark brown sugar

Prepare the pie dough according to directions, a day ahead of time if you prefer. Roll and rest the dough according to the directions here.

Next, steam the sweet potato. Fill a saucepan with a steamer insert with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Steam the sweet potato pieces until they’re easily pierced with a fork. Allow them to cool completely.

When you’re ready to make your pie, preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Pre-bake your crust like so.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the cooked potatoes in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat them until they’re completely mashed. Remove any strings you see. You’ll need between 1 1/2 and 2 cups of the mashed potato. Beat in the butter and the sugar, then the eggs one at a time, the vanilla, bourbon, salt and spices, and lastly the milk.

When the crust is lightly browned, take it out of the oven and turn the temperature down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle the brown sugar on the hot crust and gently pour in the filling. Bake the pie 40-50 minutes and cool it completely on a rack for 2 hours before serving.

Filed under:  Pastry, Sweet Potato Pie | 4 Comments

Making Shoo-Fly Pie

You know that huge stash of syrups and sugars I had after the sweetener extravaganza? It’s gone now. That’s what a couple treacle tarts and four or five shoo-fly pies will do. At least I won’t be worrying about ants.

Why so much trouble with shoo-fly pie? Because of the crust. As a rule I don’t like pie crusts that aren’t pre-baked. They can have a cereal mouthfeel that results from uncooked flour. They also get wet and sloppy, especially when a pie filling goes in as runny as this one does. True, for some people “wet bottom” shoofly pie is a delicacy. For those folks an unbaked crust is the way to go.

Me I like my crusts firm and flaky. The trouble has been that every time I pre-baked the crust I got a couple cracks or holes. No big deal with most fillings, but in this case the filling just ran right through, causing a sticky, unsightly mess. Reader Heather helped me solve the problem by suggesting some egg wash. This turned out to be the key to Joe’s perfect shoo-fly pie. Thanks to everyone who wrote in with suggestions!

Begin by assembling your ingredients and preparing a pie crust. Roll it out and rest it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Poke a few holes in the crust with a skewer to prevent bubbling up (I know, I said cracks and holes are death with this pie, but don’t worry, we’ll plug them back up when they’ve served their purpose).

Lay in some parchment paper or foil.

Now add some weights. You can use beans, rice or clay weights. Those who know me know I like loose change. Spread it around well.

Bake the crust for 10 minutes, remove the paper and weights, then bake another five until it’s barely browned at the edges. As soon as you remove it from the oven, paint on some egg wash. Plain egg white is probably best since it will cook up on contact, but beaten egg will also work. Now allow that to cool while you work on the filling. Turn the oven down to 375.

Combine the butter, salt, sugar and flour in a large bowl.

Rub it all together into “crumbs”. A lean streusel is what this is.

Pour half into the pie shell and reserve the rest.

In another large bowl spoon in the baking soda.

Add the hot water…you’ll see the reaction starting.

Promptly add the molasses. See the bubbles there?

Now the egg…

…and the rest of the crumbs.

Whisk it all together…

…and pour it into the cooled crust.

Bake it at 375 for ten minutes, then turn down the heat and bake for about 30 minutes at 300 until the pie no longer sloshes in the center when you move it. Place it on a rack to cool for about two hours, then chill it for another hour or so in the refrigerator.

Slice and serve it with whipped cream, which is pretty much essential for a pie this sweet. I should add that shoo-fly pie has a strong molasses taste. If you don’t like that you can cut the molasses with light corn syrup, or even replace it completely with dark corn syrup which will give you the color without the molasses taste. Golden syrup is another possibility. Have fun!

Filed under:  Pastry, Shoo-Fly Pie | 12 Comments

New Shoo

Reader Mike D. generously offers up his grandmother’s recipe for the cause. I ended up tweaking it, but left it mostly the same. I greatly appreciate the submission! Thanks Mike!

one 9″ pie crust, unbaked
5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
5 ounces (2/3 cup) brown sugar
two generous punches salt
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) butter or shortening
6 ounces (¾ cup) boiling water
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 beaten egg
8.5 ounces (3/4 cup) molasses

Prepare your pie crust according to instructions, resting it for an hour in the refrigerator. Combine the sugar and flour and butter to make the crumbs and divide the mixture in half. Dissolve baking soda in the water and add the egg, molasses and remaining crumbs. Mix thoroughly. Pour liquid into unbaked pie-crust. Top with remaining crumbs. Bake 10 minutes at 375°, then 30 minutes more at 300°.

Filed under:  Pastry, Shoo-Fly Pie | 3 Comments