No More Mr. Nice Pie

No More Mr. Nice Pie
Drawing by Retsu Takahashi

Friday, December 5, 2014

Change of Address

To all of my sweet pie-followers, I have moved and am excited to welcome you to my new site. Please come visit at

Thanks for reading!

December Pie-atus, Shakin' Things Up

'Tis the month of December
We're still in the kitchen,
But now ‘stead of 40s
To carols we listen.
Eight hours non-stop of Bing, Nat and Burl
After a while, it wears on a girl.

Last week was Thanksgiving,
We're still a bit achy
Personally speaking, I'm still not awake-y.
I'll cease with the whining-
It's time now for cookies
In case you are wondr'ing
Come take a look, see?

There's gingerbread dolls and gingerbread guys
And snow globes and Santas but wait, a surprise!
We've added menorahs because luck would have it
Hanukkah falls on the 16th, dag nabbit.

Tray upon tray of the cookies need icing
My carpal and tunnel I'll be sacrificing
Until someone orders a pie, then I'll pause
And turn my attention elsewhere, Santa Claus.

This week, canned pumpkin is about as popular as a box of   conversation hearts on February 15th.  Blissfully, folks have enjoyed more than their share of Thanksgiving eats, pie included. I welcome this temporary pie-atus, because last week’s blur of towering pie shells and blistering ovens still haunts my dreams. As a post-mortem to Thanksgiving, we gathered around Friday night’s dinner table to consume a savory pie featuring a buttermilk biscuit crust. Then we played a rousing game of Scrabble. While I struggled with six vowels and the letter “X,” I kept thinking about that biscuit crust. The original recipe is from the Slice of Heaven days and worth every calorie.

At work, December turns our attention to literally thousands of cookies. Between sanding sugar, edible pearls and gold dragées, there is enough sweet going on in the kitchen to set your teeth on edge and your dentist on high alert. With a tidal wave of royal icing nipping at my heels, citrus is my desperately needed life preserver.

We are in the thick of rolling out the jolly which naturally leads me down the opposite path. Sugar cookies may be my vocation, but they are not really my carb of choice. This is a sad state of affairs for Mr. Sweet As Pie. Undoubtedly, he will be forced to smuggle in a box of holiday cookies from Trader Joe’s which he will hide behind the packages of whole wheat linguini. To me this is blasphemous, and yet I understand. The absence of cookies in the house forces people to do the unspeakable.  I suppose that makes me an enabler.

As we waded through the poinsettas and paper whites, my co-hort headed for a container of milk (by way of the cookie aisle). Strolling over to produce, I was amazed to see Meyer lemons lounging next to mesh bags of oranges. Not-so-gently nudging the woman in front of me while she pondered organic vs. non, I plucked three bags from the display. Their fragrance was infinitely better than anything holiday permeating the store.

The Meyer lemons called out for Shaker Lemon Pie. I paused for just a moment to embrace the Shaker Lemon but bypass the typical pie crust. What I really wanted was something lemony I could smuggle into work and nibble on with a few cups of joe. I quickly found a partner in crime. I returned to the biscuit.

I know what you're thinking. Biscuits are to be handled with the utmost tenderness, and I agree. But that hasn't stopped me from carefully rolling out biscuit dough to a thinness appropriate to pigs in blankets or thin enough to embrace galette fillings. One recipe of buttermilk biscuits lends itself as the ideal crust for Shaker Meyer lemon. This is dash-out-of-the-house breakfast pie, a biscuit filled with jam. 

This is probably not what Santa has in mind when he tumbles down the chimney on the 24th. It will be a far more bracing choice, and teamed with espresso, ideal for a man on a mission. The flavor states in one bite, bright.

Fine; because ‘tis the season, I’ll toss in merry.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving- DAY 1 Drew's Wild Nut Pie

I am so very close to the Thanksgiving pie finish line, I can almost taste it. Leaving work last night, the air inside the bakery was thick with a tangle of sweet apples, lemon and vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and just a hit of Jack Daniels. For the baked goods, not for the bakers. The flavors permeated the tiny bakery that has been pumping out a ridiculous number of holiday pies. Folks keep asking "how many?" to which I reply, "too many." People fabricate stories declaring they can't remember if they placed an order. Lies, flagrant untruths. There is no way to make people understand that they are not ordering t-shirts from the Gap. We can't just call the warehouse and have shipping send over an additional case of pies in assorted flavors. If one more person uses the word "fun" in conjunction with the phrase ‘working in a bakery over the holidays,’ I may lose my ability to filter my response. I might say, "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND??!” I could silence them with one quick roll up of my shirt sleeve so they can see where the oven door left it's mark on my forearm. The red burn mark is in lovely contrast to the pumpkin puree directly below. And for the very last time, no, no, NO to gluten free Thanksgiving pies.

Wednesday's forecast has thrown a monkey wrench into the pie retrieval mix. Everyone is panicked that the snow will fall before they can claim their baked goods. The line will snake out the front door, a disgruntled mob crowding the sidewalk. It conjures the scene in the Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast" when the angry townspeople, armed with pitch forks are crying "Kill the Beast!" One would think the holiday would bring out the cheery in people. I am here to remind you, it does not. 

In the midst of yesterday's Olympic bake-athon, I had a moment of unraveling. The bakers bench was covered in scraps of pate brisée, splashes of pumpkin, puddles of egg wash and sugar. Trying to maintain a safe distance between pie shells, buckets of pumpkin filling and a bowl of gluten free cranberry orange bread glaze, I uttered the following phrase; "This is when things start to get wacky and somebody's somethin' ends up in your whatever." My most eloquent moment of the day. My co-workers exchanged knowing glances. Clearly they share the sentiment that I am both crazy and nuts. There may be some truth to that.

I suppose you could say that I am crazy because I talk not only to myself, but to the pies in the oven. When I'm twirling the hot trays round and round again because there's a pronounced hotspot on the left side and I’ve overfilled the oven, I am indeed, a Pie Whisperer.

To the pumpkin pies, "Please don't crack, Please, oh, please, do not crack.... Just hold it together, will you?” To the apple pies, "Can’t you tuck your head, preserve your lattice integrity? There’s an oven rack directly above you- damn. Too close. Too late.” To the cranberry pies with the almond crumble, "Would you kindly bake yourselves golden, not dark brown?" This entire week my voice took on more of a stage whisper when I directed the pies to "Bake FASTER."

The pies can be deceptive, particularly the pumpkin, exiting the oven with just the right amount of jiggle in the center. Until you check back a bit later in the day to find that they betrayed you and there's a nice pronounced crack running down the middle. It's exhausting.

As for being nuts, anyone who bakes all day then returns home and bakes a little something in the evening should qualify as nutty. (Tonight I'm baking a Thanksgiving family favorite, Drew's Wild Nut Pie.) Admittedly, next week Thanksgiving will be drowned out by Christmas music and way too many cookie cutters vying for attention. There will be a brand new holiday to bemoan.

I am oh-so-close, and yet so many pies away.

Drew's Wild Nut Pie

all butter pie crust
2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teas. salt
1 teas. sugar
16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) cold butter, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup cold water

Combine flour, salt and sugar in bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade.
Pulse once or twice to combine.  Add butter to flour and pulse just until the butter resembles coarse meal.  With machine running, add cold water gradually through feed tube just until it holds together. Turn mixture out of processor bowl onto plastic wrap, form dough into a disc, wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
Roll dough approx. 1/8" thick, dusting with minimal flour to prevent sticking.  Line 9 and 1/2," pie plate with dough, fluting edges.  Chill crust then partially blind bake.

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 and 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 eggs, room temperature
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 Tablespoon good quality vanilla extract
2 and 1/2 cups total, assorted nuts (I use pecans, cashews, macadamia, and walnuts)

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees.
In the top of a simmering double boiler, combine butter, brown sugar, salt and corn syrup.  Stir over heat until butter is incorporated into sugar and corn syrup.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs.  Remove the sugar/syrup mixture from over the double boiler and gradually whisk the warm mixture into the eggs.  Take your time- you don't want to scramble the eggs.  Return the mixture to the top of the double boiler, stir in vanilla extract and continue gently stirring the filling until it is quite warm to the touch.  (On an instant-read thermometer, 130 degrees.)
(If you added your syrup to the eggs too quickly and you spy tiny flecks of egg, you can strain the mixture.). Spread mixed nuts into partially blind baked shell, pour pie filling over nuts.  Bake in pre-heated 300 degree oven for approximately 1 hour and fifteen minutes. (Once again, check your instant-read thermometer; the internal temperature of the pie should read 205 degrees.)

The pie must rest for several hours before slicing.  Torturous, but well worth it.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving DAY 2 Pear Ginger Sour Cream Pie with Almond Oatmeal Crumble

Bushels of apples are all the rage this week at work. Two pounds of apple slices per pie times 225 pies is more than I can peel, and certainly more than I can count. In the safe haven of my home kitchen, I will turn instead, to the pear.

Pear and I had a bit of a falling out a few weeks back. Pear was behaving much like avocado; far from ripe, still not ripe, even still, not ripe. When pear finally came around, too ripe. In anticipation of my Thanksgiving timeline, I purchased a few pears in their wax fruit state, put them to bed in a brown paper bag and voilà! They are now ready for their close-up; just ripe enough to be flavorful, not overly so that they will bake into a sorry state of pear sauce. They will hunker down in a pie plate with candied ginger, lemon, vanilla bean and a bit of cardamom.

In the constant state of insanity that overtakes the bakery this week, I find myself pining for the tranquility of Rensselaerville, NY. I miss my summer cronies who are scattered around the country, preparing to celebrate the holiday around their own big tables. My pear ginger sour cream pie sports an almond oatmeal crumble, as a wink and a nod to fellow baker and dear friend, Dakota. Happy Baking to all of my Scholarly pals.

Pear Ginger Sour Cream Pie with Almond Oatmeal Crumble

1 recipe pate brisee to fit a 9” pie plate

2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
8 oz. (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup ice cold water plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, place the flour, salt and sugar. Add the cold butter and process just until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and add the ice water/apple cider vinegar a tablespoon at a time, just until the dough holds together. If it feels a bit dry, add an additional tablespoon or two of ice water. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll the dough on a piece of parchment paper lightly dusted with flour and place it in a 9” pie plate. Roll and crimp the edges. Set in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

For the Almond Oatmeal Crumble (from Cafette)

1 cup old-fashioned oats
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
¾ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup sliced almonds
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oats, all-purpose and whole wheat flours, brown sugar, almonds, cinnamon, salt and cold butter. Mix on low speed until the topping is well combined and crumbly. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while you prepare the filling.

The filling: (adapted from Gourmet and A Slice of Heaven)

1 cups sour cream
⅓ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped with the tip of a small knife
⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom (you can bump this up to ¼ teaspoon if you are a serious cardamom fan)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons minced, candied ginger
2½ pounds ripe but firm Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and sliced ½” thick
1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a large bowl whisk together the sour cream, brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, vanilla bean seeds, cardamom and the lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until the mixture is smooth. Add the candied ginger. In a separate bowl, combine the pear slices with the lemon juice and turn to coat with a rubber spatula. Add the pears to the sour cream mixture, and gently stir the filling until it is combined.

Place the chilled pie shell on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spoon the filling into the shell, smooth the top with an offset spatula. Crumble the almond/ oatmeal mixture evenly over the top of the pie. Bake the pie in the middle of the preheated 350 degree oven for 60-70 minutes, covering the edges with strips of aluminum foil to prevent overbrowning. The pears should be tender when pierced with a knife and the custard should test clean. Cool the pie completely before serving.

Countdown to Thanksgiving DAY 3- Chocolate Cream Pie

Blondilocks Requests Chocolate Cream Pie for the Holiday

Strange as it may seem in this season of squash and nut themed desserts, there are some of us who feel the chocolate portion of the food pyramid should not be overlooked on Thanksgiving.  A little sliver of chocolate cream pie and a steaming cup of strong coffee will supply the jolt necessary to compete in a family friendly game of post turkey Scrabble.

Jessie’s chocolate cream pie was a classic in my family, generally reserved for birthdays or for surprise announcements such as, “I’ve scheduled an appointment for your tonsillectomy” or “Tomorrow I’ll pick you up early from school so you can have your wisdom teeth extracted.” Comfort in a flaky crust, topped with swirls of whipped cream and a few chocolate shavings, perfect for what ails you. Even if what ails you is just a little too much family togetherness on the last Thursday in November.

Your favorite fully baked 9” all butter pie crust, cooled

The filling- (adapted from Alice Medrich and Jessie)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 cups whole milk
7 oz. good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (I prefer a combo of chocolates, semi and 60% Cacao bittersweet; Trader Joe’s has a great selection)
additional dark chocolate for garnish

In the top of a double boiler, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt. Add ¼ cup of the cold milk, whisking until the ingredients are smooth.  Gradually whisk in the remaining 1¾ cups of milk. Set the top of the double boiler over simmering water, stirring the pudding with a rubber spatula until it becomes thick. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until completely melted and smooth. Pour the pudding through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, then pour the strained mixture into the pie crust. Smooth the top with an offset spatula, cover with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and let cool. Refrigerate the pie for several hours before serving. When ready to serve, top with coffee flavored whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Coffee Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons espresso powder (I like Medaglia D’oro)
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar

dark chocolate shavings (use a box grater or a microplane grater)

In the bowl of a standing mixer, stir the espresso powder and confectioners’ sugar into the whipped cream. With a whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium speed until soft peaks form. Increase the speed to high, beating just until the cream forms stiff peaks. Swirl the cream over the chilled chocolate pie, garnish with a few chocolate shavings, if you wish.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving DAY 4 Sweet Potato Pecan Pie

Sibling Baker From Seattle’s Sweet Potato Pecan Pie, Updated with a Kick

My younger sister is the hip one in the sibling line-up. When she isn’t brilliantly planning and developing in the City of Seattle, she is often found baking up a pie/cake/cookie storm. We share a fondness for Sweet Potato Pecan Pie. This probably stems from our love of New Orleans plus the countless number of slices we served (and consumed) at A Slice of Heaven, crowned with Frangelico whipped cream. That was a few lifetimes ago. The updated version doesn’t stray too far from the original recipe except the filling has been kicked up a notch with a hit of Sriracha. The heat of the chili sauce plays nicely with the sweet and spicy. I suspect if you were giving thanks in the Pacific Northwest, you would want to be seated at the cool kids’ table. This pie would guarantee you a spot.

K-Paul’s Sweet Potato Pecan Pie, Updated with a Kick (one 9” pie)

First things, first: roast 2 or 3 sweet potatoes in the oven. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins and puree in a food processor. (You will need 2 cups of sweet potato puree; you want it smooth, not pasty, so don’t overdo.)

The crust:
1¼ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
generous pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup cold unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
½ cup chilled non-hydrogenated shortening, cut in small cubes
3-4 tablespoons fresh orange juice, chilled

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, place the flour, salt, sugar, nutmeg and orange zest. Add the butter and shortening, pulsing just until the mixture becomes crumbly. Don’t over process. Turn the mixture into a large mixing bowl and using a fork, add the orange juice combining gently just until the mixture forms a soft dough. If it’s a touch dry, you can add a bit more orange juice. Pat the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. When the dough has chilled, roll out on a lightly floured piece of parchment and fit it into a 9”x 1½” deep pie plate. (It is important that the pie plate is at least 1½” deep- if you use a shallower pan, the filling will overflow and you don’t want that.)  Crimp the edges and place the unbaked shell back in the fridge.

The filling:
2 cups of sweet potato puree
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¾ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon Sriracha
3 eggs
1 yolk

Pecan Syrup:
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark corn syrup
1 small egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
¾ cup pecan halves

To assemble: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

A few words about the oven temp and time. The original recipe has you bake the pie for 1¾ hours at 325 degrees. I prefer to start the pie at 350 to set up the crust. After 25 minutes, I reduce the heat to 325 and bake the pie for an additional 35-40 minutes. Every oven is different- check the pie to make sure the edges aren’t getting too brown. If they are, cover them with strips of aluminum foil. The K-Paul recipe says the pie will test clean with a knife when fully baked. I think the center should jiggle just slightly, as the pie continues to set up as it cools. 

In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with 4 tablespoons of butter. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Add the brown sugar and spices to the sweet potatoes. Then add the heavy cream, vanilla, zest, bourbon and Sriracha. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the yolk; blend them into the sweet potato mixture.

Prepare the pecan syrup by combining the sugar, corn syrup, egg, melted butter, vanilla and salt until the sugar dissolves and it is well blended. Stir in the pecans.

Turn the sweet potato mixture into the chilled pie crust, smooth the top with an offset spatula and place on a baking sheet. Carefully and slowly pour the pecan syrup evenly over the top of the pie. A bit will sink into the filling. (Depending on the depth of your pie plate, you may have a bit of extra syrup. Don’t overfill the pie plate.) Bake the pie for 25 minutes at 350 degrees on the bottom shelf of your oven. Reduce the temperature to 325 degrees, move the baking sheet to the middle rack of the oven and bake for an additional 35-40 minutes. The pecans will rise to the top as the pie bakes. The edges should be firm, the center should jiggle ever so slightly.  Let cool and serve with Frangelico whipped cream.

Frangelico Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Frangelico

In a chilled bowl with an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Add the Frangelico and beat on high just until the cream forms stiff peaks.