A PI OF PIES

More or less. Here you see them. A little over three, but probably not 3.14159… pies, exactly.

I posted this photo of our Thanksgiving pies to Facebook, and several friends wrote to me to ask for the recipes. So to the best of my ability, here it goes.

The recipes for the chocolate pecan and pumpkin are pretty exact. The apple-orange pie is more of a method description. All pies here were prepared with extensive help of Younger Daughter, who was responsible for most assembly, and all crust styling. The apple-orange and pecan pies used a home-made traditional lard crust (recipe at the end of this post), but you may sub in any crust you prefer. The pumpkin has its own very temperamental butter crust. Others may also be used, but the feisty butter crust is well worth the effort to attempt.

All of these pies were made in 9-inch glass pie plates, set on heavy, rimmed baking sheets. They were baked on the lowest rack of a convection oven, and baking times are set for that. If you use a metal pan all of these may take less time to bake. If you use a pre-made shell in a disposable aluminum pan, it may take even less time. Watch your pies carefully to forestall burning.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

This recipe is a smash-up among several, including a yummy brown butter pecan pie posted at Cookie Madness, the chocolate pecan pie recipe from The New York Times, and various other pecan pies/chocolate pies clawed from my collection of recipe books. While the Cookie Madness pie was luscious, it tended to not set firmly, even when overbaked. And the NYT pie worked well enough, but was rather under-nutted and a bit short on depth of flavor. The others were variants on a light corn syrup/dark corn syrup combo, and were often much sweeter than I prefer.

Ingredients
  • One 9-inch open face pie crust (no top crust), unbaked.
  • About 2 cups of pecans, sorted into beautiful whole halves, and the broken bits. There should be at least 1.5 cups of broken bits. The rest are decorative, so the exact quantity is up to you. If frugality requires, just use the 1.5 cups and decorate with pastry scrap cutouts instead.
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter (NOT margarine)
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate (about 56 grams)
  • 3/4 cup dark brown corn syrup
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/4 Tbs cocoa (actual cocoa, not hot chocolate mix)
  • OPTIONAL – 2 Tbs bourbon
  • OPTIONAL – Handful of chopped bittersweet chocolate, or chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Method
  1. Ready your chosen pie shell. It does NOT need to be pre-baked.
  2. Preheat oven to 350-deg F.
  3. Place pecans on a baking tray in a single layer and toast until fragrant. This will take only a couple of minutes, and they burn easily, so watch them carefully.
  4. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Let it brown slightly, the color should be like light oak – not pretzels. Remove from heat and let rest for a couple of minutes until the pan cools off a bit but is still warm.
  5. Put chocolate into the pan with the hot, browned butter. Stir until melted and combined. Set aside on the counter to cool a bit more. 15 min is plenty. The butter/chocolate mixture should still be liquid and warm to the touch, but not hot.
  6. Whisk together the eggs, corn syrup, vanilla, bourbon, sugar, and salt.
  7. Whisk in the cocoa powder, make sure there are no lumps.
  8. Add the melted butter/chocolate, and stir until uniform in color.
  9. Place the unbaked pie shell on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking tray. Lining it with parchment or a silicon sheet will make cleanup later easier, and spare your oven if the filling splashes or bubbles over.
  10. Scatter the broken pecans evenly in the pie shell. If using the optional handful of chips or chopped chocolate, sprinkle that over the nuts.
  11. Slowly and carefully, pour your filling mix over the pecans and optional chips. You want to fill carefully so you don’t move the nuts around as you do so.
  12. Arrange the reserved whole half nuts over the top in any decorative manner you desire. It can be full coverage like ours, a ring around the rim, stripes, or anything you want given the quantity of nice pieces to hand. If you are pecan-challenged, you can use dough scraps cut into fancy shapes to decorate. Or just let it be plain.
  13. Bake at 350-degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is just set and the pastry is nicely colored.
  14. Cool before serving, preferably on a wire rack. Whipped cream is the expected accompaniment.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I originally got this pie recipe from the Washington Post, 23 November 1986. I do not see it in their on line archives.

The original called for one standard 16 oz can of pumpkin. Since it was written, standard cans of pumpkin have shrunken to 14 or 15 oz. depending on the maker. Scaling back the recipe to account for less pumpkin hasn’t worked for me, nor has buying two cans and having most of the second one left over. Instead we roast small sugar pumpkins in the oven until they are soft, then scrape out the flesh and freeze it in plastic bags, of 16 oz (weighed on a kitchen scale). One thawed out bag = one pie. And the roasted sugar pumpkins have a better flavor than the tinned stuff.

Warnings

The butter crust is extremely fussy to make, and even harder to transfer into the pie plate. It MUST be done the night before and fridged prior to use, and it has an alarming tendency to slump during blind baking. But it is especially tender and delicious, and really puts this pie over the top.

The recipe always makes MORE filling than fits in a standard 9-inch pie plate or a 10-inch quiche pan. I always have a “sidecar” – leftovers baked either in a mini crust (if I have extra crust left over from another recipe – the butter crust is JUST enough for one open face pie); or poured without a crust into an oven-safe ramekin and baked as a mini pumpkin “custard.”

Ingredients

For the butter crust

  • 1 1/2 cups unsifted flour, preferably refrigerated
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick of butter, very cold (NOT margarine)
  • 1 Tbs white granulated sugar
  • 1 yolk from extra-large size egg, very cold (save the white for the filling, below)
  • 2 Tbs ice water

For the filling

  • 3 extra-large eggs plus the white left over from the crust
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar plus 1 Tbs flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
  • 1/3 tsp allspice
  • 1 Tbs molasses
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 16 oz. pureed pumpkin (canned or home-made)
  • 1 3/4 cup light cream at room temperature
Method

For the crust

  1. Preheat oven to 425-degrees F.
  2. Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two knives, until the butter lumps are about lentil size. Blend butter and flour bits with fingertips to flake.
  3. Sprinkle with sugar and stir in.
  4. Combine yolk and 2 Tbs ice water. Mix this quickly into the dough.
  5. Press dough into a round cake, cover, and chill. The original recipe said for a half hour. I’ve found overnight is better.
  6. Roll out dough and fill deep dish pie pan or quiche pan. Dough will be very poorly behaved. It will require a lot of flour as you roll, and you’ll probably end up piecing it in the pan instead of transferring it as one unbroken sheet. Try to have enough overlap on the top edge of the pie plate to prevent sagging.
  7. Layer with a sheet of aluminum foil and fill with pie weights, beans, or pennies. (Fill to the top because the thing has a nasty habit of sagging if baked unsupported).
  8. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven for 12 minutes. Turn down the oven to 375-degrees, remove foil and pie weights, and bake for another 12 minutes. Shell will be very blonde, but will have lost the “raw” look. Set aside to cool for at least an hour before filling.

For the filling, and final baking

Note that you will probably have more filling than fits in one pie. If you have extra crust, make a “sidecar” in a ramekin or small oven proof dish. Or just pour the extra into a ramekin, small glass or other ceramic oven-safe dessert-size dish and bake as directed below.

  1. Preheat oven to 425-degrees F.
  2. Using a very large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.
  3. Beat in the sugars.
  4. Blend in spices.
  5. Stir in molasses and vanilla.
  6. Beat in the pumpkin.
  7. Whisk in the cream.
  8. Stir very slowly for a minute or two to dissipate bubbles.
  9. Place the pre-baked pie shell on a rimmed cookie sheet. Lining it first with baking parchment or a silicon sheet will simplify cleanup later.
  10. Slowly pour the filling mix into the pie pan, until it fills the shell to about 1/2 to 1/4 inch from the top. You will have leftover as mentioned above. Pour that into your sidecar container (with crust or without)
  11. Poke any bubbles on the surface of the pie/sidecar with a toothpick to burst.
  12. Bake pie and sidecar in lower third of a preheated 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325-degrees and bake for another 25 minutes. The sidecar should be done, with a set center, and should be removed now. Leave the main pie in the oven for another 15 minutes until the center is set.
  13. Let the pie cool for at least an hour before serving. Can be served warm, but it’s better if the pie sets up a bit more. A splat of real whipped cream on top is a family must-do.

Apple-Orange Pie aka “Son of Anonymous Apple Pie*”

This pie is a tribute to two friends of ours. both excellent cooks. One taught us basic apple pie procedures, and would host an annual pie-fest where she made them by the dozens, to freeze and bake throughout the year. The other was a keen researcher, and avid baker who dabbled in commercial cooking ventures. She redacted a historical recipe for an apple pie that was punched up with thin slices of candied bitter orange. I blend their two techniques together, but take the easy way out by using marmalade.

You can make this as a traditional full double-crust covered pie, but this year Younger Daughter hit upon using a lattice. I think the extra venting of the lattice yielded a firmer, less soupy, better textured filling, and minimized the boil-over that often happens with juicy apple pies.

Ingredients
  • Enough pie crust for a 9-inch covered pie, or a lattice pie, as you prefer
  • Six to seven firm baking apples. Cortland, Empire, Granny Smith or other tart varieties that hold shape are preferred. Avoid Delicious, Gala, Macoun and other sweet, softer eating apples.
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of cinnamon (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • About 6 oz orange marmalade. Use only a kind made with sugar, not fructose. I recommend Bon Mamman Orange Marmalade (this is a little bit less than half a jar). 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (not margarine)
  • Juice from one small lemon.
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees F
  2. Roll out your bottom crust and place it in a 9-inch glass pie plate. Prepare your chosen top crust (full closed pie, or lattice). Place both in the fridge while you prep the pie filling.
  3. Peel, core and slice the apples. To keep them from browning, as you work place the apple slices in a big bowl of cold water along with half of the lemon juice.
  4. Mix the cinnamon with the granulated sugar and kosher salt.
  5. Take the bottom crust out of the fridge, and liberally spread its inside and walls with marmalade.
  6. Take the apple slices out of the lemon water and toss them in a large bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel, to remove most of the wetness. They don’t need to be bone dry, but they should not be dripping.
  7. Tightly layer about a third of the apples in the bottom crust. Sprinkle them with about a third of the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Dot with chunks of about a third of the butter, and with scattered dollups of marmalade. Repeat twice more until all of the filling ingredients have been used up.
  8. Optional – if you like a tart pie, sprinkle about a tablespoon or two of lemon juice over the filling.
  9. Assemble your pie, using either a whole top crust or a lattice. If you are using a top crust, make sure to create at least three large vent holes for steam to escape. Decorate at will if you desire (but don’t clog the vent holes).
  10. Put the ready-to-bake pie on a rimmed baking sheet (preferably on baking parchment or a silicon mat for ease of clean-up). This pie WILL bubble over and make a mess of your oven otherwise. Guaranteed.
  11. Bake in the bottom third of your oven at 375-degrees for about 45 minutes, until the top and bottom are nicely colored, and juices have bubbled for at least 10 minutes. Glass pie plates make it easy to see if the bottom has browned. In all cases, and especially if you are using metal pie pans or pre-made crusts in aluminum pans, begin hovering and watching for done-ness at the 35 min mark. The pie is ready when a skewer inserted into it reveals that the apples inside are soft and easily pierced and the pastry is a pale gold.
  12. Cool before slicing. May be served warm, room temperature, or chilled. Whipped cream, ice cream, or other extras are always appreciated.

* If you are very good, I’ll explain “Anonymous Apple Pie.”
But that veers off into local SCA folklore.

Lard Pie Crust

This is the crust recipe I used for the apple-orange and pecan pies. It makes a very generous double-crust pie with lots left over for decoration, or enough for one less generous double-crust pie shell, plus one single crust shell. I double the recipe below when I bake pies, and use the extra for the sidecar, plus I have enough left over for a half-dozen pastries.

This recipe is closely adapted from several sources, including Sylvia’s Perfect Pie Crust, from the Tasty Kitchen blog.

Ingredients
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups lard, well chilled from the fridge.
  • 5 Tbs ice water
  • 1 Tbs white vinegar
  • 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt. 1 tsp if using regular table salt
Method
  1. Place the flour in a very large mixing bowl. Sprinkle it with all the salt. Cut the cold lard into cubes roughly an inch square and place them on top of the flour. With a pastry cutter, or two knives, cut the lard into the flour until the mix is uniform and the crumbs are about the size of raw oatmeal. Do not use your fingertips or the lard will warm up and the pastry will get sticky.
  2. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg, then pour it over the flour-lard-salt mix. Sprinkle with the vinegar, then with the icewater.
  3. Stir the mix until the dough comes together. Divide the resulting ball in thirds, and form into three flat disks. Wrap each one in plastic wrap or put it in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least an hour, better overnight. If desired, you can freeze the disks to use later, letting them thaw for an hour before rolling out.
  4. When ready to shape for your pie, sprinkle your VERY CLEAN countertop with flour and roll out with a rolling pin, starting at the center and working out, rotating the dough to maintain as circular a shape as possible. You may need to flour the top of the dough and your rolling pin, and use a bench scraper or spatula to free the dough from the counter as you go, especially in warmer weather or a hot kitchen. Continue until your circle is about a half-inch wider than the top of your pie plate, then transfer it to the pie pan and pat it into shape, fluting or pinching the top or otherwise decorating as desired.
  5. If you need to prebake/blind bake your shell, do so in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, until it just colors and no longer looks raw. Lining the empty shell with aluminum foil and using pie weights/beans/pennies for pre-baking will help keep it from slumping or bubbling up.

2 responses

  1. Oh my Pie! I love pie, and I’m always disappointed in any Pumpkin Pie recipe that uses canned pumpkin. This year I had too many butternuts from the garden, and used them. It makes a lovely velvety textured pie. I also never use canned milk, and I use heavy cream. The pies were so successful, today I’m baking a second batch! I’m going to check the freezer and see if there’s enough pecans left to have a go at your recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks so much for the recipes, Kim! I haven’t seen or tasted a lard pie crust in over 50 years, IMHO they are better tasting and healthier than the pie crusts available today.

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