Let the good pies roll

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FOOD - By San­dra Bar­rera and Rob Low­man

You can call it Thanks­giv­ing, but around here we know it as National Pie Day. And that means one thing: The pres­sure to pro­duce the flaki­est, but­ter­i­est crust and swoon-wor­thy fill­ing is on. Gulp.

Luck­ily, three of the coun­try’s top bak­ing ex­perts — Kate McDer­mott, Mark Bittman and Alanna Tay­lor-Tobin — want to help. They’re out to de­bunk ev­ery piemak­ing myth and re­claim the true mean­ing of the old id­iom: Mak­ing pie, they say, should be just as easy as eat­ing it.

From their new cook­books, we’ve plucked three pies — a crowd-pleas­ing maple, a clas­sic pecan and a pump­kin pie with an earthy buck­wheat crust — that can be made with­out break­ing a sweat. Whether you’re a sea­soned pie hand or a begin­ner with more en­thu­si­asm than ex­pe­ri­ence, you’ll find these recipes re­fresh­ing, be­cause they advocate con­fi­dence and flex­i­bil­ity over the chem­istry like pre­ci­sion of typ­i­cal pas­try cook­books.

McDer­mott’s pie-mak­ing phi­los­o­phy is so zen, in fact, that devo­tees call her the “pie-chi­a­trist.” Among the most im­por­tant ad­vice in her de­but cook­book, “Art of the Pie: A Prac­ti­cal Guide to Home­made Crusts, Fill­ings, and Life” (Coun­try­man Press, $35, 352 pages): Keep ev­ery­thing chilled. Re­spect the bound­aries. Re­mem­ber to vent.

“I’m a big fan of com­mon sense,” says McDer­mott, who has been teach­ing pie-mak­ing since 2008. “Don’t over­work your dough. If a piece of fat looks big, break it down. And just re­mem­ber, if (the crust) doesn’t turn out right, break it up and you’ve got the best crum­ble.”

Per­haps that pi­o­neer spirit is the rea­son why thou­sands flock to her pie camps in Port An­ge­les,

Washington, in­clud­ing for­mer Gourmet editor Ruth Re­ichl, who called bak­ing with McDer­mott “a lib­er­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Per­fec­tion? Give that one up, McDer­mott in­sists.

“Just make a pie with your heart and your hands and look at ev­ery crack and tear as part of your beau­ti­ful life,” McDer­mott says.

The se­cret to her gor­geous, her­ring­bone-crust pecan pie is to buy the fresh­est nuts you can find. Re­serve the pret­ti­est un­bro­ken halves for gar­nish. And watch to make sure the pecans don’t brown too much dur­ing bak­ing.

“I think that mak­ing pie dough is a lot sim­pler than peo­ple think,” she says. “It gets a bad rap. Just try. You’ll find that mak­ing pie is re­ally sat­is­fy­ing.”

Mark Bittman is just as pas­sion­ate about bring­ing back the joy in bak­ing. In his en­cy­clo­pe­dic “How to Bake Ev­ery­thing: Sim­ple Recipes for the Best Bak­ing” (Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, $35, 703 pages), the for­mer New York Times food writer il­lus­trates — in 2,000 straight­for­ward, easy-to-fol­low recipes and step-by-step il­lus­tra­tions — that the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and im­pro­vi­sa­tion used when cook­ing should be ap­plied to bak­ing, as well.

“This false di­vi­sion be­tween cook­ing and bak­ing — that one is art and the other is sci­ence — needs to stop,” Bittman says. “Sure, you have to mea­sure. You have to watch the clock. But we need to take the fear and mys­ti­fi­ca­tion out of bak­ing. Just re­lax.”

Don’t care to pinch but­ter and flour be­tween your fin­gers? Use a food pro­ces­sor, like Bittman does, to achieve an evenly blended and ten­der dough. Re­frig­er­ate for at least one hour to make sure the dough is firm enough to roll. Fi­nally, roll it out be­tween two sheets of parch­ment pa­per to pre­vent stick­ing and make clean-up a cinch.

His maple pie, sweet­ened only with maple syrup, is a sim­ple yet un­ex­pected stand-in, he says, for pecan, ap­ple or even pump­kin pie dur­ing the hol­i­days. And, like all of Bittman’s pies, it can be per­son­al­ized for any lifestyle. Pressed for time? For­get the pas­try dough and sim­ply crush your fa­vorite cook­ies into a crust.

If you’re gluten-free or sim­ply looking to broaden your bak­ing chops, look no fur­ther than Alanna Tay­lorTobin’s “Al­ter­na­tive Baker: Rein­vent­ing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours” (Page Street, $25, 271 pages). Tay­lor-Tobin is a clas­si­cally trained pas­try

chef (for­merly of Quince, Far­al­lon, and Destino) and founder of the pop­u­lar recipe web­site, The Bo­jon Gourmet.

Her beau­ti­fully pho­tographed (yes, she’s also a photographer and for­mer New York Times food stylist) de­but is ded­i­cated to grain-based al­ter­na­tive flours that are packed with fla­vor and nutrients. In the right com­bi­na­tion — specif­i­cally, a blend of sweet white rice flour, oat flour and ground white chia seeds — they pro­duce beau­ti­ful pie dough.

Her ab­so­lute fa­vorite pie — and the show­stop­per at her Thanks­giv­ing ta­ble — is pump­kin en­cased in a dark, al­most char­coal-hued buck­wheat crust, which pro­duces a su­per flaky crust that stays crisp longer than you’d guess, Tay­lor-Tobin says.

“Buck­wheat has this lovely fla­vor that is earthy and re­minds me of toasted hazel­nuts and choco­late,” she says. “It’s a great com­ple­ment to sweet pump­kin.”

While the recipe is one of the more advanced in the cook­book — she prefers toast­ing her buck­wheat groats and roast­ing her own but­ter­nut squash — there are ways to save time. You can use canned pump­kin puree, for in­stance. Just give it a brief cook on the stove with the spices and sweet­en­ers to evap­o­rate ex­cess mois­ture

and meld the fla­vors.

Plus side? It is im­pos­si­ble to over­work gluten­free dough the way you can with wheat dough, so don’t be afraid to man­han­dle it a bit. “When it breaks or tears, just squish it back to­gether and keep go­ing,” she says.

Note to read­ers: Below is Kate McDer­mott’s Pecan Pie recipe. For Mark Bittman’s Maple Pie recipe and Alanna Tay­lor-Tobin’s Pump­kin Pie With a Gluten-Free Buck­wheat Crust, please go to www.dai­ly­lo­cal.com.

Pecan Pie

Makes one 9-inch shal­low pie

Note: Buy the fresh­est nuts you can find. Re­serve some of the nicest-looking un­bro­ken halves for gar­nish. Watch to make sure the pecans don’t overly brown dur­ing the bake.

IN­GRE­DI­ENTS

1 recipe sin­gle-crust pie dough 3 large eggs 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

½ cup dark corn syrup or pure maple syrup, or a com­bi­na­tion of both ¼ tea­spoon salt 1 tea­spoon vanilla ex­tract 4 ta­ble­spoons Ken­tucky bour­bon or dark rum, or 1 ta­ble­spoon rum fla­vor­ing

¼ cup salted but­ter, melted

At least 2 cups shelled pecans,

bro­ken or chopped into pieces, plus pecan halves to gar­nish

IN­STRUC­TIONS

1. Heat the oven to 375 de­grees.

2. Roll out a pie shell and place it in a pie pan. Trim ex­cess dough from the edges and crimp.

3. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl un­til they are light-col­ored and fluffy. Add the brown sugar, syrup, salt, vanilla and bour­bon. Stir with big wooden spoon un­til the sugar is dis­solved and the in­gre­di­ents are thor­oughly mixed.

4. Stir in the melted but­ter and pecans.

5. Pour the mix­ture into the pie shell and gar­nish with pecan halves. Bake on a mid­dle oven rack for 45 to 50 min­utes; there should be a slight jig­gle in the cen­ter of the pie. Cool the pie on a wire rack.

6. Serve slices with a dol­lop of sweet­ened whipped cream fla­vored with Ken­tucky bour­bon or dark rum or a scoop of French vanilla ice cream. KATE MCDER­MOTT, “ART OF THE PIE” (COUN­TRY­MAN PRESS, 2016)

PHOTO BY ANDREW SCRIVANI

Left: Pecan pie is clas­sic Thanks­giv­ing fare, but in the hands of Kate McDer­mott, au­thor of “Art of the Pie,” the tra­di­tional treat gets a lit­tle new wave flair.

PHOTO BY ROBERT BREDVAD

Mark Bittman’s Maple Pie re­calls fall fla­vors but adds a new di­men­sion to the Thanks­giv­ing din­ner ta­ble.

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