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 325 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 325 degree oven for approximately 1 hour. (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.
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)
1⅓ 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark corn syrup
1 small egg, room temperature
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
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.
Neil’s Brandied Pumpkin Pie (makes one 10” pie)
Neil is my oldest sibling and a brilliantly funny fellow. Singlehandedly, he is the one responsible for creating uncontrollable fits of laughter around the dining room table. On more than one occasion, my sister and I were asked to excuse ourselves; it’s hard to eat dinner when you are laughing so hard you are crying. Thanks, Neil.
For the crust:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
4 tablespoons of ice water (you may need an additional 1½ teaspoons of ice water)
1½ teaspoons cider vinegar
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, place the flour, salt and sugar. Add the butter to the flour and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Empty this into a large bowl. Combine 3 tablespoons of ice water with the cider vinegar and drizzle this over the flour mixture. Gently stir with a fork, or your fingers, adding the additional 1½ teaspoons of water if needed, until the mixture forms a shaggy dough. Gather the dough together and shape it into a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. When ready to roll the dough, let it sit at room temperature to soften just a bit so it’s cool but not cold. Lightly dust a sheet of parchment paper with flour, roll the dough into a circle about 14” in diameter and about ⅛” thick. Gently transfer the dough to a 10” pie plate. Carefully lift the outer edges of the dough so there is a bit of slack lining the sides of the pie plate. You do not want to stretch the dough. Trim the overhang of dough to an inch from the rim of the pan. Roll the dough under itself and crimp the edges. Chill the shell for 30 minutes. (You can also cover it with plastic wrap and chill it overnight.)
For the filling: (adapted from Gourmet magazine 1992)
Turn your oven on to 375 degrees while you prepare the filling.
2 cups pumpkin (I use canned)
⅔ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
⅔ cup milk
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
¼ cup Cognac or brandy
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Add the heavy cream, milk, eggs, vanilla and Cognac. Whisk just until the filling is smooth and pour the filling into the chilled pie shell. Set on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is set but the center jiggles slightly. The pie will continue to set as it cools. Place the pie on a rack to cool completely.
The newly repaired espresso machine malfunctioned on Tuesday. Sure, one can drink drip coffee in times of crisis. But the week before Thanksgiving? ! These were desperate times, or as one of our regular espresso drinking patrons whispered to me, “No espresso? Call 9-1-1.”
The dates on the incoming dairy order whisper December, but the gallons of heavy cream towards the front of the fridge indicate it is the third week of November. We are icing sugar cookies that resemble turkeys and drumsticks and pilgrim hats. A strange sense of déjà vu overtakes me and the ringing of the bakery phone sounds suspiciously like the phone that rings in my dreams.
I dream of pie on a regular basis, but this week the dreams have taken on a slightly Hitchcockian quality. Lately, I have been haunted by a recurring dream that is slightly out of focus. The room spins in black and white and a rotary phone rings in the distance. A calendar hangs on the wall declaring, “November” but there are no days of the week, no numbers. The large convection oven has a temperature dial that is blurry and the white tubs of baking powder, baking soda and cornstarch simply say Baking. The only thing that is in blindingly living color is a 5 lb. bag of ice-crusted cranberries. I try to protect my hands from the bitter cold of the bag by wearing oven mitts. The bag has a hole in the bottom and the cranberries are falling through the hole, berry by berry. One thing is crystal clear; I am not wearing a pilgrim hat, I am wearing a brown bandana. A few have suggested these night terrors are anxiety driven, stress related. Begrudgingly, I have to agree.
In real life, the next 7 days are careening towards organized chaos. I am still reeling from this week’s Baker’s Math exam. In an attempt to calculate the correct number of 5 lb. bags of cranberries needed for 75 apple/cranberry pies, I am forced to do conversions. Cups to ounces and ounces back to pounds; a true Baker can do this without benefit of a Smartphone. I’m starting to feel dizzy estimating the number of pecan halves and pieces necessary to fill 100 pie shells. I quietly bow out of the how many cases of eggs/butter/pumpkin equation, busying myself with not answering the incessant phone. I’m distracted by a recipe that is tucked away in the recesses of my brain’s recipe Rolodex. There is a recipe for a Turtle Tart from Slice of Heaven that calls to me on my direct line. The pecan halves and pieces word problem will have to wait.
The original Turtle Tart featured a rich layer of caramel and pecans on top of a shortbread crust, with a dark chocolate ganache glaze. On Tuesday, when the espresso machine was down and out, I was despondently sipping my cup of drip coffee au lait and glancing at an online recipe for Pumpkin Caramel. It seemed to me that Turtle Tart should definitely send Pumpkin Caramel a Friend Request. (This is what happens when your espresso supply is suddenly terminated and you are suffering from Third Week of November Disorder.)
As I count down to next Thursday, Nutty Pumpkin Caramel Pie inches its way towards the Thanksgiving dessert table. The only thing it asks of you is an accurate candy thermometer and a bit of patience. (Vanilla ice cream and a few Honeycrisp apples for garnish will add to the festivities.) Fortunately, this is a pie that can be made a few days in advance, wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated. Which frees up some of us for the Herculean pie task at hand. And after that? To sleep. Perchance, not to dream.
Pa's "No One Ever Bakes Me A Pie" Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust
For the man who believes hot things should be served hot, cold things cold and Thanksgiving requires both pumpkin and pecan pies à la vanilla ice cream, here’s a pie to usher in the holiday week. The cheddar cheese crust blurs the line between dessert and breakfast, which is totally appropriate for the man who taught me the importance of breakfast pie. Thanks, Dad.
Yields one 9” double crust pie
Cheddar Cheese Pie Crust (adapted from King Arthur Flour)
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons sugar
8 oz. (2 sticks) of cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, frozen until firm
¼ cup ice water plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (you may need an additional teaspoon or two of cold water)
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse together the flour, salt and sugar. Add the cold butter and cheese, and pulse just until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Turn this mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the ice water/apple cider vinegar mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, gently combining the dry mixture with the liquid, until the dough comes together. If you feel it needs an additional teaspoon or two of cold water, add it. Shape the dough into two discs, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour before rolling out.
Apple Pie Filling
3 medium sized Granny Smith apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 medium sized Rome or Cortland or McIntosh apples (about 2 pounds)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons cornstarch
egg wash made from one egg yolk mixed with two tablespoons of heavy cream
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar for sprinkling the crust
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll one disc of dough on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper into a 12” circle. Transfer the dough to a 9” pie plate, roll and crimp the edges. Refrigerate. Roll out the second disc of dough on a lightly floured sheet of parchment into a circle measuring about 10 or 11” and place this on a baking sheet. Refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
Peel, core and slice the apples into ½ “ wedges. Toss the apples with the lemon juice and lemon zest. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugars, the cinnamon and the cornstarch. Sprinkle this over the apple slices, turning to coat with a rubber spatula. Turn the fruit mixture into the chilled pie shell, slightly mounding the fruit in the center and tucking the apples in close together. Drape the second disc of dough over the filling without stretching. Press the edges together and trim the excess. Roll the edges of dough so they are flush with the rim of the pie plate. Using lightly floured fingers or a lightly floured fork, crimp the edges. Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash, use a sharp knife to cut four slits on top of the pie to allow steam to escape, then sprinkle the top of the crust with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Place the pie on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover the edges of the pie with strips of aluminum foil to prevent them from overbrowning, and bake on the bottom rack of your oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees, bake for an additional 45-50 minutes, until the pie is bubbling in the center and the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and allow the pie to rest for at least 3 hours.
A few words on apples and ovens…
Depending on the size of the apples you use, you should have between 7 and 8 cups of apple slices. I don’t like the pie to be overly sweet- you may prefer a touch more sugar in the filling.
Every oven is different; I start my pie at 400 degrees and reduce the heat to 375. If you feel that the crust is getting too brown, you can drape a piece of aluminum foil over the pie or you can lower the heat to 350 which will result in additional baking time. Test the pie for doneness using the tip of a small knife; you want the center of the pie to be bubbling and the apple slices to yield with just the slightest bit of give. You don’t want crunchy, but you don’t want applesauce.
Many things suggest the onslaught of Thanksgiving but nothing more clearly than the assault of the cinnamon broom at the entrance to Trader Joe’s.
In my pre-holiday Eeyore state of mind, I must push the pause button on yams and gourds. Following a day icing cookies that resemble feathered turkeys and slices of pumpkin pie, the Ameri- Color Soft Gel Paste in Electric Orange has tinted my right thumb. As of this writing, my thumb refuses to return to its natural flesh tone. I have a slight left ankle limp resulting from several close encounters with a case of Libby pumpkin in #10 cans. My knuckles have been nicked zesting citrus of the orange variety. Not only is this a hazardous time of year, I am in desperate need of a hiatus from my November color palette. Who to turn to? I shall seek refuge in the sassy cranberry. Besides, I desperately need the freezer space.
Granted, my vision is blurred by rounds and rounds of all butter pie crust, towering 9” pie plates and clouds of all-purpose flour hovering over the bakers bench. I've grown impatient listening to folks talking Heritage, Heirloom, Organic and Kosher. Except for the Gluten-free Thursday crowd who persist in trying to order pies for the holiday. Why can’t we bake something sans butter, sans flour? Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll take a pass on the pie slice sporting an intricately woven xanthum gum and brown rice flour lattice.
Thanksgiving is notoriously centered around extended tables, cloaked in monogrammed linen that requires ironing. Drippy candles will leave behind blisters of wax and cranberry sauce will stain napkins dot-to-dot scarlet. Year after year families assemble, squeezing in extra folding chairs, mismatching place settings. We complain about too many side dishes, the right vs. the wrong kind of stuffing, the best way to thicken the gravy and whether you need vanilla ice cream with the pies. Apparently, you do. Added note: the perfectly adequate day-to-day Chemex coffee pot will not suffice. Most guests will ask for decaf, the spunky in the group will demand caffeine and within a very short time, everyone will be as overstuffed as the sofa. Those not washing dishes will seek out a safe haven where they can nod off. (Unless you sat at the Kids Table and you are in the midst of eating the milk chocolate turkey, foil and all.) Despite popular belief, carbohydrates, not tryptophan will null and void the caffeine. Yes, of course we are thankful, but I wonder if we should consider changing the name of the holiday to Carbogiving?
Imagining more than a jiggerful of fun and just a splash of dysfunction as families gather, I will focus on my task at hand and my rolling pin in hand. Personally, I hanker for a small serving of something pie-like. Not by the slice, but preferably by the bite. Something portable, requiring nothing more than one's palm as an adequate plate.
This week I am turning my attention to breakfast and a vehicle where cranberries play the lead and tender sour cream pastry lands the supporting role. There will be plenty of time for Big Pie in the next two weeks. But not today. Today I am all about little bites leaving behind tiny crumbs that can be swept away with my ordinary, non-cinnamon scented bristle broom.
It has been one week since the Great Pumpkin rose out of the pumpkin patch, delivering candy to all of the good little boys and girls. Forgive me, Great Pumpkin for turning a cold shoulder on Halloween and forgive me, Neighborhood Trick or Treaters for turning my back on you. It was not my original intent to keep the entire bag of Halloween Pretzels (individual packages of Bats & Jacks) plus the mega-assortment of Heath Bar, Almond Joy, Malted Milk Balls and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups all to myself. I didn’t mean to get home late, long after the Great Pumpkin had made his rounds, but I did. Sorry. Not sorry.
Last Saturday I had won a highly coveted Saturday off and was determined to get out of town. The combination of salty pretzels and chocolate-y peanut butter cups provided my road trip bliss. A girl needs sustenance as she travels the rain drenched Garden State Parkway en route to the Massachusetts Turnpike. Destination? Boston. Host? Master/Master in his new studio digs. Brunch was called for noon, and although I was more than a little bit late, I was armed with enough Halloween sweets to feed the gaggle of Young Musical Scholars assembled in the cozy (translation- small) apartment.
As we sat knee to knee, balancing plates of Nutella and Bacon-Stuffed French toast, the conversation turned from travel to baked goods, from Halloween to Thanksgiving. Between forkfuls of sweet potato hash and sips of spicy Bloody Mary’s, I shared a recent stranger-than-truth story from the bakery. One of my co-workers had recently attended a Halloween party where the featured attraction was a piñata. Not just any old candy-filled crepe paper piñata, this piñata was, as we say in the kitchen, en flambé. A flaming donkey piñata- I had never heard of such a thing. Neither had anyone else in the room. We tried to understand the thinking behind it and came up with nothing. I seized the opportunity to pass around my collection of Halloween candy the old fashioned way. No piñata, no flames.
At one point, we started to talk about Thanksgiving and foodstuffs gathering together. More specifically potatoes and gravy and vegetables. The general consensus was mashed potatoes and gravy were not only agreeable on the same plate, they could share one space. Sweet potatoes and gravy? Not allowed to touch. Stuffing could touch gravy, but gravy should not lean on vegetables. But Nutella could touch bacon?! Absolutely. (Unless you were a vegetarian and you didn’t eat bacon and then you probably would not have been on Saturday’s brunch guest list.) One of the guests admitted to a long held belief in Separate but Equal plating, meaning No Touching. I suggested she check out the tv dinner section of her grocer’s freezer. There were entire lines of meals dedicated to her philosophy with segregated aluminum foil dinner plates to match.
With Thanksgiving mere weeks away, I wondered what constitutes holiday dessert harmony? There’s a bevy of holiday pies where apples cozy up to squash and sweet potatoes go nuts with pumpkin. Where does that leave pie à la mode? Touching? Leaning? Melting? And don’t get anybody started on fruitcake. Fruitcake is something that many people would like to see set on fire.
I didn’t have the heart to bring up Mince pie because people get that fruitcake look when you mention it. The meatless, modern version of Mince is spicy and boozy and filled with perfectly identifiable fruits making it a quintessential holiday pie. It deserves its rightful place on the Thanksgiving Pie Podium. I like to combine a layer of mince beneath a maple buttermilk custard. With a nod to this week’s flaming piñata, you will be pleased to see I crown the pie with a layer of caramelized sugar that is bruléed. Go ahead, call me a holiday pie rule breaker. It’s what I do.
I am not the only one. Today marked Day One of Thanksgiving Pie order taking. And right off the bat, someone engaged me in conversation, trying to bend the rules. Would I bake her pie Thanksgiving morning so it would be fresh and what time could she pick it up? And what other flavors are we going to make? So it begins. Which is why, on the morning of the 27th, you will find me hunkered down in my pajamas, suffering from Post Traumatic Pie Disorder, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And quite possibly, eating a slice of pie for breakfast.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm