The mercury has been hovering above the 90 degree mark for too many consecutive days. The kitchen is tropical at best but outside of the bakery, folks have been celebrating with a vengeance. Based on the number of cakes parading out the door, folks are happy if not downright congratulatory. The discussions concerning custom work fondant and ombre ruffles of buttercream have reached a dizzying peak. Maybe the crux of the problem is the array of options. When entertaining the idea of cake for a crowd, there are many choices. Take your pick from circles or squares, rectangles or tiers. Sandwich them together with custards or curds, jams or ganache, then send them on their way gussied up in swirls of buttercream. More times than not, the party cakes I see leaving the building can feed a small army. I have also noticed that pies have been snatched up with such a frenzy that you would almost think it’s that Wednesday before that Thursday in November.
In the world of party pies, anyone who is anyone knows that Slab Pie is what the cool kids are eating this summer. At least that’s the word from the woman seated at a café table in front of the bakery. She is sipping an iced coffee beverage and oversharing in excruciating detail. I am seated nearby eating an Icelandic-style yogurt made by someone named siggi who prefers lowercase to uppercase. I’m half-listening to the conversation but it’s impossible not to hear the entire play by play.
“And then they brought out dessert, and it was this thing called a Slab Pie. It was HUGE, sort of a giant Pop-Tart in this HUGE pan. And they must have cut, I don’t know, a ton of slices. And you didn’t really need a fork to eat it and it was such a good idea, this big SLAB of pie with all this crust, because you know, I’m a crust person…”
Each time the term Slab Pie is mentioned, it strikes a discordant nerve within my Dog-Days-of-August-in-New-Jersey self. Slab Pie is a delicious way to feed an onslaught of fork wielding or barehanded sweet seekers. My complaint is not with the pie. It’s with the notion that a double-crusted pie baked in a jelly-roll pan is a new idea. It is not.
Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook was published in 1965. Among the 700 recipes for sweet and savory pies, 8” and 9”pies are the norm, but every now and again, there are recipes instructing bakers to use cookie sheets or jelly-roll pans. In 1965, many of us were lucky enough to spend time in the kitchen. We grew up knowing that you placed spoonfuls of Toll House cookie dough on cookie sheets. Sponge cake was baked in a jelly-roll pan, turned out onto a clean kitchen towel dusted with powdered sugar and rolled up. It was finally filled with jelly, re-rolled and sliced for dessert.
The authors of Farm Journal’s pie compendium aren’t kidding when they describe their Frosted Big Apple Pie as a “jumbo apple pie for treating a crowd.” This slab pie calls for 5 pounds of apples and is baked in a 15½” x 10½” jelly-roll pan. Yielding 24 servings, the pie pastry recipe makes enough for 1 Frosted Big Apple Pie or 3 double crust 9” pies. There is also a suggestion to “have a pot of coffee ready to pour” with this slab of pie. The ladies of the Farm Journal Test Kitchens strike me as the sort of women that mean business; if they tell me to put the coffee on, they need not ask me twice.
I grew up eating all sorts of pies, dictated by the season. In late summer, Jessie would bypass a traditional pie plate for a jelly-roll pan. It was stored in a cabinet above the oven, wedged in between the cookie sheets and the cooling racks. Unlike her standard flaky pie crust, this was more of a cookie crust. Made tender by the addition of sour cream, the dough was patted into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Ripe yellow peaches were first blanched, allowing the skins to slip off easily, then pitted and saved with their runaway juices in a Pyrex bowl. The kitchen was fragrant with the sweetness of those peaches, of summer. As an onlooker, the entire blanching, peeling, slicing process looked too hot for untrained hands. Jessie’s hands were impervious to the heat as she cut still-hot peaches into thick wedges. The peaches stretched out across one half of the cookie crust, while rows of blueberries tumbled across the other half, the two meeting in the middle. The open-faced pie was shiny with a simple glaze made from the reserved peach skins, pits and juices, boiled down until syrupy with just a hint of almond extract. It was unlike any other pie Jessie made which might have been partly responsible for its celebrity status. The pie was served with big scoops of vanilla ice cream that collided with the warm fruit leaving a puddle of peachy-blue beneath our cake forks. It may very well have been a slab of pie, but it wasn’t eaten out of hand; until the following morning. Moving stealthily through the kitchen, I would slice off a small piece and call it breakfast; my hope was to remove a slice without anyone noticing. I am certain Jessie had some sort of pie radar- she always noticed. “Have you been eatin’ that pie?” she would ask. Guilty.
I have been thinking a lot about that pie this week, maybe because when it gets ghastly hot in the kitchen, I always think about Jessie. I see her sitting at the kitchen table with a tall glass of iced tea, a well-worn cookbook open in front of her. I wonder what she would have thought about all the hoopla surrounding Slab Pie. She probably would have laughed, “The peach and blueberry pie? Your grandmother made that pie. That’s an old pie. People think that’s something new? That’s ridiculous.”
I become irritated when I overhear people gushing about the newest “It Girl” of baked goods, or reading articles about desserts and their cult status. Desserts that have been tucked into weathered cookbooks and recipe files for the longest time. Everybody loves to tinker with a classic recipe, just don’t tell me that you invented it. As for swapping out the peaches and blueberries in Jessie’s pie, it may be ridiculous, but it’s pretty tasty.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm