Like millions of people right now, I am spending sleepless nights worried about my staff as well as the businesses so severely impacted by this pandemic. The restaurant industry— a group that has held a special place in my heart since my first job as an order taker at Bonanza Steak House—has been especially vulnerable. With news reports becoming more concerning each day and my family split between Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado and New Hampshire, I found myself in dire need of lowering the anxiety levels. The answer? Cooking lessons. Yes, believe it or not, even seasoned chefs have more to learn! My Achilles’ heel is pie crust; no matter what I do, my crusts are less than spectacular. Several years ago, my son decided to learn how to make a great apple pie for my birthday. Boom- out of the gate it was one of the best pies I have ever tasted. His success was my inspiration for learning this new skill, one that will translate beyond sweet desserts to savory dishes like pot pies and savory hand pies.
My new culinary assistant Veronica (whom I affectionately call Caramel Joy) is a baking wizard. We are both mid-Western moms who love spending our days whipping up homemade meals and desserts for our families. Veronica has the same gumption that my Nana possessed. She derives the same pleasure from making her children their favorite pie, just like Nana and me! Even though I was looking forward to my upcoming lessons, I really felt I would make a mediocre pie crust a few times and then go back to Pillsbury crust. Was I wrong…and there is no going back now!
I have traveled the country –family willingly along for the ride–looking for outstanding pie and often thought my first book would be titled In Search of Great Pie. There were many tasty slices enjoyed during my journeys. Two places stood out as the homerun of pie making. In Julian, California a charming bakery appropriately named Mom’s Pie House was founded by the mother of four children who decided the delicious apples from her hometown mountain community would make the tastiest pies. She has been baking fresh pies for hungry fans since 1984. Don’t even think about asking to ship (although they will deliver to neighboring San Diego). Great pie needs to be “created” from the cutting of the butter and shortening to the balance between vodka or white vinegar for the perfect flakiness. Pie should be eaten within 24 hours and never sealed, just wrapped or stored in a pie holder.
My second greatest pie “find” is in Granby, Colorado. Simply named Showboat’s Drive By Pie…and yes, you pull up to the window and drive away with a homemade pie and a big smile on your face. Don’t ask for a cream pie there however- the proprietress will charge you another hundred bucks. “Just don’t believe a cream pie is a pie”, offered the owner who shall remain anonymous. She is beyond talented and makes an apple and a mixed berry that will make you cry!
Always a pie lover, I have special plates to serve pie, and just enough high-end pie plates to bake pies for my friends on the front lines in the health care arena, along with a few slices for “research and development.” I keep 2-4 homemade pie crusts in the freezer so if I feel anxious, or ambitious or both, I prepare and roll out the dough watching the icy butter slices whip into the flour and shortening, like a perfect dance. Too much blending, tough pie. Not enough drizzle of ice water, too dry. But when you feel the particles of a perfect crust forming into discs in your hands, you just want to jump in. I look at ingredients differently now. Recently, I made a few turkey pot pies with leftovers, for our older neighbors. Fortunately, they did not compare my turkey pot pie for the kind that used to sell 5 for a dollar! That confirmed it…I have mastered the art of making a perfect pie crust.
The Best Pie Crust
Courtesy of Veronica, also fondly known as Caramel Joy- my pie mentor and pastry guru.
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter
6 tablespoons shortening
1/4 cup cold water
1 beaten egg (divided)
1 teaspoon vinegar
- Mix flour, sugar, salt, butter, and shortening with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly.
- Add water and 2 tablespoons of the beaten egg and vinegar.
- Stir until mixture comes together and no loose crumbs are left (fold it over 2-3 times if necessary).
- Form into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour.
- When ready to use, roll out onto a floured surface and place into pie plate.
- Brush edges with remaining beaten egg
- Make sure you use ice water and make sure the pie crusts are cold when rolling.
- Roll only in one direction- basically from the middle outward, never back and forth or it makes the crust too tough
- I only use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour for best results
- Freeze your pie crusts for extra moisture. Thaw 24 hours in advance in refrigerator.
- Once you roll out the bottom crust, place in pie dish and refrigerate for ½ hour. Roll out second pie crust and remove pie base from refrigerator. Fill with fruit of your choice.
- Warning, once you master the pie crust you are going to gain many new friends! I suggest buying individual pie pans to share more easily.
Note: This recipe will make 1 deep dish pie with enough dough leftover to make decorative pieces or 2 shallow pies.
A fruit-filled delight
Living in both Sarasota and Colorado has so many benefits. For example, blueberries are almost always in season in the winter months in Florida and the summer months in Colorado, along with those amazing Palisades peaches.
Note: The Gourmet Cookbook, the compilation of best recipes from their many years of Gourmet Magazine issues, recommends using minute tapioca along with cornstarch. I prefer a runny pie over a gloppy pie so you may consider just a little more cornstarch if you like firmer fruit filling.
1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups sugar, pending on the sweetness of the berries
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon salt
6 ½ cups blueberries
Double crust pastry dough
- Line a large baking sheet with foil and place in the middle of the oven.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Whisk together sugar, berries, cornstarch, tapioca, lemon zest and salt.
- Roll out bottom crust on floured surface. Remember not to roll back and forth. Start in the center and roll out. The more the crust stays cool and is not worked too much the flakier it becomes.
- Fill with blueberry mixture.
- Cover pie with top crust and trim with kitchen shears, leaving a ½ inch overhang.
- Press edges together, then crimp for decoration.
- Lightly brush with melted butter.
- Cut a small hole in the center and 4 slits lengthwise to allow steam to escape.
- Bake on hot baking sheet for 30 minutes, reduce oven temp to 375 degrees and bake until golden brown.
Lemon Chiffon Pie
Adapted from Southern Living Magazine
Micah A. Leal
My mother was known for her lemon meringue pies. Even though the filling was mighty fine pudding, I loved stirring in the hot water and watching the gelatin pearl disappear as it thickened. One day, after whipping the egg white to a peak, I gently folded them into the cooked lemon pudding and placed it in the refrigerator. Mom was a little surprised but by then she was getting used to her 7-year-old changing recipes and adding ingredients. Note: You can also use sour cream instead of whipping cream and top with fresh berries.
A chiffon pie is simply a custard or curd that is set with gelatin and combined with whipped egg whites so that the pie filling is extra airy and almost weightless. Compared to its lemon meringue cousin, this Lemon Chiffon Pie is much less tart, much less dense, and one hundred times gentler on the palate and the stomach. Known for its delicate texture and undramatic look, this pie exudes old-school Southern class and charm. A store-bought crust works just fine for this recipe, but we recommend using our Single-Crust Pie Pastry Dough recipe because it’s easy to make; buttery, and flaky—everything you want as a base for a lemon chiffon pie. We also recommend dumping the lemon whipped cream right in the middle of the pie because it shows off the beautiful pale yellow of the filling and adds extra height and texture to what may appear to be a simple pie.
1 single pastry crust or graham cracker crust
1 (1/4-oz.) package of powdered gelatin
2/3 cup + 3 Tbsp. water, divided
3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
4 eggs, separated and divided
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Roll pie dough to a 1/8-inch thick circle and place inside a greased 9-inch metal tart pan or pie pan. Trim excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhanging crust under itself, creating a thicker ring of crust around the pie’s edge and crimp. Grease a sheet of aluminum foil liberally with butter. Place the buttered surface inside the pie shell, allowing the pie dough to come in direct contact with the aluminum foil. Freeze crust for 1 hour or overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake crust with aluminum foil for 20 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and use a spoon to press down any areas that have puffed up. Return to oven for an additional 13-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown all over. Set aside to cool.
Place gelatin in 3 Tbsp. water and stir to combine; set aside. Zest all 3 lemons into a small bowl; set aside. Juice each lemon until you have 1/3 cup juice with no seeds; set aside. Over a double boiler, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 2/3 cup water, egg yolks, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 25-30 minutes. Whisk in gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Add half of the lemon zest and refrigerate for 30 minutes, whisking every 5 minutes, until consistency has slightly thickened and mixture has cooled completely.
Beat egg whites on medium-high until soft peaks form. Slowly stream in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold egg white mixture into chilled lemon mixture in 3 additions, waiting until each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Pour filling into pie crust and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours or overnight.
Whip cream with powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Add half of remaining lemon zest and mix to combine. Scoop whipped cream onto the center of the pie and spread it slightly around, leaving much of the lemon chiffon surface exposed. Sprinkle the entire pie with remaining lemon zest. Yay…it’s ready to serve and enjoy!
Eric’s Apple Pie
From Reflections and Recipes of Chef Judi Gallagher
My biggest joy has always been cooking with our son Eric. When I owned restaurants, he had an Easy Bake oven and extra dough to play with. One year when I asked for an apple pie as my birthday present, he made his first pie and nailed it! Could have won a national contest, it is that good. Our relatives tell me mine is second to Eric’s, so I’ll take that compliment with pride.
2 pie crust shells
12 granny smith apples, peeled and cored
Juice of one lemon
1 cup cold water
2 Tablespoons cinnamon
¾ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons apple pie spice
3-4 Tablespoons melted butter
Dusting of flour plus 1 Tablespoon
- Peel and core apples then slice apples very thin. Add sliced apples to a pot of cold water with lemon juice to keep from browning. Drain well.
- Preheat oven to 365 degrees.
- Butter a pie dish and roll out the bottom crust dust off excess flour.
- Lay crust over pie plate.
- With a slotted spoon scoop the apples, letting the excess juices drip back into the bowl.
- Sprinkle apples with dots of Irish butter and a tablespoon of all-purpose flour.
- Roll out top crust and place over apples.
- Cut four slits to allow steam to escape.
- Brush with melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.
- Bake until lightly brown and apples are tender.
Banana Cream Pie
Always a classic and sure to please!
Single pie crust
½ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons King Arthur All-purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
6 Tablespoons soft Irish butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon banana extract or almond extract
2 medium bananas. Peeled and sliced ½ inch thick, plus one for the garnish
½ cup toasted cashews
- Blind bake 1 homemade pie shell (see below), cool completely.
- In a medium heatproof bowl whisk together sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt and eggs, whisking until smooth.
- Bring the milk to just a boil in a medium saucepan.
- Gradually add the hot milk to the egg mixture, stirring all the while.
- Return egg mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat until thickens, this happens quickly so keep stirring.
- Remove pastry cream from the heat and stir in extract and butter. Place the sliced bananas in the bottom of the baked pie crust and spoon hot pastry cream over the bananas, smooth the surface and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until completely cool. Overnight is best.
- Garnish with chopped toasted cashews and sliced bananas and whipped cream
Blind Baking means you line the bottom uncooked crust with aluminum foil and fill with raw beans. Bake ½ way, watching the edges so they do not brown too much. Wrap edges as needed to avoid overbaking the edges. Remove foil with beans. Prick crust on bottom and place back in oven until completely baked.