No one I’ve ever known has declined a piece of fresh, homemade pie. Although some version of pie is eaten in nearly all cultures, fruit pies are an American institution, and it isn’t limited to apple! After writing this last sentence, I wondered if the expression came about because of Johnny Appleseed’s having started apple tree nurseries across many of our midland states at a time when women made pies (often for breakfast), because they required less flour than bread. But no, it apparently was an increasingly common expression beginning in the 1920s attesting the goodness of all things American. Okay, back to pie.
Pies & Tarts
Flo Braker is a fabulous baker and her book Baking for All Occasions is filled with wonderful creations. One of our all time favorites, which is a hit with everyone who tries it, is her Tangy Lemon Custard Tart with Pomegranate Gelee. Decorate the top with halved cherries and blueberries and it makes a perfect dessert for the Fourth of July, but don’t be limited to these fruits; use any stone fruits you’d like!
It’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t like cherry pie. Making it is another story, however, as putting together a good pie crust can be intimidating. I have my mother to thank for having demystified pie crust. Pies were her specialty and her crust was always delicious. Even better, it’s really easy.
My recent trip to Costa Rica was fortuitous in several respects, not the least of which was that one of my favorite tropical fruits was in season and I indulged myself at every opportunity. There are three varieties of passion fruit; the variety I had in Costa Rica is the same as lilikoi in Hawaii. It is a tart fruit but with the lovely underlying flavor of passion fruit. Called Maracuya in Latin America, it is made into a refreshing beverage served icy cold as well as a rich, creamy pie. It occurred to me as I ate a piece, that the recipe was either similar to, or the same as, the one I use for Key Lime pie.
This is an especially rich and creamy pie, one that is memorably delicious. You remove it from the oven before the custard splits but after it has cooked long enough to set up when it cools. It some respects, this Sugar and Spice Pumpkin pie is more like a cream pie than a regular pumpkin pie. If you bake the pie on a pizza brick in the oven, the bottom crust will get enough heat to remain crisp, one of the challenges when making a custard pie filling. This is a recipe you are likely to reach for more than once during the holiday season.
A Quick history of pie
According to historical accounts, pie has been around since the Egyptians, and they probably learned about pies from the Greeks. The crusts weren’t always eaten, however, but acted as a way to encase meats. The first English pies were made from crows and meat fillings are still a popular Pub entree. Crow pie? Not so much.
Those of us crazy about fruit watch the farmers markets and stores like hawks, waiting for the first berries to arrive as the signal that yes, summer is coming! Similarly, we know that summer is in full swing before blackberries are ripe on the vines and ready to harvest though technically they’re available somewhere in the States between mid-June and early September.
When the warm days of late spring arrive, the Farmer’s Markets in California are a veritable cornucopia of early peaches, nectarines, apricots, pluots, apriums, plums, strawberries, rhubarb and cherries! My mind whirls over which to choose and how to use.
My cat feels similarly overwhelmed as he sits in the garden — will it be a gopher, a rat, a mole, a bird? (Most cats concur that a plump gopher in the mouth is worth two birds in the bush.)
My decision? Begin the season with strawberry rhubarb galettes in honor of my brother who has a May birthday and a love of rhubarb. For fun I also chose some yellow nectarines, brightly acid and juicy.
These days when we think of rhubarb, we think strawberry-rhubarb pie. It wasn’t always that way, however. Rhubarb was a very popular vegetable, easy to grow and often served stewed with some sugar as a dessert. It was used so frequently in pies that it was referred to as the pie plant.
Courtesy of Anne Baldzikowski, Easy Artisan: Simple Elegant Recipes for the Everyday Cook
Anne says, “This is a favorite dessert at summertime parties when we have such an abundance of colorful and tasty fruits. It was also a favorite dessert of mine that I learned how to make in pastry school. After graduation I was so enamored by the pretty fluted edged French tarts that I started a wholesale bakery called The Queen of Tarts! Coffee houses, caterers, restaurants, and hotels soon called with orders for this eye-catching dessert.”
This is an amazingly smooth, creamy, over-the-top delicious tart.I had been traveling through Italy and Greece for three weeks then spent two days in London before heading home. Along the way I had eaten more than my share of amazing cakes, tarts, cookies along the way, and had loved the lemon desserts in Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. The irony of this is the last morning we went to a coffee shop before heading to the airport and there, in the dessert case, was a Sicilian Lemon Tart that cried out to be purchased and enjoyed. So, of course I obliged. It was hands down one of the best desserts of the trip. In London, for crying out loud!
Courtesy of David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen; Ten Speed Press; 2014
I grew up on apricots, both fresh and dried as well as apricot desserts. David had never had fresh apricots until he went to France, at which time he “got it” about how amazing they are when they’re baked. If you haven’t used fresh apricots in desserts, you’re in for a wonderful treat!
Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.
Chestnut Jam Tart
Makes 10 servings
Alice says, “A jam tart seems like a relaxed, simpler-to-make linzer torte, with an Italian accent instead of a German one. A jam tart is called fregolata in Italian, and it’s pretty and festive and giftable, too. I thought it fitting (and extra delicious) to swap the usual shortbread crust for a chestnut crust. The dough is quick to make by hand and is then pressed flat into a tart pan with no worries about the sides since the dough forms its own edge as it bakes. Any jam will do for the topping, but the prettiest and most flavorful are red fruits like cherry, plum, raspberry, blackberry, or even strawberry. The jam is topped with crumbled bits of dough and sliced almonds and pushed into the oven to do its own thing.”
Every serious baker has a pie crust recipe she swears by. All butter. Butter and shortening. Lard. Ice water. Handle it lightly and refrigerate immediately! Roll it out quickly and don’t over-handle it. No surprise that a lot of people skirt the pie crust issue entirely and buy pre-made crusts!
I admit I could never imagine Maple Sugar Pie or Maple Syrup Pie. I flat out love pure maple anything, but an entire pie made with maple sugar or syrup and nothing else to offset the sweetness — like pecans for instance — seemed like it would be cloying and a full-out sugar rush. Then a friend and I drove from Vermont to Quebec City in the early autumn of 2012. I knew that this would be my best chance to try Maple Sugar or Maple Syrup Pie. I was ready to convert — or not.
While this recipe involves some time and dedication, it isn’t difficult. It was inspired by a recipe in Sunset magazine, which I’ve adapted. For instance, the original recipe called for two tablespoons of hazelnut liquor, such as Frangelico. The local liquor store didn’t have any “shooter” bottles and I didn’t want to invest in a large bottle, so I added some extra vanilla extract.
Adapted from Carolyn Weil’s recipe from The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook
Densely rich and chocolatey, this gluten-free, dairy-free torte will surpass your expectations. It did mine. It’s perfect for vegans as well as those of us who can’t tolerate gluten or dairy. A sensational, show-stopping dessert, it’s especially good with raspberries and raspberry coulis. Even those people who recoil at the idea of tofu, would never guess that this dessert contains tofu.