pie

No Soggy Bottoms! One Perfect Pumpkin Pie with Meringue Topping for Thanksgiving

Who doesn't love pie? I do, and I have had to learn to make them at home since the advent of my dairy allergy. Impossible to eat one out. Pie without butter? Is it any good? Yes. Yes it is. This recipe represents the best of three different recipes and many years of hosting, preparing, feasting. I culled two techniques from the venerable Rose Levy Berenbaum, a crust I love from Amy Traverso and a meringue topping from David Leite. I'll share the full recipe below along with some other terrific tips I've picked up along the way. Won't you join me? Pull up a fork!

two apple pies
two apple pies

Apple Pies for a birthday girl

strawberry_rhubarb_pie
strawberry_rhubarb_pie

Strawberry Rhubarb 

sweet potato pie
sweet potato pie
pm pie
pm pie

One Pumpkin Pie to Rule Them All

Pie Nation, Pie Boxes and more

  • Crust Dust: If you're making a fruit pie, this tip from Pie it Forward is worth the book. Gesine Bullock-Prado makes beautiful pies and some of her best tips can be yours. A soggy bottom is not a good thing. Not in most situations and certainly not in pies.
  • If you're taking a pie to someone's house, the Pie Box is essential!
Pie box 2
Pie box 2

Large enough to accommodate an Emile Henry pie dish

Pie Rules

There are some rules I'd say are non-negotiable.

  1. Make sure the fats are cold, and stay cold.
  2. Work quickly, calmly and with authority. If the fats get warm then pop it back into the fridge
  3. Always let the dough rest before rolling it out. But wait - Dorie Greenspan doyenne of Parisienne food says maybe not? Leite's Culinaria's Renaee Schettler Rossi asks "WWDD"? What Would Dorie Do?

Hm. Seems we have been given permission to ignore some of the rules. I'M IN!

Unified Pie Theory

So here's my unified theory of pie. It's okay to break rules and pick the best parts of various recipes.

My favorite crust at the moment is from Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. The Double Crust pie is a winner. To that, I add Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible. I use the cooked custard technique as well as her terrific technique of crushed gingersnaps to line the bottom of the pie. It helps prevent the dreaded soggy bottom, much like the Crust Dust above for fruit pies. If you can enjoy nuts add pecans to the gingersnaps. 4 (2") gingersnaps and 1/4 C pecan halves. I just use 6 Snappy Gingersnaps.

Also, cooking the pumpkin puree and spices, blending in the food processor makes for a smooth, rich filling.

Finally, I loved the addition of a meringue topping and all who enjoyed it agreed. I have Leite's Culinaria to thank for that inspiration. Pumpkin Meringue Pie. And if you need some pie crimping ideas, say no more.

Sweet Potato Pie - a Sweet Bridge to the Past

Maybe it was the surprise meeting with a friend from decades ago. Maybe it's the holidays, the end of the year, the encroaching birthday...but I was feeling a little nostalgic the other day. There I was, few days past Thanksgiving and the leftovers were nearly all gone, transformed into new dishes (croquettes, soup, muffins) or enjoyed caveman-style late night, head in the fridge. As far as I'm concerned, one of the all-time best things about being a grownup is the ability to eat out of the fridge, standing in the door, sneaking a piece of this or a bite of that. Even if these new fridges beep at you, it's not your Mom yelling at you to "Shut the goddamned refrigerator!", even if your Mom didn't yell that, she definitely yelled some version of it.

Reconnecting with family during the holidays gives us a chance to tell the family stories over again. In the telling and retelling, we renew the ties that bind us together as families. The time that Mom waited so long to buy the turkey that the only one left was the size of my Grandma who soon thereafter left us. I love the photo of us gathered around that behemoth, Grandma's head barely clearing it.

And the colorful refrain above comes courtesy of my friend Tom McGowan, whose crazy family introduced me to the Irish knack for story-telling years before I moved to Boston. His family story is that his youngest brother Terry literally spoke not a word until one day uttering a complete sentence: "Shut the goddamned refrigerator!" Being the youngest of five, it was the sentence he'd heard most often, you see.

Monday, I got the chance to tell Tom and Cheryl that I recall that story to this day when some new parent is fretting over a child's reluctance to start using words. A McGowan family story carried forward by an old friend, no doubt being told over again at their family gatherings.

Sweet Potatoes and a Bittersweet Memories

In college I got the chance to see a folk legend, Odetta in a teeny, tiny bar somewhere near my college in New Paltz, in New York's Hudson Valley. If memory serves it was Kingston, or Rhinebeck, possibly Woodstock. Folk is really not my thing, but I knew that it was an opportunity to learn something new, see an icon perform.

We sat in a tiny room on straight-backed chairs and I was almost close enough to touch the legendary Odetta. In this intimate setting, the room was darkened, a single light overhead, illuminating this commanding, yet gentle African-American singer. She played gently on a smallish, sweet sounding acoustic guitar and sang movingly in her clear and strong voice.

When Odetta sang a song about sweet potatoes (an old traditional children's song, I think) I was struck by the connection through sweet potatoes reaching back in her history here, slaves growing what they could to survive and my family in Japan. During the war, my grandmother had evacuated the city of Tokyo taking her girls and a cousin far north to escape the impending bombing.

These city kids were fish out of water in the rural north. Their accents, their clothes and their lifestyles completely out of sync in rugged north. Years later my grandmother would lament to me that she feared she failed these kids. So often all they had to eat were sweet potatoes which she grew in a tiny plot of earth she begged use of from some monks. She was sure that she should have and could have fed them better, regretted not having been able to do so. To this day, my mother will not eat dandelion greens, that being one of the few greens they could get their hands on. Foraging was not hip, it was survival.

I was thrilled to meet my mother's cousin years later in Japan and had to ask him if he hated sweet potatoes. He looked at me quizzically and said "No, why?" I told him of my Grandmother's burden. We laughed. I don't remember exactly, but I think she shrugged it off when I told her.

So back to my shared moment with Odetta. I waited in line after the performance, nervously. She had that kind of presence that says "you SHOULD know who I am" without saying a word. When I got my chance to speak to her, her gentle smile became a little forced. I told her of "our connection", how my grandmother in Japan had fed her family on sweet potatoes during the war....and got a look that said pfft, and Next! So much for a mystical connection with a legend over a humble tuber. The queen had dismissed me. Move along.

sweet potato pie

Sweet Potato Pie

I think Sweet Potato Pie is sort of a Southern thing, and friends up here generally fall into two camps: one is disappointed it's not pumpkin and the other is thrilled to find it. I have not met a sweet potato I didn't like, in almost any form but for the marshmallow topped variety. I love a casserole dish of orange-Bourbon scented sweet potatoes at the Thanksgiving table and they're often called for by repeat guests. This year we had such a small group, I ended up with leftovers.

I decided that it was time to try a sweet potato pie. Since they're baked and basted with the brown sugar and Bourbon and orange glaze, these were plenty sweet so I borrowed the template from Joy the Baker and made some adjustments. I had a crust in the fridge, so it was pretty quick to put together. I modified it to make it dairy-free. I loved the results, but cannot, okay will not, eat an entire pie myself and my husband falls into the pumpkin camp.

Luckily I've got friends in the building who can help me/save me.

Ingredients: 

2 C mashed, cooked sweet potatoes (I used leftover Killer Sweets) 3/4 C packed brown sugar (I cut it back to 1/3 C) 1 1/4 tsp ground coriander 1/2 tsp cinnamon (I added more, by accident, not bad) 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg 1/4 tsp salt 1/4 C unsalted butter 1 1/4 C So Delicious Coconut Milk 1/3 C granulated sugar (I used about 1/4 C) 3 large eggs 1 TBSP vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Place a rack in the upper third of the oven.

To make the filling, first peel the sweet potatoes.  Dice the sweet potatoes into large, 3-inch chunks.  Place potato pieces in a large pot and cover with cool water.  Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the potatoes are tender throughout, about 20 minutes.  Test the doneness of the potatoes using a thin knife.  If the knife meets any resistance, simmer the potatoes a bit longer.

Drain into a colander.

In the same large pot place cooked  potato pieces, the packed brown sugar, all of the spices, salt, butter, and half of the evaporated milk. Cook on low flame, using a potato masher to mash the potatoes and they cook.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.  Make sure that the mixture is as smooth as possible.  I used an  immersion blender to completely smooth the mixture. Once mixture is smooth and fragrant, remove from fire and let cool in pot.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining evaporated milk, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract.  Whisk well.  Pour the egg mixture into the warm sweet potato mixture.

Pour the prepared filling into the pie crust.  Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees F.  Reduce the heat to 325 degrees F and cook until cooked through, about 45 to 50 minutes.

To test the pie for doneness lightly shake the baking sheet.  If the center of the pie has a wavy jiggle it needs more time in the oven.  If the center of the pie has a lighter, more structured jiggle, it’s done!

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Thanks to Joy for sharing her family recipe and allowing it to become part of ours.