Pie rises to dessert stardom

Classic recipes take the cake at celebrations, restaurants
2011-05-04T00:00:00Z Pie rises to dessert stardomJackie Burrell Contra Costa Times Arizona Daily Star
May 04, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Could the reign of the cupcake be waning at last? Suddenly, it's all about the pie.

Pies of all sizes are popping up at wedding receptions, aboard food trucks and in pie-centric cafes from coast to coast. And cherry and banana cream have been joined by green chilies, elderflower liqueur infusions and lollipop sticks - although not, we're happy to say, all at once.

"I think honestly, it's the tip of the iceberg," says Andrew Freeman, the San Francisco-based restaurant consultant who first dubbed 2011 "The Year of Pie."

Those who frequent classic pie-friendly places may laugh. They've been enjoying their apple and berry pies for years. But there's a new movement afoot, and it involves perfectly flaky crust and sweet and savory fillings.

That doesn't surprise Shira Bocar, the co-author of Martha Stewart's new "Pies & Tarts" cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 352 pp., $24.99). Pies have always been a popular topic among readers of Martha Stewart Living, Bocar says via email, but something has changed.

"Pies are now turning up on menus of top restaurants," she says. "There is a boom in pie-centric shops. They are the dessert stars at more and more dinner parties."

In short, pie seems to have hit a tipping point similar to the one that propelled the lowly cupcake to pastry superstardom. Freeman was working with New York City's Magnolia Bakery, the patisserie generally credited with launching the cupcake trend, back when that craze took hold. He knows a trend, he says, when he sees it.

"What I was seeing was all of a sudden this resurgence of pie," Freeman says. "We started to hear a lot about it. My gosh, there's more pie on menus than I remember. Then Oprah did a story on chicken pie. We started to dig in and see the (savory) pies, mini pies, mail order pies, fried pies, happy hours."

Cupcakes aren't going away, but even Magnolia has added pies to its menu. And it's only a matter of time, he says, before other parts of the country discover what devotees in Manhattan already have: pie happy hours.

The evidence isn't just anecdotal. The numbers back up Freeman's trend theory. Pie devotees ate 722 million slices at restaurants last year, 12 million more than in 2009, according to NPD Group, a market research outfit. And that doesn't even count the more unusual entries - the tiny pies baked atop lollipop sticks that have taken Seattle by storm, or the 4-inch, heart-shaped Sweetie Pies that have smitten the crowds who frequent San Francisco's SusieCakes.

Susan Sarich's SusieCakes, which has branches in San Francisco (and will expand into the South and East bays within the year), Greenbrae, Calif., and Los Angeles, has always done a brisk business in cupcakes. But the popularity of pie took even Sarich by surprise.

"I'm from Chicago, so it's completely normal for me to want pies on a continual basis," Sarich says. "I initially thought the West Coast wasn't so into pies. But the Sweetie Pies - they're a gourmet Pop-Tart but with real fruit filling and no corn syrup - have been my single fastest-selling item."

And cupcakes, she says, are partly to thank.

"I think what cupcakes did was they opened up the whole market," she says. "Now it's ingrained in our culture that a bakery is the place to go to get desserts. They've opened the gateway for other desserts."

That extends to weddings, too.

"A lot of brides are doing pie buffets or individual pies at each place setting," Sarich says, "especially for outdoor weddings in Napa and Sonoma. That's definitely a trend."

As for what's inside those pies, pecan and pumpkin are here to stay. But 21st-century pies offer new twists too - and not just of the gluten-free and vegan-friendly variety. Today's pies seem to be inspired by everything from farmers markets to the cocktail bar.

Stewart and Bocar's new cookbook, for example, features a cocktail-inspired elderflower liqueur-flavored whipped cream, and an entire chapter - Bocar's favorite - is devoted to tiny tarts and hand pies, which can be eaten without a fork. But there's one overriding theme to the book.

"Overall, I think 21st-century pies are anchored by the ingredients," Bocar says. "Canned pie filling will no longer cut it in 2011. People want the best-quality ingredients, from the butter to the local strawberries, for their pies. And the end product will reflect that attention to detail."

On-line only

Brie and Apple Custard Tart

• 1/2 recipe Pate Brisee (in the blueberry pie recipe)

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and each cut in 6 wedges

• 6 ounces very ripe Brie, at room temperature

• 1 large whole egg, plus 2 large yolks

• 1/2 cup cream

• 1/2 cup milk

• 2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme

• Coarse salt, ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out dough into an 11-inch round. Fit into a 9-inch springform pan, with dough extending slightly up the sides. Pierce the bottom all over with a fork. Chill until firm, 30 minutes.

Line shell with parchment, extending above side by about 1 inch. Fill with pie weights. Bake 20 minutes. Carefully remove parchment and weights. Bake until golden, 10-12 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly before filling. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add apples; cook until browned on all sides, 2-3 minutes total.

In a food processor, process Brie for 15 seconds. Add whole egg and yolks one at a time; process after each until well combined. Add cream and process until smooth. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in milk. Stir in thyme and season with salt and pepper.

Arrange sauteed apples around bottom of crust. Pour custard over apples. Bake until custard is just set when gently touched with your finger, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

"Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts," (Clarkson Potter, 352 pp., $24.99)

Ginger-Pear Hand Pies

Makes: 12

Crust:

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

• 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening, in small pieces

• 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

• 1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water

Filling:

• 2 large eggs

• 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

• 2 teaspoons lemon juice

• 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 2 ripe, firm pears, such as Bosc, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter

• 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and scraped

• 2 tablespoons finely grated, peeled, fresh ginger

• Confectioners' sugar

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar and salt until combined. Add butter and shortening; pulse just until mixture resembles coarse meal, 8-10 times. Combine vinegar and 1/4 cup ice water. Drizzle evenly over mixture; pulse just until dough comes together, adding more water if necessary.

Pat dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic and chill until firm, 1 hour or up to 1 day.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/4-inch thick. Cut 12 5-inch rounds. Gently press rounds into cups of a muffin tin, making pleats around edges and gently pressing to seal. Chill or freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar until thick and pale yellow. Whisk in lemon juice, then flour and salt. Set aside. Place pears in another medium bowl and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat butter, vanilla bean and seeds and ginger over medium-high heat until butter foams and browns, about 5 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine sieve over pears. Stir egg mixture into pear mixture.

Divide batter among pie shells. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, 30-40 minutes. Unmold; let cool completely. Just before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar.

"Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts," (Clarkson Potter, 352 pp., $24.99)

Lattice-top Blueberry Pie

Makes: 1 9-inch pie

Pate brisee:

• 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• 1 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

• 1/4 - 1/2 cup ice water

Blueberry filling:

• 7 cups (about 2 pounds) fresh blueberries, picked over and rinsed

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1/4 cup cornstarch

• 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

• 1 tablespoon lemon juice

• 1 large egg yolk

• 1 tablespoon heavy cream

• Fine sanding sugar

Make the pate brisee by pulsing flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles corn meal, with some larger pieces. Drizzle 1/4 cup water over the mixture and pulse just until the mixture begins to hold together. If the mixture is too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse.

Divide dough in half and flatten into disks. Wrap well in plastic and chill until firm, 1 hour or up to 1 day.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out a disk of dough to a 13-inch round, about 1/8-inch thick. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate.

In a large bowl, toss together the berries, 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and lemon juice. Pour into pie plate, piling it in the center.

Roll out remaining disk of dough to a 13-inch round about 1/8-inch thick. Cut dough into inch-wide strips using a fluted pastry wheel. Brush pie edges lightly with water. Carefully arrange the dough strips on top, weaving to form a lattice. Trim dough to a 1-inch overhand. Fold edges under and crimp with a fork.

Whisk the egg yolk and cream to form an egg wash. Brush over dough strips and pie edges. Generously sprinkle with sanding sugar. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the pie atop a parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet until crust begins to brown, 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until crust is deep golden brown and juices bubble, about 55 minutes more. (If crust browns too quickly, tent it with foil.) Cool completely on a wire rack.

"Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts" (Clarkson Potter, 352 pp., $24.99)

Blackberry Pie

Makes: 1 9-inch pie

Crust

• 2 1/2 cups flour

• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

• 1 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into large cubes

• Ice water

Filling and assembly

• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

• 1 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting the top of the pie

• 5 tablespoons flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough

• 1 pound blackberries

• 2 tablespoons lemon juice

• Prepared crust

• Water for brushing the dough to seal the crust

Make the crust first: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Cut in the vegetable shortening using a pastry cutter, two knives or a fork, just until the shortening is reduced to the size of large peas.Stir in ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the ingredients come together to just form a dough, about 4 tablespoons ice water.

Press the contents together into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough at least 1 hour to give it time to relax and chill.

Next, the filling and assembly:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the salt, sugar and flour. Gently stir in the blackberries, then drizzle over the lemon juice and gently stir to combine. Set aside the bowl while you shape the crust.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator and roughly divide in half (make one half slightly larger for the bottom crust). Wrap and refrigerate the smaller half of dough while you roll out and fill the bottom crust.

On a well-floured board, roll the dough to a diameter of about 13 inches; the dough will be very thin and fragile. (It might help to roll the dough on a large sheet of floured parchment or wax paper. The dough then can be more easily lifted and inverted over the pie dish.)

Gently lift and center the dough over a 9-inch pie dish; if the dough cracks, simply press the crack together to seal, or patch with a little leftover dough. Press the dough into the pie dish, making sure to remove any air bubbles from underneath the dough.

Fill the pie shell with the fruit filling. Brush the edge of the dough lightly with water (this will help the top crust adhere to the shell).

Remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator and roll in the same manner as the bottom crust to a diameter of 10 to 11 inches; this will be the top crust. Gently center the dough over the filling. Tuck the edges of the top crust around the bottom crust to seal the pie, pressing the two dough halves together, using your fingers to crimp the edge.

Sprinkle a generous coating of sugar over the top of the pie, then slit the top crust to create vents.

Bake the pie in the center of the oven until the crust is lightly golden and set, and the filling is bubbly, about 1 hour.

Cool the pie before serving.

Each of 8 servings: 504 calories; 5 grams protein; 63 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 28 grams sugar; 108 mg. sodium.

Adapted from Ashley Putz of Buffalo Chips Emporium in Amador City, Calif.

Susiecakes' Old-fashioned Chocolate Cream Pie

Makes: 1 pie

• 2 cups whole milk

• 3/4 cup granulated sugar

• 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

• 1/3 cup water

• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

• 2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate, chopped

• 3 tablespoons cornstarch

• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

• 1 fully baked pie shell

• Whipped cream, chocolate shavings, to garnish

In a medium pot, scald milk over medium heat.

Combine sugar, cocoa, water and salt in a large pot. Whisk until smooth. Set the pot with the sugar-cocoa mixture over moderately high heat and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate; whisk until thoroughly melted.

Place the cornstarch in a large bowl. Whisk in enough of the hot milk to make a slurry, then whisk in remaining milk.

Pour the milk into the chocolate mixture, then return to moderately high heat. Cook the pudding until it reaches a boil, stirring with a heatproof spatula and making sure to continuously scrape the bottom of the pan. Allow to boil for one minute, still scraping the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Immediately pour the pudding into a pan and press plastic wrap snugly against surface. Refrigerate for several hours.

When the pudding is cold, spoon it into the baked pie crust. Garnish with freshly whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Refrigerate until serving time.

Susan Sarich, SusieCakes

More online

For more pie recipes, go to azstarnet.com/food

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