Make ‘Pie’ a part of your meals

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 4, 2018

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Sara Foster takes the expression “easy as pie” seriously.

And her new Savor the South cookbook from UNC Press, “Pie” will help you conquer your pie fears. Mine is piecrust. I’ve never had one come out properly. Foster gives recipes for several kinds of crusts, then pies that use those crusts.

Her book is very approachable, and the recipes are mouth-watering, like Sandhills Peach Pie and Say’s Coconut Custard Pie, with a little lemon juice and nutmeg in the filling.

She writes about hand pies and fried pies and savory pies, like Not Your Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie.

She makes most of it sound easy or at least not intimidating, though some pies require more skills than others.

Her introduction, “Why Do You Think They Say ‘Easy as Pie?’” will help both new pie bakers and seasoned cooks by learning about her experiences. And then she provides a whole section of  “My Tips and Methods.” The most important one is first, and it’s true of any recipe: “Read the entire recipe before you start.”

How many cooks have been working through a recipe only to realize they don’t have one of the ingredients, or they didn’t pre-cook it? We may be eager, but to be successful, you have to pay attention. As my late father said repeatedly to his college students, “If you can read, you can succeed.”

Her next tip is also invaluable to any kind of cook. “Understand mise en place.” What this means is you should have all your ingredients measured and ready to go before starting to make the recipe. No running to the fridge to get the too-cold butter or whipping the cream while everything else is waiting.

Foster offers tips for making custard, which seems to scare many people, and for making meringue, another technique that puts some people off.

For a cook like me, who feels hopeless when it comes to piecrust, her tips don’t just tell you how, but why. And she doesn’t often use a food processor, believing the dough will be flakier if done by hand.

Her “Troubleshooting” section reads like all the mistakes I have made. Foster has anticipated those, and then some.

And here’s what will keep you going: “Make lots of pies. That’s how you learn. You’ll amaze yourself by how much your hands will teach you through experience.”

A Southern kitchen is unimaginable without pie, says Foster, who grew up on a farm in Tennessee, where many a meal ended with a bubbling pie or cobbler straight from the oven.

“There were many pie makers in my family, and no one ever needed a recipe — they just mixed, rolled out pastry, and baked to perfection,” she writes. Surrounded from an early age by her pie-baking mother, grandmothers, aunts, cousins and neighbors, Foster developed a natural passion for pies.

The book includes 57 recipes for amazing pies, including the Southern classics, each one matched to one of 11 perfect pie crusts.  Guided by Foster’s clear instructions and how-to tips, you, too, will soon be pulling a pie pan of joy out of the oven for every season and taste. 

Sara Foster is the owner of Foster’s Market in Durham, and the author of five cookbooks, including “The Foster’s Market Cookbook.”

Everyday Flaky Piecrust

My sister Judy gave me this recipe years ago; it’s the perfect recipe for a good, flaky piecrust that’s easy to work with. She makes her crust with all-vegetable shortening, which makes it extra flaky. I make mine with a mixture of butter and vegetable shortening because I like the flavor of butter as well as the flaky texture the shortening gives the crust.

Makes two 9-inch piecrusts or one 9-inch double-­crust pie

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your hands and work surface

3 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more for dusting your hands and work surface

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces and chilled

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled

1/3 cup ice water, plus 2–4 more tablespoons as needed

1 large egg

1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the shortening and butter and cut it into the flour mixture with a handheld pastry blender or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal with pea- to almond-size pieces of butter and a few larger chunks. It is important to work quickly to make this dough so that the butter and shortening remain cold.

In a separate small bowl, beat the egg with 1/3 cup of the water and the vinegar. Pour the egg around the edges of the flour mixture while working it into the mixture with a fork just until the dough starts to clump together. Do not over mix. If the dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together.

Lightly dust your hands and work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and press it together. Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a flat, round disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.

Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place it on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is too hard, let it sit for 5–10 minutes before rolling. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll the dough to form a 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Brush off any excess flour after rolling. Fold the dough in half or gently roll it up onto the rolling pin and lift to place in the 9-inch pie pan. Press the dough lightly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

Trim the edges of the dough with a pair of kitchen shears, leaving about 1/2 inch of dough draping over the side. Turn the extra dough under itself. Crimp the edge of the pie or flatten it with the tines of a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for at least 1 hour before baking. Repeat with the other piece of dough. At this point the crust can be wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months. This way you’ll always have a piecrust on hand.

Parbaking: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.Prick the shell all over the bottom with a fork. Line the crust with parchment paper or foil and weigh down with pie weights or dried beans. Place in the lower half of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the weights and foil or parchment and continue baking 5 minutes, until bottom crust looks slightly dry, but has not browned.

Maple Walnut Pie

The Noon Mark Diner in Keene Valley, New York, a small town on the road to Lake Placid, is known for its pies. The diner makes about a hundred pies every day—everything from lemon meringue to strawberry rhubarb—but my favorite is the maple walnut. Usually when you pop in the pies are still warm, just out of the oven. It has become a tradition for our houseguests to stop and buy a pie or two (depending on how long they are staying) on their way to Lake Placid. This is my adaptation of Noon Mark Diner’s maple walnut pie; it’s pretty close and is delicious.

Makes one 9-inch pie / Serves 8-10

One 9-inch parbaked Everyday Flaky Piecrust (page 130)

4 large eggs, well beaten

1 cup maple syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the prepared crust on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, maple syrup, sugar, butter, nutmeg, salt, cloves, and cinnamon and stir to mix. Stir in the walnuts to distribute evenly.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and place on the center rack in the oven to bake for 40–45 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the pie is set around the edges and slightly loose in the center. Remove from the oven and cool about 1 hour before slicing. Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream, lightly sweetened whipped cream, or a pool of eggnog.

Black Bottom Crust

Makes one 9-inch piecrust

1 1/2 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (or any other chocolate cookie crumbs)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Pinch kosher salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs, sugar, and salt. Pour in the butter and stir to combine until all the crumbs are moist. Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze or refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Place on a rimmed baking sheet on the center rack in the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely before using. The crust will get firm as it cools.

From Pie: a Savor the South® cookbook by Sara Foster. Copyright © 2018 by Sara Foster. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

Raspberry Fool Semifreddo Pie

With its light, airy texture and flavor of fresh raspberries with a hint of lemon, this is the perfect dessert to follow a big meal. For easy entertaining, make it several days in advance and store in your freezer.

Makes one 9-inch pie / Serves 8-10

One 9-inch prebaked Black Bottom Crust (page 146) or Gingersnap Crust (page 147)

2 large eggs

3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided

3 cups fresh raspberries (or combination with blackberries), plus more for garnish

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 cup heavy cream

Beat the eggs and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a large heatproof bowl with an electric mixer on high until doubled in size and pale yellow, 3-4 minutes. Set the bowl over a saucepan with about 1 inch of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) and continue to beat until the custard thickens, about 4 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 140 degrees. Transfer the mixture to another bowl and refrigerate to chill, stirring occasionally.

Once the custard is cool, toss the raspberries with the lemon zest and juice and the remaining sugar and give them a rough mash. Set the raspberries aside to release their juice.

Whip the cream to stiff peaks and gently fold the cream into the custard to combine. Fold in the raspberries and their juice, leaving streaks of berries so that the mixture is not completely combined. Spoon the filling into the prepared crust and place in the freezer until slightly firm on top, about 30 minutes. Remove from the freezer and cover with plastic wrap, then place back in the freezer until completely firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, remove from the freezer 5-10 minutes before slicing. Serve chilled with fresh raspberries on top.