I love pie and accepted author Millicent Souris’ invitation to “build a better pie” in her new book.
It’s clear from the beginning that Souris loves pie, too. Souris sees pie-making as something that any cook can do, as people around the world have done for centuries, instead of something that only a pastry chef with a steady hand and an artistic bent can manage.
She advocates that we “get back to pie as a utilitarian food, rather than a precious baked good that strikes fear in people.”
I was charmed by the book’s show-it-like-it-is artwork complete with bubbled-over fillings, the sometimes quirky recipes and Souris’ engaging stories and opinions. However, I was disappointed by the most fundamental recipe of all: the basic pastry.
I wanted it to work, and tried it more than once to be sure. Like many authors who write about baking, Souris says you can make good pastry using butter, shortening or lard. Unsalted butter is her first choice of fats for basic pastry.
I followed the directions carefully, but always had the same result: tasty, flaky, but impossibly tough pie crust. I’ve had similar experience making pastry with butter, following other recipes.
Her basic pastry was tender and flaky when made with lard — but had the other problem I encountered with the butter pastry: too much fat. When I made apple turnovers, for example, there was a 1/4 inch of melted fat covering the tray when I took it out of the oven. I like her technique and found it easy to use, but get better results using another basic pastry recipe.
That said, everything else about the recipes I tried was good. I found the Chicken Pot Pie especially good. Souris leads the reader through the entire process, beginning with a whole chicken and fresh vegetables and ending with a delicious main dish.
The book begins with the basics — making and rolling out crusts — and moves on to recipes for fruit pies, staple pies and savoury pies. She includes the expected recipes, such as Blueberry Pie and Chicken Pot Pie, and a number of surprises, such as Apricot Tomatillo Pie, Boiled Cider Pie, Oyster and Sweetbread Pie and Lamb Neck Pie. Staple pies is the name that Souris gives to pies made with staple foods you might find in your pantry (lemons, chocolate, olive oil, molasses).
In the interest of space, and with apologies to the author, I’ve condensed her instructions for this recipe.
Cranberry Chess Pie
Adapted from Souris, Millicent: How to Build a Better Pie, Quarry Books, Beverly Mass., 2012.
Single Pie Crust, chilled
3 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp kosher salt
¼ cup (31 g) unbleached all purpose flour
½ cup (120 mL) buttermilk, room temperature
1 tsp (5 mL) cider vinegar
1 tsp (2 g) finely grated orange zest
2 cups (220 g) fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped, leaving ¼ cup (25 g) whole
Roll chilled piecrust to 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick and place in (23-24 cm/9-9 ½ inch) pie pan.
Trim and crimp the edges.
Prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork to prevent bubbles, trying not to piece through the crust.
Chill in the freezer for at least 15 minutes or in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.
Remove pie plate from the refrigerator and shield loosely with foil.
The foil should sit flush with the plate, come up along the rim and fold down to cover edges loosely.
Place baking beans (dried beans, used to weight down the crust) in the bottom and level them.
Bake in the middle or lower half of the oven for 15 minutes at 425 F (220 C). Then reduce heat to 350 F (180 C), carefully lift the foil by the edges off your crust with the beans in it, and bake for 10 more minutes. Pull and let cool a bit.
Increase oven to 375 F (190 C).
Separate your eggs carefully. Put the whites in a clean dry bowl.
In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, melted butter, and salt. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition.
Stir in the flour, buttermilk, vinegar and orange zest, mixing well.
With a clean, dry whisk, beat your egg whites to medium stiff peaks. It is important that the bowl and whisk are dry, and it is helpful for beating egg whites if they are room temperature.
Fold the stiff whites into the custard, ideally using a rubber spatula.
When you fold egg whites into a custard, think of the gentle motion of folding a sheet, of trying to maintain the air you’ve just whisked into the egg whites. You don’t want to diminish them with harsh cutting motions; you want to fold these two entities together in a kind, circular motion so you can maintain the volume.
Stir in the cranberries and scrape the mixture into the partially baked pie shell.
Bake the pie until the top is golden brown and domed and the filling is firm, 25 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
Serve at room temperature.
Makes 1 pie (8 servings).
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.