Can’t make a pie? Well, the first few lines of food writer Ken Haedrich‘s new “Pie Academy” cookbook are here to soothe you: “Your dough cracks and falls apart. It sticks to your counter like superglue. Your pies are too ugly to bring out in public. This and more. I feel your pain. And you’ve come to the right place, because I can help.”
What follows are more than 250 pie recipes including over 20 crusts, as well as step by step guidance on everything from crimping and rolling to lattices and vents. Haedrich joins host Robin Young for a primer on pies.
By Ken Haedrich
The Pie Preface
So you love baking pies and are ready to explore a wider world beyond apple, pumpkin, and pecan. Or you want to learn how to bake a pie from scratch and you don’t know where to begin. Or you know where to begin and do so with the best of intentions, but your pies keep throwing you curve balls. Your dough cracks and falls apart. It sticks to your counter like superglue. Your pies are too ugly to bring out in public. This and more. I feel your pain. And you’ve come to the right place, because I can help.
By way of introduction, I’ve been writing cookbooks for nearly 40 years — 15 of them, in fact, including two collections of sweet pies and one of savory pies. This book is an updated, revised, and — if I may say so — totally awesome-ized edition of my outsize book, Pie, originally published in 2004. I caught the pie-making bug early on from my dad, a regular weekend pie maker, and my mom, his loving pie partner. Even as a young child, it was clear to me that there was special magic happening in those shared moments. Whether the pie making enhanced their relationship or their relationship brought special joy to their pie making, I could not be sure. But I was lucky to be an observer of that Sunday tradition.
When I started making my own way in the world, I naturally gravitated toward the kitchen. Somewhere along the line I started cooking for a living, writing magazine articles and cookbooks, and teaching baking classes. After a number of years of this, I woke up one day and realized I had become the de facto Dear Abby for pie makers. Home cooks from around the globe were leaving their pie baggage in my email inbox, a heavy burden of pie woe. I’d unpack it and write back, trying to help sort out their issues. So I started a website — ThePieAcademy.com — to expand my reach, help even more home bakers, and become a cheerleader for home pie baking. I created pie-making videos and online pie courses to help and encourage folks to find contentment and achieve mastery in our chosen craft.
Offline, The Pie Academy holds pie getaways in different parts of the country where our members come to hone their skills and enjoy the community of fellow pie makers. I hope you’ll join us someday. As the “dean” of The Pie Academy I’ve become acutely aware of the questions and quandaries that you have or will have as a pie maker. You may be frustrated, and understandably so. We’ve all been told that pie making is easy — as easy as pie, right? — but I can tell you for a fact that most home cooks encounter plenty of speed bumps and fender benders on the road to pie mastery. And I have about 10,000 emails to prove it.
I field questions from pie makers who want to know whether they should use butter, lard, or vegetable shortening for their crust; how to know when they’ve added enough water; if they have to refrigerate the dough; why the dough always sticks or falls apart on the way to the pan; why the berry pie is runny, the apples aren’t tender, or the pastry cream didn’t set up; why the pie shell shrunk — and I’m just getting warmed up. You will find the answers to all those questions, and many more, in the pages that follow.
One thing you won’t find here are detailed instructions on creating labor-intensive pastry still lifes, the sort of pies that become Instagram starlets. I admire anyone who has the patience and talent to turn their top crusts into geometric masterpieces and stunning artwork. I’ll even confess to a smidgen of jealousy; I’m more of a stick-figure artist myself. But this is pie we’re talking about, the province of home cooks, and I’m afraid these fancy pies sometimes scare more people away from pie making than they attract.
That said, you will find instructions on making decorative lattice tops, attractive crimped edges, peekaboo crusts, and a good many other pastry flourishes, plus virtually everything else you need to know to make fabulous sweet pies in every category imaginable.
There are no shortcuts to learning how to make good pie. Pie making is part science, part “feel” or baker’s intuition. Recipes alone can only take you so far. Beyond that, pie making requires practice and cultivated instincts for all the little nuances. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and get into the flour. The fact that you’re here tells me you’re ready to go down this path. You’ve probably had a taste of the real deal — the flaky texture of a homemade crust, the creamy goodness of a velvety custard pie, or the sweet satisfaction of a fresh peach crumb pie in August — and you’re unwilling to settle for anything less.
I’m excited to join you on your pie journey; thanks for choosing me as your guide. I hope you’ll be patient with yourself and enjoy the trip. Nobody learns to make great pies in a couple of weekends; I sure didn’t. Don’t rush toward mastery. Take your time, observe, make notes in the margins, try stuff that makes you a little nervous, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ugly pies. Enjoy the process, have a laugh, and share everything you make. One day you’ll wake up and realize you’ve nailed this pie thing.
If I can make one more suggestion: unless you’re an experienced pie maker, don’t skip part one, where I walk you through the nuances of making pie dough from scratch. This mini baking class will teach you many of the fine points of making pie dough and assembling a pie, and steer you clear of the usual obstacles. I think you’ll get a lot out of it. From there, I hope you’ll dive right into the recipes and get baking. Keep me in the loop, send me an email at The Pie Academy, and let me know how you’re doing. I look forward to hearing from you. —KEN HAEDRICH, dean of The Pie Academy
Perfect Pie Dough by Hand
If you’re new to pie making, begin with this dough. This is the streamlined version of the tutorial recipe explained in detail in chapter 3. That illustrated recipe will help you read between the lines and understand the finer points of making this or nearly any other pie dough recipe you come across.
One 9- to 91/2-inch standard or deep-dish pie shell
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, or 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, cubed unsalted butter plus 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening or lard in small pieces
2 teaspoons white vinegar
¼–1/3 cup cold water
To make this a double-crust recipe, simply double all of the ingredients and proceed as above. When you turn the dough out onto your work surface, divide it in two, making one part — for the bottom crust — a little larger than the other. Wrap the pieces separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.
Triple-Layer Pumpkin-Chocolate Pie
If you never imagined chocolate and pumpkin as great pie partners, this pie will surprise and delight you. There’s a “plain” pumpkin pie layer, a chocolate-pumpkin layer, and sweetened sour cream layer on top. It’s the one pie my wife, Bev, must have every fall. You may feel the same once you’ve tried it.
Makes 8–10 servings
Perfect Pie Dough by Hand (page 56) or another single-crust dough
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
12 ounces full-fat or reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
1½ cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup pumpkin purée, canned or fresh (see page 221)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup full-fat sour cream
Excerpted from Pie Academy © by Ken Haedrich. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.