I find that pie is a personal thing. People are either scared of baking it or embrace it. Some have family recipes they treasure, others rely on cookbooks and online recipes. If you think about it, one of the reasons pie is so special is because you really have to make it by hand, and in that way it encourages sharing and giving. Which is where we find ourselves today.
Pie It Forward by Gesine Bullock-Prado is a pretty, educational, and thorough collection of pie recipes and baking tips. Bullock-Prado owns the Vermont Pastry shop Gesine Confectionary and felt it was time to write a solid, complete pie book using many of the recipes she's become known for in the shop. Now I bake a lot of pies, and I have to admit that I was struck by how much I learned after just a few minutes flipping through Pie It Forward. This book truly takes classic pie recipes and techniques and introduces a modern edge that remains accessible to home bakers. Examples? New ways to go about lattice and cutouts, or an easy take on puff pastry. How about a whole bottle of beer in a pie. The book is split into broad chapters including Basics, Sweets and Savories and includes a comprehensive and highly visual chapter on making crust (for all of you visual learners out there, this is one of the best tutorials I've seen in print). Delicious recipes include the Pear and Rhubarb Cardamom Custard Pie, Bruléed Maple Custard Tart, Nutella Tart, and of course the Chocolate Stout Cream Pie that I prepared at home (recipe below). The first thing I noticed about the Chocolate Stout Cream Pie was the crust recipe. It called for 1 cup of cornstarch: surely a typo! I promptly wrote to the publisher, inquiring about the mistake and they promptly wrote back informing me it was correct. I set out, doubtfully, to prepare the recipe exactly as written. The crust (and the whole pie) is quite wonderful. The crust is almost like a sweet shortbread dough. A pastry chef friend mentioned that a lot of professional bakers add cornstarch to their pie doughs to inhibit gluten-production and create super flaky doughs. It worked here, and I'm so looking forward to trying other shortcuts and tricks of the trade you'll find in this book.
The filling is unique and may not be for everyone, although if you like dark chocolate, you really must try it. It has a whole bottle of chocolate stout beer in it, and it's not a 'it will cook off' affair. I served a slice to a friend that dropped by the other day and after a few bites, she said, "So yeah, you really taste the stout in here, huh?" That's the point, I'm guessing, and in that way the recipe is successful and quite satisfying on a cold early-March afternoon. The sturdy stout flavor is offset nicely by the sweeter crust and fluffy whipped cream. The cool thing about the book and about the author's mission is the idea behind Pie It Forward. Essentially, she's encouraging folks to bake a pie and give it away to a friend or colleague or someone who could use a pie. Pass on the flaky crust and juicy fruit filling as a thoughtful gesture. The Chocolate Stout Pie is a very fine place to begin. So happy Pi Day, all!
• To Learn More: Pie it Forward Day (and Recipe!)
Find the book: Pie It Forward: Pies, Tarts, Tortes, Galettes, and Other Pastries Reinvented by Gesine Bullock-Prado (published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang) at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon ($19.56).
Chocolate Stout Pudding Pie For the dough: Makes 2 (9-inch) crusts or 4 (4-inch) crusts 2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour, cold 1 cup (130 g) cornstarch 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt 1 1/4 cups (285 g) unsalted butter, cold 1 egg 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sweetened condensed milk 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract For the filling: 1/2 cup (40 g) cocoa powder 1/2 cup (120 ml) maple syrup 1 12-ounce bottle (360 ml) chocolate stout 1/4 cup (32 g) cornstarch 4 egg yolks pinch salt 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) heavy cream For the assembly: 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream 1/4 cup (25 g) confectioners' sugar 1 bar or large piece bittersweet chocolate, at room temperature, for making chocolate curls Make the dough: 1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, pulse together the flour, cornstarch, sugar,and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. 2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, condensed milk, and vanilla. Slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture while pulsing; continue until the dough just begins to come together. 3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently knead it until the dry ingredients are fully integrated and the dough holds together, being careful not to overwork it. 4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Procedure for the crust: 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line an 8-inch (20-cm) tart pan with the dough. Dock and freeze it for 20 minutes. 2. Line the crust with parchment, fill it with pie weights or dried beans, and bake it for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and parchment and bake the crust for 15 minutes more, or until the bottom is golden brown and baked through. Procedure for the filling: 1. Whisk together the cocoa powder, maple syrup, chocolate stout, cornstarch, egg yolks, salt, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 2. In a large saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer. 3. With the mixer running on low, carefully pour the hot cream into the cocoa mixture. Whisk until completely combined. 4. Transfer the liquid back into the saucepan and cook it over medium heat, whisking, until it thickens to a pudding. 5. Immediately pour the pudding into the prepared crust. Cover the pie with a sheet of plastic wrap, making sure the plastic is laid directly on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate the pie until it's set, at least 2 hours. Assembly 1. Clean the mixer bowl and whisk attachment and whisk the cream and confectioners' sugar until you achieve stiff peaks. 2. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip with the whipped cream and decorate the top of the pie. Using a very sharp vegetable peeler, shave curls from the chocolate and sprinkle them over all.Related: Pi Day Recipe: Chocolate Chess Pie (Image: Megan Gordon)