Pie is a dessert that anyone can make well with just a little care, love, and technique. To help you prove it, I’ve chosen three pie recipes to highlight, all of whom show off different techniques, flavors and levels of difficulty.
Years ago, I was watching an episode of Top Chef when the guest judge, pastry chef extraordinaire Johnny Iuzzini, was grilling a chef-testant over his or her pecan pie shortcomings. In response, the chastened chef meekly offered, “I’m not a pastry chef,” as an excuse. Iuzzini wisely retorted, “Neither was my grandmother, but she can bake a pie.” Fewer phrases have better captured the essence of pie.
One suggestion: if possible, make your own pie crust. The difference is noticeable and the rewards are that much greater. Don't worry -- I'll remind you below. Enjoy!
Buttermilk Chess Pie
Different stories exist over the origin of the name “chess pie.” One story asserts that back in the days, prior to widespread refrigeration, pies with enough stability (read: sugar) could be held in a pie chest, or cabinet. Southern dialects being what they are, “chest pie” became “chess pie” over the years. Another reflects its English roots as a lemon curd pie, often called a “cheese pie” across the pond, which somehow morphed into chess pie. No matter which origin story you choose to believe, we can all agree that this sweet and tart custard pie smacks of deliciousness. Coming to us courtesy of Atlanta’s South City Kitchen, this recipe makes great use of the Southern pantry. Cornmeal, vinegar, sugar, flour and a few more ingredients make an appearance to bring stability and balance to the filling. Since this is a custard, be sure to bake the pie at a low temperature to prevent any separation or curdling of the eggs.
And feel free to use a store-bought pie crust, but the cream cheese pie dough in this recipe can be made with ease. You’ll be amazed how much better the finished pie tastes when you make your own crust. Lemon plays well with many flavors, so your options for an accompanying fruit compote or sauce are many. Rhubarb is pictured above, but any berry, orange, or kiwi would also be fantastic.
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Black Bottom Pie
Defined by a bottom layer of chocolate mousse or ganache, this layered mousse pie offers a wonderful contrast between light and rich. This particular recipe gives you the choice of store-bought pie crust or a crust made from chocolate cookie crumbs, and I'll say again for the record: you should definitely choose the latter. Something about the crisp, crumbly texture from the chocolate cookie crumbs against the creamy fillings just works much better. The bottom layer will be the most dense and rich, but the next layer will be lighter and creamier; rum is the perfect foil for the decadent chocolate. Using cream of tartar will stabilize the egg whites and help the pie set better.
The pie should keep in the refrigerator for about three days, but hopefully your hungry diners will make it disappear before then. Black bottom pie, you make the pastry world go ‘round!
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Banana Peanut Butter Cream Pie
Peanut butter and banana enthusiast Elvis Presley would have been thrilled to see this pie on his kitchen table. What makes this recipe work is its versatility. The peanut butter and banana are not mixed in as part of the custard, but rather they're spread separately at the bottom of the pie crust. This gives you the opportunity to use the same recipe to mix up the flavors: berries, cherries, caramel and pineapple all work well in this application. Don’t be afraid of the steps in this recipe, as they’re not that difficult. The main points to remember with the custard filling is to slowly whisk the hot dairy into the egg yolks to avoid scrambling the eggs, and to stir constantly once the cornstarch has been added. When dealing with starches, they cannot fully activate until reaching a boil; however, you don’t want the mixture to stick to the bottom of the pot.
If you don’t feel like making the meringue for the final component, feel free to substitute fresh whipped cream. And don’t forget, the peanut butter and banana combination play well with other flavors too! The addition of chocolate ganache, caramel, and/or chopped crispy bacon might even cause The King, wherever outside The Building he may be, to swivel his hips in delight.
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