Ladies and gentlemen, it is that special time of year. The day when we pretend we like and understand math but we really just want an excuse to make and eat pie. And make and eat pie. We. Did. In fact, in the spirit of March Madness, we held a Pie Competition, pitting our finding-the-best-pie-book skills, making-or-getting-your-husband-in-some-cases-to-make-the-best-pie skills, and insisting-on-having-the-most-pie-authority skills against each other in an epic battle that fortunately resolved with a happy ending and pie for all. Note that the judging was extremely biased and the judges were susceptible to pie-related bribery (piebery?). And now we present the Library Pie Day Competition Results:
In place #4:
Chess Pie from Pies and Tarts (641.8652 M5884)
This pie is an intensely sweet and rich Southern specialty made of sugar, butter, and eggs. The origins of chess pie are somewhat muddled…one explanation is that when the baker was asked what kind of pie it was, the response was, “Oh, it’s jes’ pie.” Another awesome thing about this pie is that you probably already have all the ingredients to make it.
All-Butter Pie Dough, Unbaked Single Crust for one 9-inch pie
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ tsp Kosher salt
½ cup or 1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the chilled pie crust on a baking sheet, line the crust with lightly oiled or sprayed parchment, and fill with weights. Partially blind bake the crust until it is a matte, pale golden color, 15 to 20 min. Remove the crust from the oven, remove weights and parchment, and bake until lightly browned (about 10 min. more). Stir together the sugar, flour, and salt in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar mixture and the butter. Beat on low speed until smooth (2-3 min). Add the eggs and vanilla to the mixture, scraping the bowl after each addition. Mix until combined and smooth. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour the filling into the warm crust. Bake until the edges of the filling slightly puff up and become cracked and the center is just set (45-50 min). Serve slightly warm.
In place #3 (or possibly 3.14, which ought maybe to have been considered the best place, if the judges had not been too stuffed with pie to have come up with better rules):
Avocado Cream Pie from First Prize Pies (641.8652 K182)
Piemaker’s note: I admit a bit of trepidation on my part on the words “avocado” and “cream pie” being in the same title, but this pie was deliciousssss. Sweet, soft, moist, and green. Everything I look for in a March pie (though the book puts it in the “April” section, weirdly). I definitely would make it again and eat it on St. Patrick’s Day at the end of a rainbow while listening to some Irish folk songs. It doesn’t even need the topping, to be honest (in fact, I liked it better without).
Graham Cracker or Chocolate Cookie Crust for one 9-inch pie
4 medium Hass avocados, fully ripe
8 oz cream cheese
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pat the crust into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake it for 10 minutes, then let it cool completely. Make the filling: Halve and pit the avocados; scoop out the flesh into the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl. Beat the avocado with the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the milk, juice, and salt and beat until fluffy. Pour the filling into the cooled crust, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it until the filling is fully set, at least 4 hours. Make the topping: In a stand mixer, with a hand mixer, or by hand with a whisk, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Pipe or spread the whipped cream over the pie filling. Slice and serve.
In place #2:
Banana-Caramel Coconut Cream Pie from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook (641.5973 C7765)
We have a coconut divide here in the office. Some of us (the ones who are right) adore the sweet, rich flavor of coconut. Others think it’s gross. This is unfortunate because coconut cream pie is a perennial favorite, a confectionary staple, a true delight. Personally, I’ve never met a coconut cream pie I didn’t like. I have a go-to coconut cream in my recipe box at home, but this is an intriguing variation that would hit the spot for many. I would definitely recommend giving it a try. The recipe calls for a graham cracker crust, but we went for a butter-based, prebaked pate brisee instead. And just so you know, this is a fantastic cookbook. You should check it out. But fair warning–you’ll want to buy a copy for your kitchen.
Banana-Caramel Coconut Cream Pie
½ c sugar
3 T heavy cream
2 T unsalted butter
2 slightly underripe bananas
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1 c whole milk
⅔ c sugar
½ c unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ t salt
5 large egg yolks
¼ c cornstarch
2 T unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 ½ t vanilla extract
2 T dark rum (optional
1 graham cracker crust, baked and cooled
1 ½ c heavy cream, chilled
1 ½ T sugar
1 ½ t dark rum (optional)
½ t vanilla extract
1 T unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted
- To make the caramel: add 3 tablespoons water to small saucepan, then pour 1.2 c sugar into the center of the pan. Gently stir sugar with clean spatula to wet thoroughly. Bring to boil and cook until sugar mixture turns dark amber, 5 to 8 minutes, swirling pan occasionally once sugar begins to color. Off heat, add heavy cream (caramel will bubble vigorously) and a pinch of salt. Whisk to combine. Whisk in butter. Pour caramel into cooled prebaked pie crust, tilting to coat evenly; set aside to cool. When caramel is cool, peel bananas and slice crosswise ¼ inch thick. Arrange slices in single layer on top of caramel.
- For the filling: Bring coconut milk, whole milk, ⅓ c sugar, shredded coconut, and salt to simmer in medium saucepan, stirring occasionally. As milk mixture begins to simmer, whisk egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining ⅓ c sugar together in a medium bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk 1 cup of simmering milk mixture into yolk mixture to temper, then slowly whisk tempered yolk mixture back into remaining coconut milk mixture. Reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously until mixture is thickened and few bubbles burst on surface, about 30 seconds. Off heat whisk in butter, vanilla and rum, if using. Let mixture cool until just warm, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Pour warm filling into cooled prebaked pie crust. Lay sheet of plastic wrap directly on surface of filling and refrigerate pie until filling is chilled and set, about 4 hours.
- For the topping: Before serving, using stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip cream, sugar, run, if using and vanilla together on medium-low speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and continue to whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Spread whipped cream attractively over top of pie and sprinkle with toasted coconut.
And finally, place #1:
Quiche Lorraine from The Pie and Pastry Bible (641.865 B4503)
Well folks, it turns out we are salty, savory, cheesy people after all. First, let’s get on the same page about a couple of important things. First, a tart is a subset of pie. Not all pies are tarts, but all tarts are essentially pies, as are gallettes. Second, a savory pie is a pie is a pie. The only pie that is not really a pie is a Shepherd’s pie, which should be called Shepherd’s casserole, but I digress.
Anywhoo. The quiche Lorraine came out on top this year. I attribute this to two things: Bacon. And bacon. Yep, I pulled out the big guns to win this thing. And although I like this quiche recipe, I did make a couple of alterations, and if I were to make it again, I would make one more. Alterations I made for this one: Jarlsberg instead of Gruyere cheese, and I sweated the onions in a little of the bacon fat before I added it to the pie. The alteration I would make in future quiches: double the filling mixture and bake it in a pie pan instead of a tart pan. I like a higher ratio of filling to crust. And, although it would be more fritatta and less pie (as in not a pie), this would be a delicious dinner crust-less (just grease the pan well before pouring in the filling). Makes a great lunch, or a filling dinner with a green salad on the side.
1 prebaked pie crust in a tart pan
½ large egg white, lightly beaten
5 stips bacon
¼ c finely chopped onion
1 c firmly packed grated gruyere cheese, divided
½ c creme fraiche or heavy cream
½ c milk
3 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ t freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 350 F at least 15 minutes before baking. Set and oven rack on the middle level and place a baking stone or cookie sheet on it before preheating.
In a large frying pan, fry the bacon over low heat for about 8 minutes or until barely crisp. Remove it to paper towels to drain.
Distribute the chopped onion evenly over the prepared crust. Crumble the bacon into small pieces and sprinkle it evenly over the crust. Sprinkle half the Gruyere cheese over it.
In a medium bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, and seasonings just until thoroughly blended. The custard will measure about 1 ⅔ cups. Pour the mixture over the bacon and cheese. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining Gruyere and place the pan on the baking stone or sheet.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the filling slightly puffed, the top in golden brown, and a thin knife blade inserted near the center comes out clean. Allow it to cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before unmolding. Serve warm or at room temperature