On a Chilly Thursday in March

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Hi friends, here’s an everyday sort of pie story for you – catching up from March here (and honestly, patting myself on the back a bit that lately my blog posts have been about fairly recent history.) It feels good to be here and writing for you so regularly.

Sometimes, circumstances collude to create just the right conditions for a batch of mini pies in jars. I’d added some Granny Smith apples to my Imperfect Foods box the week before, I had streusel topping in the freezer, and I needed a small but meaningful gift to bring over to a couple from church. (Over the last eight or nine months of Covid-era-life, our church has had a pairing list to connect families on a weekly basis. It’s been really great to have the opportunity to give and receive creative gifts and gestures when we aren’t able to see our church family as a whole on a regular basis.)

Granny Smith apples, pears, a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg, lemon juice…a simple, can’t-go-wrong filling. In addition to two jars for our church friends, I made a pie for my friend Erin (it was her birthday week, hence the included candle). I also had to make a airplane pie-in-a-jar for our Matt (Uncle Teo to Pippa) who was getting ready to go back to his hometown of KC after a few months of writing his dissertation from our dining room table. And, of course, I made one in a ramekin for Pippa Pip, who helped me make the pastry and thinks there’s hardly anything better than homemade apple pie.

After a morning of pie-making, Pippa and I met up with Erin and her daughter Emery for a girls’ sushi lunch. I love that these two sweet girls are good buddies despite being many years apart in age. (Click the link to see the last photo I posted of Emery on this blog. Boy oh boy. To continue the Head and the Heart quote I started in that post from 2014, the months turn into years!)

This churashi bowl was gorgeous! Eating in a parking lot isn’t always the most picturesque, and we had a chilly day for it, but you’ll never catch me complaining about anything our restaurants have had to do to stay open this year. The food service world has been on my heart constantly.

Pippa can eat a lot – but not THAT much fried rice. (She’s enjoying it, despite the quizzical look on her face.) I hope she takes after her friend Emery’s love of sriracha and all things spicy someday.

It was a happy birthday celebration for a dear friend!

Have a wonderful weekend! ❤

Crack Pie and the 2021 Speakeasy Bakery Pi Day Auction

This recently past Pi Day, I did not bake a pie.

Yes, you heard me. I had very little motivation to bake a Pi Day pie for 2021, due to generally being overcommitted; you gotta know when to pull the brakes a little bit, friends. I did, however, know that Pi Day was coming up, and something in my soul felt a strong need to do *something* to celebrate. I even thought about driving all the way to one of my favorite pie meccas in LA to pick up a special pie treat, but knew I wouldn’t have the time.

Then, a few days prior to Pi Day, my friend and former coworker Erin, who lives in the Santa Clarita Valley, sent me a link to a Pi Day Auction to be held on Facebook over the course of the big day. Erin thought I’d like to peruse the photos of baked goodies being offered (mainly pies), and of course she was right. I drooled over pies like Ube, Earl Grey, and Summer Beach, and set my heart on a Fromage Blanc pie topped with Passionfruit syrup made by an artisanal local ranch… I mean, COME ON! I quickly decided I wasn’t here just to look. I was here to win.

Fast forward to Pi Day. A Sunday, first and foremost, filled with lots of church activities (mainly virtual). I took some glimpses at the auction page activity in the morning and afternoon and placed several bids, knowing that crunch time would really be 7:50-8:00 pm, right before the auction was scheduled to end.

And let me tell you, that was a stressful ten minutes. My heart was pounding. Competition was fierce. I honed in on what had become my top two choices; Crack Pie and the aforementioned Fromage Blanc. I was using my computer to bid on one and my phone to bid on another. The computer/Fromage Blanc lost (after multiple bids upwards of $100!!) The phone/Crack Pie won! What a rush.

Soooo Jessica, what is Crack Pie, anyway?

Crack Pie: (n) A gooey, sugary, buttery, toffee-y filled oat cookie crust, with a cringe-y name (yes, it’s addictive. And no, drug jokes aren’t funny). Originally created by Christina Tosi of Milk Bar fame, the pie’s official name is now Milk Bar Pie: I just learned that now when I was researching how y’all could possibly buy this pie if you wanted one badly after reading this post: Here’s how.

And here’s the the verbatim description of the pie as posted to the auction page, if you weren’t drooling enough already. A faithful re-creation of the world-famous Crack Pie from Momofuku Milk Bar, described as “toasted oat crust, gooey butter cake meets chess pie.” Incredibly dense with flavor, this pie is potent enough to serve a crowd, yet addictive enough to destroy the willpower of one.

This pie was baked for me by Danika, one of the bakers who comprise the Speakeasy Bakery. With a name like that, you’d infer there was more to the story, and you’d be right. In fact, this bakery is not a stone-and-mortar location at all, but rather a network of bakers in the Santa Clarita Valley which started out as a means to share sourdough bread starters among friends and neighbors. Sounds awesome, right? It gets better; in chatting with Scott Ervin, the auction-master, I heard the story of how he and his friends began the group and how it has snowballed to included hundreds of home bakers. The Speakeasy Bakery has held an annual Pi Day auction for the past 6 or 7 years, with the proceeds going to the nonprofit feedSCV, which Scott co-founded with Todd Wilson. Look them up on social media (@feedscv) to learn more if you’re interested, particularly if you’re in the LA area. They’re serving their community in really creative ways; besides holding food drives, there are community cooking classes, and their stated goal is to “make eating fresh, local and sustainable every day within everyone’s reach”. That is a mission that speaks straight to my soul.

Danika and her extraordinary Crack Pie met me at a park in the Santa Clarita Valley. Pippa and I made an occasion out of the 45-minute-drive and met up with some of her Sunday School buddies. Here are some obligatory cute kid pics to brighten your day. We’re starting to be able to get together with a wider circle of friends outdoors and it feels really, really good.

P.S. Now I’m just being mean but the actual taste of Danika’s Crack Pie (sprinkled with powdered sugar by moi prior to serving, with my brand new shaker!) was nothing short of any of the mouthwatering epithets I’ve already shared.

To Scott, Danika, and the rest of the Speakeasy members; thank you for letting me have a fun and educational glimpse into your secret society, though I neither live in your valley or have ever baked a loaf of sourdough bread. (But, never say never!) And to Erin, thanks for sending me into this delightful little pie story. Adios everyone!

Calvados-Apple Custard Pie

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Hello everyone! Happy March. The most recent addition to ye olde Pie Gallery is…Calvados-Apple Custard Pie.

There are several reasons that certain recipes in Pie have languished for so long without being tried. One that I’ve mentioned previously is how elusive certain fruits are (loganberries, for example). Another common roadblock is that the pie requires a liqueur or liquor that we don’t have handy. Like apple brandy.

Calvados was brand new to me! If, like me, you need a bit of background, Calvados refers to apple or pear brandy from Normandy (apple, for the purposes of our pie of the day). It has a really pleasant flavor, and we’ve discovered that it’s quite nice just mixed with sparkling water. I’m going to be honest here: I just spent about 7 minutes perusing the Calvados Wikipedia article and found it super interesting. Take a look if you’d like (i.e. if you’re a nerd like me).

On to the pie. A partially pre-baked pastry is needed (I had two takes this time – read to the end of the post to see my faux pas). The filling is made by first sautéing large slices of apples (I used Honeycrisp) in butter, a little sugar, and a quarter cup of Calvados. The apples are placed aside to cool and then arranged in the bottom of the pie pastry. In a small pot on the stovetop, cream, more sugar, eggs, salt, vanilla, and 2 more tablespoons of Calvados form the custard. The custard is still a thin liquid when it is poured into the pie shell – it sets as it’s baking. Here’s a little photographic representation for ya!

The finished product as it came out of the oven was puffed slightly and had a gorgeous golden color. We cooled it to room temperature before partaking, and it did not disappoint; most especially for a pie we had mainly curiously and no real expectations towards! Levi threw in an overly superlative comment (“I think this really must be at least in my top five…”). However, if this was true every time he said it, we’d be looking at 57 pies in his top five. The flavor profile was complex, yet refined – despite the amount of brandy, it cannot be described as boozy. On the whole, this pie is a very elegant dessert, something I could imagine myself enjoying at a non-fussy French café.

In other news…I have pie failures sometimes! (I hope you’re not too surprised.) Let us analyze the poorly lit photo of a sad partially pre-baked pie crust, below, and see what we can learn together.

Observations: The crust has shrunken, while baking, to a shape that would never contain a custard filling. The edges are poorly defined (no attempt at fluting and very little at crimping). There is also a color/pattern that I might call “Pie Stretch Marks”.

Hypotheses: This was an All-Butter Pastry. I rarely use this recipe, as I like the flakiness that comes from half butter and half shortening or oil, not to mention that plowing through a whole stick of butter per single pastry isn’t super cost-effective. However, the Calvados-Apple Custard Pie recipe did suggest using this recipe based on the unbeatable flavor of the purely butter crust, and I liked that idea. The real thing I’m not sure of is how often I’ve pre-baked an only-butter crust. It’s probably not happened many other times, and I’m curious if that’s a factor. My other thought was that this pastry was probably a little bit overworked, and tighter gluten strands started to form, causing the crust to pull together and shrink. (Hence, Pie Stretch Marks). Finally, I know for sure that I did not roll this pastry out as wide as I should have. When you put a pie crust in a dish, you want it to feel very roomy- if you’re pulling and stretching at the edges to try to make your pie tall enough (as I was here) you can anticipate problems.

Conclusion: I could have probably done something with this, we talked briefly about getting some whipping cream and berries and making a funny pavlova-type situation, but the bottom line was that it was a busy day, we didn’t really need more dessert, and it was best to just move on. Bye bye, shrunken buttery pie.

Here’s an aerial shot to sign off with. Peace, love, and board games. ✌️

Champagne Grape Pie

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The pie featured in this post, similar to the Eggnog Chiffon Pie I recently shared with you all, was a quiet pause in a whirlwind season. August 2019. Let me tell you about August 2019. August 2019 was the last full month before I began a several-month resignation process from my amazing job. It was also the month we took then 14-month-old Pippa to Spain for two weeks to celebrate Mommy and Daddy’s 10th anniversary in Madrid and meet her little British buddy Apphia in Barcelona, but mostly to attend the wedding reception of her honorary aunt and uncle Gee Gee and Tio Stinky in beautiful seaside Alicante. If that weren’t enough for one month, in the final days of August 2019, we took Pippa to Minnesota for her first fishing vacation! (A truly momentous occasion for a descendant of the Sweeny family.)

I’d had my eyes open for champagne grapes for years already, knowing that this pie would be delicious and a snap to make as soon as I could find this elusive fruit. Trader Joe’s must have had them when I shopped after our return from Spain, and I probably baked this pie after a LONG week at week (helping to facilitate trainings more or less every day, as I can remember) and it was probably just what I needed to do on August 26th, 2019 – e-mail pileup from being on vacation be darned!

This is one of those perfectly simple recipes. Some sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch. A little milk and sugar glaze on the top pastry. That’s it, folks. Keep this one in your memory banks, and if you spy some champagne grapes this summer, just remember, “Jess said to make a pie with these.” In fact, I’m going to include the recipe below, so you’ll have no excuses. I’ll try to remember to link back to this post at a seasonally appropriate time as an extra reminder. Please do send me a photo if you try it yourself! 🙂

Bonus healthy living points if you eat your pie topped with cottage cheese. My sweet little baby!

A few relevant tidbits:

  • Champagne grapes, when labeled as such, are also known as Corinth or Black Corinth grapes. They are not “the grapes Champagne is made from”. As far as I can tell, the name “Champagne” is just a fun name designed by marketers. Kind of like “Cotton Candy” grapes. If you want to learn more about what grapes you should make your own champagne with…well…you might be reading the wrong blog. 🙂
  • The only other grape pie I’ve made, to date, was this delightful and storied Grape and Fig Pie.

Champagne Grape Pie

Ingredients: 

A double crust pie pastry (Basic Flaky or Extra Flaky from Ken’s book, if you have it, work well – or, use your own!)

For the FILLING:
4 cups champagne grapes, stemmed
1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
21/2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the GLAZE:
Milk or light cream
Sugar


  1. If you haven’t already, prepare pie pastry and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.
  2. On a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper, roll the larger portion of the pastry into a 12-inch circle with a floured rolling pin. Invert the pastry over a 9-inch standard pie pan, center, and peel off the paper. Gently tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, and let the overhang drape over the edge. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the grapes, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the lemon juice. Mix well and set aside to juice for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  4. On another sheet of floured waxed paper, roll the other half of the pastry into a 10-inch circle. Combine the remaining 11/2 tablespoons sugar and the cornstarch in small bowl, then stir the mixture into the fruit. Turn the filling into the chilled pie shell, smoothing the top with a spoon. Lightly moisten the rim of the pie shell. Invert the top pastry over the filling, center, and peel off the paper. Press the top and bottom pastries together along the dampened edge. Using the back of a butter knife or pastry knife, trim the pastry flush with the edge of the pan, then pinch the edges together to seal. Poke several steam vents in the top of the pie with a fork or paring knife. Put a couple of the vents near the edge of the crust so you can check the juices there later. To glaze the pie, lightly brush the pastry with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
  5. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and rotate the pie 180 degrees, so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. Just in case, slide a large aluminum foil–lined baking sheet onto the rack below to catch any spills. Continue to bake until the top is golden brown and any visible juices bubble thickly through the steam vents, 25 to 30 minutes.
  6. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Recipe from Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes by Ken Haedrich, published by Harvard Common Press.

The Calm After the Storm

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The third week of January 2021 was a Rather Blustery one as Pippa and I would say (we’re big Winnie the Pooh fans around here). On Tuesday the 19th, the volume of the wind rose to an all-day and all-night howl. We spent the day watching our neighbor’s roof blow off a shingle or five at a time (ducking out to help clean up, too!) and were without power for over 24 hours. A tricky bit in all this was that we were going out of town from Wednesday to Sunday, and never got power restored before our departure time. A big thanks to friends who lent a helping hand through all the logistics of that situation… “Hey, can you go to my house and run the garbage disposal?” That kind of thing. Our friends are the real ones.

In retrospect, there was more we could have done to save our food, but, weird times, you know. Bottom line is, we ended up having to throw away the contents of our fridge and some of our freezer. The saddest loss there was the Meyer Lemon Gelato that Pippa and I made for our first “Ice Cream Monday” of the year. More on that in a future post; Pie and ice cream are such clearly related topics that I do plan to regularly share our 2021 ice cream escapades with the Peace of Pie audience.

Our destination this time was Cambria, a gorgeous coastal town about four hours north of Los Angeles. Over the last ten years, the Central Coast has become one of my very favorite places on earth and is a favorite vacation spot for both Levi and I. It’s even more fun seen through the wondering eyes of a nearly-three-year-old. God’s beauty. Pine trees, the ocean, playful otters, shiny gorgeous creatures in tidepools. We were blessed with one extremely sunny and warm day in which we kayaked out into the calmest Morro Bay I’ve ever seen. Pippa was a ball of delight in her little pink-and-yellow life jacket.

Back to the pie(s). We didn’t really intend to bring multiple coolers of food (and I didn’t really intend to make two pies in four days), but between us and Levi’s parents (who had also lost power overnight) we arrived at our vacation home with defrosted bags of frozen cherries, blueberries, and strawberries. The solution was fairly obvious.

Let’s give this one the descriptive name of “Frozen Berry Windstorm Pie”. And here is a very cute pic or two of Pippa and her Nana sniffing said Windstorm Pie. A bit of oaty streusel on top completed this dessert. I’d packed the oats for Pip’s breakfasts but they sure came in handy here!

I was more prepared than usual to whip this pie up than I normally would have been outside my home kitchen. I had packed a rolling pin, pie dish, and pastry ingredients, with the intent of crafting a French Canadian Walnut-Maple Syrup Vinegar Pie. This pie immediately follows Sugar Pie in the Pie cookbook; readers may remember that Sugar Pie was the latest addition to the Pie Gallery (made and eaten less than a month ago, for Christmas 2020) so it’s cute that these pies get to be next to each other in my gallery as well as in the cookbook. It’s the little things…

Have you heard of vinegar pie before? Aside from this recipe, my knowledge of vinegar pie largely comes from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Pippa and I have recently been enjoying the “My First Little House” series, which are beautifully illustrated picture books based on the original works. There’s one book where Almanzo goes to the County Fair and the favorite page (like mother, like daughter, I guess…) is of Almanzo eating his heart out in the dining hall, where all the ladies from church are serving a plethora of pies – Vinegar Pie among them. Pippa remembers bits and pieces of what she’s read and regurgitates phrases during play, so it would not be an unusual occurrence to overhear her, for example, setting up a “birthday party” made of bubble wrap and play food and telling her stuffie “Pomegranate Cat” to eat some “Vinegar Pie”. Every day is a new adventure around here.

By the way, you really can’t taste the vinegar. There is an acidic kick to the pie (which contains 1/4 cup orange juice in addition to the couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar), but it really is just there to offset the sweetness and provide a more well-balanced flavor. So, don’t be deterred. It’s lovely…if you enjoy maple syrup (who doesn’t?) and walnuts (less of you, probably). My father-in-law is a huge walnut fan, so I timed this pie to occur at least near-ish to his birthday (which is next week, but he believes in a long birthday season).

Here’s something funny. I have never been the *best* at posting about pies immediately after baking them, so I don’t know that this has happened before…but after I put that last picture in, I remembered that I still had about one sixth of this pie remaining in the fridge, and I went and helped myself to a slice. Yep, there’s that citrus tang in real time. Delightful.

Action items from this post:

  • Get yourself outside and maybe somewhere near the ocean, if possible. It’s good for the soul and I know our souls are weary these days.
  • If you’re interested in trying a vinegar pie (you might even have all the ingredients in your pantry already!) here is a similar but slightly different recipe from Ken’s Pie Academy website: Maple Walnut Vinegar Pie. I’d love to hear if you decide to make one yourself!

Lost Christmas

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Hey, happy January everyone!

Time for a few numbers and figures! Last year, my ninth year of writing Peace of Pie, I had a personal goal of posting at least a twice a month. I’m pleased to share that I did indeed deliver exactly 24 posts your way in 2020! This is the most I’ve posted since 2013, and it clearly paid off; the number of visitors to my blog in 2020 was the highest ever. Maybe you were all just spending more time online because #coronavirus but I’d like to think there was more to it than that. 🙂

Now that I’m sort of back where I’d like to be in terms of producing content, I want to start checking back in with you, my dear readers, more often. I’d like to know what kinds of posts you like best, what you want to see more of, etc. In the end, my style and my storytelling are what they are (and I’m so grateful for those of you who tell me how much you enjoy reading!) but there is still room for adaptation and refinement. Do you want more recipes to be shared? Some Pie Pastry 101 posts? Often when I make savory pies or quiches, I skip blogging about them…would you like more savory pie ideas? Ready…set..leave a comment!

Now for the pie alluded to in this post’s title. Last month, I was drinking a lot of eggnog (anyone else?) and perusing/editing my Pie Gallery a decent amount (you’ll know why if you made it through the entirety of the last blog post, yikes – it was a long one!) Those two activities happening simultaneously led me to realize that I had never blogged about an incredible pie we enjoyed not one but TWO whole Christmas seasons ago: the Eggnog Chiffon Pie.

Guys, I know Christmas is over, but these pictures I found makes me wish it wasn’t so I could make this pie again right now and have it be justifiable.

This was Christmas Eve 2018. Pippa was six months old and we were flying to Richmond, Virginia that very night. We had small pieces of eggnog chiffon pie after a big family dinner at Levi’s grandparents’ house, right before heading to the airport – I picked up my pie dish weeks later – so, it makes sense that among the shuffle this pie would have simply gone unblogged. With two years+ elapsed, it really wouldn’t be honest for me to try to give any sense of what it’s like to make this pie, but allow me to note a few features and ingredients: Crème Anglaise, rum, pecan graham cracker crust, exacting timing, yes that’s nutmeg sprinkled all over, rich, whipped cream served as a garnish or over the whole pie. I don’t feel the need to go on about this pie’s merits: basically, if you like eggnog, you’ll think it’s divine. And if you don’t, you should choose one of the other 299 recipes in Pie for your next holiday soirée. Easy.

In the Pie Gallery, Eggnog has now taken the coveted #150 spot over from the Mocha Ricotta Mousse Pie (sorry, cousin Daniel!) but most likely it will not hold that spot for very long, as I’m going through my memory with a fine-tooth-comb looking for lost pies these days…

I can’t let this post end without sneaking in a reminder of what Pippa looked like in December 2018. (Cue gush of tears on this end.)

Don’t forget to leave your comments about your hopes and dreams below (I’ll take pie-related or otherwise!)

A 2020 Pie Roundup

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2021 is upon us, and, arbitrary though it may be, it feels good to move forward. It feels good to set new goals and intentions, to re-dedicate ourselves to our core beliefs and values and relationships, to know that any pain and struggles we experienced in 2020 will carve space for deeper joys to come, if we let them.

This is going to be a long post. The format was the most recent guest baker (aka Levi)’s suggestion so if you get too the end of this and think “THIS WAS TOO. MUCH. PIE.,” you can take it up with him. I was intrigued by the idea of starting my blogging life somewhat afresh in 2021, so I went for it. Without further ado, here is a roundup of eight dessert pies I baked in 2020 that had not yet been blogumented.

Yep, I just made that word up.

Indiana Buttermilk Pie

August 2020. First of three pies from when our friend Matt was in California to visit us for slightly over a week. Three pies in a week, that’s well above my usual pace. To put it in perspective, if that was my standard pace, this project would have been over by 2013. This was my first buttermilk pie (there are three buttermilk pie recipes in Pie) but not my last in 2020, as you’ll see. Simple, basic, uncomplicated flavor. 1 teaspoon of vanilla is the only real flavoring agent, and the tartness of the buttermilk shines straight through. I loved this.

“White” Summer Fruit Pie…sort of!

August 2020. Second of three pies in aforementioned week. We really wanted one of them to be a fruit pie, and Matt (Pie Hype Man) really wanted me to make progress in the cookbook, so we chose this “White” Summer Fruit recipe. It called for Rainier cherries and either white peaches or nectarines. As it turned out, we weren’t able to locate Rainiers so late in the summer, so we followed the recipe exactly but used zero cherries, white Saturn peaches, yellow nectarines, and rhubarb (of which I freeze lots each spring). While it was absolutely divine and we ate it with homemade vanilla ice cream (extra divinity points) my overactive conscience won’t allow me to check this pie off my list until I make it again with Rainier cherries. *Avoids eye contact with Matt, who totally thought this one counted.* But look how pretty!!

Little Crème Brûlée Pies

August 2020. Third of three. Unusual and unforgettable mini pies. My first time making Ken’s “Extra Flaky” pie crust recipe, which calls for cake flour. (Also my first time purchasing cake flour! A few of the pies in this post had ingredients outside the typical realm of my pantry, as you’ll see.) The pastry was lovely to work with and yielded enough for four miniature pie pans, pictured below. After these pies are baked, they are topped with a layer of brown sugar and blow-torched to perfection. I mean, what could be better?

Coconut Cream Pie with Coconut Meringue Topping

October 2020. More ingredients I never hardly ever buy: sweetened flaked coconut and cream of coconut (as in, the stuff in piña coladas, not to be confused with coconut cream aka thicker coconut milk). My cousin Martin’s family visited us for a weekend and I wanted to make a great pie to enjoy all together. When we were growing up and on summertime vacations in Vermont, Martin and I were the little kids who would order coconut almond ice cream without fail when we’d all go to our favorite ice cream shop (our grandparents’ treat). Our shared love of coconut led me to choose this pie for the occasion. Decadent. A coconut lover’s dream come true; yet, not overpowering or artificial in any way.

Three Sisters Coconut Buttermilk Pie

October 2020. Remember that sweetened flaked coconut I’d just bought? Me too…so I looked for another recipe that called for it. Since making the Indiana Buttermilk Pie and absolutely adoring it, I had been looking forward to trying a second buttermilk pie – this was an easy pick. Like a coconut custard pie but with the tang of buttermilk to take it to the next level; a real treat. We shared this pie with our good friends Brad and Deb at our big outdoor table. It seats 18, but we’ve been so grateful for the few times this year that we’ve used it to seat even 4. ❤

Homestead Chess Pie

November 2020. I was looking for something very simple, with pantry ingredients, as I decided to put this pie together at the last minute. This fit the bill: eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, a bit of vinegar and cornmeal. In my last blog post, I mentioned that I made a (correct) executive decision to bake my Tarte au Sucre an extra 15 minutes past the time given in the recipe. I initially took this pie out at 35 minutes (recipe calls for 30-35) but ended up putting it back in the oven later, cause it clearly was underbaked. Yikes. Perhaps my oven does run cold and I am just waking up to this fact? I shall ponder this further. A delightful pie in the end, for all its simplicity. The fifth of the five Chess Pies in Pie – I’ve now exhausted that category. I confess, I did secretly wish this was a Lemon Chess Pie when I was eating it. Levi probably did too because he is Mr. Lemon Dessert.

Crock-Pot Fall Fruit Pie

November 2020. The name above ruins my punch line. Which of the desserts pictured below do you think was my Thanksgiving pie this year? That’s right, it’s the only one that looks nothing like a pie! This oval-shaped semi-imposter, though not what you would expect of me, was a popular and tasty dessert table choice that I’d recommend any of you try. It’s made with baking mix (like Bisquick – I used Birch Benders Organic Classic Pancake and Waffle Mix), fresh cranberries, pears, apples. Super Thanksgiving-y and great with a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

Apple and Blueberry Crumb Pie

December 2020. This was an important pie for me. I didn’t follow a recipe. I made it for my dear Linda (Pippa’s former nanny) and her family. My apple pie is Linda’s favorite, my blueberry pie is her daughter’s favorite, and they both love crumb topping. Linda had filled a pie dish with homemade tamales for us shortly before Thanksgiving. After the tamales sustained us for several days, I was left with this empty dish (it says Blessed on the bottom – I’d actually given it to her as a gift the last week she worked for us). I couldn’t picture giving it back like that, so I made this pie while Pippa took an afternoon nap one day. This has been a season of grief, and that was an afternoon when the grief was more present than I realized. There was something so visceral in making that pie with my hands, both painful and healing at the same time. I didn’t expect to react the way I did to peeling and coring the apples, to breaking up clumps of butter with my floury fingers – each familiar step generating a physical heartache – but perhaps I should have. Linda said her whole family agreed it was the best pie they have ever had.

Through that experience, I recognized that pie making has become a way to let my heart speak what is on is mind. It is a path I can walk any time, in any weather. And it is a way I can return blessings on the givers in my life, of whom there truly are many.

Be blessed in 2021, my friends, though it may look different than you expect. Happy New Year!


A few editorial notes:

  • You probably got this already, but a pie named in bold type is a pie from Ken Haedrich’s Pie baked for the first time. The two fruit pie titles are not in bold, denoting that they aren’t counting towards my count to 300.
  • While at this moment I’m feeling 96.5% sure that I covered all of 2020’s sweet pies, there were also a couple savory pies I’d like to tell you a bit more about another day. Also, there are still some pies of yesteryear that will occasionally pop into my mind or out of old photos which have yet to claim their rightful place in the gallery. So, if you had any fear that I was completely done with flashbacks…fear not.

Visions of Sugar-Pies

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This Christmas was the first I’ve celebrated while also having my own child able to really see and articulate the wonder and delight surrounding the season. Watching her watch sparkling lights, try special holiday foods, search for new “decorations” around our neighborhood, and express real gratitude for the gifts she received has been extremely lovely. Now that she fancies herself a ballerina, she’s learned about the Nutcracker and pretends to be Clara often; sometimes I’m the sugarplum fairy. Good deal.

Now, there is no Sugarplum Pie among the many recipes in Ken Haedrich’s Pie collection. (Italian Prune Plum, yes, which is on a short list of pies I’ve started called THE HIGHLY ELUSIVE ONES. Marionberry is on there too. And Balaton cherry. Anybody got any leads?!) But, there is a Sugar Pie; more formally known as Tarte au Sucre. As the name might give away, this pie is of French Canadian origin. In fact, I was first introduced to this dessert about five years ago at the home of some wonderful friends of ours who dwell in Quebec; it was April, but very snowy, and I remember it as one of the coziest moments – we had a double pie meal, a French Canadian style meat pie first, followed by Tarte au Sucre.

P.S. This is what I miss the most right now.

Tarte au Sucre stars one of the tastiest forms of sugar – maple syrup. I baked one for our Christmas Day 2020, and since this pie isn’t terribly well known (at least, outside of Canada), I’ll go into some detail about how it comes together!

Essentially, after making and pre-baking a single crust pastry, two separate components of the filling are prepared: crumbs and syrup. For the crumbs, flour, light brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and butter are combined much in the way you’d make a crumb topping for a fruit pie. The syrup mixture contains warmed maple syrup, baking soda, an egg, an egg yolk, and vanilla, whisked together. The pie is then assembled in three layers: crumbs, syrup, more crumbs. It’s quite a simple process, but I moved through the steps slowly and deliberately because a) the method was fairly foreign to me and b) I recently made a fruit pie that I forgot to put any cornstarch in until the pie was in the oven for ten minutes, so my confidence is a little on the rocks but I’m gonna be okay thanks for asking.

While I’m confessing past pie foibles I may as well bring up the Shoofly Pie I made 8 1/2 years ago (Have I really been doing this for that long?!) Shoofly Pie is made in a similar manner to Tarte au Sucre; I’d call the two each others’ Southern and Northern cousins. I never tasted the Shoofly Pie, as I sent it off to a bake sale. (Side note: I’ve learned enough in the past 8 1/2 years to know that that’s really NOT the kind of pie to send to a bake sale. Too unusual, too gooey. Has “fly” in the name.) In Ken’s book, the filling of the Shoofly and Tarte au Sucre only bake for 30-35 minutes. In my version of history, the Shoofly Pie was sent to that bake sale after perfectly following the recipe; nevertheless, it was underbaked. My friends were kind enough to not tell me that expressly, but, well, there were some veiled comments about it being difficult to cut and serve. I’m telling you, I know in my heart that it needed ten more minutes. And when I was baking this tender little Sugar Pie, I vowed to learn from the past.

Pie said, “Don’t be tempted to bake the pie much more than 30 minutes, even if the filling seems loose.”

Jessica Gelineau said, “I’m baking this puppy for a full 45.”

Et voila!

Truly, this was a yummy treat. Gooey, almost cookie like in flavor and consistency, with a real emphasis on the maple flavor. Let’s all take a quick moment to note that I’ve begun making more of an effort to crimp the edges on my single crust pies. I attended a virtual Pie Academy with Ken Haedrich in November (which was fantastic – more to come on that in a future post!) and basically was just inspired after watching his fluting technique to give my own pies a bit more oomph in the visual department.

(Note for the nerdiest pie nerds amongst you: This particular crust got a bit too brown and also didn’t hold its fluting perfectly, as you can see. This was a situation where my little silicone pie crust shields should have been employed.)

Now, back to that Christmas wonder and joy I was talking about earlier. One of my written goals for this year, before any of us knew what 2020 would bring, was, “Foster a sense of wonder and delight in my little girl”. The credit isn’t mine to take, but that wonder and delight is growing in her every day. One of Levi’s Christmas presents to me was a book called Awaking Wonder: Opening Your Child’s Heart to the Beauty of Learning, by Sally Clarkson. I’m so excited to read it! Book club, anyone?

One of my gifts to Pippa was a child-size rolling pin. ❤

Did you have a favorite moment of Christmas Day this year? Here are a few of mine: Levi reading to Pippa about Jesus’ birth, Pippa pretending to be baby Jesus (yes, all those stuffed animals are the ones in the manger…the lamb is a little more accurate than Paddington Bear…), and Pippa enjoying the trains and Christmas villages at her great-grandparents’ house.

I’ll be back in a few days to share the rest of 2020’s pies. Hasta luego. xox

GUEST POST: I am not the usual baker.

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Hi Everyone, it’s Levi!

At Jessica’s urging, I embarked on my own little pie adventure this week. We made Thanksgiving Leftover Pot Pies!

I started with Double-Crust Food Processor Dough from Ken’s newer book Pie Academy. This was incredibly easy and fast. It’s essentially 2.75 cups of flour and two sticks of butter blitzed together.

(I would insert picture of the crust dough being made here but, I definitely didn’t take that picture, I’m not the usual blogger.)

The crust came out great! I roughly divided it into 6 larger pieces and 6 smaller pieces for our large muffin tin and refrigerated it over-night. Jess later asked if I’d followed the steps closely and I responded “Of course not, but, I think it came out great anyways!” I’m not the usual baker.

(It would be great to have pictures here to break up the paragraphs, but, still didn’t get any).

The next evening we broke out our leftover turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy. Then, we warmed up some frozen peas, frozen corn and also steamed some carrots real quick. Pippa and I then mixed up 6 fillings, and experimented with layering the mashed potatoes or the stuffing at the bottom of the pies (that experiment was successful).

Baked them, and as my countrymen say, voila!

The cranberries really popped against the dense, yet flaky, crust.

I can definitely see this becoming a tradition for me.

The heir to my fortune loved the Leftover Pies!

Looking forward to more of these next year!

Decadence in a Nut-Shell

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Pippa and Jack’s fall vacay, part 2. From the mountains to the beaches, these two know how to enjoy their surroundings. In October, our families shared a beach house in San Diego for four days and nights characterized by sticky sand, idyllic views, toddler shenanigans, and decadent treats.

I’m choosing to harp on the word decadence to talk about the pie we enjoyed on this vacation. This dessert is nearly laughable in terms of richness, over-the-topness, and, well…yeah. Decadence. Even Ken Haedrich includes a note in his description of this pie that reads: Warning: I doubt there’s a richer recipe in this book.

The pie in question is the…Patchwork Quilt Country Inn Frozen Coffee Toffee Pie. Even the name is a mouthful. Let’s talk about the crust first. This pie gets its own particular crust: Choco-Nut Press-In Pie Crust, which Ken comments is an “unorthodox crust” that would likely work well with many of the other icebox and ice cream pies in the Pie cookbook, “especially those featuring chocolate”.

The first step in the making of this crust involves pulsing chocolate and walnuts and sugar in a food processor. I had overlooked this small detail while packing but guess what it TOTALLY worked out because my food processor has been functional but essentially broken all year. Levi did a Target run on Day 2 of our vacation that included: a new food processor.

I purchased one item for the making of this crust that I will almost certainly never have occasion to buy again: boxed pie crust mix. (!!)

Having made that snide remark: the crust really came together nicely, was easy to work with, and tasted like something special. Here it is, pressed into the largest pie plate I own. Following this, the crust was refrigerated, then baked, then refrigerated again.

In between steps of pie-making, I assisted Pippa in creating a chocolatey treat of her own. (Thanks Trader Joe’s.)

Okay, are you guys really ready to hear about the filling? The answer is no, there’s no way to prepare for the shocking stats to follow.

7 eggs.

4 sticks of butter.

2 1/2 CUPS of sugar. (I just couldn’t do it. I reduced it to 2.)

Chocolate, espresso, Kahlua, vanilla. And none of this includes the topping.

My entire Kitchen-Aid stand mixer traveled to San Diego with me for the making of this monstrosity.

The filling is refrigerated in the already cold pie shell before a topping gets added. Here I am with an expression that says, “lol now I’ve seen it all”.

The cold pie is topped with sweetened espresso whipped cream. The recipe calls for “Rich’s Whip Topping” but that’s not available in California stores from what I could deduce (and the recipe allows that it’s only available in certain parts of the country. The Patchwork Quilt Country Inn is in Indiana, so I’m thinking this is a Midwest product. But if any of you have heard of it or used it, I’d be quite curious to know.)

The fully assembled pie freezes for 2-4 hours before being ready for consumption. After your kids go to bed is the suggested correct time to dig into this pie. I for one don’t like to caffeinate my two-year-old prior to bedtime. (But I’d be dishonest to say she didn’t taste this at all…she did get a few morsels on the morning we were packing up and checking out. We were all trying to do our best by the remainder of the pie; it was a feat.) In summary: this is as delicious as you would imagine. A pie not for the everyday, but perfect for a very special treat. Thanks to Alisa for deciding that our trip to San Diego was the right occasion. 😉

I shared a large wedge with our downstairs neighbors (a small group of friends who were renting out the bottom floor of the same AirBnB house). This is exactly how that conversation went.

Me in my mask knocking on the door. Door opens.

“Hi neighbors! Uhhhh…..I made this frozen coffee toffee pie and there’s no way we’re going to eat it all, do you guys want to try some? None of you are allergic to nuts, right?”

Despite my awkwardness, they were quite pleased and happily accepted my offering.

In keeping with the Choco-Nut theme, here’s one more vacay picture. Me with my ice cream buddy for life.

What pies are you making for Thanksgiving this week? I’d love to hear. ❤