De la Cuisine: A Little Slice of Heaven

The cooler weather of fall and all of the special occasions of the holiday season mean that right now it’s high time for pie time!

Eugenia Uhl Photographs

For the longest time, I’ve relied on Mrs. Smith whenever I needed a pie. I would have liked to pass them off as my own, but I can never figure out how to pry the pie out of the foil pie tin and slip it into one of my pie plates.
    
My late mother-in-law could make several pies in a day without missing a beat. Her son, my husband, is also a whiz at baking pies, from sweet to savory ones. Although he can make a darn good pie crust, he often chooses to use the pre-made crusts that he finds in the refrigerated (not the frozen) section at the supermarket. I’ve teased him on occasion, but he always has the comeback about my using “jarred” roux in a pinch.
    
When cooler weather sets in, I get an “envie” (a yen) for pecan pies so that I can use the peeled pecans I have stashed in the freezer. I also have a penchant for apple pies in the fall. The aroma of the apples tinged with cinnamon baking in the oven sets the mood for the approaching holidays. And in fact, for the past few years, my husband and I have blocked out a day or two prior to Thanksgiving to make several pies to bring along to various family gatherings.


I’m always looking for recipes for using those beautiful fresh cranberries that appear in the supermarket during the holidays, and this tart is one that I always offer for Thanksgiving.
 

Cranberry Crumb Tart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 to 3 cups sugar, divided
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed, drained and picked over (about two 12-ounce bags)
Pre-baked tart shell (recipe follows)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour and 1 3/4 cups of the sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Continue cutting until the mixture forms nickel-size clumps that crumble easily.
  
 In a medium-size bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup sugar (or more if you want it sweeter) with the salt. Add the cranberries, and toss to coat well.
  
Spoon the cranberries into the pre-baked tart shell, mounding them slightly in the center. Using your fingers, lightly squeeze pieces of the crumb topping and drop them gently over the berries. Do not press the topping into the fruit.
  
Bake until the topping is golden-brown and the fruit is bubbling around the edges, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool on a rack. Unmold the tart, and place on a serving platter. Serve at room temperature. Serves 10.

Pre-baked Tart Shell

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ice-cold water


Place the flour in a medium-size bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and salt in the water. Sprinkle over the flour mixture, tossing together until the dough begins to mass together.
    
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and form it into a ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  
 On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large round, 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Trim to a 13-inch circle. Dust the dough lightly with flour, and fold into quarters. Place it with the point in the center in a 9 1/2- to 10-inch tart pan about 1 inch deep with a removable bottom. Open up the pastry, and fit it into the pan, folding in the excess to reinforce the sides. Press the pastry against the fluted sides of the pan, and trim off any excess dough. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line the pastry with foil, and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until the pastry is almost dry, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the foil and weights; prick the bottom and sides all over with a fork; and continue to bake until the crust is golden-brown, 5 to 8 minutes.


A niece always asks for the pumpkin-and-peanut butter pie I made for her a few years ago when she and her husband moved into their new home. If the weather is warm (as you know, Thanksgiving does not always bring us cold weather in the Deep South), the pie can be served with vanilla ice cream for a real treat.

Pumpkin-Peanut Butter Pie

Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks well-chilled butter, cut into chips
5 tablespoons well-chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into chips
6 tablespoons (about) ice-cold water


Filling:
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup Southern Comfort whiskey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 teaspoons heavy cream for the glaze

   
For the crust, mix the flour and the salt in a food processor. Cut in the butter and shortening, pulsing two to three times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the machine running, blend in the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough just starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gather it together, and then cut off about one-fourth of the dough for making decorative leaves, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill. Form the remaining dough into a ball, and slightly flatten it, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
    
Roll the large piece of dough into a 1/8-inch-thick round. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch glass pie dish, leaving about 1/2 inch of overhang. Crimp the edges to form a high decorative border. Cover lightly, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
    
The remaining small piece of dough can be rolled out on a floured surface and then cut out into leaf shapes and put on a small baking sheet. Refrigerate.
  
 For the filling, mix the pumpkin, sugar and peanut butter in a large bowl. Blend in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the half-and-half, Southern Comfort, vanilla, nutmeg and salt.
    
Position the oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat to 425 degrees. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake until the filling is set, about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack. Brush the glaze over the leaves, and bake until puffed and golden-brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer the leaves to a rack. Cool the pie and the pastry leaves completely. (The pie will fall slightly in the center as it cools.) Arrange the pastry leaves atop the pie, and then slice, top with ice cream if you wish, and serve. Serves 8.


If you’re looking for a very easy pecan pie recipe, this is it.

Mama’s Pecan Pie

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1 rounded tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans (halved or coarsely chopped)
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    
Put the eggs in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and flour together, and stir to blend. Add the sugar mixture to the eggs. Add the corn syrup, vanilla and pecans. Fold into the mixture. Pour into the pie shell, and bake until the filling sets, about 45 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven, and cool for a few minutes before slicing to serve. Serves 6.


 This apple pie recipe is one that an aunt gave me about 20 years ago, and I’ve relied on it ever since.
 

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

Pastry:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, cut into chips
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chips
3 to 4 tablespoons ice-cold water


Filling:
3 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream



To make the crust, place the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the shortening and butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the machine running, add enough of the water through the feed tube for the dough to gather into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
    
To make the filling, toss the apples, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cream together.
    
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
    
Divide the dough in half. Roll out one piece to an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the dough, leaving the edge untrimmed.
    
Spoon the apple filling into the pie shell. Roll out the remaining dough into another 11-inch circle. Carefully place over the top of the pie. Trim and crimp the edges. Any excess dough can be used for decorating the top of the pie if you wish.
    
Cut four steam vents in the top of the pie.
    
Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees, and bake for 40 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8.    

 

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