Monday, July 19, 2010

Pie #3: Deconstructed Berry

Did I mention I like pie?

Oh right I did. But it bears repeating. I love pie. Pie for breakfast, pie for lunch, pie before bed, sweet pies, savory pies, fruit pies, rustic pies. There is nothing better than pie.

There are cold, soggy diner pies with canned filling that I don't care for, but give me a slice of flaky, salty crust with a sultry fruit filling and I'm yours.

I was even paid in pie once.

When I was an undergrad at Sarah Lawrence, my friend Emilie and I, on a New York City excursion, got chatted up by a recently divorced mother of two who needed help packing up her Chanel suits and Hermes china for a swiftly approaching move to a more modest Upper East Side Apartment. She offered to pay us and we had nothing better to do so she gave us her address and the following weekend we showed up at her front door with an overnight bag and our sleeves rolled up. 

Before beginning to pack she gave us a lengthy and totally unnecessary tour of her apartment, including the many closets where all her Chanel, Dior and Yves Saint Laurent garments hung protected by silk hangers and plastic garment bags. Then sitting on the floor of her living room Emilie and I began to wrap and stack what seemed like hundreds of Hermes cups, saucers, gravy boats, soup tureens and plates, with pages from the New York Times, George Bush's face disappearing into a soup bowl and Donald Trumps hair whisping across a salad plate. She retreated into the kitchen and we were left to pack until dinner. 

Dinner was unmemorable but afterwards, when all the dishes were clean, crumbs swept into the proper receptacle, and we'd done a little more packing, she emerged from the kitchen with a homemade pecan pie still warm from the oven. 

This was and is the best pecan pie I ever ate. The crust was perfect, a slightly dark, flaky, buttery crust crimped to perfection, and the filling, oh my God the filling, the pecans were toasty and brittle drowned in a gooey, chewy filling and laced with deep dark bittersweet chocolate that melted in your mouth. She confessed to mixing caramels into the filling but would not divulge the secret family recipe and promised we could have a slice for breakfast before getting back to packing.

Emilie and I could not sleep that night. Our main concern was, what will she pay us?!! We naively had not sorted that out in advance. But the thing that kept us up was, what was in that pie?!! Should we raid the kitchen and flee in the middle of the night? Start a pecan pie business and become millionaires? 

The next day we worked until our fingers were black with newsprint and it was time to go, we held up our end of the bargain and figured it would be better to graduate from college than wind up in the slammer. We exchanged many thank yous with this woman, back and forth until it became ridiculous and then she pressed $100 into Emilie's hand. What? Two days of work and we were to split $100! Did she think she was doing us a favor? Our blood pressure rose as we stared at her smiling and saying a final thank you through clenched teeth. "Wait, I almost forgot!" she said and ran back into the kitchen. What did she forget? Three hundred dollars still sitting on the counter? She emerged carrying an aluminum pie plate covered in foil and we could guess what was inside. 

We dashed as fast as we could to Grand Central Station and when finally aboard the train back to Bronxville, ate the entire pie with our bare hands, licking each finger clean, one by one. 

I will one day try to recreate this pie but not today. In my quest for more and more pie I remembered the delicious little pie crust cookies my mother would make with the scraps, sprinkling them with cinnamon sugar, making a tasty little snack to eat while the pie was still baking. 

If you don't want to go to all the trouble of baking a pie, this is totally satisfying and a quick fix. I think it would even make a nice end to a dinner party. 

And if you have any pie stories, I'd love to hear them. You can never have enough.

Deconstructed Pie

Filling: assorted summer fruit, washed and sliced if necessary (I used peaches, raspberries and blueberries), a few tablespoons grand marnier or wine if you like, and or a little grated nutmeg and a little confectioners sugar if you like. Mix everything together and let sit.

Topping: one 8 oz. container creme fraiche, combined with the zest of one lemon and 1 tbs. confectioners sugar. Stir till smooth and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Flaky Pie Crust: Cut 8 tablespoons of fat (any combination of lard, butter or non-hydrogenated margarine) into 1 1/2 cups flour (all purpose, whole wheat pastry or a combination) and a good pinch of salt until small crumbs form. Mix in two or three tablespoons of ice water to bind together, but still crumbly, roll out to 1/8" on a floured surface, cut into whatever shape you like. Mix together 2 parts granulated sugar to one part cinnamon, sprinkle and bake in a 400 degree oven until brown and toasty. Let cool.

To assemble, place fruit in a bowl, spoon a little creme fraiche on top and stick a few pastry crust cookies in the side.


  1. I moved back in with my parents once for a few months. I decided to make them a pie a week. As thanks. They were thrilled, because I'm the baker in the family. So, each Sunday, I'd gather up the ingredients from my mother's cabinets and containers and set to work. Four pies/weeks later, my mother pulled me aside. Asked me what was wrong. Wrong? I wondered. Yes, she answered, hesitantly. You're pies... they're just not... right... she mumbled. Not right?! Let's figure this out, she suggested. Tell me what ingredients you've been using. We convened in the kitchen, where I began pointing out the goods. I used your Mexican vanilla, the unsalted butter you have stacked on the side of the fridge door, the sugar from the blue container, and the flour from the green... The what from the green? my mother interrupted me. The flour from the green container. Right there on the counter...

    Turned out. The green container no longer was used for flour anymore. With a kid brother on the High School Varsity Basketball team, things had changed. It instead, held protein powder.

    My mother buckled over laughing, saying, No wonder your father has had so much more energy lately!

  2. oh this sounds like something even I could do!!!

    pecan pie is one of my favorites, and oh how i love that story--yours AND Cas' too actually!

    miss you.


  3. I once made a gorgeous glazed apricot tart for company who was going to drop by that afternoon. As it cooled on the kitchen counter I set about grinding coffee for espresso. Unfortunately I didn't seat the container in the grinder properly, and when I pushed the "on" button a fan of finely ground espresso beans completely covered and firmly stuck to the glaze on my beautiful tart. I remember standing frozen with horror for a moment before I came to my senses and turned the darned thing off. It took quite a while to carefully scrape off what I could, and then remove the rest with tweezers. That was 25 years ago, and to this day I keep cooling pies and coffee grinders at opposite corners of the kitchen.

  4. I love all these stories! Cas, how wonderful to make your parents a pie a week, and what a loving and patient mother you have for her to wait four weeks later to uncover the protein powder! Yes, Meg this is so easy, it would be a great way to get accustomed to working with pastry crust before diving into making a whole pie. And mom, I forgot about that story, I can just see you picking every little grind off the tart. Keep the stories coming!

  5. I love your pie story! You think she would've paid you in Hermes china too so at least you would have had something on which to eat your delicious pecan pie! I don't have any pie stories, but sometimes I find a crumble is easier to make and close enough to pie perfection!

  6. Deconstructed pie? Sounds like an art critique! Actually it sounds like a wonderful summer meal; breakfast, perhaps, sitting out on the deck of a palatial home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Just imagine the breeze and smell of the ocean with these wonderful flavors in your mouth. I'll take mine without the Grand Marnier.