Ginger-Pear Crumble Pie

What started as a simple project challenging myself to bake a different pie every week for a year, has turned into a project of finding unusual pie recipes and making up some of my own. I found that I like to put my own twist on the standards as much as I enjoy creating new flavor combinations.  And even though I fear some of the crazy pies I read about (a sweet, not savory, Green Tomato Pie?), I am willing to take a few risks.

For example, my friend over at Forgotten Bookmarks recently shared with me a recipe he found for Prune Meringue Pie. PRUNE! MERINGUE! PIE! That is just crazy enough for me to try. It also leaves me craving more crazy pie recipes. Do you have any unusual pie recipes to share? Please post a comment or e-mail them to mypiary@gmail.com. I will give you proper credit if I bake your crazy pie.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I recently mixed up this lovely Ginger-Pear Pie with a crumble topping. The fresh ginger gives it a nice kick. My pears were not quite ripe, so they were a little crunchy but still tasty. I added nuts to my crumble topping, but they can be omitted if you are not a fan of nuts. I happen to be a huge fan of nuts. Mmm…. Nuts!

Ginger-Pear Crumble Pie

2 eggs
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tbs lemon juice
1/4 cup flour
2 tbs cornstarch
pinch salt
4 ripe, yet firm, Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbs fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 9-inch prepared, unbaked pie pastry

Crumb Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 375°, with rack in middle position. Place a spill mat or cookie sheet covered with foil on the rack below to catch any drips.

In a small pan, melt butter with vanilla and grated ginger over medium heat. Cook about 5 minutes, until butter is frothy and light brown. Remove from heat.

Place chopped pears in a medium bowl. Pour butter mixture through a sieve over pears. Stir and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar until well combined. Whisk in lemon juice, then flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir into pear mixture until combined.

Pour into a 9-inch prepared (unbaked) pie crust. Top with crumble topping and bake about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. I served mine warm with vanilla bean ice cream.

Time for a few pretty photos. Just a few. I sometimes get too wrapped up in the baking and I forget to take enough snaps. Sorry about that. I will try to be better about documenting the entire process without sacrificing the pie.

Here's the ingredient lineup

And another view of the ingredients, just because

Grate the peeled ginger right into the melting butter while avoiding grated fingertips

Evenly top the ginger-pear filling with crumb topping

Baked to perfection

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Dark Chocolate Mocha Pie

I also call this my Epiphany Pie because I realized that I can just start making this stuff up and it will come out delicious. Baking is indeed a science, but once you understand the equations, you have the freedom to play around in the lab without fear of explosions. It is a great feeling.

My official pie-taster declared this my best pie yet. It is crazy delicious, with lots of chocolatey goodness and a hint of espresso to give it a mocha kick.

While we are fans of meringue, you could easily top this with homemade whipped cream instead. Just fill the pre-baked pie shell, cover with plastic wrap (to prevent pudding skin), and chill for about four hours. Then top with fresh whipped cream (after removing the plastic wrap, silly!) and serve. No baking time necessary.

Dark Chocolate Mocha Pie (Epiphany Pie)

½ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 heaping tbs espresso powder
4 egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue, recipe follows)
2 cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
3 tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 9-inch prebaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 325°. In a large saucepan, combine cocoa, espresso powder, cornstarch, and sugar. Stir in milk, cream, and egg yolks. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with wire whisk, until just boiling. Reduce heat to medium, continue stirring and cook for 3 minutes, until large bubbles come to top and filling is thick, like pudding. Remove from heat, stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into prebaked and cooled pie shell. Now, make the meringue.

Meringue
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and whip until soft peaks form. Continue to whip, while slowly adding sugar, until stiff peaks form.

Using the back of a wooden spoon, cover pie with meringue, sealing the meringue to the edge of crust. Bake 16 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown. Cool completely on wire rack, at least four hours.

Time for pretty photos.

Ingredient lineup

Mix dry ingredients together before adding the liquids

Slowly stir in milk, cream, and eggs

This is the perfect consistency for cream pie filling. Look how glossy, too!

Perfectly stiff peaks of meringue

Be sure the meringue meets the edge of the crust to prevent shrinkage

Golden meringue and a mug of hot buttered rum. Yum!

My first slice rarely looks perfect, but it always tastes delicious

Eggnog Pie

Raise your hand if you love eggnog. I know, right? Sooooo good. I love a good ’nog. Homemade is best, but Homestead Creamery (located in Virginia, but their products are sometimes found in Whole Foods or The Fresh Market) comes in a close second. It is a tasty beverage, indeed.

Of course I needed to come up with an eggnog pie to celebrate the season. Using just one mixing bowl, this festive dessert is super easy to make. The texture is similar to flan, and it has a rich, caramel-like flavor that is neither too eggy nor noggy.

Eggnog Pie

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
4 eggs
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
¼ cup bourbon
1 tsp vanilla
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch, or two, ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 9-inch pie pastry, partially blind-baked*

Preheat oven 350°.

*Press pie dough into a 9-inch pie plate and crimp edges as desired. Using a fork, poke holes around the bottom and sides of dough. Cut parchment paper or foil into a circle a little wider than the pie, gently place into pie shell and pour in your pie weights. Pie weights? Yes! Dried beans make cheap and easy pie weights that can be used again and again. Now,  place pastry on the lowest oven rack and bake for 10-12 minutes, checking frequently to poke down any puffed up dough. Cool on wire rack.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugars, and salt until frothy. Add evaporated milk, bourbon, vanilla, and ¼ tsp nutmeg and beat at a low speed until everything is combined. Pour into cooled, prepared crust. Sprinkle the cinnamon and remaining nutmeg on top of pie. Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet or jelly roll pan and pour about ½-inch of hot water into pan. Bake for about 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

The ingredient lineup

Everybody in the bowl!

Ready for some lovin' in the oven

Cinnamon and nutmeg give the pie delicious color and spice

A perfect slice of Holiday Heaven

Maple Nut Pie

By now you must have realized that I am absolutely nuts — about pie! And just plain nuts, too. It’s all good. Well, except that my Christmas cookie recipes are extremely jealous and concerned they won’t get out of the box this year. No worries, I’ll switch to cookies this weekend.

In the past week I baked two incredibly easy pies, an Eggnog Custard Pie (recipe to come!) and a Maple Nut Pie. Both pies call for just a few ingredients and are mixed in one bowl. Easy as pie.

This Maple Nut Pie was adapted from a recipe found in Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts. You will need one 9-inch pie crust, either homemade (the best) or you can cheat with a frozen or refrigerated dough. But, really, it is so easy and so much tastier to make your own pastry. By now, I have the recipe memorized and it takes just a few minutes to prepare. Don’t be scared; just do it.

Also, it is imperative that you use real maple syrup. Forget that Aunt Jemima crap and fork over a few extra bones for the pure maple syrup from Vermont or Canada (Oh, I love my Canadian friends! Yes, I love my Vermont friends, too!). It will make or break your pie. Seriously.

Maple Nut Pie

2 eggs
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1½ cups pecans, coarsely chopped
1½ cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 9-inch prepared pie pastry

Preheat oven to 350°.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, brown sugar, and salt until frothy. Whisk in vanilla, nutmeg, and maple syrup until combined. Stir in nuts until thoroughly combined. Pour into prepared, unbaked pie shell. Bake about 45-50 minutes, until filling is set and crust is golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Super easy, right? And so rich and delicious. I ate mine neat, but you can serve yours with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for a decadent dessert.

Pretty picture time!

Use pure maple syrup for best results

NUTS!

More NUTS!

Whisk until combined and frothy

Mix in the NUTS!

Fresh from the oven

Like I said, easy as pie

Sweet Tater Praline Pie

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am so grateful that I didn’t have to travel this year. I had a perfect day of cooking, eating, watching football, and reading Mindy Kaling’s new book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).” It was awesome.

Now, I usually make homemade cranberry sauce and sweet potato soufflé for our Thanksgiving feast, but since I am in the midst of a pie project I decided to make a Cranberry and Pear Pie and a Sweet Tater Praline Pie instead. Both were huge hits, but the Sweet Tater pie was ranked as one of my top pies by my official taste tester. It was really, really good.

My pie was inspired by Martha Stewart’s Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan Topping. Here is my adapted recipe.

Sweet Tater Praline Pie

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 eggs
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 tbs pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp fresh grated ginger
3/4 cup plus 1 tbs heavy cream
1 partially pre-baked pie crust, cooled
3 tbs butter
1 cup pecans, broken into pieces

Cover sweet potatoes with water in a large saucepan and bring to boil. Cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and puree in a food processor. Let cool before using. (It’s OK to put in fridge or freezer to quicken the cooling process).

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk egg, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and maple syrup until smooth. (I used my KitchenAid stand mixer with the whisk attachment and it worked perfectly.) Add puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and 3/4 cup cream. Whisk until smooth.

Place cooled crust on rimmed baking sheet; pour filling into crust. Bake pie on lowest oven rack for about 50 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool on rack 1 hour, then put in fridge to cool completely.

Now it’s time to make the praline topping.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar and stir until combined. Add the pecans and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in 1 tbs cream until incorporated. Let cool a few minutes then pour over cooled pie. Use a spatula to evenly spread the mixture over the pie. Cool for at least 30 minutes.

I used the rest of the heavy cream I had to make fresh whipped cream to top off the pie. It was decadent.

I didn’t take as many pretty pictures as I usually do because I was busy cooking up a feast of roasted chestnut stuffing, stuffed sweet dumpling squash, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Parker House rolls. Am I crazy? A little. But our feast was amazing.

Here's the ingredient lineup (the sweet potato puree is in the bowl)

All whisked up and ready to roll

My crust wasn't perfect, but it still tasted good

Oh, yeah! The perfect slice of pie makes me crazy happy

Cranberry and Pear Pie

Rather than making my homemade cranberry sauce this year, I decided to make a cranberry pie. I was inspired by a recipe I found in Martha Stewart’s New Pies and Tarts, which is a little different than the recipe on the website. Whatever. I put my own spin on it and now I’m sharing it with you. It is tart, but not too tart. I served the pie warm with vanilla ice cream and it was really, really good.

Cranberry Pear Pie

4 pears, Bosc is best
24 oz (6 cups) fresh cranberries
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tbs cornstarch or tapioca
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tbs port wine
3 tbs cold butter, cut into bits

Pie pastry, top and bottom crusts, for a 9-inch pie plate.

Preheat oven to 375° with rack in lowest position.

Peel and core pears, slicing 2 into eighths, the other into chunks. In a large bowl, toss pears, cranberries, brown sugar, cornstarch, and spices until fruit is evenly coated. Add vanilla and port, and stir until combined. Pour into pie shell and gently press fruit until evenly dispersed. Your pie will be high. Dot with butter. Top with pie pastry vented as you desire. You can simply cut slits for steam if you aren’t up for the challenge of cut-outs or lattice work. Need ideas? Martha has some for you, or be creative. I’ve spelled out words, cutout leaves and hearts, and made my own fake lattice. I like to make cutouts by hand, but you can use cookie cutters.

Bake on lowest rack for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°, move to middle rack, and bake for 40-45 minutes longer, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling. Cool on wire rack.

Let’s look at pretty pictures now.

Posing pears and ingredients

I like to mix the fruit together before adding the other ingredients

Mmm.... Port

Your pie will be high

Another perfect pie by Miss Petunia Buttercup

I suggest serving warm with vanilla ice cream

My Signature Crust

I know that I’ve written about the importance of pie pastry before, but I have found a new signature crust and it is buttery, flaky, a little salty, and a fantastic foil to the sweet pie filling (of course, it is perfect for quiches and pot pies, too). If you haven’t found yours, I recommend Martha Stewart’s Pate Brisee. She uses a food processor, but I use my awesome KitchenAid stand mixer because I have an awesome KitchenAid stand mixer and it works just fine.  I have adapted her recipe to suit me.

Petunia’s Perfect Pie Pastry

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
¼ cup ice water

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter bit by bit and mix at the slowest speed until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, 1-2 minutes.

Continue mixing, and slowly add ice water, about 1 tablespoon at a time until dough forms larger clumps and holds together without being wet or sticky.

Divide dough into two balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in waxed paper. Chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Roll out dough between two sheets of waxed paper. You want a 12-inch circle, about the width of the waxed paper. Return to refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes to let the dough rest and chill. You will want the dough cold and stiff if you are going to do lattice work or cut-outs. Peel off one side of the waxed paper and center into the pie plate. Remove waxed paper and gently press dough into pan. Trim any excess dough and crimp edges as desired. Place back into freezer for a few minutes. Cold dough is key to flaky pastry.

Now, the rest of the pastry story will differ for each pie, single- or double-crust, so carefully read the recipe for details.