Sometimes I think the most necessary characteristic a cook should possess is restraint — in other words, the ability to stay out of the way of something delicious. (Think summer corn, a farm-fresh egg, homemade pasta.) In this case, that rule happens to apply to food blogging as well, and the something delicious happens to be the most beautiful book I’ve seen all winter: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book from Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, sisters and proprietors of the celebrated Brooklyn pie shop. You might’ve heard about their award-winning signature Salted Caramel Apple Pie? (I was the dummy who suggested to my daughter last weekend “Let’s order one slice and share it.”)
So that you may never find yourself without the perfect pie to bake, the Elsen sisters’ book is organized seasonally — think Strawberry Balsamic or Pistachio Coconut Cream for spring, a Stone Fruit Streusel pie for summer. But naturally the most interesting recipes to me right now are those beauties in the fall and winter category: Salted Caramel Apple, Bourbon Pear Crumble, Brown Butter Pumpkin, Malted Chocolate Pecan, Salty Honey, and a Maple Buttermilk Custard (recipe below) that looks like it would take top honors on any Thanksgiving dessert spread. And I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’m gunning for this year.
I promised to stay out of the way of these beautiful pies and pictures! (So much for that.) Here you go: A little photographic tease…
Salted Caramel Apple made with a blend of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious.
Not surprising, there are lots of tips in this book for how to make perfect crusts — including which pastry blender Emily and Melissa feel is the best one on the market.
And for the summer category…Lavendar Blueberry Pie. This one is finished with Demerara sugar.
Lizzie’s Lemon Sour Cream Pie. Based on their grandmother’s recipe, it was one of their favorites as kids.
Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
Serves 8 to 10
From The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
For the crust:
Cornmeal Crust for a 9-inch single-crust pie, partially prebaked
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup stone-ground cornmeal
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
¼ pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ cup ice
1. Stir the flour, cornmeal, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl.
2. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a spatula.
3. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).
4. Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl.
5. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated.
6. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.
7. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.
8. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.
9. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.
1. Once dough has been chilled in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, roll out and shape into a 9-inch pie plate. Use a fork to prick all over the bottom and sides, 15 to 20 times. Place the crust in the freezer. Position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack, and preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. When the crust is frozen solid (about 10 minutes), line it tightly with a piece or two of aluminum foil. Make sure the edges are completely covered and there are no gaps between the foil and the crust.
3. Pour pie weights or beans into the pan and spread them so they are concentrated more around the edge of the shell than in the center. Place the pan on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until crimped eges are set but not browned.
4. Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the foil and pie weights, and let the crust cool for a minute. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of egg white glaze (1 egg white whisked with 1 teaspoon of water) to moisture-proof the crust. Return the pan, on the baking sheet, to the oven’s middle rack and continue baking for 3 more minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.
For the Filling:
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon stone-ground white cornmeal
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or vanilla extract)
1 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
1 cup buttermilk
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Place the prebaked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter.
4. Add the vanilla paste (or vanilla extract) and the sour cream and stir until smooth.
5. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, blending well after each addition.
6. Add the maple syrup and buttermilk and mix until smooth.
7. Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell.
8. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking.
9. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly.
10. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven.
11. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours.
12. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cool.
13. The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperature for 1 day.
All photo credits: Gentl & Hyers.