Pies and Tarts

Raspberry apricot tart, June 2012.
A buttery, flakey, crispy crust filled with lucious fresh fruit is a world of its own. I consider most pies to be better for breakfast than dessert.

Tarts on the other hand, which often mix fruit with custard and chocolate, are a favorite of mine for elegant entertaining.  They can be signifantly less time-consuming than a cake; they are perceived as "lighter" after a gourmet meal, and the range of crust and filling combinations is incredibly versatile.  Not to mention that they hold up well when made in advance, and often transport well if you must travel with them. (I often volunteer to bring dessert to dinner parties, and always to family gatherings at my parents'.)

What I consider to be a seminal article in my crust-baking career is "Heaven in a Pie Pan" by Melissa Clark in the November 15, 2006 New York Times. If you've ever wondered about what makes the perfect pie crust, plus the recipe for it, you must read this article (you might need a free NYTimes account.) If you don't wonder about the perfect crust and you just want a tasty pie, I also recommend this article, written by a friend of ours who was a staff writer for the Seattle Times... it might surprise you.
The best pumpkin pies (from the Joy of Cooking): makes 2 pies

Crust ("Deluxe Butter Pie Dough")
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 easpoons salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 chilled vegetable shortening

6 tablespoons ice water

Sift together flour and salt. Cut in half of butter with a pastry blender (or use food processor, careful not to over-process). Cut in remaining have and shortening, until dough forms pea-sized lumps. Sprinkle with water, and blend gently just until it holds together.

Divide in half, pat into round, and wrap tightly in plastic. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Prepare crusts above by rolling out chilled dough into 12" rounds and fitting into 2 - 9" pie plates. Crimp or pinch edge, but don't spend too much time making the rim decorative; the butter in the crust will cause it to puff and slouch a bit and it won't completely hold it's shape.

5 eggs
4 cups pumpkin puree
3 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt

Whisk eggs thoroughly in a large bowl, then mix in remaining ingredients. Pour equally into each pan and bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until center is set, but still jiggles. I sometimes have a little more filling than needed to fill the pies, or you can get away with making this in a deep-dish pan and bake a little longer (cover with foil if crust starts to get too brown.)

Brandied Date and Walnut Pie
Shoofly Pie

I really can't remember what recipe I used for this,
but obviously blueberries with some kind of custard. 
This cashew-chocolate tart was incredible, and beautiful.  I made this for a fundraising auction. (Note on the recipe: I used a shortbread crust and did not use any coconut.)

Lemon-Pistachio Tart, again made for a fundraising auction. I had to make a double-recipe of the nuts and sprinkle them all over the top, as my custard wasn't as smooth as I wanted.  But make a double-recipe any way, eat half the nuts, and garnish the rest just around the edge of the crust as in the picture in the link to  the recipe. Either way, this recipe was very forgiving, because with the extra pistachio crunch, the custard still seems very smooth and creamy, and even if it has a few tiny lumps they won't be discernable.

Someone gave me some rhubarb and I'd never used it before.  Naturally I made a rhubarb pie.  Unfortunately, I used half splenda, half sugar, and didn't love the flavor - not sure if that was the rhubarb or the sweetner. Also, you can't tell in this photo, but I have one of the gorgeous Emile Henry red pie plates that a friend gave me as a gift, which was perfect with this pie.

Peach Cobbler: Who can keep track the difference between a cobbler, crisp, buckle, slump, grunt, pie, tart, pandowdy, clafouti, dumpling? It's kind of ridiculous, but it really doesn't matter, because they are all delicious.  Some of the factors determining the name are: what part of the country, whether it's a pastry crust or biscuit, and whether its on top or underneath the fruit. Most can be made with basically all fruits.  The first time I even learned about some of these words was in Nick Malgieri's How to Bake (page 184.) But even his attempt to define the terms involves a lot of "or sometimes" and some descriptions are in conflict with definitions in Joy of Cooking. In any case, I'm calling this a cobbler; it was biscuit dough over peaches, and my husband loved it.


I am not a fan of pumpkin pie, and with 9-11 people at our Thanksgiving dinners, I usually need to make two pies anyway, so I try to find ways to "doctor" the pumpkin, or make something completely different as the alternative option.  Pictured here are a mixed-nut tart and and absolutely unforgetting pear pie with marzipan crust that I hold as my gold-standard for pies.

Pumpkin Mousse Pie. I would make this again; actually, I've never been impressed with any of the beautiful and creative recipes from Martha Stewart, but it is so pretty, isn't it?

Sweet Potato Pies.  Given the way I shun pumpkin pie, I thought maybe sweet potato would be an equally all-American harvest substitute.  So I tried these two pies.  One was plain sweet potato pie and the in the other I used yams (again, in my stunning red pie plate) with a pecan topping. They were good, but about as good as pumpkin, so the next year I went back to pumpkin.

Harvest Pie (with apples, pears, cranberries, and almond-sesame crust.)

Apple Custard Tart