Sunday, December 26, 2010

sawdust pie, #4 of 52 and the first round up photos

this last week was one big bake-a-thon. cookies, cookies and more cookies...cranberry sauce, gingerbread trees, pie shells and of course, a pie for the weekly challenge. two pies, actually and they came out tastier than i would have thought possible.
gingerbread stars, chocolate cherry cha-chas and peanut butter granola cookies with chocolate chips were only a few of the cookies i baked. the gingerbread stars were stacked to form a tree and all were used to make cookie trays for friends and neighbors.

each year we travel to my cousin's house in paducah, ky to celebrate christmas with his family. as we drive up i24, we pass a brown tourist sign for a place called patti's 1880's settlement...whatever, mumbo jumbo. it doesn't matter, we don't stop on this trip since it is only 2 hours and from what i have heard, it is a touristy place. anyway, i was curious about what it was one day a long time ago (we have been making this drive for 10 years) and i looked them up to see if maybe it might be a place to visit and in the process, i discovered that they are famous for sawdust pie. my capacity for remembering useless information sometimes helps me out and it was because of this talent that i remembered sawdust pie and thought i would try it for this week's challenge.

virtually every recipe i encountered was the same-egg whites, sugar, graham cracker crumbs, pecans and coconut. can i just say that i am not a fan of graham cracker crumbs, at all. in the cafe, i have buckets of biscotti crumbs in several flavors that i make myself from biscotti that i make so i do not have to use graham cracker crumbs, ever. well, i decided to go ahead and follow the recipe, kinda sorta in my own fashion. we always have cinnamon graham crackers in the closet because you never know when it might be a smores night so i used them instead of the plain kind. the other changes i made were to toast the pecans and the coconut and add a little vanilla extract to the list. i followed the directions and was surprised that the outcome was a lot better than i expected. then i went on and made a chocolate version to test my theory that this pie can be made with many different combinations of crumbs, nuts and coconut.
for the chocolate version, i used chocolate graham crackers and sliced, natural almonds which were first toasted and then pulsed in the food processor to make them more like sawdust.
chocolate and vanilla sawdust pies

the original recipe i used is here. the intro to the recipe mentioned whipping the egg whites but the directions said nothing about that. i looked at half a dozen recipes and none of them mentioned whipping the egg whites so i eliminated that and just whisked things together. we also did not bother with the suggestion of serving this with whipped cream and bananas-it was plenty sweet without that.

sawdust pie-1 (9") pie serving about 8, adapted from
if you use purchased whites rather than separating your own, use no more than 1 liquid cup, regardless of what the chart on the carton tells you-the pie will be dry with more than a cup. when you buy graham crackers, they have several packages in each box and one package will be enough to make the pie-grind that one package and measure out what is needed.

1 prebaked 9" pie shell (refer to pie #2 for hints on this)
7 egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs-any flavor
1 1/2 cups toasted nuts, pulse them in the food processor if they are large pieces
1 1/2 cups toasted flake coconut

preheat the oven to 350. partially bake the pie crust and toast the nuts and coconut if you haven't done so already. place the pie pan on a sturdy baking sheet. in a mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites, sugar and vanilla until thoroughly mixed. fold in the crumbs, nuts and coconut and pour into the pie crust. bake until set, it will be slightly glossy on top and it will puff up and feel firm to the touch around the sides but the middle will be a little soft, about 45 minutes. allow the pie to cool before cutting.

my first pie round up!!!

imagine my surprise when i checked my email and found photos from a baker that had used my tamale pie recipe. it was a nice christmas present, even better was the fact that her family enjoyed the pie.
jennifer maier and her daughter made the pie together and it was well received by the family.

looks delicious, by the way, my family devoured it too! great job jennifer, i look forward to more photos, hint hint...

to anyone that cares to bake along, send me photos and i will post them. email me at and your photos will be added to the next entry. have a safe and happy new year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

tamale pie, 3 down, 49 to go

since i like to try new things, i thought i would go savory this week with my third pie. for some time now, i have wanted to try a tamale pie. tamales are one of my favorite latin american foods and i was hoping to get that combination of flavors and textures and transfer it to a pie. maybe next time, this(my second of two attempts) is more like a combination of a burrito and a tamale but even so, the flavor was very good and i even caught my husband going back for seconds, something he didn't do on the first attempt.

since a tamale pie was a new dish for me, i started off by using a recipe i found on and you can look at the original recipe here. after looking at several recipes, i settled on this one because it did not use cornbread as the topping. this one used a cooked cornmeal mixture-like polenta but thinner as the crust and the topping. somehow, the amount called for seemed to be very short and hardly enough to do the job of a bottom and top crust. my solution was to take a small stack of corn tortillas and use them to line the pie plate. turns out that using tortillas was a good idea. they are lower in fat than a traditional pie crust and worked out pretty well. i definitely plan to try using them again in a similar recipe but keep in mind, they are not nearly as sturdy as a pie crust and will not offer any support to a warm dish-i just about had to use a spoon to scoop out the servings. to get the photo, i had to wait until it sat in the fridge over night.

if anyone out there bakes a pie using this recipe, send me a photo and i will post it here in a round up. so go ahead, bake one of the pies in the challenge-i dare you, double dare you, pretty please with sugar on it...okay, no more pleading but i promise that if you send me a photo of one of the pies, i will post it. happy baking!
beef tamale pie-serves 6
adapted from

8 corn tortillas
1 cup cooked rice-a great use for leftover rice (something i always seem to have)
6 ounces mexican crumbling cheese, i used one called panela
1 pound lean ground beef-you can use any type of ground meat for this including soy crumbles
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced onions
2 tablespoons finely diced fresh chilis-i used 3 red serranos (less if you use habaneros!)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 can (14.5 ounces) roasted diced tomatoes with the juice
1 cup corn kernels-frozen or fresh
1 small can diced green chilis
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups cold water
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

lightly grease the pie plate and line it with 7 of the tortillas by placing them around the side in a circle. there will be a small area in the middle where the tortillas will slightly overlap, place the final tortilla in the center and this will give the bottom a little more thickness. sprinkle the rice evenly over the bottom of the pie shell. crumble the cheese evenly over the rice and set this aside for now.

in a skillet over medium heat, cook the ground meat in up to 2 tablespoons of olive oil (if using a nonstick pan, the oil will not be necessary). keep stirring and breaking up the meat as it cooks so it will be free flowing and not in large clumps. when cooked, pour into a strainer set over a bowl to drain off any of the rendered fat that has collected in the pan. heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet and saute the onions, chilis and garlic until the onions are translucent. add the drained meat, the tomatoes with their juice, corn, green chilis, chili powder, cumin and salt and allow this mixture to simmer over medium low heat for about 10 minutes. the moisture should be reduced a bit but it will not be dry, and will appear a little saucy. preheat the oven to 375. pour this mixture over the rice and cheese in the pie plate and level it out.

in a small pan, combine the water, cornmeal, oil and salt and cook over medium low heat until it thickens to a mush-like consistency. spread this mixture over the top of the pie and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the internal temperature is 170 degrees for most ground meats. allow the pie to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

just one day late; #2 of 52 pies

i'm not a fan of snow. ok, i've gone and said it out loud...actually, i really do not like snowy weather at all. and for me, driving in it is not an option that i look forward to either. give me any kind of weather besides cold/snow and i'm happy. by now, you should realize that it is snowing in nashville, has been doing so all day. needless to say, i haven't left the house and have no plans to do so.

so now that we know i am housebound (because that single inch of snow out there is holding me back) just how did i entertain myself? with a bad holiday movie, it's even worse sequel and with pie #2. and any of you adventurous sorts out there that want to try this at home, please do and then send me a picture( and i will post it here, a round up if you will for anyone who dares...

when i was working on my recipes for the book that i just finished, i tried to include one of my favorite shortcuts/hints but i was forced to leave it out. apparently, it is viewed as not user friendly and too difficult for the average home baker-it would require a purchase deemed unrealistic for many folks. moving right along, i have chosen to use it here.
whenever i make pies or tarts that require a prebaked or completely baked crust, i always line the empty crust with a restaurant sized coffee filter and fill it full of dried beans or as pictured above, marbles. in the cafe, it is always dried beans, pintos to be exact but here at home, i just fill it full of marbles. the great thing about those paper filters is that they are designed to hold weight-especially when wet. it is entirely possible to lift out a filter full of beans by gathering the paper edges-the filter is strong enough to hold the beans without tearing. marbles on the other hand are heavy and i generally spoon them out. inevitably, one or two hit the floor and alas, i am always losing my marbles...and the reason this hint was not acceptable, it would require people to buy huge packages of filters at the restaurant supply or membership store and that was what didn't fly; we can't ask the readers/users to buy 250 of them. so i suggest that you find a friend in a restaurant or coffee house and convince them to sell you a few. my reason is simple; its easy to work with. foil makes creases in your crust and can cause breakage when you remove it. parchment paper becomes brittle and you cannot lift it after baking it. lastly, wax paper is waxed and who wants to add wax to a pie?

getting off the soapbox and back onto the pie now. in the winter, citrus fruits come into season and they are one of the few bright spots in the world of flavors when the weather is dismal. i found myself with a bunch of lemons that needed to be juiced, i had zested them previously, and i let that be my inspiration.
not just lemon meringue pie, but a lemon cream in an almond crust with a bit of rose hip jam.

i cooked a fresh lemon curd and folded in some whipped cream. the toasted almond tart shell was completely baked and a thin layer of rose hip jam was spread over the bottom. the lemon cream was poured into the shell and topped with a big dome of meringue. since i am not one of those pastry chefs who has to have a torch in her kitchen (don't need any help setting the kitchen on fire, refer to this previous post) i put it under the broiler and let it get a little too toasty-but i like my marshmallows a little dark and crunchy, thank you very much...

meringue topped lemon cream tart with and almond crust-serves 8

almond crust-makes 1 standard 9" tart shell (use a pan with a removable bottom)
1/2 cup sliced, natural almonds
1 cup all purpose flour
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 teaspoons water

preheat the oven to 350. toast the almonds until golden, about 7 minutes and let them cool completely. place the almonds, flour and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. pulse them to combine them. add the butter and pulse the mixture until the butter is no longer in lumps and it resembles coarse meal or looks sandy. add the egg mixture and combine completely to form soft dough that holds together when squeezed. the dough can be worked with immediately; it does not need to rest like pie dough before rolling and can be pressed into the tart pan with your fingers. place the tart shell on a baking pan, line it with the coffee filter and weights. bake it completely since it will not be returned to the oven to bake again-about 25-30 minutes. carefully remove the filter and weights and allow the crust to cool completely before removing it from the pan.

lemon cream filling
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped stiff
place the cornstarch in a heat proof bowl and whisk in the water to make a lump free mixture. whisk in the egg yolks and set aside. in a small, heavy bottomed pot, combine the sugar and lemon juice and over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. slowly whisk the hot syrup into the egg yolk mixture and then pour this mixture into the pot and return it to the stove over low-medium heat. whisk the mixture as it returns to a boil, allow it to boil for a minute and then pour it through a mesh strainer into a clean, nonmetal bowl. stir in the lemon zest, press plastic wrap to the surface and chill completely. when cold, fold in the whipped cream

meringue topping
3/4 cup egg whites, about 6 large whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
in a large bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar. with a mixer on high speed, whip the mixture until foamy. slowly add the sugar and continue to whip it until stiff peaks form.

to assemble the tart, carefully remove the crust from the tart pan and place it on a heat proof plate that is flat. spread 3-4 tablespoons of a darkly colored jam (such as raspberry, blackberry or other seedless flavor) over the bottom of the tart shell. top it with the cream filling and distribute it evenly in the shell. dollop the meringue over the cream filling and if spikes are desired, quickly tap a spoon to the meringue and pull it away to form the spikes. the meringue can also be piped on to the filling. place it under the broiler to color it-watch it carefully or you may burn it!

Friday, December 3, 2010

if it's pies you that you want...

have you heard the news? pie is the new big thing, the "it" girl of the dessert world for the new year. according to the folks who predict food trends, pie will be the number one food trend in 2011. honestly, where have they been keeping their heads? here in the south, pie is always a big thing! can you imagine a meat and three or a country market without pies? how about a potluck dinner? or a family get together? in little mom and pop businesses all over the south, whether they are restaurants or gas stations, if there is food sold, there is most likely some sort of pie-mainly a chess pie or some variation of one and if you are really lucky, fried pies. at the cafe, we generally have anywhere from 6 to 9 different types of pie to choose from daily. stop by today and you will find a house specialty-turtle pie. pictured above as it is being dressed for display, i start out with a homemade cookie crumb crust with nuts in it, fill it with a homemade caramel filling (sweetened condensed milk that is slowly cooked in the oven until it is a dark golden color) and topped with a semisweet chocolate glaze and pecan pieces.
here is a glimpse of the finished pies, all dressed and ready to party! don't hesitate on this one, it really sells fast and since it can take a whole day to make them, i only make a batch when i can spare half of the oven for at least 4 hours-no joke, large quantities take a lot longer than you think!

this brings me to my next project. since the powers that be, you know the movers and the shakers of the prediction realm say that 2011 is the year of the pie, i am going to make pies. ooohhhhhh, something that i don't do everyday...canning the sarcasm for a moment, i plan to make one pie each week for the next 52 weeks. each one will be an original pie and i will post recipes-something i very rarely do. the exciting part is that my final pie will land here during the week of thanksgiving. hopefully, you will bake along with me and share photos of your efforts. to anyone that does, i will post the photos here as well. just to get things moving, i baked a pie. a very special pie. pumpkin pie is one of my favorite pies. but that whole turtle pie experience (see above) had me thinking. what if i took a pumpkin pie and combined it with a turtle pie...
rich and gooey...spicy and creamy...too good to be true, but it is. first, i made a crust using gingerbread biscotti crumbs (homemade of course). i mixed up half of a batch of pumpkin pie filling and baked it in the crust. as it cooled in the fridge, i caramelized some sweetened condensed milk in the oven (using a water bath!). when it was done, i spread it over the top of the pumpkin filling. i let that cool over night and then this afternoon, i made a glaze using some semisweet chocolate. after spreading the glaze over the pie, i sprinkled on some toasted pecan pieces. sounds like a bit of work but sometimes, you just gotta do it!

pumpkin turtle pie

makes 1 (9") deep dish pie

2 cups cookie crumbs-gingersnaps or gingerbread cookies
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup half and half
1/4 cup pecan pieces
1 (14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup half and half

preheat the oven to 350. combine the cookie crumbs, melted butter and sugar in a bowl and using your fingers, mix well to combine. press the mixture into a pie plate so that the sides and bottom are all evenly covered. in a mixing bowl, whisk the pumpkin with the brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, whole egg and egg yolk. scrape the bowl, add the half and half and mix thoroughly to combine. pour the filling into the pie shell and bake until set, about 30 minutes. remove the pie from the oven (but leave the oven on) and allow it to cool a bit at room temperature. when the pie has cooled enough to handle it (just to make it easier to move around) place it in the fridge to get cold. place the pecan pieces in an oven safe pan and toast them for 5-7 minutes, allow them to cool and reserve them for decorating the pie.

pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 1 quart baking dish, preferably one with a cover. place this dish in a pan of water to make a water bath and bake. every 20 minutes, carefully open the dish and using a heat proof spatula, scrape the dish well and stir the mixture. this ensures that the caramel cooks evenly. it will take about an hour and a half for the caramel to reach a nice dark amber color. when it is finished, carefully pour the mixture over the top of the pumpkin pie and return the pie to the fridge to cool over night.

to make the glaze, place the chocolate and the half and half in a microwave safe bowl. using the lowest setting or the defrost cycle, heat in 30 second intervals until the chocolate is completely melted. whisk the glaze until it is smooth and spread it evenly over the caramel. sprinkle the pecans over the top and allow the glaze to set completely before cutting, about an hour at room temperature, sooner in the fridge. for clean cuts on your slices, dip your knife in hot water after each cut and be sure to wipe it clean before making the next cut. serves 8-10.