Whether you want to try your hand at Apple Pie or Chicken Fat and Pea Pie, How to Build a Better Pie (Quarry Books, 2012) by Millicent Souris provides the tips for flaky crusts, toppers and all things in between. Learn the skills, practice the techniques, master the recipes and build yourself a better pie. The following recipe is excerpted from Chapter 5, “Nuts, Chocolate, and Other Decadent Staple Pies.”
The food, furniture, and gentle fanaticism of the Shakers hold a place in my heart. Originating in England as Quakers, they were named as such for the manner in which they prayed: They shook. Led by a woman called Ann Lee, they split from the Quakers and England, moved to the United States, and set themselves up in farming communities based on gender equality.
They invented many great things: the broom as we know it, the clothespin, the circular saw, and a giant rotating oven with a capacity for sixty pies. Like many agrarian societies they ate with gusto, their version of work hard, play hard, and really utilized what the season offered.
I’ve had my eye on this pie for a while, intrigued by a pie so ballsy to use sliced lemons but wondering how it would really taste. I’ve always found the recipe’s instructions a bit paltry. I’ve tested it, and this version should give you a tangy pie somewhere between a custard and a curd. The lemon slices become soft and edible, and the ones on top end up with a candied quality. And it’s pretty. Real pretty.
It’s important to prebake the crust. Eggs are an important part of this recipe to create the creaminess, but in my experience with eggs they do not participate well with temperatures over 375°F (190°C, gas mark 5). This is a tangy pie; you can’t keep lemon down forever, and a little goes a long way. You need thinly sliced lemons, so they’re almost transparent.
A mandolin is a piece of equipment that revolutionizes this pie. You can get really beautiful, evenly cut slices, which is quite important so they can be more edible. If you come across Meyer lemons, they are perfect for this pie. If you don’t, well, we will make do with regular lemons.
Take the time to lay out the lemon slices in a circular pattern—it creates the pie’s structure.
Tip: When you pick lemons for this pie, get a few extra as backups. It is really important that the lemon is not brown inside. Don’t choose the largest lemons either; they tend to have thicker pith than the smaller ones.
Single Pie Crust, chilled
3 lemons sliced as thinly as possible while still keeping shape
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
4 whole eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup (170 g) packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg white
Preparation of Lemons
The night before you bake this pie, slice the lemons as thinly as possible while they still keep their shape. A mandolin (Japanese slicing tool) is a perfect tool for this. It should be sharp enough so the pulp holds in the rind, but you should also be able to see through the slices. If there are seeds, gently push them out of the slices with a knife. It only seems overwhelming to deseed these lemon slices; once you focus, it takes all of 5 minutes. Put the slices in a small bowl and mix gently (so they retain their hard-fought-for shape!) with the 2 cups (400 g) of granulated sugar. Refrigerate overnight.
Note: The longer the lemons sit in the sugar the more edible they become. You can do this the morning of baking the pie, but they should be out at room temperature with the sugar to move things along. Allow at least 5 hours sitting time in the kitchen.
Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C, gas mark 7).
Roll out your chilled pie crust to 1/8-inch (3 mm) thick. It should be about 15 inches (38 cm) in diameter. Place in your pie pan. Trim the edges so there is no more than 1/4 inch (6 mm) of overhang. Lift and crimp the overhang along the rim of the pie pan. Chill pie crust ideally in your freezer for at least 20 minutes, or 30 minutes in your refrigerator. It is really important for your crust to set again and the fat to refirm before you prebake.
Pull your pie plate out of the refrigerator and place your foil in it. It should sit flush with the plate, come up along the rim, and fold down to cover the edges. This foil protects the crust from overbrowning, but you do not want the foil pressed securely to the edges. Place your baking beans in the bottom and level them out. Put the crust in the oven. While you’re at it, pull your lemons in sugar too. Bake the crust for 20 minutes at 425°F (220°C, gas mark 7). Then pull out the crust, lower your oven to 375°F (190°C, gas mark 5), and carefully lift the aluminum foil by the edges off your crust with the beans in it. Put your crust back in the oven for 15 minutes. Check at 7 minutes and turn it 180 degrees.
Whisk the 4 whole eggs at room temperature in a bowl until completely homogenized, when the egg yolks and whites are mixed. Add the brown sugar and salt and mix well.
Check your crust. The edges may be a little darker than the rest, but it should be set and very light in color. The bottom is more likely bubbly a little bit and looks shiny. Let it cook a bit more, 5 minutes at the most if the bottom is more shiny than matte. Then take the crust out and let it rest for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 350°F (180°C, gas mark 4).
Whip your egg white and wash it on the bottom and sides of the crust. It functions as insurance against gaps. Layer your lemon slices flush with the sides and circling in. Add whatever is left in the bowl to your bowl of eggs, sugar, and salt. Quickly whisk together and pour over the lemon slices.
Note: When you prebake crusts and use eggs, it is very important for the crust to cool a bit and for your mixture to be room temperature. If you put a cold mixture into a hot crust you are cooking some spots without intention.
Place the pie in the oven. After 30 minutes, rotate 180 degrees. The pie is done after an hour. Give it a shake; it should move solidly throughout with just a loose jiggle in the middle. This little jiggle will set up with carryover cooking.
Let set 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, just a little something to offset the lemon.
Yield: 1 pie (8 servings)
Reprinted with permission from How to Build a Better Pie, by Millicent Souris, published by Quarry Books, 2012.
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