Cutting through pie-maker worries


July 20, 2005|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN FOOD EDITOR

If you suffer from pie phobia, put aside your worries. John Phillip Carroll is out to prove that there's a reason for the saying, "easy as pie."

In Pie, Pie, Pie (Chronicle Books, 2005, $19.95) he offers 60 clear and concise recipes, many with helpful tips on how to avoid some of the most common pie-making blunders. Your meringues don't rise? Try warming the egg whites slightly before beating them. Crusts too soggy? Try a glass baking dish.

The recipes collected in this book range from the traditional apple pie to the more unusual rum-raisin cream cheese pie and coconut macadamia cream pie. In addition to fruit, cream and custard pies, there are also recipes for chiffon pies and candy pies, each recipe sounding more delicious than the last. Accompanying photographs by Tina Rupp make it even harder to choose which pies to make.

I opted for pies with a bit of a twist - a sour-cream pie with a blackberry topping and a lime pie with a meringue topping.

Both called for graham-cracker crusts and involved several steps with some time in between to allow the mixtures to cool. When I was finished, both looked beautiful. And Carroll's directions for making meringue achieved just what he promised, an airy topping that spread luxuriously over the lime custard and held its shape after baking.

I've never been afraid of baking pies, so his assurances in the introduction to "forget what scared you about making pies, and start fresh" sounded a little overboard to me.

But that was before I cut into the lime custard pie to serve it to friends from out of town, and discovered the center had the consistency of gravy. The only way I was going to be able to serve that pie was if I handed each person a straw.

Fortunately, the blackberry sour-cream pie cut and served beautifully so I had a dessert to serve. What went wrong with the lime custard? Perhaps I added too much lime juice. Or maybe, I decided, there really is a reason why even some experienced cooks are scared to make pies.

Blackberry Sour-Cream Pie

Serves 8


1 1/2 cups graham-cracker crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted


1 1/2 cups sour cream

1/2 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

pinch of salt


1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, about 12 ounces (it is not necessary to thaw frozen berries)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

Make the crust by combining the crumbs, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Stir and toss with a fork. Add the butter and stir vigorously until blended and all the crumbs are moistened. Or, you may combine the ingredients in a food processor and whirl until blended.

With your fingers, press and pat the mixture over the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan, building the crumbs up just slightly above the rim of the pan and being careful not to make the sides too thick. Smooth any uneven spots with the back of a spoon. Bake it in a preheated 325-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely before filling.

To make the sour-cream custard, preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until smooth. Pour into the cooled pie shell and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the custard is set and doesn't have a liquidy jiggle when the pan is moved.

Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. If you want, refrigerate the pie for several hours at this point before spreading the berries over the custard.

To prepare the berries, in a medium-sized saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and add the berries.

Cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the berries soften and exude some juice. In a small cup or bowl, stir the cornstarch and water together until smooth, then add to the simmering berry mixture and boil gently for about 1 minute, until slightly thickened.

Set aside to cool for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spoon the berries over the custard, spreading them all the way to the edge. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or overnight if you wish, before serving.

Per serving: 429 calories; 5 grams protein; 24 grams fat; 14 grams saturated fat; 50 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 128 milligrams cholesterol; 183 milligrams sodium

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