March 14 — or 3.14 — is Pi Day! And this year, it’s also Pie It Forward Day, in honor of the new book of pie recipes by master baker Gesine Bullock-Prado. GeekMom sponsor Abrams gave us a chance to look at the lusciously-photo-illustrated Pie It Forward and talk to her about how to step up our own game in the baking department.
Gesine (pronounced Geh-see-neh, with a hard “G”), has devoted herself to the pastry arts since 2004, when she left the Hollywood production company of her sister Sandra Bullock and moved with her husband to a farm in Vermont to open her own bakery and mail-order company. Her 2009 book, a memoir called My Life From Scratch, describes the life transformation, with recipes. Gesine’s first true cookbook was Sugar Baby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar, which came out last year.
Now in Pie it Forward, Gesine stretches the definition of pie to include fruit pies of all varieties as well as tiramisu tart, German apfel strudel and frangipane pithivier (look it up: page 102). There are also savory selections such as Cornish pasties, Fried Green Tomato Tart, and a Bavarian calzone.
But to start, Gesine explains the right way to make a delicious pie, including a whole section on “The Basics” regarding crusts and fillings. As a novice in the pie-baking department myself, I had a few questions for her, which she answered below. And as a bonus for GeekMom readers, she also sent step-by-step photos for her Chocolate Cream Pie. Keep reading for the recipe:
GeekMom: Pie-making, and especially pie crust-making, seems very unforgiving. For a busy mom who doesn’t have a lot of time, experience or equipment, it can seem intimidating. What advice do you have for the novice who wants to learn to make a respectable pie?
Gesine Bullock-Prado: This is exactly why I think the phrase “easy as pie” is cruel and unusual. Pie crust isn’t hard to perfect but requires some knowledge about how the science of baking works. The ingredients you work with MUST be cold, including the flour and water. If you work with warm ingredients, the fats and liquids saturate the flour and make for a brick of a crust. Instead, you want the fats to exist independently of the flour so the butter can provide steam in the oven (flaky!). There should be visible bits of fat in the finished rolled crust, this provides lift and flakiness. A measure of salt and sugar are crucial to give the crust flavor (yes, butter does that too but you’d be surprised how much salt matters). Adding too much water is also a common mistake. It’s easy to do, though, because a truly great crust often looks just a bit dry and shaggy when you’ve added the prefect amount of water. By pressing it into a round and refrigerating it, you allow the gluten to relax and the water to saturate the flour a bit more, making the crust easier to roll.
GM: I know the crust is all-important. Is it better to master one type of crust before going on to another, or should a beginner try a variety to see which they like best?
GBP: Pie It Forward contains different crusts for very different pies. My favorite ultra flaky pie crust is quick puff, a very traditional French method. It’s not hard but it’s definitely more of an involved technique that is worth learning (there’s a photo demo in the book). A foray into quick puff is a gateway to learning traditional puff and things like croissant, so I’m warning you it can lead to advance pastry work in the home kitchen. My easy all butter crust is similar to quick puff but not as flaky (and not quite as buttery) but is a great way to start on your journey. I have lots of photo demos on www.pieitforwardcookbook.com so you can get a very good idea of what the steps look like to making a great crust.
GM: The official Pie It Forward recipe is Wild Blueberry, but fresh blueberries are pricey this time of year. Is it OK to substitute frozen?
GBP: You CAN use frozen berries. Find the best quality around. Just be very aware that by freezing the berry you are adding a ton of extra moisture and the berries themselves are degraded by the freezing and thawing so won’t come out as plump as a fresh berry would in the finished. Add a teaspoon extra of the thickening agent in the recipe.
GM: What are some ways to get kids involved in pie-making?
GBP: If your kid’s digits are clean and run on the cold side, getting them to do the hard work of adding the butter to the flour in quick puff is a life saver and fun for the kids. Kids also love making (and eating) pie pops. Fresh fruit tarts are the most fun for girls of a certain age. They are beautiful fruity art pieces and arrangement is crucial to how the pie looks.
GM: Which recipes in the book appeal more to grown-up tastes? What would you suggest for a special occasion?
GBP: There are, of course, the event pieces I created in the back of the book that require decor sides and a bit of time but if you want something beautiful with a little less work, I love the poached pear tart (wine poached, that is). It’s beautiful and combines pistachio and red wine poached pears to gorgeous effect. The Yuzu Ginger Rice Pudding tart is crazy good and a combination of ingredients and techniques you don’t often see in pie but is whimsical with the spiky meringue and full of insane flavor. Fresh fruit tarts are always the perfect capper to a summer meal while the Sticky Toffee Pudding Tart is the ultimate winter treat.
GM: I caught the Earl Grey joke on one of your blogs. This being GeekMom, I have to ask: Who’s your favorite Star Trek captain, and what pie would you bake for him or her?
GBP: Capt Jean Luc Picard with the Earl Grey Truffle Tart, of course (page 138). I mean, what else would I serve the man? Sigh.
For more tips and photos — including a photo demonstration of Gesine’s Chocolate Cream Pie, above — visit Gesine’s blog PieItForwardCookbook.com. You’ll find the recipe in Pie It Forward, available from Stewart, Tabori & Chang, an imprint of Abrams.
Kathy Ceceri was one of the founding editors of GeekMom.com and a longtime contributor to GeekDad.com. She is currently the Homeschooling Guide for About.com. Her books of fun learning activities for families include "Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families" and "Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future." Find her at www.CraftsForLearning.com.