Category Archives: pie

Abby Fisher’s Sweet Potato Pie

In a food history class, we got this recipe for sweet potato pie. This has orange juice and zest in it, and the class demo pie was delicious.

Sweet potato pie cooled

Sweet potato pie cooled


Abby Fisher was born into slavery in 1832 in South Carolina. In the 1870s, she and her husband moved to San Francisco, where they made pickles. She did catering for wealthy San Francisco and Oakland society, and someone urged her to write a cookbook. One problem: In her youth, she had not been allowed to learn to read or write. She dictated the recipes, and What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking was published, but eventually it was forgotten. It was discovered by a librarian and is now available as a facsimile edition.

Until the late 19th century, recipes were written in paragraphs, just as you might tell someone how to make the dish (which, of course, is what Mrs. Fisher was doing in her cookbook). The original recipe looks like this:

Sweet Potato Pie.
Two pounds of potatoes will make two pies. Boil the potatoes soft; peel and mash fine through a cullender while hot; one tablespoonful of butter to be mashed in with the potato. Take five eggs and beat the yolks and whites separate and add one gill of milk; sweeten to taste; squeeze the juice of one orange, and grate one-half of the peel into the liquid. One half teaspoonful of salt in the potatoes. Have only one crust and that at the bottom of the plate. Bake quickly.

(A gill is half a cup; “cullender” was a standard spelling for colander.)

You need to plan ahead for this one. One efficient way to organize it is to preheat the oven to 400℉, scrub the potatoes and put them on a baking sheet, then get the pie dough made. By the time the dough is ready to rest in the fridge, the oven is preheated and you can pop the potatoes in. When the potatoes are done, leave the oven on and set the potatoes aside to cool a little bit so you can handle them. Roll out the pie dough, line the pie plate, and stick that in the fridge. Then make the filling and get the pie in the oven. This will take about 2 to 2½ hours start to finish. Then the pie needs to cool before you can eat it, so that’s maybe another hour.

Abby Fisher’s Sweet Potato Pie
(makes one pie)
dough for flaky pie crust (recipe follows)
1 lb sweet potatoes, baked until tender (about 45 minutes at 400℉)
½ Tbl butter
3 eggs, separated
¼ cup milk
½ cup sugar (or more if you prefer it sweeter)
juice of half an orange (about 2 to 3 Tbl)
zest of ¼ of an orange, about 1 tsp*
½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt, or ¼ tsp table salt

*You could use regular orange juice and not bother squeezing the orange, but I strongly recommend using the zest because there’s so much flavor in it.

Flaky Pie Crust
5½ oz (1¼ cups) all-purpose flour
¾ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 3/8 tsp table salt)
1 oz (2 Tbl) vegetable shortening
2 oz (½ stick) butter
2 to 3 oz (¼ cup or more) ice water

To make the pie dough:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
Cut in the shortening and butter using a pastry blender, knives, or your fingers.
Add the ice water a little at a time, fluffing with a fork or your fingers.
When the dough holds together, pat it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate it for 30 minutes or longer.
When the dough is chilled, roll it into a circle, fit it into a pie plate (I use a 9″ Pyrex plate), and crimp the edges.

To make the filling:
Peel the hot potatoes, put them in a bowl, and mash them with a masher or fork.

Peeling the sweet potato: You can just pull the skin right off.

Peeling the sweet potato: You can just pull the skin right off.


Mash in the butter and stir in the salt.
Mash the potatoes, then mash in the butter.

Mash the potatoes, then mash in the butter.


In another bowl, beat the yolks until they’re thick and light, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, sugar, juice, and zest.
Stir the egg mixture into the potatoes.
Stir the egg mixture into the potatoes.

Stir the egg mixture into the potatoes.


Whisk the whites until they’re foamy. (You’re not making meringue, but you’re using them to lighten the filling, so be aggressive.) Stir the whites gently into the potatoes.
Gently stir in the beaten whites.

Gently stir in the beaten whites.

To assemble and bake the pie:
Turn the filling into the pie shell.
Bake at 400℉ for 40 to 50 minutes.

Sweet potato pie right out of the oven

Sweet potato pie right out of the oven

References
Fisher, Abby: What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. San Francisco: Women’s Co-operative Printing Office, 1881.
Fisher, Abby: What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc. Facsimile edition, with historical notes by Karen Hess. Bedford, Mass: Applewood Books, 1995.

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Apple Pie and Wegman’s

Most of my baking has been at school these days, but we needed dessert on Monday, and we have plenty of apples, so apple pie was the answer. Just for fun, I tried to spiff it up a bit.

I used the usual flaky pie crust recipe and the usual sugar mixture for the filling. I should’ve cut back on the sugar mixture, because I used fewer apples; well, I’ll know better next time. Usually I use three each of Granny Smith and Empire, but this time I used two Granny Smith, two Empire, and one Golden Delicious. Partly I wanted to try something a little different, and partly I was trying to reduce the amount of filling; you’d think that would’ve been a clue to reduce the amount of sugar mixture.

Apple pie awaiting a decorative top crust

Apple pie awaiting a decorative top crust


Anyway, instead of the usual full top crust with slits cut in it, I wanted to try something festive with leaf shapes. I don’t have leaf cookie cutters, but they would be convenient. Instead, I just rolled out some dough and cut shapes with a knife.
Apple-leaf shape cut from flaky pie dough

Apple-leaf shape cut from flaky pie dough


Then I cut down the middle all the way through to represent the main vein:
Main leaf vein cut all the way through

Main leaf vein cut all the way through


and then added some nicks on either side to represent the secondary veins.
Finished leaf

Finished leaf


I made 16 of these because a pie is normally eight servings. (When our nephew Ed is eating it, the number of servings is significantly fewer.) Then I arranged them radiating out from the center, which seemed logical.
Leaf cutouts forming a top crust

Leaf cutouts forming a top crust


Unfortunately, that layout looks a lot like a poinsettia. Sometimes a centered, symmetrical design is not the best one. I’ll try this again and arrange the leaves differently, maybe in a kind of spiral or maybe randomly. Then I brushed the leaves with egg wash, which was just a beaten egg. Egg white would’ve worked, too. The white adds shine, and the yolk browns and makes the leaves a slightly different color from the rest of the crust.
The finished pie

The finished pie

In other news, Wegman’s is coming to Massachusetts! I’m pretty sure I had nothing to do with this, and the first store is 20 miles from the Hub of the Universe, but they’re planning several more to open over the next 5 to 7 years, and it’s looking like Cambridge will be a good fit.

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Happy Birthday, Dr. Science!

Dr. Science is from Oregon, and in his family they get pie for their birthdays. No surprise, then, that Dr. Science traditionally gets blackberry pie for his birthday:

Blackberry birthday pie

Blackberry birthday pie

Happy birthday, Dr. Science!

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Tomato Tart

Everyone seems to be making (and blogging about) tomato tarts these days. They all sound good, and I figured I’d follow one of the recipes, but then I realized I liked certain aspects of each one, so I took a stab at my own. Well, you know, the first one is the experiment. I’ll make another one, but I’ll do a few things differently.

A slice of experimental tomato tart

A slice of experimental tomato tart

I wanted to use up some leftover pie crust, and I was thinking an Alsatian onion tart would do that, but tomato tart would also work. I got some heirloom cherry tomatoes at Trader Joe’s yesterday (TJ’s calls them “mini heirloom tomatoes”) specifically to use in a tart. Dr. Science doesn’t like goat cheese, so I got some Salvadoran soft white cheese. I got bacon for the Alsatian onion tart, but there’s no reason not to use bacon in a tomato tart, so I figured I’d try some of that, too. We have grainy mustard, but not enough to really coat the bottom of the tart shell, so I thought I’d mix that with a little Greek-style yogurt.

Both of the recipes I liked baked the tart with raw dough, not with a blind-baked crust. This was one thing I think didn’t quite work here. The crust baked okay, but it would’ve been better if I’d blind baked it for 20 minutes and then filled it. Another thing is the tomatoes, which were probably too juicy for this, and for the next one I’ll drain the tomatoes before I put them in the crust. I also thought bacon would be a nice addition (because bacon is always a nice addition), and I didn’t cook it first, but next time I will a little.

So here’s what I’ll do next time:

Heirloom Tomato Tart
10-11 oz pâte brisée or other dough for a 9-inch (24-cm) tart
1 lb heirloom cherry tomatoes
2-3 oz bacon (3 or 4 strips)
¼ cup Greek-style yogurt
1 T grainy mustard
1-2 oz goat cheese or other soft white cheese
salt, pepper, and fresh herbs (e.g., basil, oregano) to taste

Roll out the tart dough, fit it into the tart pan, and trim the dough.

Short dough in a 9-inch (24-cm) tart pan

Short dough in a 9-inch (24-cm) tart pan

Line the dough with foil and weight it.
Put the shell in the freezer while the oven preheats.

Preheat the oven to 375℉.

When the oven is preheated, put the tart shell in to bake for 20 minutes. Remove the tart shell from the oven, remove the foil and weights from the shell. Leave the shell in the tart pan. Let the shell cool while you prepare the filling ingredients.

Halve the tomatoes and set them in a colander to drain.

Aren't those pretty? Next time, I'll slice them and let them drain awhile.

Aren't those pretty? Next time, I'll slice them and let them drain awhile.

Cut the bacon strips into ¼-inch pieces. Line a plate with parchment paper or a paper towel, distribute the bacon pieces over the paper , and top with a paper towel. Microwave on high for 1½ minutes (or fry the bacon until it’s cooked about halfway).
Mix the yogurt and mustard in a small bowl.

Grainy mustard and Greek-style yogurt

Grainy mustard and Greek-style yogurt

Spread the yogurt mixture on the bottom of the tart shell.
Sprinkle salt, pepper, and fresh herbs over the yogurt mixture.
Arrange the tomato halves over the yogurt mixture.

Halved tomatoes arranged over the yogurt-mustard mixture

Halved tomatoes arranged over the yogurt-mustard mixture

Distribute the bacon pieces over the tomatoes.

Bake the tart for 20 minutes. While that’s going on, slice the cheese.
Remove the tart from the oven, arrange the cheese slices over it, and return it to the oven for another 5-8 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

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Welcome to the 21st Century

This evening I made a banana cream pie. I still get a little thrill seeing the blind-baked pie crust. The pastry cream looked good. I had enough bananas, and I had three egg whites left over from the lemon curd I made on Sunday. I spooned some pastry cream into the crust and sliced the bananas onto it. It looked pretty. I got out the camera and turned it on. The camera said, “Battery depleted.”

There was a time not too long ago that cameras used film and you always had to be thinking ahead. You had to think about how you were using your film and if you had enough.Then you couldn’t see the pictures until the film was developed. That was pretty fast with a Polaroid, but it could be months with conventional film. I have photos from when I was kid that were taken on Christmas and stamped June of the next year. I’ve been taking this instant photo thing a little for granted. I don’t have to make sure I have enough film, but I have to make sure I have enough battery. Welcome to the 21st century.

I’ll take a photo tomorrow when the pie is sliced.

Update: Dr. Science sliced himself some pie to take to work and said, “Now you can take a picture of the crumb.” (We both know pie doesn’t have a crumb, but I like the concept.)

Banana cream pie: the crumb view

Banana cream pie: the crumb view

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What’s for Dessert?

The answer should be “ice cream,” because our high today was around 90℉, but the choices today are blueberry tart or peach Melba jellyroll. I’ve never made a jellyroll, so that has a special attraction, but I also have a work deadline, and the tart would be easier, so the tart wins. I’ll do the jellyroll next, though.

For the tart, because I’m starting to feel like it’s too predictable and easy, I’m ready to do a little tweaking. Cinnamon and lemon are classic with blueberry, so my strategy today was to add some cinnamon and lemon peel to the crust and to use lemon extract (instead of vanilla) in the pastry cream.

Pate Sablée with Cinnamon and Lemon Zest
(adapted from Julia’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
7 oz all-purpose flour
3 T sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
5 T butter
2 T shortening
1 egg
1 tsp water
1 tsp lemon extract
zest of 1 lemon

In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients. Add the fat and pulse until the fat is in pea-sized pieces (or smaller). Add the liquid ingredients and lemon zest and process until the dough begins to form lumps. Press the dough into a 9-inch square or 10-inch round tart pan and chill for at least 1 hour. Line the tart shell with foil and weight it with pie weights or beans, then bake at 375℉ for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake another 5 to 7 minutes. Cool the crust on a rack; when the crust is cool, remove it from the tart pan.

Lemon Pastry Cream
(Adapted from Chef Bo’s recipe in The Professional Pastry Chef)
2 cups milk
4 oz sugar
1 oz cornstarch
a few grinds of sea salt
2 eggs
1 tsp lemon extract

Put the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Keeping an eye on the milk, whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl; add the eggs and whisk until smooth. When the milk comes to the boil, slowly pour it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and slowly bring it back to the boil, stirring constantly. Allow the pastry cream to boil for 10 seconds, then remove it from the heat and stir in the extract. Cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until it cools.

For the tart:
1 pint of blueberries
2 T apricot jam mixed with enough water to make a brushable glaze

To assemble the tart, turn the pastry cream into the tart shell, smoothing it with a spatula. Arrange blueberries over the surface. Brush the berries with apricot glaze.

Blueberry tart with lemon and cinnamon

Blueberry tart with lemon and cinnamon


Also, at the request of Dr. Science, I’m making chocolate chip cookies. I thought I’d try a recipe from King Arthur, but I ended up being too lazy to carry the computer to the kitchen and just followed the recipe that’s on the back of the chocolate chip bag. I got Ghirardelli chips on sale awhile ago, so that’s what I’m using. Here’s their recipe:

Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Yield: 4 dozen cookies)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour (who knows how much that is? I used 9 oz)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar, packed (I used light brown sugar)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (that’s the 12-oz bag)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) (I didn’t add nuts)

Preheat the oven to 375℉. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugars, then add the vanilla and eggs and beat until creamy. Stir in the dry ingredients, then stir in the chocolate chips.

They tell you to drop by tablespoons, but I use a scoop.

Chocolate chip cookie dough, ready to bake into cookies

Chocolate chip cookie dough, ready to bake into cookies


I can also tell you the trick to getting crisp or chewy cookies. If you want the cookies to be flat and crisp, use room-temperature dough. If you want the cookies to be chewy, refrigerate (or freeze) the dough. Actually, the dough keeps well in the refrigerator for quite a while — certainly a week — and you can form the dough into balls and store those in a covered container, then just bake a few at a time. Of course, that means heating up the oven for a few cookies, which isn’t very energy efficient, so that’s the tradeoff.

The other trick is to bake at the correct temperature. At 375℉, these got a little too done for my taste; I’ll do the next batch at 325℉.

Chocolate chip cookies, baked a little to hot

Chocolate chip cookies, baked a little to hot


I also made another loaf of sourdough; this one has some whole wheat flour in it. It doesn’t look as pretty as the first one. I’ll just have to keep practicing. I’ll have to keep practicing my slashing, too; this is supposed to be an octothorp, but I think I made a hash of it.
Sourdough boule slashed with a hashed hash mark

Sourdough boule slashed with a hashed hash mark

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Fruit Curd as a Learning Experience

We’re out of pie, but what to make? It’s too warm for sticky toffee pudding, and I have too much work to do to make anything really interesting. So I defaulted to lime curd tart. It’s quick and easy, I love it, and it won’t last long.

Lime curd tart, but not for long

Lime curd tart, but not for long

I’m also beginning to accept the fact that fruit curd is a learning experience. I thought I had this nailed down a long time ago, but the more I make (the more versions I try), the more I realize I don’t have a definitive recipe. I’ll just have to practice systematically until I come up with one. It’s a dirty, rotten job, but someone has to do it.

This weekend the weather will be in the 70s, so that might count as cool enough for sticky toffee pudding, so I might be making that tomorrow.

The 1847 sourdough starter is bubbling but not growing very much. I fed it today and tonight. We’ll see how that’s doing tomorrow.

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