March 14, 2013 at 8:52 AM ET
Math wasn’t my subject in school, though I do remember that pi equals 3.14… So when Pi Day rolls around, my brain goes straight to the other kind of pie—which, after all, does involve some math, explaining why I tend to be more of a cook than a baker. A few years ago though, I buckled down and started making real, from-scratch pies, and I’ll never go back—sure, they can take a good bit of work, but they’re worth every bite.
As for “real” Pi Day, it starts today, March 14 at 1:59 p.m., marking the first five digits of the never-ending number. Celebrate by rattling off as much of the number as you can remember—Chao Lu set the record in 2005, reciting Pi to 67,890 decimal places —or just make one of these pies from top cookbooks.
On a stick
Butterscotch pecan pie pops
By now, we’ve all had a cake pop. Today, on Pi Day, comes the release of “Pie Pops” with all kinds of classics—on a stick. Try this adorable take on the classic Southern dessert, pecan pie. The book includes a recipe for pie dough, but the author gave us permission to use store-bought.
From Carol Hilker, “Pie Pops”
1. To make the filling, combine the brown sugar and salt together in a mixing bowl and stir in the melted butter, egg, vanilla extract and Cognac, if using. Chop the pecans and fold in.
2. Preheat oven to 325˚ F.
3. Put the dough on a floured work surface. Break off two thirds and roll out to a 1/8- inch thickness. Stamp out 16 rounds using the cookie cutter and lay on a baking sheet 1 inch apart. Roll out the remaining pastry to the same thickness, and score with the lattice roller. Gently pull out the lattice-cut pastry to reveal the design and stamp out another 16 rounds using the cookie cutter. Coat the pastry rounds on the baking sheet with egg wash. Put a cake pop stick in the middle of each one, then add 2-3 teaspoons of the pecan filling. Top with a lattice-cute pastry round and gently press around the edges to seal. Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with brown sugar and bake in the middle of the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown and the center puffs up. Take care when serving as the filling may be hot.
Irish breakfast pie
No, pies don’t have to be sweet, and this one, from the new book, “Savory Pies,” doubles as a great St. Patrick’s Day dish in addition to a Pi Day dish. Make it for brunch on Sunday.
From Greg Henry, “Savory Pies”
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1. Prepare the pastry and shape into 2 discs ¾-inch thick—one about 6 inches in diameter and the other about 4 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days), or freeze for up to 1 month.
2. Place an oven rack in the center position. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
3. Lay the bacon flat in a large, unheated cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet. Set the heat on medium and cook until crispy, turning often, about 8 minutes. Drain on a paper towel–lined plate, then crumble or roughly chop. Set aside.
4. Peel and slice the potatoes very thinly. (I like to use a mandoline set to 1/10 inch, but a sharp knife can also do the job.) Place in a large saucepan and cover with water by about 1 inch. Bring to a full boil, then cook about 2 minutes. The potatoes should be partly cooked but still hold their shape. Drain well and set aside to cool.
5. On a lightly floured surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out the larger dough disc to about a 12-inch round, a generous ⅛ inch thick. Carefully fold in half, slide onto the rolling pin, and transfer to a 9-inch pie pan. Unfold, easing the dough gently into the pan without stretching it. Let the excess overhang evenly.
6. Sprinkle the cooked bacon evenly across the bottom of the pie. Use paper towels to dry the potato slices as you layer them in concentric circles on top of the bacon; add a pinch each of salt and pepper between potato layers. You should get 3 or 4 layers, nearly filling the pan.
7. In a medium bowl, whisk together 4 eggs, cream, and parsley until frothy. Pour over the potatoes to about ½ inch from top; you may have extra. Carefully crack the remaining 4 eggs on top, gently arranging the yolks so they don’t touch and don’t break. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Brush egg wash along the rim of the dough.
8. On a freshly floured surface, use a freshly floured rolling pin to roll the second dough disc to a 10 or 11-inch round. If you like, use a 1½-inch round cutter to press a few holes decoratively around the leaving a 1-inch border; remove the cutouts. Carefully fold the dough in half, slide it onto the rolling pin, and transfer to the top of the pie. It’s fine if some of the yolks peek through the holes, but it’s not necessary. Take care not to break the yolks. Trim, leaving a ½-inch overhang, then fold under and press the edges together; flute or crimp decoratively. Brush the exposed dough with egg wash.
9. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the crust is lightly golden and the eggs and potatoes are cooked though, about 45 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: The optional cutouts in the top crust are purely decorative. Make them whatever size and shape you like, or omit them and cut steam vents instead. I’ve even made this pie with good results without a top crust, but be aware that the egg whites will brown in spots during baking.
Triple coconut cream pie
This silky, fluffy coconut cream often makes lists of the country’s best pies. Normally, you’d have to go to Seattle’s Dahlia Bakery to get it, but luckily, James Beard Award–winning chef Tom Douglas gave out the recipe in his book, “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook.” Sure, it’s a project, but you’ll be able to say that you’ve made one of the most famous pies in America—President Obama has eaten it four times.
From Tom Douglas, “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook”
Makes one 9-inch pie, serves 6 to 8
For the coconut pastry cream:
For the whipped cream topping:
For the garnish:
1. To make the coconut pastry cream, combine the milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Use a paring knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the scrapings and the pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.
2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs by pouring a small amount (about 1/3 cup) of the scalded milk into the egg mixture, while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, about 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod.
3. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over another bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools.
4. When the pastry cream is cold, fill the pastry shell, smoothing the surface with a rubber spatula. In an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it all over the surface of the pie.
5. For the garnish: preheat the oven to 350º F. Spread the coconut chips on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 7 to 8 minutes, watching carefully and stirring once or twice until lightly browned, since coconut easily burns. Remove the coconut from the oven and allow to cool, then sprinkle over the top of the pie. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls on top of the pie. If you prefer, you can cut the pie into wedges and put the wedges on plates, then garnish each wedge individually with coconut and white chocolate curls.
Coconut pastry dough
From Tom Douglas, “The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook”
Makes one single 9-inch pie crust
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (5 ¾ ounces)
½ cup sweetened, shredded coconut (1 ¾ ounces)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch dice
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup ice cold water (2 5/8 ounces)
1. To make the dough: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, coconut, diced butter, sugar, and salt. Pulse to form coarse crumbs. Gradually add the water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing each time. Use only as much water as need for the dough to hold together when gently pressed between your fingers; don’t work the dough with your hands, just test to see if it is holding. (The dough will not form a ball or even clump together in the processor- it will still be quite loose.)
2. Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and dump the coconut dough onto it. Pull the plastic wrap around the dough forcing it into a rough flattened round with the pressure of the plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour before rolling.
3. To Roll, Shape, and Blind Bake: To roll the dough, unwrap the round of coconut dough and put it on a lightly floured board. Flour the rolling pin and your hands. Roll the dough out into a circle about an 1/8 inch thick. Occasionally lift the dough with a board scraper to check that it is not sticking and add more flour if it seems like it’s about to stick. Trim to a 12 to 13 inch circle.
4. Transfer the rolled dough to a 9-inch pie pan. Ease the dough loosely and gently into the pan. You don’t want to stretch dough at this point because it will shrink when it is baked. Trim any excess dough to a 1 to 1½ inch overhang. Turn the dough under along the rim of the pie pan and use your fingers and thumb to flute the edge. Chill the unbaked pie shell at least an hour before baking. (This step prevents the dough from shrinking in the oven.)
5. When you are ready to bake the pie crust, preheat the oven to 400º F. Place a piece of parchment in the pie shell, with sides overhanging the pan, and fill with dried beans. (This step prevents the bottom of the shell from puffing up during baking.) Bake the pie crust for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry rim is golden. Remove the pie pan from the oven. Remove the paper and beans and return the pie crust to the oven. Bake for another 10 to 12 minutes or until bottom of crust has golden brown patches. Remove from the oven and allow the pie shell to cool completely.