Thanksgiving is pie's time to shine.
Not as decorative as cake nor as popular as cupcakes, pie easily earns its reputation as a humble dessert. But no Thanksgiving meal would be complete without a post-turkey pie.
Ken Haedrich knows this better than most. A cookbook author who has been making pie for 40 years, Haedrich saw enough demand for pie that he created www.thepieacademy.com, a tutorial website for pie enthusiasts. He launched the website a year and half ago and is up to 2,500 subscribers.
"A lot of people are intimidated by making pie," the Hilton Head Island resident said.
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It can be tricky. Mushy centers, mangled lattice-work and burnt crust can frustrate even the most level-headed baker.
Haedrich said his goal is to offer solutions on his website, which has tips, tricks and tasty recipes to try. The Pie Academy also has step-by-step videos, from "How to Keep Your Pie Dough from Cracking" to "Thanksgiving Leftover Pie Recipe," so that anyone can learn to make pies from scratch.
"Pie-making is one of those things where you can read a recipe all day long and not quite understand really how to do it," Haedrich said. "But when you can see it being done, when you can see how to roll a pie pastry or put a pastry into the pan or how to flute or crimp the edge, you create the visual link that is missing from most recipes."
Haedrich works out of his home kitchen, usually making three to four pies a week and filming his efforts. His kitchen looks like any other at first glance, but a closer look reveals a serious pie maker. Le Creuset dishes peek out from his cabinets, and he has a special rolling pin to minimize sticking at the ready. There's designated counter space to roll out pie dough, and a nearby bookshelf groans under the weight of thick cookbooks.
In his fridge were a pumpkin cheesecake pie, a drawer with ready-to-be-rolled pie pastries in Zip Loc bags and some leftover quiche. His freezer had, of course, more pie (chocolate pecan), vanilla ice cream and a pot pie filling for a comfort food cookbook Haedrich is working on.
Pies are not the extent of Haedrich's cooking prowess, however. In total, Haedrich has written 15 cookbooks, including two exclusively about pie, and others on holiday cooking, soups and cooking with maple syrup.
His wife, Bev, is a willing taste tester. "I like every bit of them, all of them," she said of her husband's pies. "He does different things with different crusts. There's one with brown sugar and oatmeal. When you have a pie that has oatmeal in the crumb topping, you can justify that as breakfast."
Breakfast pie, savory pie, fruit pie, chess pie, fried pie, Haedrich doesn't discriminate.
The key, he said, is not getting hung up on perfection.
"Perfection with pie is kind of a moving target. You're going to make some ugly pies. But I always say, some of my favorite pies are ugly pies. Ugly pies are good.
"It's all about making the effort."
Through his efforts, Haedrich is shining a spotlight on America's most deserving dish. Not cake or cupcakes. Pie.
Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.
Creamy Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie
GOOD BASIC PIE DOUGH
1 8-ounce package cream cheese (not reduced fat)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup sour cream (not reduced fat)
1/4 cup sugar
Caramel or butterscotch sauce (optional)
1. On a sheet of lightly floured wax paper, roll the pastry into a 13" to 13 1/2" circle. Invert the pastry over a 9 1/2" deep-dish pie pan, center, and peel off the paper. Gently tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, then pinch the edge into an upstanding rim. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Tear off a 16" long sheet of aluminum foil and press it into the firmed shell so it fits like a glove. To prevent the pie shell from puffing while it bakes, fill the foil about 3/4 full with dried beans, banking them up the sides. (See NOTE below.)
3. Bake on the center oven rack for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Remove the pan from the oven, then carefully lift out the foil and beans. Using a fork, poke the bottom pastry 6 or 7 times; the holes will keep the pastry from puffing. Put the pan back in the oven and bake another 10 minutes. Cool on a rack. (Plug the holes with little smears of cream cheese to prevent the filling from running out.)
4. To make the filling, make sure the oven is still set to 350 degrees. Using an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese until light and smooth, gradually adding the sugar and brown sugar. Blend in the eggs, about 1/3 at a time. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, spices, salt and pumpkin puree. Blend until evenly combined, but don't overbeat (beating too much at this point could make your pie crack because you'll whip air into the eggs.) Finally, blend in the half-and-half.
5. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Place on the center oven rack and bake for 25 minutes. Rotate the pie 180 degrees, so the part that faced the back of the oven now faces the front, and bake about 20 to 25 more minutes. When done, the top will have puffed up and may show slight cracks around the edges. And most of the surface, except for the center, will have a "flat" - not shiny - appearance.
6. Turn the oven off, open the door and slide out your oven shelf a little. Let the pie cool like that for 15 minutes. Then transfer to a cooling rack.
7. When the surface of the pie has settled down, but it is still slightly warm, make the topping. Combine the sour cream and sugar in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. Turn the heat to medium low and start heating the mixture very gradually, stirring almost nonstop. DO NOT LEAVE THIS UNATTENDED. IF IT BOILS, IT WILL SEPARATE. After about 4 to 6 minutes, when the sour cream is soupy and pretty warm to the touch, carefully pour it over the center of the pie. IMMEDIATELY pick up the pie and tilt the pan in all directions so the sour cream covers the pie and runs into the crust. Continue to cool.
8. When the pie has cooled completely, cover it with a paper plate or aluminum foil tent and refrigerate overnight. Slice and serve cold, topped with drizzles of caramel or butterscotch sauce if desired. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
9. NOTE: Don't discard the beans; save and reuse for the same purpose.