1.6 kg of butter
400 g of chocolate
800 g of Saskatoons
600 g Nutella
1.2 kg flour
500 g sugar
14 pies for Pi Day
(for those of you questioning my sanity, you're not alone...)
Pi Day is finally here! Yes, it is officially a day observed by math geeks around the world (I use the term "geek" with nothing but affection - I consider myself to be a food geek), but I don't see any reason why a lousy "e" should keep me from observing the day in my own way. Interestingly enough there is an actual National Pie Day in the US, on January 23rd (raise your hand if you missed it, too), as declared by the American Pie Council (raise your hand again, if you didn't know there was an American Pie Council). Well, I'm a Canadian girl and in Canada we don't have a national pie council to speak of, so, just as we celebrate our Thanksgiving in October instead of November like our neighbours to the south, I figure Canadian Pie Day should be March 14th. Any objections? No...? Alrighty then, I hereby declare March 14th as Canadian Pie Day. But whatever your nationality, you're invited to celebrate along with us.
So in honour of 3.14, I baked a variety of pie shells in many sizes; treats to package up and give to friends and co-workers. Ironically enough, I ended up with a total of 14 pie shells, so I thought it only fitting that I make 3 types of pie; Nutella Tart, a Lemon Meringue (hubby's favourite) and Saskatoon Pie. The Nutella Tart is a recipe I've had my eye on for a while - ever since I bought my copy of Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, written by Dorie Greenspan. The idea of an entire tart with the taste of chocolate and hazelnuts had my mouth watering as soon as I turned the page, and as luck would have it, I had a nice big jar of Nutella in my pantry.
For the Lemon Meringue pie, I decided to switch things up a bit after thumbing through Dorie Greenspan's Baking. If you've ever been disappointed by a store-bought lemon meringue pie that was nothing but rubbery meringue covering a transluscent, but tasteless yellow gelatine, then this is the lemon pie recipe you've always dreamed of. "The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart" is nothing short of lemon luxury. She writes about Pierre Hermé's Lemon Cream - his take on the traditional lemon curd most of us know and love. I was intrigued by her description of the taste as well as the preparation method, and decided this was the perfect opportunity to test drive it. Well, let me put it this way; I made one batch of lemon cream (enough for a 23 cm/9 inch tart shell), and after licking the spoon completely clean, immediately whipped up a second batch. It is deliciously light and super lemon-y. I still decided to top a few of the smaller tarts with meringue, and leave a couple of them unadorned. I'm interested to see which one everyone prefers.
Finally, I happened to have a couple of bags of Saskatoons in the freezer from my trip to the u-pick berry farm last summer, which is great, since we are many months away from this year's harvest. If you've never had Saskatoons, you're not alone; they're indigenous to western Canada, and nearly impossible to find outside that area; even my uncle in Toronto, tells me how much he misses Saskatoon pie every summer. They have a wonderful and very unique taste to them, not really like any other fruit; mildly tart, reminiscent of purple grapes, but with a distinctive almond aftertaste. They're very similar in appearance to blueberries, but have a chewier texture. Ultimately, they're delicious and very popular in the summertime; jams, pies, ice cream, syrup, smoothies, even sparkling wine are made using these unique berries. If you ever find yourself in the Canadian Prairies in late summer, you shouldn't have trouble finding something saskatoon.
Saturday, I spent making batch after batch of pie pastry and blind-baking an assortment of sizes and shapes of shells to fill with these tasty fillings. Even in their naked state, the smell of flour & butter baked into golden shells filled the entire house with their fragrance; a fragrance I happen to love. I also dove right into making the Lemon Cream, since it needs to chill and be poured into the shells right before serving. Sunday morning I woke up to the lingering smell of bright, juicy lemons, so I donned my apron and got to work combining berries with sugar, lemon juice and just a hint of cardamom, and mixing bowls of melted chocolate with so much melted butter it should be illegal (seriously, don't even read the recipe if you're on a diet). By the time hubby got out of bed for breakfast, there was no room to eat at the kitchen table; it was covered with desserts, cookbooks, camera and laptop. We carefully reconfigured everything to allow enough room for coffee cups and a backgammon board so I could take a little break and enjoy a bit of the morning with him, before getting back to my sugary witchcraft.
All that's left to do now is wrap up all the goodies and get them the heck out of my house - save for 1 medium lemon cream tart, 1 small saskatoon pie, and 1 mini nutella tartlette.... after all this work, I should at least get a taste.
Here are the recipes:
Pâte Brisée (Flaky Tart Pastry) from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley
makes enough pastry for one 10-11 inch tart shell
1 1/2 Cups (156g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 Cup (113g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3-5 Tbsp (45-75ml) ice water
In a food processor, combine flour, salt & sugar. Add the butter and using short pulses, cut in butter until the largest pieces are about the size of large peas. Add the ice water through the feed tube, and pulse just until the dough comes together. Stop the machine and feel the dough - it should hold together well when squeezed. Add a little more water if dough feels too dry. Be careful not to add too much water - or you'll end up with tough pastry.
Editor's note: Although it is recommended to press this into a disk, wrap and refrigerate before rolling out and placing in tart pan, I seem to have intermittent luck with shrinking pie dough. So, I immediately press this dough directly into the tart pan, starting with the edges, and then fill in the bottom and smooth out the base by covering it with parchment paper and then running the flat side of my meat pounder over it. Works every time.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line cover tart pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are just starting to colour and the bottom is starting to bake. Remove weights and parchment and continue to bake for 10-12 minutes longer for a completely baked shell.
Nutella Tart from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, written by Dorie Greenspan
makes one 9-inch tart
2/3 Cup (200g) Nutella
400g dark chocolate, chopped
7 Tbsp (200g) unsalted butter
1 large egg, at room temperature and stirred with a fork
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature and stirred with a fork
2 Tbsp (30g) sugar
1 Cup (140g) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and cut into large pieces
Centre a rack in the oven and preheat to 375°F.
Spread the Nutella evenly over the bottom of the tart crust and set aside while you make the ganache.
Melt the chocolate and the butter, each in separate bowls - either using a double-boiler or a microwave oven. Allow them each to cool until they feel just warm to the touch (140°F on an instant-read thermometer is perfect)
Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir the egg into the chocolate, stirring gently in ever-widening circles and taking care not to beat any air into the ganache. Little by little, stir in the egg yolks, and then the sugar. Finally, still working gently, stir in the melted butter. Pour the ganache over the Nutella in the tart shell. Scatter the hazelnut pieces over the top.
Bake the tart for 11 minutes - that should be just enough time to turn the top of the tart dull, like the top of a cake. The centre will shimmy if jiggled - that's just what it's supposed to do. Transfer the tart to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes or until it reaches room temperature - the best temperature at which to serve it.
Lemon Cream from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
page 331, "The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart"(I consider this to be a understatement by Ms. Greenspan)
1 Cup (201g) sugar
grated zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 Cup (180ml) fresh lemon juice (4-5 lemons)
2 sticks plus 5 Tbsp (299g) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and blender (preferred) or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.
Put the sugar and the zest in a large, heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.
Set the bowl over the saucepan and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch - you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling - you'll see that the mixture starts out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger, and then, as it gets closer to 180°F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point - the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience - depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to 180°F can take as long as 10 minutes.
As soon as it reaches 180°F, remove the cream from heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or bowl of the food processor); discard the zest. Let the cream stand, stirring occasionally, until it cools to 140°F, about 10 minutes.
Turn the blender to high (or turn on the food processor) and, with the machine running, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed, as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter has all been added, keep the machine going - to get the light, airy texture of lemon-cream dreams, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and it gets too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.
Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight. The cream will keep in the fridge up to 4 days (HA! Not once you taste it, it won't!)
When you are ready to assemble the tart, just whisk the cream to loosen it and spoon it into the tart shell. Serve the tart immediately or chill until needed.
makes 1 deep-crust pie or 2 open-faced tarts
pre-baked pie or tart shell
6 Cups (750g) Saskatoons (thawed if frozen)
1 Cup less 1 Tbsp (185g) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 Tbsp Minit Tapioca
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp unsalted butter, room temperature
Preheat oven to 375°F and place rack in centre of oven.
In a large bowl, combine the berries with sugar, salt, lemon juice, zest, tapioca and cardamom. Mix well until juices start to dissolve the sugar. Don't be afraid to crush a few of the berries for a better texture in the pie.
Fill the tart shell with a heaping mound of the mixture (the berries will shrink considerably during baking). Dot with butter, and bake for 25-35 minutes, until the berry mixture is bubbling. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or at room temperature with fresh whipped cream, lightly sweetened.
If you prefer a covered pie, fill the pre-baked pie shell with the berry mixture, top with second layer of pastry - either latticed, or vented to allow steam to escape. Brush top crust with a beaten egg, and sprinkle lightly with sugar before baking. Bake until crust is golden brown. Cool and serve as above.