How many times do you have to do something before it becomes a tradition? Is ten the magic number? Or four? If you do it twice, consecutively, at the same time of the year, have you passed the test?
It might be a bit premature, but I’ve got a new Thanksgiving tradition. This year was the second annual cross-country pie bake off. Separated by some 3,000 miles and three time zones, my dad and I use the same recipe to bake the same pie and then let our audiences “judge” the results. As you can imagine, the winner is hotly contested.
Well, we’ve actually taken turns conceding defeat.
Last year, in the inaugural Thanksgiving pie bake off, we went head-to-head over the Salted Caramel Apple Pie from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book. My pie managed to have the more impressive lattice top, but the overpowering taste of cider vinegar (wholly unintentional I can assure you) put me at a loss, and in second place.
If I learned one thing through defeat, it is that the crust is the most important part of the pie. It takes the longest amount of time to prepare, involves the most technique, and if it’s not right, it doesn’t matter how good the filling is.
I remembered my lesson this year as I made the Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie, an oatmeal and chocolate concoction that also came to us from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds book. I stayed up well past bedtime to make the all-butter crust, ensuring things were properly chilled, then thawed, given a quick freeze, thawed again, pre-baked, and finally completely cooled before I even toyed with the idea of filling. I smoothed chocolate ganache atop the crust and, once it had hardened, added a layer of pecan pie filling, but one where had oats had replaced the pecans.
I was so proud of the crust, especially given such a set of seemingly excessive instructions, that I just had to keep eating to believe I really nailed it. Well that was the excuse I used when having yet another slice at lunch the next day.
Makes enough for one single-crust 9- to 10-inch pie or tart
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar (Scarred from last year’s experience, I used less than half the amount of cider vinegar called for in this recipe.)
1/2 cup ice
Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain.
Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow.
Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.
Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie
All-Butter Crust for a 9-inch single crust pie, partially pre baked and cooled
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup dark corn syrup (I substituted for Lyle’s Golden Syrup here)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
4 large eggs
To pre bake the crust:
Have your crust rolled, crimped, and rested in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When it’s fully chilled use a fork to prick all over the bottom and sides, 15 to 20 times. Place the crust in the freezer.
Preheat oven to 425° and place a baking sheet on the oven’s lowest rack. Have ready 1 egg white whisked with 1 teaspoon of water to brush the crust with during baking.
When the crust is frozen solid (about 10 minutes), line it tightly with a piece or two of aluminum foil. Pour pie weights or beans into pan and spread them so they are concentrated more around the edges than they are in the center. Place the pan on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the crimped edges are set, but not browned.
Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the foil and the pie weights, and let the crust cool for a minute. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of the egg glaze to moisture proof the crust. Return the pan, on the baking sheet, to the oven’s middle rack and continue baking for 3 more minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.
To assemble the pie:
Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the oats on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
To make the ganache layer, bring the heavy cream just to a boil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour in the chocolate pieces. Swirl the cream around to distribute and cover the chocolate; let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk gently until smooth. Scrape the ganache into the cooled pie shell and spread evenly over the bottom. Place the shell in the freezer to set the ganache while making the filling.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, ginger, salt and melted butter. Add the corn syrup, vanilla, and cider vinegar (again used much less than was called for) and whisk to combine. Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Stir in the cooled oats.
Place the ganache-coated pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet and pour in the filling. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 55 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is slightly firm to the touch but still has some give (like gelatin). Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.