The Pie Dude

Chocolate Chess Pie

Chess pie is a Southern tradition requiring three basic ingredients: eggs, butter and sugar.  Southern bakers have produced a seemingly endless variety of simple recipes, but all yield a simple yet delightful egg custard pie.  Adding a bit of semisweet chocolate to the mix brings forth a Chocolate Chess Pie, and what better way to finish your Christmas meal than with some chocolate custard wrapped in pastry crust.  My favorite thing about chess pie is how you get two layers of chocolate: a rich, creamy and dark custard on the bottom, and a thin crunchy light crust on top.  The varying textures made my taste buds do a little dance of joy as I savored the pie.  Here is my recipe.
1 pastry crust
1 stick butter
1/4 C chopped semisweet chocolate
1 C sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over low heat.  Add the chopped chocolate to the pan and turn off heat.  Let the pan sit for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted
3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl.  Add the chocolate/butter mix and stir until well blended.
4. Place the pastry in a 9 inch pie plate and then pour the filling into the crust.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top crusts over
5. Cool the pie completely on a wire rack.  Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled

Maple Pecan Upside Down Pie

This pecan pie has two noteworthy qualities.  First, using maple syrup in place of corn syrup adds a woodsier flavor to the filling which is a nice complement to the nuttiness of the pecans.  To my taste buds, corn syrup is just too sweet.  Real maple syrup may be pricier, but it is well worth it.  Second, the pie is served upside down which make it both fun and appropriate for Christmas.  Slicing into an upside down pie is something like unwrapping a gift and discovering what is hidden inside.  Preparing an upside down pie is also easier than it might seem.  Begin by coating the bottom of a pie plate with cooking spray and spreading some chopped pecans in the plate.  Then place your pastry crust over the nuts.  After baking and cooling the pie, it can be inverted onto a serving plate yielding an upside down pie.  Here is the recipe.
cooking spray
1 pastry crust for bottom of dish
3 eggs
1 C real maple syrup
1/2 C light brown sugar
2 T butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 C chopped pecans, divided
1. Preheat oven to 350 F
2. spray bottom of 9 inch pie dish with cooking spray
3. spread 3/4 C chopped pecans on bottom of dish
4. Place the pastry crust in the dish and gently press the crust into the pecans
5. Mix eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, butter and vanilla until well blended
6. Stir in 1 1/4 C pecans, and pour mix into prepared pie dish
7  Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean
8. Let pie cool completely on a wire rack for several hours or overnight
9  Carefully slide a knife between the side of the pie and the dish to separate crust from plate.  Place a dinner plate or large serving plate on top of the pie dish and turn it upside down.  Gently remove the pie plate from the pie to reveal an upside down pie with pecans encrusted on top

Thanksgiving Pies

With Thanksgiving just a week away I have been giving a lot of thought as to what pies to prepare for the holiday meal.  Truth be told I have also been receiving a lot of suggestions from family on the same topic.  I've also been thinking about what the meal means to those who partake, and how it symbolizes the connectedness of families across generations.
The Thanksgiving meal, including the dessert, poses some interesting issues.  For many families the holiday is a time to celebrate tradition.  Grandma's recipe for stuffing, for example, may be the only option.  To consider a change in this central element of the meal is viewed in some families as a form of heresy.  Many families also settle into well defined roles in terms of who prepares various courses.  There is a certain level of comfort in knowing that Aunt Betty will bring the cranberries, and Uncle Walt will be in the kitchen mashing the potatoes 15 minutes before dinner is served.  Tradition reigns in these families.
Other families favor deviating from tradition, which ironically can become a tradition in itself.  I, for example, look for a new stuffing recipe each year.  Cornbread, french bread, wild rice and other ingredients have made an appearance over the years.  My wife has grown somewhat accustomed to this, although her own family tends toward using cherished recipes handed down from generation to generation.  This year for example, our niece Carolyn will be making her Grandma's scratch dinner rolls.  Grandma is no longer with us, and Carolyn received her instructions in bread baking back in 1998.  I asked if she had taken notes.  She had not, but recalls that the rising time of the dough was measured in the number of innings of a Chicago Cubs game.  This can be a problem with handed down recipes.  Instructions are not always very precise.
So what does this have to do with pies.  As the pie baker I get caught between the traditionalists and my own inclination to try something new.  Thanksgiving is not complete for some without a pumpkin pie, so there will be one.  For others a pecan pie is required.  I will bake one.  I had a request for apple pie, and the request will be filled.  I love all of those pies, but I can't leave it at that.  I will also bake a Cran-Apple Walnut Pie, which is my new favorite.  I would also recommend the Pumpkin Apple Pie reviewed on October 11 in this blog, or the Pear Cranberry Pie reviewed on October 18.  Each of these pies combines traditional fall fruits into a luscious dessert.  So if you're looking to shake things up at the Thanksgiving table this year try one of these pies.


Cran-Apple Walnut Pie

My latest pie is a true fall delight.  Cran-Apple Walnut Pie brings the tartness of cranberries, the sweetness of apples and the earthy crunchiness of walnuts together in a pie worthy of the Thanksgiving table.  So if you are looking for a new twist on Thanksgiving pie, here it is.


Double Crust Pastry
3 C peeled and sliced apples
3 C fresh cranberries
1 C chopped walnuts
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C flour
1/2 t cinnamon
2 T butter
1/2 t sugar

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Line a 9 inch pie plate with one pastry crust
3. Cokmbine the apples through cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and toss to thoroughly mix the filling.
4. Spoon the filling into the pie plate.
5. Cover the pie with the second pastry crust, and seal the edges.
6. Cut several thin slices into the top crust with a sharp knife.
7.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then cover edges with aluminum foil or a pie shield.
8.  Reduce heat to 375 and bake for an additional 40 -45 minutes.
9.  Brush pastry top with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar during last 5 minutes of baking
10. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack

Pie Road Trip to Door County

Well, Mrs. Pie Dude and I were feeling the need to get away for a long weekend, and a pie road trip to Door County seemed to be just the right thing.  So we loaded up the SUV and went in search of the best that the cherry capitol of Wisconsin has to offer.
It's a little late in the season now and many shops and eateries were closing for the season, but we did find several worthy places.  Our first stop was at Sweetie Pies bakery, located just south of Fish Creek.  First established in 1995 by Susan Croissant (yes that's her real name), the shop offers a wide variety of pies. We sampled Apple Caramel Nut, Three Berry and Berried Treasure pie and were delighted by the freshness of the fruit and the flaky crusts.  I asked the current owner, Dave Lea, the secret of his crust.  He says they only use transfat free shortening, grade A butter and unbleached flour with a little water.  No other ingredients are added.  During the summer Sweetie Pies produces as many as 80-100 pies a day, and Lea says they baked a total of about 10,000 pies in 2009.  He keeps tab of the most popular pies, and not surprisingly cherry pie tops the list.  Other favorites include apple, apple caramel and strawberry rhubarb. 

                            Dave Lea At Sweetie Pies

Further north in the town of Ephraim we came upon The Summer Kitchen.  Owned by Nino Jaureguy, this spot offers a full menu, but specializes in soups and 16 varieties of pie.  The restaurant is set amidst an elaborate garden, making it a lovely place for dining.  After a hearty breakfast, we ordered a slice of the Pecan Pie.  Mrs. Pie Dude raved about this one, marveling in the flavor and texture of the filling, describing it as much more than caramely corn syrup.  We then took a slice of the Strawberry Rhubarb to go.   Later that night we sat in the Adirondack chairs out side our inn, bundled against the cold, and ate the pie while watching the stars in the night sky.  Maybe it was the bottle of Bordeaux we shared, but that might have been the best slice of strawberry rhubarb pie I ever ate.  The fruit was sweet and tart, and held together very well, which is not easy with strawberries, without being too jammy. 

             Nino Juareguy with Pecan and Strawberry Rhubarb Pies

Travelling further north, passing through the town of Sister Bay, you'll come across Seaquist Orchards farm market.  Fortunately, we got there the day before it closed for the season.  Seaquist has a full bakery, freshly picked apples, and frozen cherries in containers ranging from a quart to 5 gallons.  I have used Seaquist cherries in one of my pies and found them to be among the best.  The market also features a wide variety of sauces, dressings, jams, and other food products, many of which you can sample in the store before buying.  The bakery features many items including whole pies and by the slice.  We got a slice of cherry pie, along with some other items and hit the road.  The following morning that cherry pie made for a refreshing start to the day.
Some time ago a friend, knowing of my obsession with pie told me I should go to Greenleaf, Wisconsin for pie.  He told me someone had mentioned a diner that offered many varieties.  I asked for the name of the diner.  No one could remember the name.  "It's on Highway 57 at the crossroads," was all I had to work with.  So on our way home Mrs. Pie Dude and I headed down Hwy. 57 south of Green Bay, like a modern day Robert Johnson searching for pie at the crossroads.  Arriving at the corner of Hwy's, 57 and 96 we found a gas station on one corner and, in a nondescript building,  D&G Restaurant on the other. 
D&G is a throwback in more ways than one.  Two days into November, the diner  was still decked out in Halloween decorations.  The tables and booths were filled for lunch, and some 13 types of pie were listed on a dry erase board at one end of the counter.  After a plate of home battered fried chicken, our waitress delivered two slices to the table, Coconut Cream and Cranberry Walnut.  The coconut pie was good, nicely accented with some toasted coconut sprinkled atop the cream.  The cranberry walnut, however, was the real deal.  I loved the filling, with it's tangy cranberry.  But the crust had me puzzled.  At first I thought they had added some corn meal to the crust dough.  It was a little more yellow than usual, and had the crispiness of the corn bread crust. Soon the waitress returned with a glimmer in her eye, seeming to know that I would need to know what was in that crust.  "Ground walnuts," she said.  "We found that recipe years ago."  I didn't get to talk with D&G's owner Gloria Berg, who was busy running a short handed kitchen, but I will be going back to crossroads, and I will fall down on my knees if I can get that recipe.

Royer's Roundtop Cafe Pies

Back in September I told you about Bud Royer at Royer's Roundtop Cafe in Roundtop, Texas.  Bud makes a variety of pies and advertises a "Pie for Life" deal in which he will deliver a pie a week to your home for  the rest of your life.  The cost of this deal varies on your age (and prospective longevity) and your distance from Roundtop.  Well, Bud tells me he has had some inquiries but so far no takers on his offer.

This week, Bud sent The Pie Dude  a couple of unsolicited pies. (Full disclosure: The Pie Dude received these pies at no cost.  That said, my comments are in no way affected by these free samples).  This included a Pecan Pie and a Buttermilk Pie  The first thing I can tell you is that the pies arrived in Wisconsin in perfect condition.   Royer's packing and shipping method is superb.  The 8 inch pies come sealed in plastic and labeled with instructions for heating and serving  the pie.  The pie is then placed securely in a specially designed cardboard box that has a layer of foam padding on the bottom, a cardboard insert with a disc for the pie tin to rest in, and another layer of foam padding on top.   This ingenious design insures the pie will arrive safely at your door in the hands of a UPS driver.

As a test of pie quality I took the pies to a charity auction last night and served them to my table mates.  This being Wisconsin, people tended to respond incredulously to the idea of buttermilk pie.  More than once I got a "Buttermilk PIE?" response when I told them their options.  Buttermilk pie is definitely a southern dish, one more northerners should have the opportunity to taste.  It consists of a buttermilk custard filling inside a pastry crust.  The custard is spiced with nutmeg and vanilla.  There is nothing complicated or exotic about it, but it is a real treat.  Royer's recommends it being served warm with ice cream on top.  Although I did not have the ice cream I agree that warming the pie brings out the best in this custard pie.

Royer's Pecan Pie is a traditional corn syrup and pecan confection.  The pie is loaded with pecans, which is to my liking.  Too many pecan pies are overloaded with the corn syrup with just a thin layer of nuts on top.  Royer's knows that it's the pecans that are the real draw.  As you probably know, pastry crust is important to The Pie Dude.  Royer's crust appears to use shortening and is light, though not really flaky.  It has a texture akin to short bread.   Mrs Pie Dude believed it was too thick; she prefers a thin crust, and I tend to agree with her on this.  That said, crust is a matter of preference and many people will find Royer's to their liking.  Another worthy attribute of the crust is its presentation.  Royer's creates a nicely fluted edge to the pie and the filling flows into the flutes creating a lovely visual effect.

My panel of tasters were pleased with the pies and surprised that they had traveled from Texas to Wisconsin without any damage, and tasting fresh.  All told I can say that Royer's pies were well received in Wisconsin.

If you'd like to check out Royer's for yourself, here is a link to their web site

Pear Cranberry Pie

We have had a very mild fall, as everyone in Wisconsin knows by now.  Warmer than usual temperatures, and little rain has many of us thinking about a prolonged summer.  Outdoor recreation is still in the biking and running mode, with few thinking of skis and snow shoes.  As I walk the streets of Milwaukee I see people wearing shorts and sandals and T-shirts, as though it were mid-summer.

As a long time Milwaukeean who grew up in San Diego, I can relate to this.  Nevertheless, I find myself wishing fall would hurry up and get here.  That's because I am a big fan of the pies of fall--pumpkin, apple, cranberry, pecan, sweet potato.  Seasonal produce lends itself well to pie baking.  After the long cold Wisconsin winter, nothing tastes better than fresh rhubarb pie or a bright and cheery berry pie.  In the midst of a hot summer, a peach pie is just what the baker ordered.  And in the fall, as we head toward short days, long nights and cold, snowy streets, fall pies, perhaps combined with a fireplace and a warm drink, spell comfort and security.

Last week The Pie Dude combined apples and pumpkin in a lovely pie.  This week pears and cranberries make another delightful blend for a pie.  I worked with red Bartlett pears and fresh Wisconsin cranberries.  This pie is a little more time consuming to make, but results in a pie so beautiful you almost feel guilty cutting into it.  Begin by slicing your pears into 1/8 to 1/4 inch pieces.  After lining a pie plate with pastry crust you arrange a layer of pear slices in an overlapping pattern around the bottom of the dish. Then put about a cup of berries around the top of the pears.  Follow this with another layer of pears and then pour a mix of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, corn starch, and water over this mixture.  The pie is then baked at 375 for 30 minutes covered with foil, and 30 more minutes uncovered.  After taking the pie out of the oven to cool, you cook another cup of berries in a pan with 1/4 cup of caramel sauce.  You can make your own or use some caramel ice cream topping.  Once the cranberry caramel mixture becomes bubbly drizzle it over the top of the pie.  This pie is best served warm, right out of the oven.  If there is any left over, I suggest reheating it to release the caramel goodness of the cranberry topping.

Here is a link to the recipe.

I made a few modifications to this recipe.  First I used a full cup of cranberries in the middle layer, and a second full cup as part of the topping.  Next, I added 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon to the sugar mix to pour of the fruit.  Finally I used 1/4 C. of caramel sauce with the cranberry topping.

Pumpkin Apple Pie

Fall is upon us, although you might not know it from the 80 degree weather we've had here in Milwaukee lately.  Despite the unseasonable weather I'm definitely in a fall baking  kind of mood.  Two of my fall favorites are pumpkin pie and apple pie.  A colleague suggested I combine the two in a single dish.  Brilliant! I thought.  What could be better at this time of year?  With apple pie I love the fresh crispness of a good tart apple, Granny Smiths being my preferred baking apple.  I also love the cinnamon sugar sweetness  as a counterpoint to the tart apple.  Pumpkin pie brings the creaminess of the pumpkin along with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.  Put these together in one pie and you have something special. 

Mrs. Pie Dude is a big fan of this pie, which she described as "hearty.".  She says she was both surprised and pleased with how it turned out.  In particular she liked that "the apples maintained their crispness amidst the custardy pumpkin filling."  Another taster thought it may be the best of the first 15 weeks of this pie adventure.  Yet another simply said, "Now, that's a pie."

Here is the recipe.


pastry for a single crust pie (9 inch plate)

Apple Layer

1/2 C packed brown sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
1/2 C water
3 T butter
4 C sliced peeled apples

Pumpkin Layer

15 oz canned pumpkin
1 C sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t ground ginger
1/4 t nutmeg
1/8 t ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2. Combine brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt in a sauce pan.  Whisk dry ingredients.  Stir in water over medium heat until smooth.  Add butter and stir until slightly thickened.  Pour over apples and toss in a bowl.  Set aside.

3.  In a separate bowl, whisk pumpkin, milk, sugar, eggs and spices until smooth.

4.  Place pastry in a 9 inch pie plate.  Add the apple mixture to about 1/2 inch below top of plate.  Pour the pumpkin mix over the apples.  Flute or otherwise decorate the edge of the pie plate with additional pastry.

5.  Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the pumpkin filling is set.  When a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean the pie is done.

Note:  depending on the depth of your pie plate you may have extra filling.  Leftover apple filling makes a nice treat all by itself.  Extra pumpkin filling can be poured into ramekins lined with graham cracker crumbs and baked as pumpkin tarts.

Shepherd's Pie

Continuing with the theme of savory pies, my newest pie is a traditional Shepherd's Pie. 

Shepherd's Pie comes in many variations.  You can probably ask ten pie bakers how they make it and get ten different answers.  One cooking web site I checked had 17 different recipes.  One common ingredient in Shepherd's Pie is lamb.  You will find some recipes calling for ground beef, but those are actually Cottage Pie recipes.  The other common quality of a Shepherd's pie is the use of mashed potatoes in place of a top crust.  Other than that you find many different ingredients in the filling.
Most people do not use a pastry crust at the bottom of the pie.  In some respects this makes it more of a casserole than a pie.  I operate under the belief that most foods can be improved with a pastry crust so I use one.  My filling is a combination of ground lamb, sauteed onions, carrots and mushrooms, and some salt, pepper and fresh tarragon.  I added some Irish blue cheese to the potatoes to give them a zestier flavor.  You can add other cheese to the potatoes, or just sprinkle some shredded cheese over the top of the pie.  After baking the pie I topped it with diced green onions. This pie was a big hit with my family, including my daughter's fiance, who did not notice  the mushrooms and says he can't stand them.

Here is the recipe


2 lbs. peeled potatoes
6 T milk
1 stick plus 1 T butter
1/2 T lard
1 C chopped onion
1 C diced carrot
1 lb. ground lamb
1 pt. beef stock
1 C cremini mushrooms
2 T fresh tarragon
2 T flour
8 oz Irish blue cheese
1/4 C diced green onion tops

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  
2.  Roll out 1 pastry crust to fit a 9 inch pie plate.  Place the crust in the plate.  Puncture in several places with a fork.  Dust pastry with flour and cover with aluminum foil and pie beads.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven, remove pie beads  and set aside.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees.
3.  Peel potatoes and boil until soft.  Drain water, add milk, 1 stick of butter and blue cheese.  Mash potatoes and set aside.
4.  Melt the lard in a skillet and add the onions carrots and 1/3 stock.  Cook until browned. Add mushrooms, tarragon, and salt  and pepper to taste.  Cook for 15 minutes covered.
5.  Melt one Tablespoon of butter in a skillet and add 2 T flour, stirring until it turns slightly golden brown.  Add to meat mixture and stir until thickened.
6.  Put meat filling in pie shell.  Spread mashed potatoes evenly over the top of the pie.
7.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes, or until potatoes are beginning to brown.
8.  Remove from oven.  Place on wire rack and sprinkle with green onion tops.

Tomato Leek Pie

As we head into fall here in the upper midwest, the air becomes cooler and crisper, and the scent of falling leaves becomes part of our daily lives.  This is the kind of weather that makes pie, and particularly savory pie, all the more satisfyling.  While pie in general has a comfort food quality to it.  Savory pie is comfort food squared.   Fruit and cream pies are tasty spring and summer delights.  They burst with sweet and tart flavors that seem youthful and vibrant.  Savory pies, with their vegetables, meats, and savory spices, by contrast, are warm and comforting in a more subdued fashion, perfectly suited for the fall season

With this in mind I prepared a Tomato Leek Pie, which  is extremely easy to make and quite tasty.  You begin with a pastry crust in the bottom of your pie plate.  Then you place some sliced and sauteed leeks  in the bottom of the pie.  Red, yellow and green tomatoes are then layered on top of the leeks.  Finally, you make a mixture of mayonnaise, grated parmesan cheese and a whipped egg.  Pour this mixture over the tomatoes and then bake it for about 30-40 minutes.  The pie is quite tangy owing to the mayo, and the crispiness of the fresh tomatoes adds a nice texture.  If  I made it again I would probably add some herbs, perhaps tarragon or basil.

Here is a link to the recipe


April 2014

Monthly Archives

Recent Posts

  1. Chocolate Chess Pie
    Thursday, December 23, 2010
  2. Maple Pecan Upside Down Pie
    Thursday, December 23, 2010
  3. Thanksgiving Pies
    Wednesday, November 17, 2010
  4. Cran-Apple Walnut Pie
    Monday, November 15, 2010
  5. Pie Road Trip to Door County
    Thursday, November 04, 2010
  6. Royer's Roundtop Cafe Pies
    Sunday, October 24, 2010
  7. Pear Cranberry Pie
    Monday, October 18, 2010
  8. Pumpkin Apple Pie
    Monday, October 11, 2010
  9. Shepherd's Pie
    Sunday, October 03, 2010
  10. Tomato Leek Pie
    Sunday, October 03, 2010

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