Last year, I made a decision to master pie once and for all. I went about it as scientifically as possible: I compiled half a dozen pie crust recipes, tested each one (with labels, taste-testing, notes, sample batches, and all), and developed my own recipe.
October (2015), when I took a pie class at a local bakery, all of that went out the window, as I had learned a new recipe and some new techniques (which I never mastered.) At that point, I thought I had everything down to a science and it was time to start playing with fillings. I even attempted to make my own pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins.
I have since learned, from first hand experience, reading things online, and asking professional chefs, that this is a waste of time. I haven’t pureed a pumpkin in approximately 382 days.
Half a year later, I took another pie class, and everything I thought I knew about pie went out the window…again. The technique I had learned last autumn was just a little too much work to justify something that should be as easy as pie. The pastry instructor from the cooking school gave us a useful ingredient ratio for pie pastry, so now I don’t even bother looking at my pie crust recipe (which I updated a few months ago after taking that class.)
For what I call “American pie crust,” the crust that most of us Americans know via apple, pecan, and pumpkin pie, the best ratio is 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter, and 1 part ice water. How you go about chilling and combining the three is up to you, but it really isn’t difficult. The first few times, it can be daunting because we seem to mythologize pie crust, but once you’ve gotten the process into your muscles and bones, it’s a 5-minute recipe that you can do with your eyes closed, and the result is always phenomenal.
Even filling, which until this past summer frightened me, can be simple. I never managed a fruit pie recipe over the summer, but come April this blog will be replete with blackberry cobblers, mixed berry pies, lemon meringues, and Little Jack Horner will be weeping with joy. A berry pie filling is five basic ingredients: sugar, starch (corn, tapioca, flour), berries, flavor (lemon zest, extracts, spices), and liquid (optional, because the sugar will melt and the berries will excrete juices in the oven.)
For the sweet potato pie, I went through a few iterations of recipes, each time experiencing the same problem: my filling was runny and the sweetener was leaking out as the pie cooled down. After much pestering of chefs and coworkers, I decided to reduce the liquid in the filling drastically and simplify everything, and here we are:
The molasses is the main sweetener, and sweet potato is already relatively sweet, while the egg helps the filling set up (sweet potato puree is very loose, unlike pumpkin), and the rum is added for an additional splash of flavor. Altogether, the filling is slightly tart, deeply yam-y, and pleasantly molasses-y, so if you don’t like Meyers Jamaican rum, this might not be the pie for you!
ideas for next thanksgiving: cranberry ginger pie, classic apple pie, lemon meringue pie, fig and feta pie
sweet potato molasses pie
one 7″ pie (~6 servings)
15 ounces (1 can) sweet potato purée
2 ounces molasses
0.5 ounces dark rum
dash of salt
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
pecans, walnuts, or marshmallows for topping
Roll out pie pastry, ~9″ in diameter, fit into a 7″ pie plate and crimp or fold the edges as you like. Freeze or refrigerate the shell unbaked.
Preheat the oven to 425 F/220 C, and set oven racks at top and bottom 1/3 of the oven.
Combine the sweet potato purée, molasses, egg, rum, salt, cornstarch, and brown sugar*, and whisk until smooth. Fill the shell and spread the filling out with a spatula, smoothing along the surface.
*The sugar and starch will mix in more easily if you first combine those two with each other in a smaller bowl, then whisk them into the filling.
Decorate with pecans, and bake for 40 – 50 minutes until the crust is bronze and the center of the pie is set.
Optional: Let the pie cool, then turn on the broiler. Garnish the pie with marshmallows and toast/broil them for about 10 minutes, until starting to brown.
Pie can be served warm or chilled.