Sweet, savory pies back on the rise

Pies are becoming the new national craze, following in the footsteps of cupcakes.

Could the reign of the cupcake be waning at last? Suddenly, it's all about the pie.

Pies of all sizes are popping up at wedding receptions, aboard food trucks and in pie-centric cafes from coast to coast.

Businesses revolve around pies, such as 3.14 Pies in Charleston, which was launched a year ago.

And cherry and banana cream have been joined by green chiles, elderflower liqueur infusions and lollipop sticks although not all at once.

"I think honestly, it's the tip of the iceberg," says Andrew Freeman, a San Francisco-based restaurant consultant who first dubbed 2011 "The Year of Pie."

Those who frequent classic pie-friendly places may laugh. They've been enjoying their apple and berry pies for years. But there's a new movement afoot, and it involves perfectly flaky crust and sweet and savory fillings.

None of that surprises Shira Bocar, the co-author of Martha Stewart's new "Pies & Tarts" cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 352 pp., $24.99). Pies have always been a popular topic among readers of Martha Stewart Living, Bocar says via email, but something has changed.

"Pies are now turning up on menus of top restaurants," she says. "There is a boom in pie-centric shops. They are the dessert stars at more and more dinner parties."

In short, pie seems to have hit a tipping point similar to the one that propelled the lowly cupcake to pastry superstardom. Freeman was working with New York City's Magnolia Bakery, the patisserie generally credited with launching the cupcake trend, back when that craze took hold. He knows a trend, he says, when he sees it.

"What I was seeing was all of a sudden this resurgence of pie," Freeman says. "We started to hear a lot about it. My gosh, there's more pie on menus than I remember. Then Oprah did a story on chicken pie. We started to dig in and see the (savory) pies, mini pies, mail order pies, fried pies, happy hours."

The evidence isn't just anecdotal. The numbers back up Freeman's trend theory. Pie devotees ate 722 million slices at restaurants last year, 12 million more than in 2009, according to NPD Group, a market research outfit. And that doesn't even count the more unusual entries -- the tiny pies baked atop lollipop sticks that have taken Seattle by storm, or the 4-inch, heart-shaped Sweetie Pies that have smitten the crowds who frequent San Francisco's SusieCakes.

As for what's inside those pies, pecan and pumpkin are here to stay.

But 21st-century pies offer new twists, too -- and not just of the gluten-free and vegan-friendly variety.

Today's pies seem to be inspired by everything from farmers markets to the cocktail bar.

Stewart and Bocar's new cookbook, for example, features a cocktail-inspired elderflower liqueur-flavored whipped cream, and an entire chapter -- Bocar's favorite -- is devoted to tiny tarts and hand pies, which can be eaten without a fork.

But there's one overriding theme to the book.

"Overall, I think 21st-century pies are anchored by the ingredients," Bocar says. "Canned pie filling will no longer cut it in 2011. People want the best-quality ingredients from the butter to the local strawberries for their pies. And the end product will reflect that attention to detail."

Makes 1 pie

Ingredients

2 cups whole milk

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/3 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons bittersweet chocolate, chopped

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 fully baked pie shell

Whipped cream, chocolate shavings, to garnish

Directions

In a medium pot, scald milk over medium heat.

Combine sugar, cocoa, water and salt in a large pot. Whisk until smooth. Set the pot with the sugar-cocoa mixture over moderately high heat and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate; whisk until thoroughly melted.

Place the cornstarch in a large bowl. Whisk in enough of the hot milk to make a slurry, then whisk in remaining milk.

Pour the milk into the chocolate mixture, then return to moderately high heat. Cook the pudding until it reaches a boil, stirring with a heatproof spatula and making sure to continuously scrape the bottom of the pan. Allow to boil for 1 minute, still scraping the bottom of the pan.

Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Immediately pour the pudding into a pan and press plastic wrap snugly against surface. Refrigerate for several hours.

When the pudding is cold, spoon it into the baked pie crust.

Garnish with freshly whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Refrigerate until serving time.

-- Susan Sarich, SusieCakes

Note: This rich, savory tart should be served in slivers.

Ingredients

1/2 recipe Pate Brisee (recipe follows)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and each cut in 6 wedges

6 ounces very ripe Brie, at room temperature

1 large whole egg, plus 2 large yolks

1/2 cup cream

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme

Coarse salt, ground pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out dough into an 11-inch round.

Fit into a 9-inch springform pan, with dough extending slightly up the sides. Pierce the bottom all over with a fork. Chill until firm, 30 minutes.

Line shell with parchment, extending above side by about 1 inch. Fill with pie weights. Bake 20 minutes. Carefully remove parchment and weights.

Bake until golden, 10-12 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly before filling. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add apples; cook until browned on all sides, 2-3 minutes total.

In a food processor, process Brie for 15 seconds. Add whole egg and yolks one at a time; process after each until well-combined.

Add cream and process until smooth. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in milk. Stir in thyme and season with salt and pepper.

Arrange sauteed apples around bottom of crust. Pour custard over apples. Bake until custard is just set when gently touched with your finger, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

-- "Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts"

Pate Brisee

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions

Make the pate brisee by pulsing flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles corn meal, with some larger pieces. Drizzle 1/4 cup water over the mixture and pulse just until the mixture begins to hold together. If the mixture is too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, and pulse.

Divide dough in half and flatten into disks. Wrap well in plastic and chill until firm, 1 hour or up to 1 day. (Dough may be frozen for up to 3 months; thaw overnight in refrigerator before use.)