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Originally published November 20, 2010 at 8:30 AM | Page modified November 20, 2010 at 8:33 AM

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Move over cupcake, it's time for pie

A look at the how innovative bakers are transforming pies. Plus recipes for Butter Pie, Apple Green-Chili Pie With cheddar Crust And Walnut Streusel and Rye Pecan Pie.

The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — The idea for a pie-centric restaurant came to Trevor Logan in the California desert. He was in the midst of planning an ice-cream parlor when he had what may have been a flash of insight, a stroke of genius or a psychic message from his 90-year-old grandmother in Oklahoma: "Maybe I shouldn't just be doing ice cream," he thought. "We have The Pie."

The Pie was the most popular dessert at his first restaurant here, Green Chile Kitchen. Now it has become the cornerstone of the menu at his second place, Chile Pies and Ice Cream, which he opened in March in the Western Addition district. Apples are layered with roasted green chilies, made savory with cheddar cheese in the crust and sprinkled with a streusel topping of walnuts and brown sugar.

Green chilies and melted cheese are two basic elements of New Mexican cooking, said Logan, who went to college in Santa Fe and said that he opened Green Chile Kitchen to ensure that he had a steady supply of the food he missed after moving here.

Savory and sweet, earthy and spicy, Logan's green-chili apple pie is an irresistible example of the lengths to which young pie makers are going to make their mark.

Pie had been lurking below the radar in recent years: taking cover during the ice cream trend, perhaps waiting to see which way the macaron tide would turn. (For proof that the cupcake craze has gone too far, consider the new turkey cranberry cupcake with gravy in the batter from Yummy Cupcakes in Los Angeles.)

Some ideas soar

Suddenly, New York and San Francisco are national centers of pie innovation. In Brooklyn, a pair of sisters from South Dakota are integrating sea salt and caramel into their apple pie and inventing aromatic fillings like cranberry-sage and pear-rosewater. In the East Village, at Momofuku Milk Bar, the pastry chef, Christina Tosi, has transferred the buttery, caramelized flavors of apple pie into a layer cake, with apple filling between the layers and crumbs of pie crust in the frosting.

Some of the experimentation has led to oddities, including pie milkshakes, pies baked in canning jars and a monstrosity called the cherpumple: three pies (cherry, pumpkin, apple) baked inside three cake layers, all terrifyingly stacked together with cream cheese frosting. (Yes, it is a turducken for the dessert course.)

At Hill Country Chicken in the Flatiron neighborhood of New York, there are pies modeled on the flavors of cocktails and cookies and an extraordinary banana cream pie that improves upon the classic by adding Nilla wafers.

At the other end of the purity spectrum, Mission Pie in San Francisco's Mission District draws many of its employees from local youth advocacy groups, who learn about pie from the ground up. The all-pie cafe also sells organic flour that is grown at partner farms (such as the not-for-profit Pie Ranch), and makes delicious walnut pie — never pecan — to make use of the vast crop of local walnuts.

But amid the innovations, some truly useful discoveries in pie are coming from the trenches of pastry kitchens, made by professionals who bake all day, every day. These are changes not just in pie flavor and ideology, but in engineering.

To streamline operations in the pastry kitchen at Diner in Brooklyn, the restaurant's pastry chef, Avery Wittkamp, devised an enormous solution, which can be easily adopted by home cooks and Thanksgiving hosts. She bakes her rye pecan pie in a 10-inch springform pan, using a thicker, stretchable crust that can line the deep sides; it stays in place even when the pie is unmolded. Impressively, the tall bark-brown crust rises over a filling as wide, majestic and mahogany-brown as a redwood tree.

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For Esa Yonn-Brown, the touchstone is her mother's recipe for crust, so lumpy with butter that it would never pass inspection in a professional kitchen. At her Butter Love Bakeshop in San Francisco, it is baked to a gnarled, delicious brown with an almost bitter edge.

Wedding pie, anyone?

The pie Yonn-Brown has staked her reputation on is called Butter Pie. With its caramelized filling of butter and brown sugar, it belongs to the same gooey tradition as sugar pie, chess pie, shoofly pie and, in recent years, Tosi's Crack Pie.

Butter Pie is the signature product of her shop, which is a bake shop in the same sense that Amazon is a bookshop: it functions online and via delivery only.

Pie has also proved its mettle by being neatly adaptable to the local-seasonal ideology of many modern kitchens. (Pumpkins, the Thanksgiving classic, are among the last vegetables to be harvested in the autumn.)

"Our grandmother didn't make pumpkin pie in July or cherry pie in December," said Emily Elsen, who opened Four and Twenty Blackbirds, a pie shop in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, with her sister Melissa in April.

The women grew up working in their mother's restaurant in Hecla, South Dakota, where about 400 people lived at the time.

"We were the only game in town," Emily said of the Calico Kitchen, which served breakfast, lunch and dinner. "But even a small town in the Midwest can get through a lot of pie."

When the sisters opened their shop in a post-industrial corner of Brooklyn, the pair expected to make 10 pies a day to keep up with demand. Already, on each weekend day, they need 40.

Last weekend, the sisters also made extra pie for 200 people: a wedding pie, an increasingly common alternative to wedding cake. (Emily recommends "slab pies" for large gatherings: Double a normal recipe, use the crust to line a sheet pan with sides and cover the filling with more crust or a crumble top.)

"There's really nothing new in pie," Emily said, citing a long history of experimental pie making in the Midwest. "Farm women have tried everything before," she said, although that may not be true of the grapefruit-and-Campari custard and strawberry-balsamic fillings that have been among her shop's most popular.

Logan, who spends many weekends away from The Pie working toward a degree in spiritual psychology at the University of Santa Monica, is not a typical restaurateur, even for San Francisco. But he is a fairly typical pie entrepreneur: young, eager to make his mark in food and with a Midwestern pie genius lurking in his ancestry.

Since his dessert place opened in February, he has refined not only the apple green-chili pie but chocolate red-chili and also walnut-honey. He has recently branched into pie shakes: a slice of pie, a scoop of ice cream, a slosh of milk and a powerful blender. Hill Country Chicken also makes pie shakes.

Logan has not yet managed to create a dessert version of Frito Pie, a Santa Fe classic of meat, chilies, cheese and onions poured over (and served in) a small bag of Fritos.

"That would be the ultimate pie accomplishment," he said.

RYE PECAN PIE

Adapted from Diner, Brooklyn

Yield: About 12 servings.

Time: 2 hours, plus chilling

For the crust:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar

½ pound cold unsalted butter, cut into dice

½ cup ice water, more as needed

About 5 cups dried beans (for baking)

For the filling:

5 eggs

1 ¼ cups light brown sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup molasses, dark or unsulfured

1/3 cup light corn syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons rye or bourbon, not more than 90 proof

2 cups finely chopped pecans

2 ½ cups pecan halves

Whipped cream, for serving.

1. Make the crust: In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, salt and white sugar at low speed. Add butter and mix until pea-size lumps form. Raise the speed to medium-low and add ½ cup ice water in a slow, steady stream, mixing just until dough holds together. To test, pinch a small amount of dough. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time. Shape dough into a ball and wrap it loosely in plastic, then roll it into a disk. Refrigerate at least one hour, or up to 3 days, before rolling. (Dough can be frozen for up to a month.)

2. Open a 10-inch springform pan, flip the bottom over so the outside surface faces in, then close. This will make removing the pie easier when it is done by preventing the dough from sinking into the pan's crease. On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough into a circle 16 inches in diameter. Lift it and let it settle into pan, fitting the dough down into the edges. Press the sides firmly against pan and pinch around the top rim. Trim dough with kitchen scissors so it hangs over the rim by one inch, reserving excess. Refrigerate in pan until very cold and firm, at least 45 minutes.

3. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prick bottom of dough with a fork. Lay a piece of parchment or wax paper in pan, then a piece of aluminum foil. Fill foil lining with dried beans to top of pan. Bake 15 to 25 minutes, until the sides of the crust have set and turned a light golden brown. Remove from oven and lift out the beans, foil and parchment. Patch any holes with reserved dough, pressing firmly. Bake 10 to 15 minutes more, until golden brown. Let cool at least 30 minutes before filling.

4. Fill the pie: Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and rye or bourbon. Place baked pie shell, still in the pan, on a sheet pan. Gently pour in the filling. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over surface. Working from outside in, arrange pecan halves in concentric circles, without overlapping, until entire surface is covered. (Use only as many as needed.)

5. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, just until filling is firm and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into center. (Do not worry if the overhanging crust becomes very dark brown.) Let cool completely. Use a serrated knife to saw off all overhanging pie crust. Carefully remove outer ring of pan. Slice with a large, very sharp knife and serve with whipped cream.

APPLE GREEN-CHILI PIE WITH CHEDDAR CRUST AND WALNUT STREUSEL

Adapted from Chile Pies and Ice Cream, San Francisco

Yield: About 8 servings.

Time: 1 ½ hours, plus chilling

For the crust:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into dice

½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

5 tablespoons ice water, more as needed

For the filling:

5 cups peeled and thickly sliced tart apples, such as Jonagold, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith

½ cup chopped roasted green Hatch chilies, mild or medium hot (see note)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup cornstarch

For the topping:

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup finely chopped walnuts

¼ cup light brown sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Vanilla ice cream, for serving.

1. Make the crust: In a food processor or mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add butter one piece at a time, while pulsing or mixing at low speed, until mixture is fine and crumbly. Transfer to a large bowl and toss well with the cheese. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time, mixing lightly with fingers just until dough holds together. To test, pinch a small amount of dough. If it is crumbly, add more ice water. Form dough into a ball, wrap loosely in plastic, then roll into a disk. Refrigerate at least one hour, or up to 3 days, before rolling. (Dough can be frozen for up to a month.)

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a circle at least 11 inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan, preferably glass. Turn edges under to make a thick rim; flute rim by pinching into a zigzag pattern. Refrigerate until ready to bake, at least an hour.

3. Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss apples, green chilies and lemon juice together. In another bowl, mix dry ingredients and add to apples and chilies, tossing until thoroughly coated.

4. Make the topping: In a small bowl, mix flour, walnuts and brown sugar. Add melted butter and toss together until crumbly.

5. Bake the pie: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Using a slotted spoon, scoop filling into chilled crust, then drizzle with 2 tablespoons of juice from bottom of bowl. Sprinkle topping evenly over filling. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until filling bubbles at edge and crust is brown. Serve warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Note: Roasted green Hatch chilies from New Mexico can be ordered from http://newmexicanconnection.com/, are sometimes found frozen in grocery stores. Drained canned green chilies are acceptable.

BUTTER PIE

Adapted from Butter Love Bakeshop, San Francisco

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Time: 2 hours, plus chilling

For the crust:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

8 tablespoons (one stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into dice

¼ cup ice water

Dried beans or rice, for baking

For the filling:

6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cups light brown sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

½ cup cranberries (optional)

Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving.

1. Make the crust: In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and sugar. Add butter and gently toss with the dry ingredients until evenly coated. Using fingertips and thumbs, press each cube of butter into a thin leaf, and continue tossing in flour. When all butter is coated, add ice water one tablespoon at a time. Continue tossing gently until mixture starts to looks ragged and just holds together when squeezed. Wrap loosely in plastic, wax paper or parchment. Press dough down firmly into a disk. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day, before rolling. (Dough will keep frozen for up to a month).

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough into a circle 12 inches in diameter and ¼-inch thick. Transfer to a deep-dish 9-inch pie pan, lifting dough to let it settle into corners of pan; do not stretch it. Turn edges under to make a thick rim; flute the rim, pinching it into a zigzag pattern.

3. Line crust with parchment or foil and cover bottom with pie weights, dried beans or raw rice. Bake in lower half of oven for 15 to 20 minutes, then remove weights and bake in upper half of oven 5 to 10 minutes, until just golden on edges.

4. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar together at medium speed until sugar looks like wet sand. Add salt and vanilla extract. With mixer running, add eggs one at a time and beat until creamy and light, about a minute. Mix in cranberries, if using.

5. Scrape filling into parbaked crust. Place pie on a sheet pan and bake in center of oven for 25 to 35 minutes, until top looks dry and browned. The filling will form a skin and puff slightly, then deflate as it cools and sets. Let cool at least one hour, then wrap and refrigerate until serving, at least one hour or overnight. @Serve cold with very lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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