3.14 (159…) is significant when you are a proud member of the geek tribe and married to their king. When I told Wombat I was making a pie for Pi Day, March 14 (yesterday), he asked me what time? The correct answer is 1:59. Because geometry.
Finding a new recipe for Pi Day was a challenge because I’ve made a few pies in my day. Every Thanksgiving I make a pumpkin pie (Wombat’s favorite – I think I have 3 different pumpkin pies in my repertoire now) and then in years when we’ve had many guests (our record is 22), I’ve made a second pie, and I never repeat a second pie. We’ve had chocolate cream, chocolate espresso pecan, apple cider cream, classic apple, Marcus Samuelsson’s Black-Bottom Peanut Pie (OMG), buttermilk chess pie, and I think lemon meringue one year. In season, I like to make blueberry pie or pre-make the filling to enjoy when blueberries aren’t as plentiful, but March is not a great time to find seasonal fruit. I went to an old standby, The Joy of Cooking (Wombat calls it The Tome), looking for inspiration. The Ohio Lemon Pie jumped out at me, primarily because the first 24 of my undisclosed number of years on this earth were spent in Ohio and I had NEVER heard of it. The reason became clear: without a mandolin slicer and a food processor, this pie would be prohibitively labor intensive. I did not own either of these things until well into my 27th year, so, boom.
This pie is intensely lemony. Like lemon drop candy plus lemon marmalade plus lemon curd with lemon juice and limoncello lemony. I used a standby butter pastry crust and the rich flavor and flaky texture really contrast the dense, tart, lemoniness of the filling. No whipped cream, ice cream, or other accoutrements are necessary. The filling contains sliced whole lemons, peel, pith, and all, and I must admit the “no waste” idea appealed to me. What surprised me was that the pith, which I expected to be tough and bitter, wasn’t unpleasant, as it softened nicely after 24 hours of macerating in sugar and the lemons’ own juice. The membrane between the segments, however, remained as tough as ever, was nearly impossible to slice through, and made for some messy plates. Making this again, I would slice and macerate the lemons per the recipe, then spin the whole lot in the food processor to break up the membrane a bit. I’m curious to try this modified method with other citrus fruits, maybe a lemon-orange combination, lime, or even pink grapefruit. I did not use the crust recipe from Joy, but am excited that this pie gives me an opportunity to share the best crust recipe I’ve ever used and the only one I ever will use again.
5 thumbs up for this one. The boys liked the crust (little butter fiends) so one up from each of them, but I think the texture of the filling threw them both a bit, and it was too tart and lemony for Peanut (Meatball eats lemons straight, so no tartness issues with him). Wombat gave it two thumbs up, and it gets one from me, primarily because the original method made plating it a huge pain and eating it a minor one.
The flavor, however, was unique and delicious and maybe I had two slices for second breakfast this morning. I taught a class at the gym last evening and I get pre-class jitters, so I didn’t eat much yesterday. This means that today (and any day after I teach a later class), I pretty much rummage mouth-first through the kitchen like a shark-raccoon. Fortunately for my waistline and blood sugar, we don’t always have fresh pie sitting around. The recipe says to bring it to room temperature before serving and/or eating, but I prefer it cold, or maybe I’m just impatient.
Ohio Lemon Pie (Recipe abridged from The Joy of Cooking, my notations in bold)
Flaky Pastry Dough or Deluxe Butter Flaky Pastry Dough See the end of the recipe for the best pie dough recipe ever ever.
Roll half the dough into a 13-inch round, fit it into a 9-inch pie pan and trim the overhanging dough to 3/4 inch all around. Refrigerate. Roll the other half into a 12-inch round for the tip crust and refrigerate it. I don’t know what your fridge situation is like but I do not have this kind of real estate for storing flat, delicate dough. I made the crust the day (almost the moment) I baked the pie. Grate the zest from:
2 large or medium lemons My lemons were medium and I totally spaced on this step, so the zest just went in still attached to the lemon.
Slice the lemons paper thin, removing the seeds as you do so. Mine were more manila-folder thin, maybe even cereal box cardboard thin. In a glass or stainless-steel bowl or ceramic or plastic, just don’t use anything that will corrode because lemons are crazy acidic combine the lemon slices and grated zest (or not) with:
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
Cover and stand at room temperature for 2-24 hours, stirring occasionally. The longer the lemons macerate, the better. I gave mine the full 24 hours and stirred them maybe 4 or 5 times. Stirring is a great time to catch and remove any seeds missed during slicing.
I started my crust a couple of hours before I was ready to bake. Okay, I started the crust about an hour before I had to pickup Meatball from preschool and then rolled out and chilled the bottom crust before moving on to this step: Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425. Whisk until frothy:
- 4 large eggs
- 4 Tbsp butter, melted
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
If you plan to process the lemon mixture, do it now. Stir the lemon mixture into the egg mixture. It took quite a bit of stirring to make sure the slices and sugar were evenly distributed. Pour the filling into the bottom crust and level with the back of a spoon. Brush the overhanging crust with cold water. Cover with the top crust, trim (didn’t trim, I like a big crust and more importantly so do the boys) and crimp or flute the edge I use the (very clean) knuckles of my index fingers to flute the edge. Cut steam vents in the top crust (evenly distributed and other than that it doesn’t matter where. I put one in the middle because I knew I’d have to test doneness there) and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 20-30 minutes more . Mine took the full 30. Let cool completely on a rack.
If you have a lab-type dog, secure the pie in the microwave or elsewhere out of reach. The pie can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days but let it warm to room temperature before serving. Or don’t.
Foolproof Double-Crust Pie Dough (From Cook’s Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking)
I keep a bottle of vodka in my freezer exclusively for pie crust. Here’s a quick shakedown of the science behind it. Gluten gives baked goods structure. In pizza crust, this quality of chewiness is desirable but it makes cakes and pie crusts tough, not tender. Gluten needs water to develop. Minimizing water helps to reduce gluten development, but a dry dough can be impossible to manipulate. Vodka provides moisture for handling but minimal water, so gluten doesn’t form as readily, and the alcohol cooks off without contributing any flavor whatsoever. I assume this is also why the recipe includes shortening, which contains no water, whereas butter is 16-17% water.
The recipe cautions (and I concur) that this can not be successfully made without a food processor.
Halving this recipe will make a single pie shell.
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and chilled
- 8 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
- 1/4 cup vodka, chilled
- 1/4 cup ice water
- Process 1 1/2 cups flour, sugar, and salt together in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter butter and shortening over top and continue to process until incorporated and mixture begins to form uneven clumps with no remaining floury bits, about 15 seconds.
- Scrape down bowl and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup flour per dough and pulse until mixture has broken up into pieces and is evenly distributed around bowl, 4 to 6 pulses. The dough will look like wet playground sand. There will be larger clumps, smaller clumps, and tiny bits. Don’t over process it!
- Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Sprinkle vodka and ice water over mixture. I hold back some of the water in this step and usually don’t need all of it. For this pie I had a tablespoon leftover. Stir and press the dough together, using stiff rubber spatula, until dough sticks together.
- Divide dough into to even pieces. Turn each piece of dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling out, let it sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. (Dough can be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for up to one month. Thaw completely before rolling out.) For holidays when I know I’ll be busy as heck in the kitchen, I always make pie crusts in advance.