Roast turkey is the symbol of the upcoming American holiday of Thanksgiving, but the holiday pie may be even more popular. I know Americans who don’t eat turkey, but practically everyone likes to have pie for his or her holiday dessert.

The idea of making and rolling out pie dough makes some people nervous, but doing it can be a satisfying, soothing activity. Millicent Souris, who teaches classes on making pie and is the author of the new book How to Build a Better Pie, emphasizes the simplicity of pie-making: “Pie is not cute or darling. It’s a flaky crust filled with something sweet or savory then baked. It’s as old as the hills – simple and classic.”

For some people, writes Souris, rolling out pie crust is “the real deal-breaker,” but she points out that doing it is easy and that once you start learning this skill, you’ll get better each time. She gives several tips: “Learn to work quickly. Use chilled crust. Do not press down on the crust with your hands. After every roll turn the crust 90 degrees.

If it sticks, scrape your surface and your rolling pin clean. Dust both with more flour... Try to pinch together any cracks as they come.”

Like many pie-bakers, Souris is a firm believer in making do with what you have. She uses whatever fruit is in her kitchen to make her “paltry fruit pie”; she slices the fruit, puts it in a crust and bakes it with a topping of lemon-flavored buttermilk custard.

PANTRY PIES are favorites of Patty Pinner, author of Sweety Pies, who likes to make the oldfashioned pies that she learned to make from her mother, her aunts and her grandmother. In her chapter on cereal pies, she makes pies from humble ingredients: oatmeal pie, rice pie and cream of wheat pie. Like pecan pie, they are made by combining the basic ingredient with beaten eggs, melted butter, sugar or corn syrup and flavorings.

Pinner also turns vegetables into pies. When she flavors her zucchini cobbler with sweet spices, people say it tastes like apple pie. Even white potatoes can become dessert pie; Pinner combines the mashed cooked potatoes with butter, sugar, milk, cream, eggs, vanilla and nutmeg and bakes this filling in a pie crust. For dessert during frugal times, Pinner recommends navy bean custard pie.

Dorothy Reinhold, whose blog is shockinglydelicious.com, has won more blue ribbons for her pies than anyone I know. When I asked why she thinks her pies win so many awards, she replied that for her, “it’s all about the flavor. My pies may not win any ‘best decorated’ ribbons, but I try to make sure they have deep, distinct flavors. So if it’s a lemon pie, it really needs a punchy lemon flavor.”

Reinhold is a practical baker. For her lemon cloud pie, which just won first place at the Malibu Pie Contest, she prefers sweet, aromatic Meyer lemons that her neighbors share from their garden, but when she doesn’t have these specialty lemons, she is perfectly happy to make her pie using ordinary lemons from her backyard tree.

Faye Levy is the author of Dessert Sensations and of the award-winning book Chocolate Sensations.

CHOCOLATE-ALMOND PIE

I adapted this recipe from my book Chocolate Sensations.

You can bake the dark, fudgy filling in sweet almond pastry, in a flaky pie crust or in a shell made from packaged dough.

Makes 8 servings

Almond Pastry Shell (see recipe below)
110 gr. (4 ounces) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
100 gr. (31⁄2 ounces or 7 Tbsp.) unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup whole or slivered blanched almonds (70 gr. or 21⁄2 ounces)
1⁄2 cup plus 11⁄4 tsp. sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup sliced almonds
1 cup whipping cream, well-chilled
3⁄4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 220ºC (425ºF). Line pastry shell with parchment paper or foil; fill paper with dried beans (which act as pie weights). Set shell on a baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until side is firm and beginning to brown. Reduce oven temperature to 190ºC (375ºF). Carefully remove paper with beans. Bake shell without the beans and paper for 10 minutes or until base is firm but not brown.

Transfer tart pan to a rack; cool while preparing filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 175ºC (350ºF).

Filling: Melt chocolate with butter in a medium bowl over nearly simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from water; cool slightly. In a food processor, grind whole or slivered almonds with 2 Tbsp sugar to a fine powder.

Whisk eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk in 6 Tbsp sugar.

Using whisk, stir in chocolate mixture, almonds and flour. Pour into pastry shell. Bake about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center of filling comes out clean. To remove sides of a pan with a removable base, set tart pan on a flat-bottomed upside-down bowl; remove side of pan. Transfer pie to a rack.

Topping: Toast sliced almonds in a shallow baking pan in oven, stirring often, about 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.

If tart pan has a removable base, gently pull out base of pan when pie is lukewarm. Cool completely. Transfer to a platter. Refrigerate 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.

In a large, chilled bowl, whip cream with 11⁄4 tsp sugar and vanilla until stiff. Spread cream over top of pie, covering it completely. Swirl top. Sprinkle toasted almonds over top.

ALMOND PASTRY SHELL

This dough is easiest to make in a food processor. First I grind the almonds with part of the sugar, and then I add the other ingredients to make the dough. The food processor helps to make the dough quickly so the butter doesn’t soften too much.

Makes a 23- to 24-cm. (9- to 91⁄2-inch) pastry shell
70 gr. (21⁄2 ounces or 1⁄2 cup) whole blanched or slivered almonds
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄4 tsp. salt
11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
100 gr. (31⁄2 ounces or 7 Tbsp) unsalted butter, well-chilled, cut in 14 pieces 1
large egg, beaten 1⁄2 to 1 tsp. ice water, if needed

Grind almonds with 2 Tbsp. sugar in a food processor to a fine powder. Add salt, flour and remaining 2 Tbsp.

sugar. Process briefly to blend. Scatter butter pieces over mixture. Process using quick on/off pulses until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour egg evenly over mixture.

Process using on/off pulses, scraping down occasionally, until dough forms sticky crumbs that can easily be pressed together but does not come together in a ball. If crumbs are dry, sprinkle with water, about 1⁄2 tsp. at a time, and process using on/off pulses after each addition until dough forms sticky crumbs.

Transfer dough to a work surface. Blend dough by pushing about 1⁄4 of it away from you and smearing it with the heel of your hand against work surface. Continue with remaining dough in 3 batches. Repeat if dough is not yet well-blended. Using a rubber spatula, transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap dough and push it together in a rough ball, then flatten it to a disk shape. Refrigerate at least 6 hours.

Butter a 23- to 24-cm. (9- to 91⁄2-inch) tart pan. Let dough soften 1 minute at room temperature. Set it on a cold, lightly floured surface. Tap dough firmly with a heavy rolling pin several times to flatten it. Roll out dough, flouring often and working as quickly as possible, to a round about 6 mm.

(1⁄4 inch) thick and about 29 cm. (111⁄2 inches) in diameter.

Roll dough loosely around rolling pin; unroll over pan.

Gently ease dough into pan. Dough is crumbly; if it tears, use a piece of dough hanging over rim of pan to patch it.

Using your thumb, gently push down dough slightly at top edge of pan, making top edge of shell thicker than rest of shell. Roll rolling pin across pan to cut off dough at edges. With your finger and thumb, press to push up top edge of dough all around pan so it is about 6 mm. (1⁄4 inch) higher than rim of pan. Refrigerate about 10 minutes.

Prick dough all over with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour or up to 1 day.

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