The Pie Plate of Tears

I decided to make a simple recipe today. Something not too complicated but deeply satisfying, maybe, if possible, an uplifting sight. Of course, that meant pie, especially since I was steering away from anything too hard to eat because I cracked a molar while clenching my jaw through the presidential debate. In conjunction with every other affliction we’re trying to survive, there appears to be an epidemic of cracked teeth. Pie was definitely in order.

The simple quest led to the Shakers and their embrace of a life striped down to the vision of a utopian community guided by work and prayer. Shaker recipes revolve around their seasonal harvests, dishes seasoned with a abundance of herbs. Ingredients are few, steps straightforward. Foolproof, hard to go wrong.

I dug up instructions for boiled cider pie. It has exactly 7 ingredients, among which was apple cider and maple syrup for an autumn infusion. The apple cider it called for was boiled which would impart a very deep apple flavor. I looked up a way to transform the apple cider I had on hand and it seemed easy enough to do.

How to make boiled cider: Pour all your apple cider into a pot (a Dutch oven does nicely). Bring to a boil then lower to a very gentle simmer, and cook for about 5 to 6 hours. Check every now and then to see how it’s reducing–you want it to be 1/4 of the quantity you started with. Other than that, you can go on with your day. Remove from heat when it reaches the consistency of maple syrup. Let cool.

Unfortunately, I went on with my day too long and only remembered it when the house filled with the scent of burning sugar. Instead of syrup, the bowl contained slightly bitter tasting cement.

I had made, rolled out and pre-baked a pie crust but had no more apple cider. It was 11 p.m. and the husband was shouting from the bedroom, “what the hell are you doing down there?”

Husband capturing wife’s despairing, sailor-worthy cursing look.

Reader, now is the time to remember that this is an anti-perfect food blog, written by a cook who holds on to the absolute belief that the kitchen should be a place of joy, an area free of tension and judgement, certainly of remorse and low self-esteem. No one should be scared away from the stove by all those pretty photos and chirpy odes to perfection smacking you in the face from every other media site. Rest assure that there is always a fix, even when you managed to turn apple cider into cement.

How to mend bitter tasting, cement hard boiled cider: In the following recipe, I added about two tablespoons more of both sugar and maple syrup and kept it over a double boiler until the sugar was melted–this also kept the cider from hardening again. At the same time I was whisking the egg yolks, I put the egg whites to whip in the standing mixer. That way everything came together quickly and the filling flowed nicely into the pie shell.

Good news! The boiled cider wasn’t bad even though the filling overflowed it’s crust.

I also decided to make one of my favorite pies–plum tart with lemon curds. It’s so meditative to stand beside a pot and slowly stir egg yolks, lemon and butter together until it thicken, even if it’s after mid-night and you and the kitchen are covered in flour and goo.

Boiled Cider Pie

Pre-baked 9 inch deep-dish crust

3/4 cup boiled cider

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several pieces

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

pinch of salt (but only if you didn’t use salted butter)

4 large eggs, seperated.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the cider, sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan and stir over a moderate heat for several minutes until the sugar melts. Be careful it doesn’t begin to boil. Pour the liquid into a bowl, add the butter, vanilla and salt and stir until the butter melts. Set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks together in a large bowl then gradually begin to add the syrup. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks then gently, but quickly, fold them into the egg/syrup mixture.

Pour filling into the pie shell and bake in the center of the oven for about 40 minutes or until the filling is completely set on top.

Plum Tart with Lemon Curd

Single unbaked tart crust (see recipe below)


3 tablespoons lemon zest

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

12 tablespoons butter

7 medium sized plums, pitted and quartered

1/2 cup plum jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the lemon zest with 1/2 cup of the sugar until the zest is as fine as the sugar. Add the eggs, egg yolk and lemon juice and process until combined.

Place the lemon mixture and the butter in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water and stir, making sure to scrape the bottom, until it thickens. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to cool.

When the curd is cool spread it over the bottom of the tart shell and arrange the plum quarters on top. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar and bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the rim is lightly golden and the plums are tender.

Melt the jam in a saucepan over low heat and brush over the cooled tart.

Tart Crust

A tart crust is a less delicate than a traditional crust and can withstand a little more handling–but just a little. Another note: I always make pie dough in a food processor, chilling the bowl and the metal blade first.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour, chilled

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, chilled and cut into 8 pieces

1/4 cup iced water

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse together the flour and sugar. Sprinkle the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse 3 or 4 times until the flour resembles cornmeal. Pour 1 tablespoon iced water down the feeding tube and pulse once. Add another tablespoon and pulse. Continue adding tablespoons of iced water until the dough just holds together.

Spread a long piece of plastic wrap on the counter and turn the dough out on top. Quickly gather the edges together around the dough to form a disk. You don’t want to linger over this because your hands will warm the dough.

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.