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Your pie crust can be round or rectangular. Just go ahead and bake a pie.

Pumpkin Chiffon Slab Pie with an Amaretti Crust from the new cookbook, “Pie Squared” by Cathy Barrow.
Pumpkin Chiffon Slab Pie with an Amaretti Crust from the new cookbook, “Pie Squared” by Cathy Barrow.

My name is Jill, and I make pie with store-bought pie crust.

That’s not an easy confession. I consider myself adept in the kitchen, but the prep required to make crust – the need to plan ahead by several hours for thorough chilling to ensure each bit of butter can steam and puff in the oven – feels like a vise on spontaneity. A ready crust, if you have one in the fridge, requires no more than 20 minutes of rest on the counter until you fill it and pop it in the oven.

But with the arrival of Cathy Barrow’s splendid new “Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies,” I am reconsidering my stand. Barrow describes in such empowering ways her foolproof and flaky all-butter crust, her tips for handling fragile phyllo, and her practically press-and-play shortbread or crumbled cookie doughs. Now, I can confidently stroll past my market’s refrigerator case without a second glance.

“I’ve converted a lot of people with my all-butter crust,” Barrow said. “For me, writing this book was like being in front of a class. I wanted people to feel the same confidence and enthusiasm.”

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“Pie Squared” by Cathy Barrow. Grand Central Life & Style



Barrow, a Washington-based food writer whose work regularly appears in The Washington Post, deploys well-explained techniques and good humor in her quest to turn even the most timid baker into confident slab pie maker. She will teach a slab pie class Dec. 11 at Southern Season and sign copies of “Pie Squared” Dec. 12 at McIntyre’s Books.

“Making crust is a skill, not a talent,” Barrow says reassuringly. “Nobody is great at this the first time. But like so many things, with practice, it becomes easier.”

And, she adds, if you want to make the recipes with store-bought crust, go right ahead. She just wants you to make pie.

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A rectangular pie

We should all aspire to make pies as beautiful as those featured in “Pie Squared,” which includes 60 recipes. The handsomely photographed collection displays golden and flaky traditional crusts, clever cuts-outs, amusing Pop-Tart lookalikes and elegant entree pies fit for a dinner party.

A quarter sheet pan is the only tool home cooks may need to get started with baking slab pies. It’s the 9x13-inch sibling to the 13x18-inch half-sheet workhorses many of us use nearly every day. Baking sheets with snap-on lids are ideal for transporting your pie to a dinner party or the office.

Like many of the world’s greatest discoveries, Barrow realized by accident that setting her sheet pan atop a preheated baking steel or pizza stone helped the lower crust achieve a consistently crisp and flaky finish. If you don’t have one, set a larger baking pan upside down on your oven rack. Preheated, it will radiate enough heat to provide the boost your crust needs to come out golden and delicious.

While a recipe could be doubled and baked in a half sheet pan, a challenge not for the faint of heart, Barrow settled on the quarter-sheet size for several reasons. For one, it can be easily sliced to serve anywhere from eight to 20 portions; try making 20 even wedges with a round pie. Secondly, a quarter sheet pan can fit in most toaster ovens, making fresh pie a reasonable exertion on even the hottest summer day.

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Pan-Roasted Mushroom and Kale Slab Pie with an All-Butter Crust from the new cookbook, “Pie Squared” by Cathy Barrow. Christopher Hirsheimer



Barrow credits her mother as a fantastic pie baker but admits that nearly every pie she made on her own was “a total disaster.” Something clicked when she was in her 30s and no longer dreaded the process. She regularly made eight or more pies for Thanksgiving guests and, several years ago, won a D.C. pie contest judged by Washington Post food writer Bonnie Benwick, now a colleague.

Benwick suggested Barrow write a story for the Post about the up-and-coming trend of slab pies, which have since become an Instagram staple. Her 2016 article, “Make the pie your neighbors won’t stop talking about,” launched her Bring It! column and delivered the newspaper’s most requested recipe of the year. A column last month included several recipes from “Pie Squared.”

Those nervous about rolling out dough can start with a simple press-in crust, like the one made from crushed amaretti cookies that lines her Thanksgiving-friendly Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. The Kale with Mushroom Slab Pie, one of her vegetarian husband’s favorites, will make any vegetarian guest feel welcome and satisfied. Trade the butter for olive oil to make it vegan.

A neat slice

With a lower filling-to-crust ratio, know that slab pies typically yield a neat slice. This can be a confidence builder for those of us who have presented a perfect-looking pie to delighted guests, only to discover weeping or loose filling that makes it nearly impossible to serve intact slices.

If the shape of a slab pie throws off your math, the book features a charming illustration that takes the mystery out of how to divvy it up to get the right number of portions for your crowd.

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Julia Rochelle



At her Southern Season class on Dec. 11, Barrow will demonstrate three pies, which could be served as appetizer (Just-Like-Artichoke-Dip Slab Pie with a Cream Cheese Crust), main course (Beefy Empanada Slab Pie with a Cream Cheese Crust) and dessert (Coconut Cream Slab Pie with a Saltine Crust). The latter, as she affectionately notes in the book, is a shout-out to Bill Smith, the longtime chef at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill.

“It’s an homage to Bill’s famous Atlantic Beach Pie,” Barrow says, referring to the creamy citrus filling and crushed-cracker crust that has legions of fans, both at the restaurant and around the world, thanks to the recipe’s broad availability online. “That chewy, slightly salty crust is the perfect foil to a rich filling.”

Barrow’s debut cookbook, “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry,” a comprehensive guide to year-round canning and preserving, won the 2015 Best Single Subject Cookbook award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

“Pie Squared,” published on Oct. 23, already is showing up on lists of the best baking books of the year.

Barrow hopes the recipes will inspire home cooks to fiddle with their favorite traditional pies to create slab versions. While there is no magic trick to convert a beloved round pie to a rectangular one, slab pies call for less filling, and the filling typically needs to be more boldly seasoned, especially with a double-crust pie.

“I wish I could say there was simple ratio, but there isn’t,” says Barrow, who fed neighbors with the many combinations and crusts she tested before settling on the book’s recipes. “But I do hope people will feel comfortable with playing with this. Start by trying a different crust or filling from what I suggest, then experiment with your own recipes.

“I’m not standing on ceremony here,” she adds. “I just want people to make pies.”

Jill Warren Lucas is a Raleigh-based freelance writer. She can be reached at 3lucases@gmail.com or on Twitter @jwlucasnc.

Events

Cathy Barrow will have two events related to her book, “Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies.” For more, go to cathybarrow.com.

Dec. 11: 6 p.m. Southern Season Cooking School, Chapel Hill. $60 per person. Barrow will demonstrate three pies.

Dec. 12: 6:30 p.m. McIntrye’s Books, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro. Free. She will sign copies of her book.

Online

Find a bonus recipe for Leftover Cranberry Sauce Slab Pie with Shortbread Crust at newsobserver.com.

Pumpkin Chiffon Slab Pie with an Amaretti Crust

I’m going to admit something. I’m not a fan of most pumpkin pies. When faced with a table full of options, it’s the last slice I’ll put on my plate. However, this chiffon version changed my mind. It’s an airy wisp of a fluffy pie, laced with the sultry flavors of fall and a rich almond cookie crust. Gelatin is the key to the cloud-like texture of the filling. There are two critical junctures, so play close attention: First, when beating the egg whites, find the place where they are fluffy and high peaked, but moist, not dry. Dry whites will cause graininess in the finished pie. And next, when cooling the custard, don’t let it set up before folding in the egg whites or it will never combine; but don’t fold in the egg whites if the filling is still warm or their lift will disappear. It’s a tightrope walk. Check the heat of the custard on the inside of your wrist. If it still feels warm, it’s too warm.

Make Ahead: Plan for 4 hours or more to chill the pie before serving. The crust may be made a day or two in advance. The entire pie may be made 1 day in advance.

Amaretti Crust:

29 amaretti cookies, crushed (about 2 cups)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling:

1 tablespoon (one 1⁄4-ounce packet) powdered unflavored gelatin

1⁄4 cup cool water

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (1 1⁄4 cups)

1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar

5 large eggs, separated

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1⁄2 teaspoon allspice

Scant 1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Topping:

1 1⁄2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

For the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. If you have a baking stone, Baking Steel, or inverted baking sheet, place on the center rack to heat.

In a large bowl, combine the amaretti crumbs, melted butter, and salt using a firm spatula and pressing the mixture against the side of the bowl until it is cohesive and the crumbs are thoroughly buttered. Dump the wet crumbs into the slab pie pan and press up the sides of the pan before filling in along the bottom.

Take your time pressing the crust in, using the side of your hand or a metal measuring cup to form a good edge and a smooth base until the crust feels firm to the touch. Slide the pan into the oven (on top of the steel, stone, or baking sheet if using) and bake until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

For the filling: In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cool water and let it absorb the water for about 5 minutes (this step is called blooming). Set up an ice bath with a large bowl filled with ice water. Place a medium saucepan half filled with water on the stove and heat until simmering.

In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the pumpkin, brown sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, vanilla, allspice, cloves, and salt until well combined and no streaks of yellow remain. Place the bowl over the simmering water. Cook the custard to 170 degrees, stirring with a rubber spatula as it thickens, dries out a bit, and becomes smooth, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the bloomed gelatin until it melts.

Place the bowl over the ice bath and whisk as it cools to slightly warmer than room temperature, about 85 degrees. To keep the custard from setting, remove the bowl from the ice bath while whipping the egg whites.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites on high until frothy. Add the cream of tartar (which makes the egg whites more stable) and continue whipping until the whites are shiny, the beater leaves a trail, and when lifted, forms medium peaks, another 3 or 4 minutes.

Stir one-third of the egg whites into the pumpkin custard until incorporated and the custard is lightened. Add the remaining egg whites and, using a large, flat rubber spatula, gently fold the custard and egg whites together until thoroughly and carefully combined with no large white streaks, while not deflating the egg whites. Gently pour the mixture into the cooled crust, cover, and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours.

For the topping: In the work bowl of a stand mixer, whip the cream, increasing the speed as soft peaks form, until it begins to thicken, adding the powdered sugar one spoonful at a time. Beat until the whisk leaves a trail in the stiffened cream and forms high peaks. Spoon the cream on top of the completely cooled chiffon. Make peaks with the back of a tablespoon, smooth the whipped cream from edge to edge with an offset spatula, or add a dollop to each serving.

Refrigerate again for at least 2 hours. The pie is even better if it chills overnight and develops an even stronger autumnal flavor.

Note: This pie depends on uncooked egg whites for its lift, so choose the freshest eggs. If serving children, immune-compromised, or elderly guests, use pasteurized eggs instead.

Swaps: Trade in an equal amount of strawberry or raspberry purée for the pumpkin and switch white sugar for brown sugar. Cook 3/4 pound berries until softened and jammy, then run the mixture through a blender, food mill, or strainer to remove the seeds.

Yield: Serves 12 to 16

Excerpted from the book “Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies” by Cathy Barrow. Copyright 2018 by Cathy Barrow. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.

Pan-Roasted Mushroom and Kale Slab Pie with an All-Butter Crust

I learned to pan-roast mushrooms while watching Chef Patrick O’Connell at his emerald green cooker at the Inn at Little Washington. Sauté them in a pan that’s as hot as possible in hot, hot oil. Be bold and don’t touch them until they release from the pan readily and are deeply bronzed, not wrinkled or desiccated then do the same on their other side. What emerges are sturdy, meaty mushrooms, a key ingredient in this pie, with their woodsy flavor and substantial texture. This is a slim, quiche-like slab full of flavor and texture, the kale’s vegetal addition balancing the filling’s rich, onion-studded custard. Cut this pie into small pieces as a pass-around appetizer, or serve larger pieces – with a salad – for Sunday brunch, weekday lunch or light supper fare.

Make Ahead: Pan-roast the mushrooms a day ahead. This pie reheats very well.

All-Butter Crust:

2 1⁄2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and frozen for 20 minutes

Pinch kosher salt

1⁄2 cup ice water

Filling:

1⁄4 cup olive oil

6 ounces shiitake, mushrooms, stemmed and thickly sliced (about 3 1⁄2 cups)

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

6 ounces cremini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced (about 31⁄2 cups)

2 tablespoons dry sherry, optional

2 medium onions, sliced in 1⁄4-inch-thick half-moons

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

3 cups frozen chopped kale, thawed and squeezed dry; or 5 cups finely chopped stemmed fresh kale

1 cup whole milk

2 large eggs plus 1 egg white

3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 1 cup)

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon water

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the crust: In the food processor, pulse the flour, butter and salt until the butter is in small pieces coated with flour, about 15 times. Add the water all at once and process until the mixture almost forms a ball. Form the dough into a 6-by-4-inch rectangle using plastic wrap and a bench scraper to firmly press the dough into a cohesive form. Wrap tightly and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm slightly. Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger piece to 11 by 15 inches and place in the slab pie pan, pressing it into the corners of the pan and allowing the excess to drape over the sides. Refrigerate. Roll out the second piece of dough to 10 by 14 inches, place it on a lightly floured sheet of parchment, and refrigerate.

For the filling: Pour 1 1⁄2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a wide skillet and set over high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the shiitake mushrooms and push them around into a single layer. Sprinkle with half the salt and red pepper flakes and leave the pan alone until one mushroom, tested, can be lifted easily without sticking, a good 6 to 9 minutes.

Be brave. The mushrooms will smoke, snap, and sizzle. Turn all the mushrooms quickly and cook until the other side is equally browned, another couple of minutes. Transfer the shiitakes to a bowl. Repeat the pan-roasting process with another 1 1⁄2 tablespoons oil, the cremini mushrooms, and salt and red pepper. Return the shiitakes to the pan. If using sherry, add to the pan and cook over high heat until the scent of alcohol has diminished and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl.

To the pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the onions and thyme, stirring to coat with warm oil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook gently until the onions are soft and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir in the kale and remove from the heat.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. If you have a baking stone, Baking Steel, or inverted baking sheet, place on the center rack to heat.

Scatter the mushrooms along the bottom crust, add the kale and onions, and gently push the filling around and into the corners of the crust.

Whisk the milk, eggs, and egg white together with the salt and pepper. Pour the eggs over the filling and distribute the grated cheese across the whole beautiful thing. Drape the top crust across the pan. Crimp and slash. Whisk the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to paint the top of the crust. Sprinkle with salt. Chill for 20 minutes, if you have time. Otherwise, slide it into the oven (on top of the steel, stone or baking sheet if using) and bake until a knife inserted into the pie comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool for at least 10 minutes before portioning. Refrigerate leftovers and bring them back to room temperature to serve, or wrap in foil and reheat at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

Swaps: Trade in spinach for the kale. Get wild with mushrooms, adding chanterelles, morels or oyster. Switch up the Gruyère with Cheddar, pepper Jack, or fontina. Go ahead, add cubed ham. Is there truffle salt in your pantry? Sprinkle a tiny amount over the egg-washed top crust before baking.

Yield: Serves 12-15

Excerpted from the book “Pie Squared: Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies” by Cathy Barrow. Copyright 2018 by Cathy Barrow. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.

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