The Secret Ingredient for Better Pies (It's in Your Spice Cabinet!)
Photo credit: Gentl & Hyers/Grand Central Publishing
If your idea of a pie is something treacly and traditional, hold on to your old velvet topper. Sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen, co-owners of Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn, New York, are about to turn your old-school world upside down.
"Pie is definitely more of a savory snack," Emily recently told us. "It’s not like a cake or a cookie. [Its] crust is kind of bread-like and buttery."
It’s an interesting point, and explains why the sisters’ use of spices and herbs like paprika, rosemary and sage—ingredients traditionally relegated to more savory realms—work so well in their pies.
"We think about what characteristics of any given herb or savory element … would bring out [in] fruit and custard," Emily explained.
This thinking is on full display in the “Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book,” which was published this fall and features a number of pie recipes flecked with –– delightfully unexpected –– herbs and spices.
Among them is a cranberry sage pie, which makes a compelling case for these ingredients’ place in a baker’s kitchen. ”Cranberries are very, very bitter and tart and tannic,” Emily said. “The herbal sage element ––it balances the sweet tartness, and the grassy flavor of the sage complements it.”
Below, a few particularly delicious reasons to ransack that spice cabinet.
Lavender Honey Custard Pie (pictured above)
- All-Butter Crust for a 9-inch single-crust pie (recipe at the bottom of post)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tbl flour
- 1 tbl stone-ground white cornmeal
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 3 tbl unsalted butter, melted
- 2/3 cup lavender honey (or any variety floral honey)
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 4 drops food-grade lavender oil
- Candied lavender flowers, to garnish (recipe follows instructions)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and reheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Places the pre-baked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cornmeal, and salt. Whisk in the melted butter, followed by the honey. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add the heavy cream, lemon juice, and lavender oil, and whisk well to combine.
Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 30 to 35 minutes through baking. The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Be careful not to overbake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cool.
The pie will keep refrigerated for 2 days or at room temperate for 1 day.
Candied Lavender Flowers
- 3 tbl dried lavender flowers
- 1 tsp water
- 1 tbl granulated sugar
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour the lavender flours into a small bowl, sprinkle with water, and fluff with a fork to distribute the water evenly. Pour the moistened lavender flowers into a 6-inch or larger fine-mesh sieve and shake off any excess water. Sprinkle the sugar, 1/2 tsp at a time, over the flowers, shaking to distribute the sugar in between additions. Tap the sieve finmly against the heel of your hand to shake off excess sugar. Spread the flowers evenly on the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven to dry for 20 minutes. Cool, and then break up any clumps with your fingertips.