Welcome to this year's Piglet Community Picks! Until the Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks kicks off in March, we'll be posting weekly reviews of the best new books you cooked from in 2018—written by you. To see other reviews, head here. And to catch up on the books that made it into the main tournament, look no further.
Making pie has always seemed intimidating to me. Not quite soufflé-level intimidating, but stressful all the same (I’ve read too many horror stories about soggy crusts, I think). So I’m glad I had Lisa Ludwinski’s Sister Pie to guide me through my initial forays into pie making.
The book begins not by throwing you into the deep end, but by easing you in with a chapter devoted just to dough recipes. This is followed by a chapter just on how to roll out crusts, crimp them, and make lattice tops. Step-by-step pictures are included if you’re more of a visual learner.
Once you have the fundamentals down, the book moves into the pie recipes, sorted by the seasons they’re best in. I started with the Salted Maple Pie, an “Anytime Pie." Not only was this one of the bakery’s “signature flavors,” but it also had no upper crust or lattice, making it seem like a relatively easy pie for a novice. It was already evening when I started, and I regretted not reading the recipe—with its various chilling and cooling steps—more carefully before starting. Still, seeing the pie crust (my first!) come together was exciting enough to keep me going.
After filling and baking, I had a pie with a flaky crust and a sweet filling that was almost like firm custard. My pie looked somewhat amateurish (I haven’t gotten the hang of crimping yet), but tasted wonderful. The book had led me, if not to supreme confidence in pie making, at least to the point where I was optimistic instead of worried.
Next, I tried making the Tomato, Olive, and Mozzarella Hand Pies. The dough for hand pies is slightly different in ingredient ratios from the sweet all-butter pie dough above, but the process is mostly the same. The pies were tasty, although I did find myself wishing that I had used a bit of tomato sauce as opposed to tomato slices, as the flavor wasn’t quite as strong and pizza-like as I'd have hoped. I suspect that the fault wasn’t with the recipe as written, but with my use of mid-winter tomatoes. I’ll happily try this one again when we reach tomato season.
Having tried two pie recipes, I decided to finish off by trying one of the salad recipes that end the book. The salad recipes began as staff meals that bakery customers saw and began ordering themselves, and I couldn’t help but be charmed by that. I tried the Two-Way Cauliflower and Barley Salad, which combines the titular vegetable both roasted and raw, in a tahini dressing. The salad had both the sweetness of roasted cauliflower and the crunch of the raw, and the dressing was creamy without being overwhelmingly rich. For me, the salad could have used more acid than just the tablespoon of lemon juice called for, but I found it enjoyable all the same.
Ludwinski runs pie-baking classes at her bakery, and this book makes it clear that she’s thought quite a lot about how best to teach someone the art. Sister Pie is excellent for beginners who could benefit from terms like “blind baking” or “pastry blender” being defined for them. And while I’m not quite at this kind of expert level (yet!), I have a feeling that the quality of the recipes will make it a rewarding book for experienced bakers, too. For anyone and everyone, Sister Pie is a keeper.
"The recipes are clearly written; the Rhubarb Rosemary Streusel Pie, the Malted Lime Pie, the Salted Maple Pie, and the Ginger Rye Shortbread all came together without a hitch. The photos are enticing. The story behind the book (the namesake bakery's inclusive, people-first policies; and its Sister Pie-it-Forward program, where you can prepay for a slice of pie for another customer) is heartwarming. All of these combined make this a workhorse of a cookbook, and one that I will turn to, time and time again." —Rosa
"As soon as I saw the Salted Maple Pie recipe in Sister Pie, I knew I had to have it. Like, immediately. So I rushed out and bought one ingredient I needed (heavy cream), and had it for dessert that night. And the next night. And the next night. It reminds me of the custardy chess pies I so loved while living in the South—but featuring one of my favorite northeast ingredients, maple syrup. Think your favorite stack of pancakes, reborn as your new favorite pie." —Emma Laperruque