Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pies of the Hill Country

Pies of the Hill Country (4/28/17)

The Hill Country of Texas west of Austin and San Antonio has a great abundance of pie. I had to take my wife with me this time to some of the pie bakeries on my to-do list for a re-taste.

Yellowware mixing bowls 

Lost Maples Cafe...pie fixes everything

Lost Maples Cafe...pie fixes everything
For me the Lost Maples Cafe was one of my great finds in 2014 due to its great variety of house-made pies (20+) and Tex Mex food so close to the state park of the same name that makes this restaurant a popular stop for Thanksgiving weekend hikes. Make sure that you request their table salsa. On re-tasting I realized that I don't like some of their crusts as much as I remembered but the fillings - like the sky high meringues - are definitely not canned pie filling.

The enchilada plate with rice and beans and side salad with ranch dressing

cherry pie

coconut meringue pie

chocolate meringue pie

a pie safe

Love Creek Orchards - The Apple Store

Head west on Hwy 16 from Bandera to Medina TX (not the one in Saudi Arabia) and you will find the former home of the Texas Apple Festival and the primary place where apples are grown locally in Texas. The town's symbol is a giant concrete apple (below right) in the park. Love Creek Orchard is one of the larger orchards in town and they have a store - The Apple Store - that sells not Macs but instead a number of apple varieties (below left) bred by nurserymen affiliated with Texas A&M to need less chill time to initiate flowering and can set fruit under our hot and dry Texas summers.

In addition to a lot of apple-themed garden flags, yard art, and jellies The Apple Store has a self service area that sells whole apple pies and by the slice as well as apple strudel. I thought the strudel was nice and crisp and had a great apple flavor with just enough fresh ground cinnamon.

Apple Pie
Apple Strudel

 Backyard Bistro

Backyard Bistro
Lots of lovely flowers in their landscaping

Pipe Creek east of Bandera on Hwy 16 has one upscale restaurant, Backyard Bistro. The chef is a transplant from Detroit who has a French-themed menu. They are popular for their pie (including buttermilk pie), but alas there was none to be had the night we had dinner there. We had some cake instead but the ice cream was very unusual. It had a variety of herbs including mint that tasted to me like a French culinary garden in a glass.
cream of mushroom soup

crab cake pasta
Pork breast with mashed potatoes and summer vegetables

French herb ice cream

coconut cake

chocolate pecan cake like a Texas sheet cake

Boerne - Future Pies

Boerne is a cute town with a thriving old town main street with restaurants and bars. Unfortunately everyone else likes the town so Austinites are causing the town to quadruple over the next 5 to 10 years. Next time I return I plan to try the pies at Bumdoodler's, a crazy name but apparently a sandwich shop serving good pie. Bear Moon Bakery and Cafe was also recommended for good pie in Boerne.

We found the Carousel Antiques & Pickles was worth a stop. Their Fickle Pickles are a more addictive version of bread a butter pickles made with alum to give them that glassine look. They have both regular and extra spicy versions.


Buzzie's Barbecue in Kerrville is on the 2013 Texas Monthly Top 50 Texas Barbecue joints. I found that I liked the buffalo head better than the barbecue. The meat wasn't particularly moist and the fat cap wasn't rendered creamy. I think TM staff agreed with me that they are off their game now, because they didn't put them on the 2017 list.

West of downtown Kerrville is a replica of stonehenge called Stonehenge II in Ingram TX.

Stonehenge II

Houston Pie Project: Cafe Brasil

Cafe Brasil - Off-menu pie

I'm uncertain if Houston's current obsession with off-menu and secret dishes has something to do with the lack of advertising of the pies at Cafe Brasil in Montrose. Although no pie is listed on their menu, their pastry chefs are doing some great work. They make a selection of pretty great pies and cakes daily that appear counter-side in a classic diner format alongside an array of fresh cut flowers.

I've tried their cherry pie (above left) and a great apple struesel pie (above center and right) where the apple slices still retained some bite and were suspended inside creamy streusel. Both pies were packed with fruit and well crafted. The crusts are all being made by hand and distinct for each filling. I've been advised that the peach pie is one of their best selling flavors, so I'll be coming back for that one.

While I was there I also tried their eggs Benedict. I swear that the smoked salmon was actually a vegan version with smoked tomatoes based on the texture that I was experiencing. Apparently vegan butchery is all the rage currently in Los Angeles and vegan smoked salmon made out of carrots and tomatoes is in vogue. I'll have to go back for a second taste/confirmation on this smoked salmon to figure out if it is indeed a vegan preparation.

eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and potatoes

AL-T's and Brasil

Pecan Pie at AL-T's

AL-T's in Winnie TX is a long-standing local Cajun restaurant on the way to Beaumont just off I-10. The shrimp gumbo is made with a dark nutty roux and lots of shrimp. The Thibideaux crawfish ettouffee ribeye steak is perfectly medium rare and all meat. The dirty rice is full of flavor but was surprisingly not excessively salty like those of other restaurants. The fried okra in the middle of winter still tastes plump and fresh. The service is fast and attentive, and the walls are reminiscent of a Cajun hunt camp. A solid Cajun restaurant worth detouring off the interstate to investigate. They serve a pretty standard Texas pecan pie most likely made with a pre-made crust and Karo syrup.

Pie Day 3/14/2017

Pie Day 2017

Every year I host the Pi Day (3/14) Pie Party for Houston Chowhounds. This year I ambitiously took on the task of baking two pies for the party, Atlantic Beach Pie from Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill NC and a Cranberry Sage Pie from acclaimed NYC Four and Twenty Blackbirds and their cookbook of the same name. I was combining our popular Cook the Book series in which we recipe test the recipes from James Beard Award winning cookbooks with this party.

Atlantic Beach Pie (Bill Smith of Crook's Corner)
The Atlantic Beach Pie was created by Bill Smith of Crook's Corner from his memories of his youth growing up on Atlantic Beach. It's a lemon version of key lime pie with some salty Saltine crackers in the crust.
Makes 1 pie
For the crust:
  • 1 1/2sleeves of saltine crackers (about 6 ounces or 60 crackers)
  • 1/2cup softened unsalted butter
  • 3tablespoons sugar
saltine crackers

coarse crushed crackers for the crust

the finished crust

For the filling:
  • One14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4egg yolks
  • 1/2cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
  • Fresh whipped cream, for garnish
  • Coarse sea salt, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8-inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
  3. While the crust is cooling (it doesn't need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.
filled Atlantic Beach pie

Four & Twenty Blackbirds' Cranberry Sage Pie


  • For the crust:
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup ice

  • For the pie:
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons ground arrowroot
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen (two 10-ounce bags)
  • 1 small baking apple, such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt)
  • Demerara sugar, for finishing
  • Cooking Directions

    For the crust:
    Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend). Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.
    Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.
    For the pie:
    Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9-inch pie pan and pastry round or lattice to top. In a heatproof bowl, pour boiling water over the dried cranberries to cover by about an inch. Allow them to plump while making the remaining filling.
    In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, combine the chopped sage, granulated and brown sugars, salt, arrowroot, cinnamon, and allspice. Process until the sage is fully blended. Pour the sugar mixture into a large bowl. Use the same food processor bowl to briefly process 2 cups of the whole cranberries to a rough chop; add them, along with the remaining 2 cups whole cranberries, to the sugar mixture. Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. In a colander, drain the plumped dried cranberries of excess water, but do not press or squeeze them out. Add the shredded apple and the drained dried cranberries to the bowl with the rest of the filling and mix well. Stir in the vanilla extract and egg, and mix well.
    Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry. Meanwhile, position the oven racks in the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
    Brush the pastry with the egg wash to coat; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of demerara sugar. Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 45 minutes longer. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep for 3 days refrigerated or for up to 2 days at room temperature.
    Recipes from THE FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS PIE BOOK by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen. Copyright 2013 by Melissa Elsen and Emily Elsen. Used with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
    fresh and frozen cranberries pureed in the food processor

    cranberry filling in the pie

    lattice top for the cranberry sage pie
    finished cranberry sage pie

    Here's a run down on the other pies that my guests made for the Pie Party.
    savory pie with kibbe and tahini

    spinach and mushroom Greek pie and two roses
    cutting a slice through the spirals produces these pockets

    a variation on the Millionaire Pie from a historical diner recipe
    I guess I was running around prepping for the party after that point and didn't get to take photos of the other pies.