Every day should be 'pie day,' they insist

Two women have opened the Pie Bakery & Cafe in a Boston suburb in order to spread the news of this simple comfort food.

Melanie Stetson freeman – staff
The owners say crumb crusts can make any pie easy to prepare and delicious to eat, such as on this Harvest pie.
Melanie Stetson freeman – staff
A pie a day: Pastry chef Paige Retus (top) makes individual apple pies at the Pie Bakery & Cafe, which she has just opened with Ellen Kaplansky in Newton Center, Mass.

If you're like most of us, you've probably eaten your fill of pie during the past month or so. Thanksgiving feasts typically feature at least a few pies such as classic apple, pumpkin, and pecan – and it's rude, of course, not to sample all three. Then this popular dessert is enjoyed again and again during the December holidays.

So you might feel a tad "pied out" by now.

But Ellen Kaplansky and Paige Retus hope not. "Every day should be pie day," insists Ms. Kaplansky, owner of Pie Bakery & Cafe in Newton Center, Mass., where Ms. Retus is the executive pastry chef. "Who doesn't love pie? It evokes comfort and good memories. When you mention pie, you have to smile."

Kaplansky and Retus often celebrate Thanksgiving together, and one year, while savoring slices of homemade pumpkin pie, they mused about why pies are not enjoyed much during other times of year. Soon after, they got right to work, cobbling together a business plan, checking out the competition, and touring neighborhoods; their vision became reality just last week.

In a time and season when people are gravitating toward simple, more old-fashioned comfort foods, they might be on to something. Even Retus, who has a fancy background as executive pastry chef to celebrity chef Todd English, with whom she co-wrote "The Olives Dessert Table," likes pie for its down-home, no-nonsense appeal.

"We are really loopy about pie," says Kaplansky, adding that their bakery doesn't just offer the old sweet standbys, but that they venture into savory pies as well, especially those from other cultures such as empanadas (Spain, Latin America), calzones (Italy), and spanikopita (Greece).

Pie isn't a dessert that requires a culinary degree to make, says Retus, who happens to be a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Kaplansky, who attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, agrees.

But still, they acknowledge, many home cooks get jittery about making pie – especially the crust. For these cooks, Kaplansky and Retus recommend taking a few shortcuts. "Buy the pie shell and recrimp it to make it your own," suggests Retus. "And if the top crust makes you nervous, make a crumb crust instead. It's much easier."

If you're tackling pie for the first time, try apple or pumpkin, they suggest. And always remember, Retus adds, that "a goof can often turn out to be your best friend."

Even if your pie is not ready for its close-up at the Cordon Bleu, it will be appreciated. "People always love something homemade, even if it's not perfect," says Kaplansky.

Of course, they love it, too, when home cooks can't be bothered with baking their own pies and instead pick one up at their bakery.

"My grandmother was a fabulous baker, and pies were her thing," recalls Kaplansky. "Every Sunday when she had people over to play cards, she would make a pie. But once in a while when she wanted a break from baking, she'd buy a pie from a local lady for a dollar.

"We're not selling pies for a dollar," laughs Kaplansky, "But we're just saying, 'Let us take care of dessert for you.' "

But to Kaplansky and Retus, whether your pies are baked at home or bought at Pie Bakery & Cafe isn't as important as making pies a part of everyday life – way beyond just Thanksgiving and the December holidays.

"Pie is not trendy and not cool," says Kaplansky. "It's just something that's part of our heritage. So why not make every day a pie day?"

Ellen Kaplansky and Paige Retus particularly enjoy this combination of fruits, which to them blends the 'most comforting' flavors of the fall and winter harvest. And in case you didn't know (and we bet you didn't), Jan. 23 is National Pie Day, according to the American Pie Council. So feel free to plan accordingly.

Harvest pie

2-1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter

6 tablespoons Crisco (no-trans-fat variety)

1/4 cup iced water

Combine flour and salt. With pastry cutter or 2 forks, cut the cold butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles small walnut pieces. Add the Crisco and cut in the same way. (The shortening is softer and will work into the mixture much faster.) Add the iced water one tablespoon at a time, tossing dough as you go.

As soon as the mixture can be gathered together to make a cohesive mass, stop mixing. Gather dough into a loose disk and wrap in plastic. Chill at least one hour or overnight.

4 to 5 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced

2 ripe pears, peeled and sliced

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup sugar

3 to 4 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll pie dough for top and bottom of crusts. Fit bottom crust into a 9-inch pie pan.

Combine all ingredients except the butter and toss to coat. Arrange fruit in pie shell, taking care to nestle fruits tightly. Dot surface of fruits with butter Top fruit mixture with top crust and crimp edges. Vent pie.

Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and continue to bake until juices bubble in vents, approximately 30 to 40 minutes more.

Source: Paige Retus, co-owner and chief baker at Pie Bakery & Cafe, Newton Center, Mass.

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