On several occasions when folks have learned that I write about food, they've exclaimed, "You're the pie girl!" Oh, how I wish I had a knack for baking. But that's my counterpart: the other curly-brown-haired UNC folklore graduate named Emily Elizabeth.
Emily Elizabeth Hilliard undoubtedly deserves the title "pie girl." In 2005, well before food blogs (or pies) were en vogue, she began blogging about the pastry at nothinginthehouse.com.
She currently bakes under the duo Tarts By Tarts in Washington, D.C. And she just released PIE. A Hand Drawn Almanac with the illustrator Elizabeth Graeber.
"My mom was the pie baker of the family," Hilliard says. But it wasn't until the summer after she graduated from the University of Michigan, inspired by free mulberries and wild black-raspberries that grew in Ann Arbor, that she made her own pastries.
With her friend Margaret Reges, Hilliard says she plucked berries to put into pies for "friends and also boys we had crushes on."
At the end of that summer, when the trees were bare and Hilliard moved to Vermont for a job, Reges suggested they start a blog as a way to stay in touch about the pies they were baking. Thus began Nothing-in-the-House, a reference to a genre of pie popular in the Depression, which relies on a few cheap or available ingredients such as vinegar or crackers.
What started as a connection between friends has evolved into an archive of new and historic recipes, stories behind certain dishes, photographs and several pie-minded songs. More than 100 recipes are on Nothing-in-the-House, including a must-have entry for much-loved apple pie. However, Hilliard isn't a fan of that variety. As she writes on her site, "It is my little pie baker's secret that I am not that into apple pie. I find it a bit 'meh.'" But, she continues, "apple pie is often the test of a pie baker's skill, so instead of shunning it, I instead try to find ways to make the classic dish a little more personally appealing."
To do so, she recommends using Northern Spy apples. "Spies are for pies," she writes of the firm heirloom fruit she came to love at an orchard near her Indiana home. In the recipe that follows, Hilliard also tops the pie with a salted caramel glaze. Though she confesses that her love of this dish perhaps stems from the fact that she first sampled it "at midnight in the midst of a honky-tonk jam & dance," she thinks it's an apple pie worth keeping.
NOTHING-IN-THE-HOUSE PIE CRUST
2 cups all-purpose flour or 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks cold butter, cut into slices
1/2 beaten egg (save half to brush on crust)
1/4 cup ice cold water
1/2 Tbsp. cold apple cider vinegar
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter or fork and knife, add butter. In a small bowl, mix egg, water and apple cider vinegar. Add to butter-flour mixture. Chill dough at least 1 hour. Once chilled, roll out 1/2 of piecrust and fit into a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. You can choose to roll out the top-crust now and refrigerate it flat, or roll it out once you've prepared the filling. Either way, you should put both the remaining crust and the pie pan in the fridge while you prepare the filling.
8 medium apples, peeled, cored & cut into 1/2-3/4 inch slices (Sometimes Hilliard leaves the skins on. They are the healthiest part of the apple. It also saves time.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
3 Tbsp. cornstarch or all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Turbinado sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place apple wedges in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lemon zest, spices and cornstarch or flour and add to the apples. Mix well, then add maple syrup and lemon juice and stir to combine.
Pour the apple filling into the bottom pie crust and spread evenly. Add the top crust, crimping and fluting the edges decoratively and cutting vents in the top so steam can escape. Brush on an egg wash (using the remaining 1/2 egg from the crust) and sprinkle top with turbinado sugar.
Place pie in the oven and bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to bake for about 40 minutes more or until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
SALTED CARAMEL GLAZE
Caramel recipe adapted from Judicial Peach.
You'll need a candy thermometer.
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
1/8 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
While pie is in the oven, prepare the caramel glaze. In a small pot, bring cream, butter and sea salt to a simmer over low heat, making sure to not let it boil. Once it begins to simmer, remove from heat and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, mix water, corn syrup and sugar. Place over medium heat and stir until sugar has dissolved. Then without stirring, bring the mixture to a boil until it is golden brown. Keep an eye on it, as this transition can happen quickly.
When the mixture is done, remove from heat and carefully add the cream mixture (it will bubble up, so pour it slowly). Stir in the vanilla.
Return the saucepan to the stove and cook over medium heat until it reaches a temperature of 248 degrees (you'll need a candy thermometer for this), approximately 10 minutes. Once it reaches 248, remove from heat and let cool just slightly.
When pie is out of the oven, use a spoon to drizzle caramel glaze over the top crust. Let cool until the caramel begins to harden and serve warm, preferably with vanilla ice cream.