Three Great Holiday Pies

Continuing my personal-record-breaking year of pie-making, I decided that for the family Christmas gatherings this year I would make three pies. I actually started out making only two — Joanne Chang’s “Ooey, Gooey Caramel-Nut Tart” and Four & Twenty Blackbirds’ “Cranberry-Sage Pie” — but as I was studying the latter recipe, I saw that the next recipe in the cookbook was for something called “Egg ‘n’ Grogg Pie”, an egg custard flavored with dark rum in a gingersnap crumb crust. Lots of people in the family like rum, and the recipe was very simple, so I figured I would add another one to the list (which would be safe for the non-nut- and non-caramel-eating people).

Caramel-Nut Tart

I’ll start with Joanne Chang’s caramel-nut tart (Flour, p. 228). It’s built on a standard pâte sucrée (sweet tart dough) in a ten-inch tart shell:
Pâte sucrée tart shell

Unlike a pâte brisée (regular pie dough), the pâte sucrée is made by the creaming method, and uses egg as the only liquid ingredient, like a cookie dough. (I provided nutrition information for this crust in the previous post, “Nutrition estimates for those pies“.) The filling is made from toasted whole hazelnuts, pistachios, sliced almonds, walnuts (I used leftover black walnuts), pecans, and dried cranberries:
Nuts and dried cranberries for cranberry-nut tart

The filling is held together with a standard sugar-and-cream caramel. The first time I tried it, something went wrong — perhaps the sugar wasn’t hot enough, or I had mismeasured it — because it turned into this watery light-brown liquid rather than proper caramel:
Failed caramel

Luckily, I had enough experience making caramels of this type (like the Chocolate Caramel Walnut Tart) that I could immediately see something was wrong, and I had enough cream to try again. The second time around, it came out right:
Ooey, Gooey Caramel-Nut Tart

There was actually quite a bit of filling left over:
Excess caramel-nut tart filling

I served this tart at our family Christmas Eve party, about which more later. Of course, I took the first slice!
Caramel-nut tart, minus one slice

Everyone who tried it (myself included) thought it was excellent. The caramel, which is flavored with orange peel in addition to the traditional vanilla, makes a lovely complement to the nuts and dried cranberries. Here’s my slice (with apologies for the strange white balance):
One slice of caramel-nut tart


Note well: For ease of comparison, I am presenting this nutrition data on the basis of eight servings per pie. However, you probably don’t want servings that big! Also, the following summary assumes that the entire batch of filling fits in the tart shell; if, like me, you had a substantial amount of filling left over, this may significantly overstate the caloric content. (It should probably be baked in a 10½” tart pan rather than the 10″ pan called for in the recipe.)

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/8 pie
Servings per recipe: 8
Amount per serving Whole recipe
Calories 929 from fat 547 7433 from fat 4378
% DV % DV
Total Fat 61g 94% 486g 748%
 Saturated Fat 25.5g 128% 203.8g 1019%
Trans Fat 0g 0g
Cholesterol 56mg 19% 450mg 150%
Sodium 109mg 5% 875mg 36%
Potassium 298mg 9% 2384mg 68%
Total Carbohydrate 86g 29% 692g 231%
 Dietary fiber 5.5g 22% 43.8g 175%
 Sugars 65g 522g
Proteins 10g 19% 77g 154%
Vitamin A 10% 79%
Vitamin C 3% 21%
Calcium 6% 48%
Iron 11% 87%

Cranberry-Sage Pie

My second pie was Emily and Melissa Elsen’s “Cranberry-Sage Pie”, from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book (p. 182). For some reason, I didn’t take any photos of the intermediate stages in making this pie. The sage is blended in the food processor with sugar until it is finely ground, and this is then added, along with other flavors and arrowroot, to the fresh cranberries, half of which have been chopped in the processor and half of which remained whole. In addition, a grated apple provides some natural pectin and tartness, and soaked dried cranberries add some texture. The whole mixture is bound with a beaten egg and then poured into an uncooked pâte brisée crust. More pastry is arranged in a lattice on top (the Elsens say that a solid top, or a streusel, can be used as well, but I don’t find the lattice to be any more difficult, and it looks nicer that way). Here’s the result:
Cranberry-Sage Pie

You can see that my lattice is a bit uneven. However, egg wash and a sprinkling of Demerara sugar cover a multitude of sins when it comes to pie baking, so nobody else seemed to notice. I served this pie at Christmas dinner. My grandmother (not having been warned) bought a couple of pies from a local bakery, which barely got touched, and my aunt Louise brought a raisin pie, so there was more than enough to go around. I was exceedingly pleased with how this pie turned out, and would absolutely make it again, despite the effort of picking over the fresh cranberries. You’ll probably want to make it, too, once you see the nutrition data! Here’s the usual cross-section:
Cranberry-sage pie, minus one slice

And a single slice:
Slice of cranberry-sage pie

Because there were not nearly so many people at Christmas dinner, I ended up bringing home about half of this pie. Everyone who tried it, however, liked it, and I’m sure when I pull the rest out of the freezer some time next month, it won’t last very long at all, despite the inevitable damage freezing does to fruit. And the best thing is, despite being a double-crust pie, it’s really not that bad for you!


Assumes that two whole crusts are used, with no pastry left over. I had about a quarter of a crust left over after trimming the bottom crust and making the lattice.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/8 pie
Servings per recipe: 8
Amount per serving Whole recipe
Calories 545 from fat 207 4360 from fat 1655
% DV % DV
Total Fat 23g 35% 184g 283%
 Saturated Fat 14g 71% 114g 570%
Trans Fat 0g 0g
Cholesterol 89mg 30% 711mg 237%
Sodium 307mg 13% 2459mg 102%
Potassium 142mg 4% 1135mg 32%
Total Carbohydrate 79g 26% 629g 209%
 Dietary fiber 5g 22% 43g 171%
 Sugars 41g 326g
Proteins 10g 10% 38g 76%
Vitamin A 17% 140%
Vitamin C 14% 110%
Calcium 2% 19%
Iron 11% 88%

Egg ‘n’ Grogg Pie

Like I said above, this is just a rum-flavored egg custard in a gingersnap crumb crust; the recipe is from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book (p. 185), immediately following the cranberry-sage pie, and it looked like an easy add-on that should please a lot of rum-drinking relatives. It did require one unusual ingredient (vanilla paste), which I probably shouldn’t have bothered with given the quantity called for (and the fact that I’ve never seen a recipe calling for vanilla paste before — maybe I can make a few gallons of ice cream, a bunch of pound cakes or something to use up the rest of the bottle).

I have never had a great result with the Elsens’ crumb crusts, and this time was no exception. Perhaps I really need to follow their advice and buy a metal pie plate (are they a different size?) rather than the standard Pyrex plates I normally use (and have plenty of). Or maybe the recipe just doesn’t call for enough crumbs to make the crust as thick as I would like. (I’ve been using Mi-Del “Swedish style” gingersnaps — should I try a different brand?) The prepared crust looks OK at first glance:
Prepared gingernsap crumb crust

But it’s clear on closer inspection that there are numerous holes and cracks in the bottom. I held it up to the light to make it clear in this photograph:
Holes and cracks in gingersnap crumb crust

Crumbs are nice and dense around the rim, but not nearly thick enough on the bottom. (The recipe calls for a cup of crumbs, which is not at all helpful; I measured that out to be 135 grams, but since cookie crumbs can be compacted, it’s possible that I needed another ounce or more. For what it’s worth, a standard cup of flour is 140 g (5 oz), and I’m not sure whether I should have expected gingersnap crumbs to be more or less dense than flour.) In any event, the custard covers up most of the flaws in the crust:
Egg 'n' Grogg Pie

Out of an abundance of caution, I took the pie out a few minutes too early. All pies will continue to cook while cooling down, but this one could have used maybe five more minutes in the oven to fully set the custard, as you can see in this view (from Christmas Eve) after the first slice was served:
Egg 'n' Grogg Pie minus one slice

Since I did not intend to bring any of it home (or indeed to eat more than a spoonful), I did not prepare nutrition data for this pie.

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