KATE MCDERMOTT LEARNED to bake at her grandmother’s elbow, watching “Geeg” as she mixed, whipped and rolled her famous lemon meringue pie, but it wasn’t until 20 years ago that she was really bitten by the pie bug, falling down an experimental rabbit hole of “what makes a really good crust,” sometimes making up to five iterations in a single day.
All that experimentation led to 2016’s “Art of the Pie,” a guide that reminds bakers to, “Keep everything chilled. Especially yourself.” This October, her second pie cookbook, titled “Pie Camp,” will be released.
McDermott says research for the book had her back in the kitchen, up to her elbows in dough and fillings, right back to that discovery phase, sometimes making five pies a day.
“And I’m not tired of it yet. I learn something new every time I make a pie. It’s something that it would take more than a lifetime to know everything,” McDermott says during a recent phone call from her pie cottage in Port Angeles.
As in “Art of the Pie,” readers have McDermott’s assured voice guiding them through everything, from how to peel a ripe peach and how to achieve the perfect crimps, flutes and edges, to how to use fruit powder and why you should make a vinegar pie.
The tagline for “Pie Camp” is, “the skills you need to make any pie you want,” laying the groundwork from crust on up — including gluten-free options. These pies have a certain timeless quality to them, and the book dedicates space to chiffons, meringues and layered pies — ones where you can mix and match cremes and meringues and layers of fruit with a variety of crusts.
There’s also a section on what McDermott calls “Kitchen Cupboard pies.”
“These are ones that right now, during this time of COVID, when we’re really pulling back into our homes, that our great-grandmothers would’ve made just with whatever ingredients they had on hand,” she says. Like a recipe for Transparent Pie, which calls simply for dough, egg yolks, sugar, butter, milk and a little lemon zest.
Personal anecdotes are sprinkled here and there like sugar: stories of McDermott’s beloved Geeg, the history of a technique, recipes shared from dear friends. The afterword includes an incredible story of McDermott’s connection with her sister Helen, whom she didn’t meet until both women were well into adulthood.
The thread that runs through the entire book is joy — the joy that baking can bring, and the joy that comes from eating and sharing pie with friends, family or even your postal worker on a snowy day.
McDermott says that idea of joy has felt especially important since the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold of the nation in late February.
“I think pie is still one of those things [that brings us joy]. It has survived plagues before. Pie doesn’t care whether it’s fancy or basic. It says, ‘I’m still here to nourish you, mind, body and soul.’ ”
The pandemic means this book launch will look a bit different, in that events and her popular pie workshops will take place virtually. But there is a silver lining.
“I love it because [virtual events] can bring my pie work to a larger audience in smaller venues, and these are the backbone of who is baking and cooking. It’s so wonderful for independent, small bookstores,” McDermott says. “Pie Camp” is scheduled for release on Oct. 6. Check artofthepie.com for virtual event dates and information on purchasing signed copies of the book.
Nanabanana Cream Pie
Kate McDermott says this is the best banana cream pie she has ever tasted.
Makes one 9-inch deep-dish pie
Peanut Butter Cookies Press-In Crust
2½ cups peanut butter cookie crumbs (or graham cracker, chocolate or vanilla wafer crumbs)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Make the cookie crumbs by processing them in a food processor or placing them in a large resealable bag and rolling with your pin until finely crushed.
3. Place the cookie crumbs and sugar into a bowl. Add the melted butter, and distribute it well with clean hands or a fork.
4. Turn the mixture into the pie pan, and evenly spread it out over the bottom and up the sides, but do not spread on top of the rim. You can use your fingers, the back of a spoon, or even the rounded side of a coffee cup or a small bowl. Try to make the depth of the crust even on the sides and the bottom.
5. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes until the edges have gained a little color. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Luscious Pastry Cream
8 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon banana extract (optional, for even more banana flavor)
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup cornstarch
1 quart half-and-half
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Add the vanilla extract and banana extract, if using, and whisk into the yolks for a minute or so until the eggs are smooth. It’s fine to do this with a fork. Set aside.
2. In a medium-heavy saucepan, place the sugar and cornstarch, and mix together with a whisk.
3. With a whisk in hand, turn the heat to medium under the saucepan, and slowly and steadily pour the half-and-half into the dry ingredients while whisking constantly. I whisk in a figure-eight pattern. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens and you see it begin to bubble.
4. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and pour ½ cup of the hot mixture into the eggs in the bowl to temper them. Whisk together in the bowl until it looks blended in. This won’t take long.
5. Return the hot egg mixture to the saucepan, place it back on the burner and turn it back on to medium. Bring to a boil, and continue to whisk in a figure eight constantly and vigorously for 2 minutes, while the pastry cream plop, plop, plops. Remove from the heat. The pastry cream will be thick and coat the back of a spoon.
6. Turn the hot mixture into a bowl, and let it sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in the butter pats.
7. Cover with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Whisk a bit before using.
8. Whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks, and fold into the cooled Pastry Cream until it is evenly distributed.
Chantilly Cream Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream, well-chilled
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Chill a medium-size deep bowl and electric mixer beaters in the freezer.
2. If using granulated sugar, mix it with the cornstarch in a small bowl to combine, and set aside. If using confectioners’ sugar, take a fork and break up any clumps, or sift through a small sieve strainer into a bowl.
3. Pour the whipping cream into the chilled bowl.
4. Mix the cream with an electric mixer on low for a minute. Increase to medium, and mix for another minute. You’ll see lots of bubbles on top.
5. Increase the speed to high, and rain (sprinkle) in the sugar, a tablespoon at a time. Continue whipping for another 2 to 3 minutes until soft peaks form.
6. Add the vanilla extract, and mix a few seconds more to combine.
To Make the Pie
In addition to the Press-In Crust, Chantilly Cream Whipped Cream and Luscious Pastry Cream, you’ll also need:
3-5 ripe but not mushy bananas sliced in ½-inch-thick moons
1-2 tablespoons demerara sugar (optional)
1. Make, prebake and cool the Press-In Crust.
2. While the crust is baking and cooling, make the Luscious Pastry Cream, and let it cool.
3. Place a layer of banana slices inside the bottom of the cooled pie shell; keep some slices to layer on top.
4. Evenly spread the Luscious Pastry Cream over the bananas.
5. Arrange the set-aside banana slices over the top of the filling in whatever pattern you like.
6. Sprinkle the optional sugar over the top, and lightly run a blowtorch over it.
7. Serve with a dollop of Chantilly Cream Whipped Cream.
Recipe and photograph from “Pie Camp” by Kate McDermott. Copyright © 2020 by Kate McDermott. Reprinted with permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.