Making the rounds of the bakery-cafés one weekend, I’m dismayed to see that pie is nowhere to be seen in the display cases. I see cookies, brownies, even the wayward biscotti, and lots and lots of CAKE. Bakeries are all about cake these days, it seems: layered, looming glories swathed in tufts of frosting or enrobed in ganache, all hiding a pillow-y crumb and a tri-level cache of assorted fillings. Pretty, yes, but definitely disheartening.
“Well, cakes are much easier to make than pies,” states one friend. “You just beat the butter and sugar to death in the mixer, alternate the addition of the wet and dry ingredients, pour into a prepared pan, bake, and there you have cake!”
“But sometimes I just want a pie,” I say, my lament a dirge for all the unmade pies in Manila. “Don’t you just crave for a good apple pie sometimes, or a banana-macadamia cream pie that’s so good you dream about it at night?”
“Personally, I want pies with real crusts,” pipes in another friend. “Not cookie crusts but real crusts made with butter and flour that bake up smashingly flaky.”
Pie is my passion. It has nothing to do with growing up watching my mom bake pies ”“ in fact, I remember her pan de sal more than I do her pies. And I’m talking about real pies with crusts and fillings made from scratch. To me, it’s not a pie if it’s made from a supermarket-bought pie shell, poured in with an instant pie filling and topped with non-dairy whip topping. Cake has its place at birthdays and other celebrations but my heart belongs to pie.
hearts on a chicken potpie
Admittedly, making a pie ”“ nay, pie crust requires practice. I still remember the first pie crust I ever made: over-enthusiastic mixing made it as tough as the sole of a rubber shoe and eating it gave me a stomachache that had me in bed for a day. Not fun. But I persisted with my pie making and now I can churn out a crust that’s as flaky as the best of them. My secret? A food processor. But of course I still have my pastry blender for when I want a pie experience that’s more rewarding from a tactile point of view.
Whatever the reason is for the absence of pies in Manila’s bakeries, I’ll bake my own for now, with the current situation being as it is. I make a “pie dinner,” that is: a chicken potpie ”“ in local lingo: chicken pastel ”“ and a dulce de leche pecan pie. The crust for the former is made from butter only and is a “shorter” crust, meaning it’s more “mealy” as opposed to flaky. You can see from the photos that I played around a bit with the leftover crust and made a mini heart border for the chicken pot pie. I play with my food all the time.
The crust for the pecan pie, on the other hand, is made from butter and shortening for flakiness and flavor. And because I was in a playful mood, I used my rectangular fluted tart pan instead of my ordinary 9-inch Pyrex. Hey, pies don’t have to be round after all.
Dulce de Leche Pecan Pie
your favorite dough for a 9 or 10-inch pie crust
1½ cups pecans
1 can dulce de leche (make your own or buy it prepared from Ingrid's Sweet Haven)
½ cup caramel sauce (your favorite recipe made with butter and brown sugar or store-bought)
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
Roll dough out to fit your chosen pie pan. Line pan with the dough and trim off any excess with a paring knife. Blind bake pie crust and set aside while you prepare the filling.
Heat oven to 350° F.
Pour the pecans into the pie shell. (I actually bothered to line the pecans up neatly across the crust but it didn't matter in the end.) In the bowl of a food processor, combine the dulce de leche, caramel sauce, brown sugar, butter, eggs, and corn syrup and processor until smooth, about 40 seconds. Pour over the pecans in the pie shell.
Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just set. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve with vanilla ice cream on the side. Impatient person that I am, I've actually sliced into this while it was still warm and was rewarded with a gooey pool of caramel that hardened nicely. This is one damn good pie.