Monday, September 10, 2012

Pie as Practice: The Delta Breeze is Coming

Sac Pie has been quiet for a very long time.  During the hiatus, we have been working on other things.  We made a lot of pies, sweet and savory, delicious and inedible.  And we thought, what's all this pie about?  What are we going to do with all of this?

And not just pie.

What has been brewing in the brain is...

The Delta Breeze.

The Delta Breeze is going to begin happening very soon.  It's going to become a Sacramento neighborhood favorite hangout - one that happens to have an ever-changing array of great food and, of course, really nice, fresh, homemade pie.  We at Sac Pie have been doing research, consulting with experts, and putting a game plan together to create a "third place" that celebrates the bounty and variety of fresh food sourced from the Sacramento Delta.  Watch this space!  And

While that is coming together, we continue the experiment, albeit without the blog.  Latest new twist in the test kitchen is substituting up to 1/3 cup of fine cornmeal for flour in the pie crust.  This adds a crunchy dimension to a sturdy, flaky standard shell. 

Bounty from the Delta - thanks to our friends in Clarksburg - has lately been put to use in wild blackberry and fig pie, which, not exaggerating, is the best fruit pie we've ever made.  Is it because we picked the fruit ourselves on a sparkling summer day? And scratched ourselves silly in the process?  Is it because we love both of those fruits to the moon and back? Hard to say.  But it was completely delightful.  The recipe was adopted from a crostata located online - which would make a great brunch item.  Even our Clarksburg hostess, who says she doesn't like figs, was fighting with her husband over her share of this pie.

You can see that the lattice crust starts out pretty but who knows what can happen after that alchemical interlude in the oven....

Still, it was better than good.  Just sayin.'

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ugly Pies of Winter 2011

One reason we have been loath to blog lately is that we cannot get excited about the way our pies are looking when they come out of the oven. We hesitate to use even the word 'homely' to describe these pie gargoyles. We cannot even bear to photograph them.

We were also in the tropics on January 23, National Pie Day, and we hope you all dedicated yourselves to observance of this sacred day. We ate a tiny slice of apple pie from one of the local Hawaiian bakeries as part of our fest.

As we recall, we've produced a couple of good lookers, pie-wise, since we last blogged at you. For Thanksgiving - the Mince, the Apple - but you've seen one pretty pie, you've seen them all, and we don't have any more tricks up our sleeves that improve those two models. And there was a nice potato-cheese-rosemary-leek gallette right after New Year's. But these were followed by a couple of bizarre-looking quiches, a funky looking lumpy blueberry pie, and...

What were we thinking? We had it in our heads to try out a recipe we found online during the summer for Chocolate Cherry Pie. In concept, we thought it sounded luscious and decadent. It called for whole pitted cherries and chunks of good dark chocolate. Our pals at Trader Joe's had the cherries, frozen, for a song, and we sacrificed one of our TJ 70% chocolate bars for the project. The idea, we think, was that the chocolate would melt to make a velvety coating with the cherry juice, and it would be all wine-dark and beautiful, and need no other embellishment.

It was enough to put one off pie-bakery for quite awhile. Although it tasted pretty nice when it was warm from the oven, it was a little gooshy. The frozen cherries did not cook down - this made the upper crust lumpy and the inside wet. When it cooled completely, the chocolate hardened back up into hard stringers throughout the filling. The cherries had no distinctive cherriness at all. POPS, weirdly, said he didn't think even ADDING MORE CHOCOLATE would improve the pie. Worse, we had the uncomfortable and unappetizing notion, looking down at the dessert plate, that we were eating a pie made with whole Kalamata olives. Yikes! Somebody call the law!

It all seems like a bad dream now. Next time, if there is a next time, we will make a compote on the stove of some of the cherries, and add this "jam" to the rest of the fruit. Using fresh cherries and mashing them a little to promote more thorough cooking of the fruit would be a good idea. Have you got any other ideas for ways to improve the outcome?

We have stepped back from the abyss since then to our old familiars. We also found some nicely designed ceramic pie dishes, about 6 inches in diameter, at the Crate and Barrel outlet ($3.50 each) that motivated us to get rolling again. It's time to start using the frozen fruit we squirrelled away in summer - we've never needed a taste of summer more than we do in February. We tried the compote approach with this weekend's pies made from frozen blueberries, and it seemed to help break down the whole berries. The compote just by itself, made with a spoonful of raw honey and a half teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, is irresistable. But that pie wasn't pretty. POPS reminds me that, maybe a lattice top will allow a lot of liquid to boil off so these frozen berry pies are a little less liquidy inside. Good tip - he's smart, and he's cute, too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Peach Pie and Plutonium Have a Lot In Common

It was there one moment, and gone the next.

High-speed filmography was only able to capture these few moments before the lovingly created pie you see here winked out of existence. You can see here that it has already been substantially depleted WHILE it was being observed - a quantum pie if ever there was one! Like plutonium, these things have a very short half-life, so they aren't meant to be stable under natural conditions.

We scarcely remember how delicious it was. This one held a blend of cling peaches that weren't great for eating raw, a couple of beautiful large freestones from the Sunday farmer's market, and we sneaked two nectarines in as well.

Like plutonium and most pies around here, this one took exponentially longer to be created than it did to be annihilated by the inexorable force of nature (in this case, the guy with the fork...). Those peaches were a booger to cut and peel, but the result, however fleeting, was delightful. You really cannot fail with good fruit. Fortunately, POPS acquired a new passel of peaches yesterday -- Last Chance, Summer Lady, and what was that other variety, Shropshire? Braunfels? Idaho Red??? -- so that we can make another. And freeze some fruit for later in the year.

Now is the time to be consuming your peaches and tomatoes like there is no tomorrow, because, as far as those plants are concerned, there IS no tomorrow. Freeze, can, make sauce, salsa, jams, conserves, slice, or just eat them. But above all, MAKE PIE WHILE THE SUN SHINES, my friends. And watch them both disappear.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sac Pie Summer

Sac Pie has been on hiatus awaiting cooler nights. For as much as we love our pie, we dislike using the oven when it's warm outside. And we equally dislike using our air conditioner to cool down a house heated by an oven. Thus we are in the dog days of pie procrastination.

But just so you know that we are NOT doing absolutely nothing...we are dreaming of fantastical, improbable pies:

sweet tomato (maybe chutney?) pie
blackberry chocolate pie
cherry chocolate pie
melon-lavender chiffon pie
concord grape pie (not so improbable, but not made much)
fig, rosemary, and almond pie

  • We are procrastinating the peach pie and the jumbleberry pie for just another couple of weeks.

  • We have stocked the freezer with about 7 pounds of blueberries, and need to process some peaches for the deep freeze while the season is in full production.

  • We mentally invent pie flavors that would be complemented nicely with Haagen-Dazs Five Ginger ice cream.

  • We check the figs dutifully each day, but our back yard tree will only yield enough this year for a few snacks.

  • We daydream about eating a slice of fruity, spicy, velvety pie on the porch on a breezy summer evening just before the sun goes down.

Truthfully, we have not been so crazy about spending a lot of time in front of the computer screen, or in the kitchen, when there is only so much gorgeous outdoor time to savor.

Therefore we must delay gratification with respect to pie until we've had our fill of indolent, indulgent, incandescent, incomparable summer. And we hope you are enjoying it just as much as Sac Pie.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pie Spy - Z-Pie in Placerville

Pie Spy would be remiss if Z-Pie had not had a place in its annals. Do you not know? Have you not seen? Z-Pie, at 3182 Center Street in Placerville ( is serving up a full menu of savory light meal-size pies, as well as soups, salads, and desserts, in a comfortable and inviting space with white tablecloths, orchids, and cool background jazz. The most abundant choices for pie in Placerville are right there downtown.

Z-Pie emphasizes fresh and seasonal ingredients, and lists them all on the menu. The pie dough is made with butter, and each one is about 4 inches in diameter, golden brown, double-crusted, and fresh-tasting. No artificial ingredients and a commitment to recycling and reducing waste are a hallmark of this eatery. Z-Pie’s menu reflects the fruit and vegetable bounty of the surrounding orchards and farms in Placer County. Although they have a playful attitude toward their flavor combinations, we were pleased to see that they tweak familiar flavors into something distinctive, but don’t venture out on the flaky edge toward weirdness.

There are about a dozen savory fillings to choose from – plus two for breakfast. You can walk in and take the little pies home with you – frozen – for later. The restaurant also has beer and wine if that seems like the thing to have with your pie.

Best of all, you can get out of there with two happy tummies for under 15 bucks.

On scorching Sunday afternoon, Pie Spy and POPS made our first visit to Z-Pie. We walked down Main Street, ducked in at Sierra Rizin’ Bakery to cadge a few pastries to go (no pie!) and asked the attendant there where Center Street is. She explained with a puzzled look that she’d lived in Placerville all her life and didn’t know where it was. So we asked her instead where Z-Pie is. She said, “Oh - that’s my favorite restaurant! I can show you exactly where it is!” She walked us out the door and pointed at the parking garage next to City Hall. “It’s just across the street from the garage,” she said. Yet again, the mental map of memorable meals is often more enduring, reliable, and available for recall than any other kind.

Within a couple of minutes we were seated and ordering. We selected two vegetarian pies – the tomatillo stew and the Very Vege (do we pronounce that veggie or vedge-eh?). We toyed with ordering the fresh gazpacho with our lunch, but opted for caution because we didn’t want to over-fill. The pies were served hot, with flaky but substantial tops and bottoms, and came in cute little pie-sized bowls. This is a place after Pie Spy’s own heart, we thought as we dug in.

The Very Vege had a little bit of everything – zucchini, spinach, bean, potato, onion, pepper, hmm, many things all melded together in a red-brown gravy that provided just enough moisture and lushness. The first bite brought us a little too close to the taste of canned vegetable soup – highly salted, a pinch too much oregano for our taste. But did we eat the whole thing and smile about it? Of course we did.

The tomatillo stew pie was delicious with its black beans, cumin, hominy, poblano, green chilis, and jalapeno peppers. Most of these ingredients melded into the background and were not identifiable. The combination was magical and satisfying, though. And not just because we were very hungry. It was shocking, really, how quickly these charming pies disappeared.

Pie Spy had every intention of sampling the dessert pies (grilled apple or blackberry?) but used up all our capacity on lunch. So we will have to save desserts for our return visit (all desserts can be served with a heap of vanilla bean ice cream if you just can’t stop yourself).

Pie Spy loves Z-Pie and wants everyone to know about it. Satisfying, made with healthful ingredients, a place to enjoy the fare, attentive servers, and plenty of choices makes it a big win. It is worth a visit on your way to or from Apple Hill (where, depending on the day, you can find even more pies of every size and flavor). Or, if you love it even more than we do, ask them about opening a franchise down here in Sacramento so that we can visit you often. And don’t forget to tell them that Pie Spy sent you!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pie of the Week - There's an Ap for That

Inspired by Mom's Apple Pie in Sebastopol, we decided to buy a few pounds of 'cots at the farmer's market to make a pie. Dear old Betty Crocker (as opposed to Betty Carr, a.k.a. Mom)...she told us that we would need five cups of apricot halves for a 9-inch pie. But we didn't have quite that many, so we downsized the recipe and put it in a smaller, 8-inch pan.

Like many of the recipes we've explored through this blog, this one was an experiment. The first surprise was that the apricots, although mostly very firm and a bit on the dry side, released a bunch of juice once mixed with sugar and flour. Although we cleaved to Betty's advice about the amount of sugar in the filling (almost three quarters of a cup!), we found that the filling is still a little on the tart side. We added some dehydrated ginger chips, crushed up - about 2 teaspoons - to the filling, but found that the flavor was not strong enough.

Because it was shaping up to be a gorgeous hot summer Sacramento day, we wanted to make pie very early. The great thing about apricots is that you don't have to peel them - that would have really slowed us down. Prep time was relatively quick. It was just a matter of getting the dough together (reducing Betty Crocker's recipe for a standard double-crust 9-incher, using 1.5 c of flour and 0.5 c of shortening) and rummaging around for that 8-inch pan, somewhere in the black heart of a mighty disheveled kitchen cabinet...must speak to POPS about his curation of the collection.

The wisdom on Mom's Apple Pie website holds that you should not be alarmed or dismayed on discovering that your pie "runs over" while baking or is a little gooshy inside. These things, Mom says, are normal. Good to know, because this one, while pretty much a textbook pie on the outside, DID run over (sorry about the burning smell, honey!), and was pretty juicy in the middle. We liked that the fruit cooked down to a soft, almost jamlike texture, but we weren't expecting there to be juice. So this would not have garnered a ribbon at the county fair - it turned the bottom crust all mushy. Next time, we must use more starch to absorb the moisture a little more effectively - two generous tablespoons of flour called out in the recipe was not enough. We were very pleased with the bright orange color of the fruit, very summery and enticing. The flavor was almost like peach, which made Sac Pie yearn for full-on peach season, but a little brighter and zippier. Would fresh grated ginger be a good enhancement the next time we bake this?

Even with all that in mind, apricot pie is not something to be scared of. One wonders why we don't see it more commonly here in Sacramento bakeries. Indeed, one wonders why we don't see bakeries more commonly here in Sacramento...We have received encouragement ourselves to be the next big bakery thing in this town, and the former Phillips building is still available, so....

As a candidate for breakfast, we can recommend the Betty Crocker apricot pie, modified as above, for your summer menu. We don't know if it's nutritious or not - surely there are some good antioxidants or carotenes in apricots, right? But then there's vitamins for that. Soon it will be too hot to bake, and the apricots will be all gone, so try this, improve it, and enjoy it! And let us know how it goes!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pie Spy - Mom's Apple Pie, Sebastopol

DROP EVERYTHING AND GO TO MOM'S APPLE PIE, 4550 N. Gravenstein Hwy, Sebastopol

We once heard a comedian say that you should never eat at a place called Mom’s. Advice we had heeded throughout life, until June 5, 2010.

Pie Spy was out and about in the countryside of Sonoma County. Truthfully, we were looking for wine to taste. But we had dallied so long in Petaluma and Sebastopol that, by the time we made it out to Graton, the wineries were closing for the day. Disappointed, we turned back toward town. We knew that the birthday barbecue we were headed for would console us, and soon we would forget all about our disappointment.

And then, suddenly, there was Mom’s Apple Pie – open until 6:00 p.m. ( We felt better already. The first step through the front door let us know that everything was going to be okay: there were upwards of 20 full-size pies in the case, and a number of 7-inchers as well. There was a list of pie offerings posted overhead – a long list! There were cream pies galore in yet another case to our right. It's a charming place to sit and enjoy your meal.

Blackberry, cherry, apricot, strawberry-rhubarb, wild blueberry, apple, no-sugar fruit pies…by the slice, or by the whole thing. Made with no trans fats! Mom’s also serves sandwiches, soup, and salad in case you need something to eat while you’re making up your mind about the pie. It was an enticing display of Mom’s baking prowess and the orchard abundance of Sonoma County. And Mom, herself, Mrs. Betty Carr, was actually in the house while we were there, although not out front. She’s been selling her pies here since 1983. The web site will tell you more about what Mom's is all about - it's also very charming.

We spied a blackberry turnover in the case, and tested that first. Delightful pastry, poofed up prettily. We wished there had been a little more fruit filling in ours, but what there was of it, we really liked. It disappeared with breathtaking speed.

We couldn’t decide on just one pie, so we opted for two 7-inch pie-ettes. One of these easily would serve three normal people, or two pie freaks. They were beautiful in their simplicity. Here and there, a little bit of fruit filling had oozed out during baking. Of all the pies we’ve tasted on our safaris so far, Mom’s have been the best. The strawberry-rhubarb and the cherry ($6.95) were both, literally, like Mom used to make. Or does make. The crust was just perfect – we don’t know what else to call it. Beautifully flaky but firm, not sweet or salty or crumbly, and not the least bit shiny with butter. The fruits were also done just right, with bright flavors, soft textures, and colors that let you know it's all natural. The homemade quality of these pies made the heart sing. But it was not nostalgia that carried us away at Mom’s. The freshness of the ingredients and the care that goes into making the pies comes through in every bite.

The best part of having your pie here is that you can sit outdoors under an arbor that looks out onto the apple orchard.

If we had found a place like this here in Sacramento, Sac Pie would have had no reason to exist. Mom's Apple Pie has the best pie, at the best value, you are likely to find within 200 miles of this town. Go out and see for yourself!