With pie, it's what's inside that counts
July 24, 2013 11:00 AM
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Cake fans are taken in by looks. Pie lovers are seduced by personality.

Cake is a tall preener, calling out from the center of the dining room table, but often disappointing with overly cloying frosting or a crumb that proves less than moist. Never mind.

Cake knows you will come back for more.

The pie is humble, even a bit needy, and rarely gets its dinner-party due, sidelined instead to church bake sales, roadside stands and degrading eating contests.

Cake wears makeup — decorative adornments, cursive writing, curlicues.

Pie shows the world its true face, often homely, with fruit oozing from its center, its edges sadly singed.

But pie is whimsical; no one throws a German chocolate cake in anyone’s face.

It’s also deeply evocative. In her last book, Nora Ephron, mulling her own demise, listed pie among the things she would miss most.

Charlie Price, a 10-year-old Washington boy who prefers Key lime to chocolate cake on his birthday, said, “I love pie for its pie-ness.”

Fruit, goo, pastry: Pie tells the truth about itself.

“The reaction to a nice cake is almost more intellectual,” said Ken Haedrich, author of the cookbook “Pie” and dean of the Pie Academy, an online pie-making school.

“You look at a cake almost like a piece of architecture, but pies give you an emotional response.

“If you put a pie on a table, it always seem to take you back to a time in your life.

“Peach pie puts you squarely in summer, pumpkin at Thanksgiving. Pecan pie is the perfect dessert at Christmas. I think that is where the emotional response comes from.”

To some degree, pies suffer from a problem of definition. In general, a pie must be baked and have a crust on its top or bottom or both.

Tarts are thought of as a type of pie, but really, they are not sweet enough to make the cut.

While the English are inexplicably fond of meat pies, pie in America tends to be sweet.

Crumbles, slumps, buckles, crisps? Those are pie-adjacent.

You know what’s not a pie? A whoopie pie.

Moon Pies are cookies, and they should have the strength of character to admit it.

Hello, Boston? Your cream pie has no crust at all, so you, too, should stop this baseless claim.

While fruit pies are an integral part of our dessert culture, there are many pies that have never received the recognition they deserve: coconut cream pie, lemon meringue pie and the most popular summer pie, the Key lime pie, first introduced in Florida.



6 large egg yolks

2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk

1 cup freshly squeezed or bottled Key lime juice

1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest

1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker crust, refrigerated

2 to 3 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream, for topping

In a mixing bowl, beat yolks until thick, about 3 minutes. Add condensed milk, lime juice and lime zest.

Beat again until well blended, about 1 minute. Pour into pie shell, filling it to the brim and mounding slightly on top.

Cover with plastic wrap, stretching wrap tightly across surface. Freeze until firm, at least three hours.

Just before serving, remove from freezer and discard plastic wrap. Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then spread with whipped cream and serve.

Yield: One 9-inch pie

— Adapted from “Heartburn,” by Nora Ephron

Another debate arises about what kind of pan is best to bake pies in.

For Nick Malgieri, a cookbook author and the director of baking programs at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, the answer is oven-safe glass.

To keep his crust from slipping down, he adds a touch of baking powder to the dough, which allows the crust to expand into the plate.

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