On a summer day in 2006, I was straining to hear the results of the Harpswell Festival blueberry pie contest.

My entry was a simple affair — locally picked blueberries mixed with sugar and a touch of cinnamon wedged between two pie crusts I crimped in a pretty way. The PA system garbled the announcement so I resolved to ask who had won when I finished working in my church’s hot dog stand. But before I could, a neighbor congratulated me on the win.

I was over the moon. Not because I’m a competitive baker or always yearned for a blue ribbon, but because I spent many of my adult years intimidated by pie-making. Too many recipes warned of overworking pie dough, which produces a tough crust. If you’re a novice, how are you supposed to know if you’re overworking pie dough?

As a consequence, it seemed I was always “suggesting” the dough flatten itself into a thin circle rather than commanding it to do so with my rolling pin. The results were disappointing, to say the least. I became deeply resentful of the phrase “easy as pie.”

These failures played out against a family history full of pie lore. My dad’s great-grandmother made a lemon pie for her husband every single day. My mom’s grandfather was known as the fastest pie maker in Boston.

It was my mother-in-law, renowned for her apple pies, who showed me how to make a good pie crust by, quite frankly, ruthlessly wielding a rolling pin until the dough submitted. She might have been tough but her crusts were as tender and flaky as a Soho folk singer.


Cover courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen

Ever since, I’ve made pies. Lots of them. Cream-filled, fruit-filled, tarts, custards … I love to try new recipes. And that’s why America’s Test Kitchen’s cookbook “The Perfect Pie” captured my attention.

Like other ATK cookbooks, it’s gorgeous. Glossy pages with sumptuous photos that make you salivate just looking at them. I particularly like how each recipe has an intro titled “Why this recipe works.” And lots of tips: how to avoid insipid fruit fillings; how to make a beautiful herringbone lattice crust; how to candy basil leaves.

The front of the cookbook has a getting-started section, beginning with a pie chart that has nothing to do with math. Eight slices of pie are arranged in an appealing circle, representing the most popular types of pies — double-crust, cream, custard, meringue, galette and so on. They tease you about the potential in the successive chapters, each chock full of beautiful pies.

There are recipes for slab pies, regional pies (New England’s is mincemeat), elegant tarts, sauces, toppings and more.

And there on Page 5 — how to roll the dough. “Work confidently and quickly,” says the instructions — nothing at all about overworking it. Generations of future pie makers can breathe a sigh of relief.

As for the recipe I chose, I have to say it was delicious. I particularly like the combination of citrusy orange and velvety chocolate. It reminds me of Christmas when all those orange and chocolate holiday balls are in the stores. And when homemade pie is nearly always in my kitchen.


Orange-Chocolate Custard Pie

1 recipe single-crust pie dough

2/3 cup sugar

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon grated orange zest plus 1-1/2 tablespoon juice


1/8 teaspoon table salt

2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

1 recipe Orange Whipped Cream


Chocolate shavings

Roll out dough into 12-inch circle on floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto a 9-inch pie plate, letting excess dough hang over edge. Ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with your hand while pressing into plate bottom with your other hand.

Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of plate. Tuck overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of plate. Crimp dough evenly around edge of plate. Wrap dough-lined plate loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Line chilled pie shell with double layer of aluminum foil, covering edges to prevent burning, and fill with pie weights. Bake on foil-lined rimmed baking sheet until edges are set and just beginning to turn golden, 25-30 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Remove foil and weights, rotate sheet and continue to bake crust until golden brown and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer sheet to wire rack. (Crust must still be warm when filling is added.)

While crust bakes, whisk sugar, eggs, cornstarch, orange zest juice and salt together in bowl, bring milk and cream to simmer in large saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk 1 cup of hot milk mixture into egg mixture to temper, then slowly whisk tempered egg mixture into remaining milk in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until mixture is thickened, bubbling and registers 180 degrees, 30 to 90 seconds (mixture should have consistency of thick pudding.) Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into clean bowl, then stir in vanilla. Transfer 1-1/2 cups of custard to second bowl; whisk in chocolate until smooth.

With pie still on sheet, pour chocolate mixture into warm crust, smoothing top with clean spatula into even layer. Gently pour remaining custard over chocolate layer, smoothing top with clean spatula into even layer. Bake until center of pie registers 160 degrees, 14 to 18 minutes. Let pie cool completely on wire rack, about 4 hours. Spread whipped cream attractively over pie and sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Serve.


Classic single-crust pie dough

(A a traditionalist, I use a pastry cutter to make pie dough. Also … I don’t own a food processor.)

Makes one 9-inch single crust

1-1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt


4 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and chilled

3 tablespoons ice water, plus extra as needed

Process flour, sugar and salt in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter shortening over top and process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.

Transfer mixture to bowl. Sprinkle ice water over mixture. Stir and press dough with spatula until dough sticks together. If dough does not come together, stir in up to 1 tablespoon ice water, 1 teaspoon at a time until it does.

Transfer dough to sheet of plastic wrap and form into 4-inch disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Let chilled dough sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes, before rolling. (Wrapped dough can be frozen for up to 1 month. If frozen, let dough thaw completely on counter before rolling.)


Orange whipped cream

(See note above. No food processor so I use my hand mixer)

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Pinch table salt

Using stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip cream, sugar, orange juice and zest, and salt on medium low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. (Whipped cream can be refrigerated in fine-mesh strainer set over small bowl and covered with plastic wrap for up to 8 hours.)

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