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BAKER'S BLOG


Pie as Art, Volume 1 is available for pre-order now until December 15. Get yours in time for Christmas. Contact the Pie Baker Lady at piebakerlady@gmail.com or call (816) 914-8791 to reserve your copy TODAY. Cash, Check, Credit card and Venmo accepted for payment. Autographed cookbooks are $45.00 each. Need me to ship the book? I'm happy to accommodate but, there will be additional shipping cost.


Here we are approaching the Thanksgiving holiday... only a few days away and I am still trying to figure out my pies for the celebration! As some of you may know already, I not only bake pies, but enjoy cooking, as well. So, Thanksgiving is a big deal at our house. We usually have Turkey, gravy, garlic mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes with toasted pecans and tiny marshmallows. There is also cranberry orange sauce, green beans with smoked ham, and bread (some years cornbread, and other years yeast rolls) and quality time spent with the family, usually including History or Bible trivia with Dad. Then, after our stomachs have had a little time to settle, we feast on pies ...

















The Baker Family Thanksgiving Table Laura's garlic mashed potatoes


Wondering if the Bakers have the same pie every Thanksgiving? Sort of... I make a Cherry Almond Pie every year for my husband + Dad and a pumpkin pie for my daughter, Marguerite. But, what about my favorite?


I LOVE baking and cooking for my family, but I usually like to bake a pie for myself and test a new one out on family. The special thanksgiving 'test bake' pie I have been pondering is a Mandarin Orange Cheesecake. I have an excellent recipe for the cheesecake, but on the first test bake, the topping came out messy and not too attractive. So, I have been partnering with my good friend Kathy to come up with new ideas of creating a beautiful image for this cheesecake recipe that will inspire me to illustrate it. Imagine cracking open a can of mandarin oranges and arranging them over a cheesecake top. Well, the canned orange segments are so recognizable that it basically looked liked I dumped a can of oranges on top. The photos taken of that cheesecake were not inspiring, although the flavor was amazing.


If I am not inspired to paint the image (photo), then I have a hard time getting started on that illustration. I think it has been about 10 years since that first test bake of the Mandarin Orange Cheesecake. Woah. To get out of my rut, I need to bake it again and pose the slice of pie on a different plate or make it in a new way. Now is your time to shine, cheesecake! This is such an unusual recipe, I really want to include it in my next cookbook (if I can get it right). See below for a picture of the first test bake Mandarin Orange Cheesecake... messy topping and all.



Kathy (KP) has been a great friend for 35+ years and was my roommate for 12 years after college. The two of us spent many hours playing and creating in the kitchen and made a great team. I learned an enormous amount about cooking/baking and gathered some amazing recipes from this talented lady. I'm so excited to see what our partnership will create, using her amazing recipe for Mandarin Orange Cheesecake! So, what is the plan, you ask?


We have met once to discuss and I have been doing my research online... not finding exactly what I am imagining, but maybe an amalgamation of a few recipes. I imagine the topping to be super bright orange, maybe with some bits of mandarin chopped up throughout. This layer will be thickened with cornstarch and added on top of the cooled cheesecake, and then chilled again. To further decorate the top of the cheesecake, I plan to make some sugared slices of mandarin oranges to decorate the top. Basically there would be one candied mandarin per slice to decorate. I think this may do the trick on inspiring me to create a painting. I think that this may be the first recipe that I have made that I envision the final painting first! Ha. Here is an example of what I am thinking for the candied orange slices.


So, that is my current plan for Thanksgiving baking, but we'll see if I have time for everything! To wrap up this blog post, I thought I would share a couple of photos from past Thanksgiving celebrations. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful celebration giving thanks to God for all the amazing things that we take for granted most of the year long. I intend to give thanks at our table for PIE. Pie love you, Laura


A Cherry Almond Lattice top Pie and Black Bottom Pie



Last year pies, another Cherry Almond Pie and a test bake Missouri Nut Pie (pecan & black walnut). My husband being silly behind me (LOVE this pic)!


So, that is my current plan for Thanksgiving baking, but we'll see if I have time for everything! Stay tuned to my social media pages for photos of the completed cheesecake. Just look for Pie Baker Lady on Instagram and FaceBook.





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Updated: Jun 18, 2022


The past few years, I have had the pleasure of being a guest pie contest judge at the Maker's Street Pie Social & Contest in Lindsborg, KS. Can you think of a better invitation? The picture above is the array of pie contestants for 2021. There are many delicious pie offerings in this table full of pie, but look for the hand pointing in the picture to see the 1st Place winner, Sour Apple Caramel Pie baked by an artist friend, Michael Bray.


Mr. Bray worked for the famous glassblowing artist, Dale Chihuly, for 25+ years and traveled the world installing his famous glass sculptures in gardens and at architectural landmarks. Mike has settled in Lindsborg and in his retirement he is looking for creative outlets. When we first met, I challenged him to bake a pie for the upcoming contest (he had never attempted to bake a pie before). He blew the judges away by making Mark Twain's favorite Huckleberry Pie, ordering the huckleberries from Oregon, shipped in frozen. His entry took first place in Fruit Pies.


People that enter this contest are serious about their pies, and we will all agree that pies do deserve great respect. Failing to bake a beautiful and delicious pie is quite a humbling experience. We all think... it should be so simple! Believe me, I know the feeling, having messed up on so many occasions. We are all human.


Here on the left is a picture of Michael weaving a very, teeny, tiny lattice top with pie crust (just for practice). Note the concentration. I had just offered a Blueberry Pie demonstration for a hungry group of people during my artist residency. I made the pie, baked it, and then we all had to taste test...

Let me describe to you a little bit of how the process works for judging a pie. My friend and the director of the Red Barn Studio in Lindsborg, KS, Marsha Howe and I put our heads together to design the contest. We wanted to make sure every pie was judged equally and fairly with a numbering system.


Each judge is given a slip of paper for each individual numbered pie to mark down their score. At the end of the pie judging/tasting, numbers are tabulated and winners are announced. An overall winner is presented, regardless of category, based on best taste and presentation. There are usually 2 other judges beside me at the tasting table, we play my Spotify playlist (songs about pies) and try our hardest to judge each pie by a bunch of categories numbered from 1-5 (5 being the highest). See a portion of the official score card for the pie baking contest below, with Marsha cutting and serving a slice of Strawberry Peach Pie to the pie contest judges.





Marsha cuts one slice out of each pie and the judges have to score it on presentation and if it holds together nicely on a plate, like this slice of Sweet Cherry Pie above. We also judge on the flavor of the crust, if it is nice and flaky, and is cooked properly. Of course we try the filling, as well as the crust and judge that for taste and if it is cooked properly. The fruit pies have an extra category of 'proper spill-over', which refers to the vents cut into the upper crust and how the fruit bubbles up through them, just before the pie is properly baked. That is a term that only pie-nerds, like myself, and home economics teachers know about.


Here is a photo of the pie judges for our very first contest, judging the winning entry by Merle Larson, a Key Lime Pie. It was deemed perfect by all the judges and won Merle some great notoriety in the town. He shared his recipe with me and I published it (with his permission) in my PIE AS ART, Volume 1 cookbook as Merle's Key Lime Pie. It is super easy and super tasty!

This is the panel of pie contest judges from the second contest, a retired home economics teacher, a pie artist/cookbook author, and a guy that really likes pies, Brad Howe. We are sporting new aprons made by a local pie enthusiast and seamstress, except for Brad who is holding up his consolation prize for helping to judge.


The next pie contest is coming up next month on Friday, July 8, 2022. I am so excited to see what shows up for us to sample. And, secretly, I want to enter one of my pies in the contest, but cannot because of conflict of interest. Darn.


I have a little bit of a sore spot when it comes to entering pie contests after failing miserably, the one time that I entered a 4th of July pie contest with a Rhubarb Pie. Silly me, I forgot to thaw out the rhubarb before adding to the pie to bake. My result was a very pretty pie soup with a lattice woven top. You can see an illustration of that pie in my cookbook, because I used it for the Rhubarb Pie recipe, after perfecting the recipe next time. Test-baking recipes takes time if you don't get it right the first time, but is a great way to make sure your recipe you publish in a cookbook is perfect.


It was definitely one of the most difficult perspective drawings that I have attempted so far. The pie was decorated with a lattice top, resting inside of a Longenberger pie basket. I determined after my failed pie soup that I did not need awards to enjoy pies, and if they come out as soup, I can enjoy them over a scoop of ice cream with delight. A failure is a great learning tool in the business of baking and writing cookbooks.


Now, here is a photo of a pretty perfect Rhubarb Pie. I have gotten the hang of it now after my pie contest failure. I absolutely love the color that rhubarb makes when baked and the spill-over on this pie is also picture perfect. See practice does make perfect.


Hope to see some of you in Lindsborg next month. And, I dare you to enter the pie contest! Come on, you know you want to...


Pie love you,

Laura




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Key Lime Pie
Fresh whipped cream added to a chilled Key Lime Pie

Can you feel it? The world is starting to open up again, people are gathering in small groups, restaurants are filling up to capacity, parks are teeming with families playing and little league practices... dare I say we are getting back to normal? The pandemic year of 2020 was a time of creativity and production for the Pie Baker Lady, while quarantined at home. During this time, I especially focused on test-baking a variety of creamy, dreamy pies to be included in my next cookbook, Pie as Art, Volume 2.


A focus for my next cookbook is simple recipes that are accessible for all levels of pie bakers. Custard and cream pies fit that description very well. Most have only a handful of ingredients, they are single crust pies, and some even have a press-in graham cracker crust (for those with a fear of making a basic pie crust). Honestly, the most difficult thing about baking this type of pie is managing your time. Cream pies need time to set up before slicing, whether that be by sitting in a fridge overnight or resting on a counter until reaching room temperature.


My most recent test-bake was a simple, Custard Pie. To my surprise, whenever I ask people to name off their favorite pie, Custard is always a popular choice. I had never actually tasted custard pie before I test baked an old recipe shared by a friend. Although, I am very familiar with the Custard Pie, because they sold plenty of it at my pie cutting job at Tippins. I did not ever try it because I always favored the fruit and nut pies.


The pie filling is mainly milk, sugar, and egg with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top, baked into a basic pie crust. Some sage advice... when pre-baking the pie crust, do not poke crust all over with holes, use pie weights or beans instead to keep the crust in the pan laying flat, or the milk will just seep through. Guess how I discovered this little nugget? I actually had to make my pre-baked crust twice, because the custard mixture soaked right through the pre-baked crust on the first try! Ugh! Live and learn...


Custard pie test baked in 2020

This is a pie that wants to be served chilled and to get a nice slice that holds together like the piece above, you will need to refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Overnight is preferred.


A close cousin to the custard pie is Coconut Custard Pie. This recipe made it into the first cookbook. Here is the excerpt from the Pie as Art, Volume 1 recipe...


"A delicious recipe passed down from a Sunday school teacher at First Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC, to my friend Lynn Duke Urda. She recalls trying a slice of Travis Stewart's coconut custard pie at a church potluck while pregnant with her first child, Adrienne. Lynn said that pie was about the best thing she had ever tasted! Thankfully, Mrs. Stewart was happy to share her recipe with Lynn, who passed it on to me. As you see in the illustration, you can dress up this pie with strawberries when serving"


Coconut Custard Pie
Illustration for Coconut Custard Pie, Pie as Art, Volume 1

I had an especially fun time illustrating this acrylic painting! Since the antique plate was decorated with a strawberry & strawberry flower pattern, I decided to run with that theme and add a pretty sliced strawberry to the top of the piece before taking the photo that I would illustrate from.


This version of custard pie has a great chewy texture, almost like eating a coconut macaroon cookie inside a pie crust. And you do not have to worry about pre-baking the crust. The recipe calls for you to pour the filling directly into an unbaked pie crust.


Another great version of custard pie is called Buttermilk Pie. It is a old-fashioned pie that has its roots in southern baking and is simply smooth and delicious! We love the taste of buttermilk at our house in everything from biscuits to pancakes to Buttermilk Sheet Cake. With 2 adult children in the house and 1 teenage boy, we go through lots of 2% milk. But we always have a half gallon of buttermilk in the fridge for Mom's baking projects!


Here is the excerpt from Pie as Art, Volume 1 recipe for Buttermilk Pie...


"The illustration for buttermilk pie has a soft spot for me, illustrated at my artist-in-residence stay at the Red Barn Studios in Lindsborg, Kansas. I painted this piece outdoors on an easel by myself on a beautiful cool, sunny morning with only the sounds of birds singing to keep me company. It was a heavenly day! I felt especially inspired by the dramatic lighting and arrangement of brightly colored raspberries and blueberries on the bright yellow slice of silky pie captured in my photograph."


See photo below that shows my easel (see photo of test baked slice taped to the top) and the finished painting that was used in the cookbook. The picture is taken inside the Red Barn Studio that is provided for artists awarded an Artist in Residency. After doing the test bake for this pie, I had some berries to decorate with... took a handful and tossed them on top. Fresh fruit has always been an inspirational subject for me. I was very pleased how the raspberries and blueberries turned out in this acrylic painting... juicy and mouthwatering on that dreamy, yellow Buttermilk Pie!


Buttermilk Pie Illustration
Buttermilk Pie illustration completed at Red Barn Studio in 2019

Next, I embarked on another beloved pie from the South called Chess Pie. It is a super, simple pie that has an unusual name with a variety of origins. It also has simple ingredients that you can find in your kitchen/larder.


Supposedly, the high sugar content in this particular pie recipe will keep for a couple days at room temperature without spoiling. Now, I am not so sure that I believe in that theory especially since I serve my pies to so many guests. I do not want to make anyone sick, so I keep my chess pie refrigerated. If you have heard of a pie chest, this was a piece of furniture kept near or in the kitchen that had several upper shelves that were used to store pies. Most have cabinet doors with a metal inlay that has a decorative pattern made of holes circulating air, but keeping the pies safe from bugs. So, one of the theories of the name origin is that Chest Pie was shortened to Chess Pie.


Another theory explains that by adding chestnut flour or finely ground chestnuts to the pie, is why it is referred to as Chess Pie, shortened from Chestnut Pie. But, my favorite theory of all is the one where someone asks, 'What kind of pie is that?" and the baker answers in a southern accent, "It's jes' pie" which morphed into Chess Pie.


The versions that I test baked for Pie as Art, Volume 2 have flavor added to make them a little more interesting that 'just pie'. See below for my versions of Chocolate Chess pie and Lemon Chess Pie. I used a similar pie crust pattern with each. The chocolate version tastes like a rich brownie inside a crispy pie crust. The lemon version tastes more like a rich lemon bar inside a crispy crust. Both are delicious.


Chocolate Chess Pie
Chocolate Chess Pie test bake
Lemon Chess Pie
Lemon Chess Pie test bake
Chocolate Chess tastes just like a brownie

The last creamy, dreamy pie that I would like to add to this essay is the ever popular, Key Lime Pie. Through my pie journey, I learned that the key lime originates in Malaysia! I have always associated key limes with Florida. Of course Floridians have made the simple pie famous and you can find a pretty consistently good slice at almost every restaurant in the state! As you can see below, you cannot get a simpler recipe for constructing a pie. This particular recipe is from my friend, Merle Larsen, who I met during one of my artist residencies at the Red Barn Studio in Lindsborg, KS. At the time he was the president of the Raymer Society board of trustees... and a more renaissance man you will not find.


The Best of Show Pie recipe 2018

The world lost Merle to a short illness with Covid-19 this past year. If you are the praying sort, please lift up his family as they grieve their loss and have his funeral service tomorrow. All of us that knew him are still reeling at the news of his death.


I gave tribute to him in my first Volume of Pie as Art, naming the recipe after him. He had no hesitation as I asked for him to share his best of show recipe for Key Lime Pie that won the whole pie contest! I caught him in line at a local coffee shop and he rattled it off to me as I wrote it down with a sharpie on a scrap of paper. I've still hung on to the recipe, thinking fondly of Merle every time I see it.


Remember to live life to the fullest and don't pass up that second piece of pie... life is too short. And, please have fun baking some creamy, dreamy pies this summer. I know that I will!


Pie love you,

Laura

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