In "The New Pie: Modern techniques for the classic American dessert" (Potter, $30), they lay out their scientifically precise formulas for success, each depicted in eye-popping detail by Atlanta photographer Andrew Thomas Lee — from the Toffee Cream with Crunch modeled after a Kit Kat candy bar, to the 6151 Richmond inspired by episodes of "The Golden Girls" involving cheesecake. Sitting in my fridge now is Thai Iced Tea Pie, an exotically spiced pudding in a perfectly crisp crust crowned with "ice cubes" made of whipped cream — not as jaw-dropping as the photo, but definitely a showstopper by my standards.
Some of the recipes call for ingredients you may need to order online (xanthan gum, popping sugar) or tools you may not have (airbrush gun, immersion circulator). Degree of difficulty varies, but most will require more planning than for a standard pecan pie. The more you delve into these tantalizing pages, the more likely you’ll be convinced that your efforts will be rewarded — with high praise from guests, or maybe even a blue ribbon.