COOKBOOK REVIEW: Pies without limits

"The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies" by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)
"The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies" by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)

“The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies” by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)

Turkey-roasting experts aren’t the only ones who get swamped with cooking questions this time of year. In the introduction to “The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35), Erin Jeanne McDowell notes that in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, she spends so much time on the internet doling out pie-baking advice that her brother has dubbed her Instagram feed the “24-Hour Pie-Sis Hotline.”

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Baking pies with her grandma as a teenager, McDowell came to understand what a pie should “look like, smell like, and feel like at any stage,” enabling her to whip up a pie on a whim with whatever she had on hand. That talent led her to become an award-winning food stylist and recipe developer who regularly hosts baking classes for Food52 and Food Network Kitchen.

In writing “The Book on Pie,” she aims to show home bakers how to use their own senses to reach their pie-baking aspirations. She covers the “whys” as well as the “hows” in deciding which pan to use, whether the pie will hold up in the freezer, and what steps to take to avoid “the dreaded soggy bottom.”

McDowell outlines every kind of crust, topping, and decorative touch imaginable before getting to the pie recipes, organized by filling type: fruit; custard; cream, chiffon and cold-set; and savory.

I made Key Lime-Coconut Cream Pie — two favorite fillings layered into a cracker-crumb crust and topped with whipped cream — a revelatory combination that tasted as good as it sounds. For Thanksgiving, Pumpkin Pie in Oatmeal Press-In Cookie Crust is on my radar, topped with Mascarpone Whipped Cream if I’m feeling fancy. And once I’ve recovered, maybe I’ll try Chicken Pot Slab Pie in Golden Cheese Pie Dough.

I’m pretty sure leftover turkey can stand in for the main ingredient.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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