If it seems like pie is everywhere right now, well, you’re right. This fall, a whopping nine cookbooks dedicated to pie are vying for your eye. These 21st-century pies are beautiful, ornate, and overflowing, containing flavors as far from basic apple as you can imagine. So why is pie having its 15 minutes of fame now? The answer lies in the land of square grids: Instagram.
There is just something about a circular baked good centered and shot head-on in a square Instagram picture that excites people. Among the most successful Instagram pie-fluencers are Lauren Ko and Helen Nugent, who epitomize the two styles of newfangled pie design. Ko’s pies are a math nerd’s dream, all geometric lines and strips of pie pastry, while Nugent’s are rococo and nature-themed. Both of them have contributed to this season’s crop of new pie cookbooks.
Whether you love an elaborate, traditional style pie or a modern, geometric one (or perhaps you are a sensible person who prefers to just eat the pie and not look at it quite so much), there’s a cookbook out for you this season. Here are five of my favorites.
The Baker: Erin Jeanne McDowell
Number of Recipes: 222
The Filling: McDowell is something of a pie whisperer, and her recipes, baking tips, and explanations have appeared in outlets such as Food52 and The New York Times. This book is less coffee table showpiece and more Joy of Cooking workhorse, packing several recipes to a page and favoring clear, straightforward information over glossy photos. There are more than 200 recipes in this tome, not including the “Pie-Deas” sprinkled throughout: variations that give you even more pie baking options. McDowell casually tosses out ingenious ideas like making doughnuts from pie scraps and turning mini pies into lollipops.
Perfect For: Pie bakers of all levels who are hungry for a back-to-basics primer
The Baker: Kate McDermott
Number of Recipes: 114
The Filling: This follow-up to the hugely popular Art Of The Pie is unapologetically exhaustive. It’s a book version of McDermott’s popular Pie Camp classes and features plenty of step-by-step photo instruction. In McDermott’s world, pies are Fruity, Creamy, or Kitchen Cupboard, and she’s organized the book accordingly. She also offers brightly delivered instructions, much like an actual camp counselor, and has included a section on when to tidy up in the piemaking process (which is actually pretty great).
Perfect For: The beginner, ready for a summer of pie crafting
The Baker: Petra Paredez
Number of Recipes: 81
The Filling: Pie was the family business when Paredez was growing up, so it made perfect sense for her to open her own pie shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2014. Her signature butter-laden, oh-so-flaky crust that pushes the butter-to-flour ratio to the limit rocketed her shop, Petee’s, to NYC fame, and now it’s the first recipe in the book. Peredez teaches you how to fill it with classic ingredients, such summer peaches, or more innovative fillings, like tahini (her Sesame Chess Pie is a cult classic). The book is divided into sections featuring Fruit, Chilled, Custard and Savory, each prefaced with useful tips in a friendly tone.
Perfect For: The practical yet indecisive baker
The Baker: Lauren Ko
Number of Recipes: 73
The Filling: Ko was an at-home stress baker when she made a peach pie with an abstract geometric top crust and posted a picture of it to a new Instagram account, she went to sleep. When she woke up, the photo had more than 500 likes: the Pie Heard Round the World. So the self-taught baker made more and more pies, honing her style, in the process becoming a pie “pun”dit, expert at both making pies and naming them with indulgently cheesy, yet clever, puns. Ko’s pie designs and flavors buck the classical pie canon, and her cookbook does the same, with those funny, punny names and a chatty tone. (See Ko’s recipe for Happy as a Gram below.)
Perfect For: Bakers and homemakers doing it for the ’gram and the gasps of delight
The Baker: Helen Nugent
Number of Recipes: 50
The Filling: Self-described “pie artist” Nugent’s pies are elaborate affairs, laden with dough flowers and leaves and gorgeous embossed designs . In Pie Style, however, Nugent manages to strike a sweet balance between the incredibly labor-intensive pies you bought the book to look at, and the easier, more doable pies you’ll probably end up baking. She (thankfully) devotes an entire chapter to techniques, and there are plenty of step-by-step photo tutorials. My favorite fun fact? Pie crust roses are actually super easy. Pie-stagram, here we come!
Perfect For: The Pinterest user with a board pinned full of pretty pies
From Pieometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and the Palate by Lauren Ko. Copyright © 2020 by Lauren Ko. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
I’ve never been very mathematically inclined, as my brain has always been more adept at arranging words than numbers. The amount of nights I’ve cried over frustrating problem sets I couldn’t solve over my lifetime is incalculable. That I’ve been able to contribute anything to the discipline of pieometry seems incongruent with my history, but as we know, life rarely moves in a straight line, and the thrill of this unforeseen angle has been acute.
Inspired by the tangram, a Chinese dissection puzzle made up of geometric shapes arranged in varying combinations to form other shapes, this design is one that has come to define the Lokokitchen aesthetic. While the concept is derived through coplanar placement of polygons and assorted angles, don’t get bogged down by the formula. Ultimately, the sum of its parts is simply a tart, and variables will translate, too.
- 1 baked Speculoos Cookie Crust (see below)
- 15 oz. (425 grams) cranberries, fresh or frozen
- 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- ¾ cup (149 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 3 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
- 6 Tbsp. (85 grams) butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Combine the cranberries and 2 tablespoons water in a 2-quart saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the cranberries burst and start to break down, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and press the cranberries through a fine-mesh sieve with a silicone spatula, extracting as much puree as possible. Discard the remaining pulp and return the puree to the saucepan
- Add the lemon juice, sugar, salt, eggs, and egg yolks to the cranberry puree and whisk to combine. Cook over medium heat, whisking continuously, until the mixture is thickened enough to coat a spatula, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the corners of the saucepan
- Remove from the heat and strain the curd through a fine-mesh sieve
- Keep the baked tart shell in the tart pan and place on a baking sheet. Pour the curd into the tart shell, smoothing the surface. Bake the tart for 5 minutes, just to set the filling
- Cool completely before decorating
- 1 firm mango
- 1 white-fleshed dragon fruit (pitaya)
- 2 or 3 firm kiwis
- Chef’s knife
- Peel and cut the fruit into ¼-inch slices. Arrange the fruit slices on a large plate organized by type
- Cut any type of triangle—equilateral, scalene, obtuse, acute, isosceles, right—from a piece of mango, slicing as close to the edge as possible to maximize the yield of each fruit slice. Pause here if you feel the need to Google image search some triangles. Otherwise, throw math to the wind and cut any sort of shape with three sides. Place it along a tart edge
- Cut another shape from a kiwi slice and place it next to the mango, leaving some space between the fruit, not unlike tile grout lines. Generally, polygons like triangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids work well for this design. I avoid shapes with more than four sides mainly to save time, but if manually sliced hexagons or even hendecagons (back to Google…) are your thing, by all means, go wild! This is your tart, your life
- Cut another shape, perhaps a rhombus, from a slice of dragon fruit, and fit it next to the kiwi. Continue cutting shapes, alternating among fruits, and puzzling the pieces together on the tart. Build out from your starting point and slowly fill the whole surface, gradually working your way to the other edge
- Keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This tart is best consumed within 2 days
Warm, spicy crust seeks peppy, tangy curd for meaningful conversation, foodie adventures, and romantic oven snuggles. Low-maintenance and easy to love.
- 32 (250 grams) packaged speculoos cookies
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick/85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 350°F
- Put the cookies in a food processor and blitz until the cookies are a uniformly sandy texture. Drizzle in the melted butter and pulse until the mixture comes together like wet sand
- Turn the mixture out into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Use your fingers to pack the mixture tightly into the pan, going all the way up the sides, then use your palm to flatten the bottom. Make sure the edges and the bottom are compact and of even thickness. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet to catch any butter drips that occur during baking and to provide stability as you transfer the tart shell in and out of the oven
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the crust is no longer shiny with butter. It will continue to crisp up as it cools
- Keep the tart shell in the pan, cool completely, and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to fill
Crust alternatives: Coconut Pecan Crust, Basic Tart Pastry Shell
Topping alternatives: Papaya, pineapple, persimmo
Note: For design alternatives, you can opt to use a single variety of fruit for a monochromatic aesthetic, and you can also arrange your tangrams to cover only a crescent-shaped area of the surface rather than the full slate