There’s a great little bakery here, Hoosier Mama Pie Company, which opened several years ago. Besides having probably the best name ever and the cutest jewel box of a shop, they opened their doors for the first time on 3/14. Which is Pi Day. I cannot think of a more perfect day to open a pie company. So this year to honor Pi Day, I baked a pie that has been driving me mad for years. Much like pi drove me batty in high school trig.
The idea behind a Shaker Lemon Pie has always intrigued me – whole lemons, sliced thin, tossed with sugar and baked in a flaky pie crust. I love all things lemon and imagined that this would bake up tart, sweet and sort of marmalade-y. I’d long ago mastered the classic lemon tart, lemon meringue pie, countless lemon cakes, lemon bars, baked lemon puddings. All were good, very good, but I craved something more intense, something with more pucker. This recipe might be it, I thought. Everywhere I read, people raved. Though I knew the pith, or white part of the lemon, could be rather bitter, with all the accolades and cookbook liner note endorsements, I thought it wouldn’t be an issue.
I was wrong. My first attempt, well over 10 years ago, was so hideous it took me years to try again. Bitter, astringent and pucker-y in the most unpleasant way, it was just B, A, D, bad. But the recipe kept popping up, stalker-like and all but screaming “Make Me Again!” It was on the cover of Saveur. There was a lemon confit tart in The New York Times. A whole lemon tart recipe was making the rounds. The Shaker pie and its countless variations were suddenly everywhere. And they all said the same thing – thinly slice the lemons and macerate with the sugar for at least 24 hours to remove the bitterness. Bullshit. No matter what I did, my pie had a bitter, caustic flavor reminiscent of furniture polish. I soaked those lemons 24 hours, 168 hours and every combination in between. No difference. I tried conventional lemons, Meyer lemons and Indian lemons. All were a bust. What were all these people talking about? I started to think it was a big joke at my expense.
I was frustrated and walked away for a number of years. Then one night, a light bulb went off. Since the pith is what contributes bitterness, why not eliminate it entirely? It was a “Duh” moment. I don’t know why it took me so long to think of this but I’m sure it had a lot to do with my attachment to the visual of whole baked lemon slices. I let that image go and gave it one final shot. This time I zested some of the lemons first then cut off and discarded the white pith, much like when I supreme citrus. The lemon flesh is then sliced and tossed with the sugar and zest to macerate. No bitter pith = no bitterness, right?
Right! This was a winner. Don’t misunderstand … this pie is tart. Pucker-your-face-tart but in such a good, intense way. The lemon flesh cooks down with the sugar and eggs to a custard-like marmalade in the most delicious manner. It is great served on it’s own but can be kind of intense so it’s particularly good with something sweet to temper the sour like ice cream, whipped cream or a pool of crème anglaise.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: PUCKER UP. This one made me happy, so very happy. After all these years I’ve finally figured out what people were talking about. I still don’t understand how the whole lemon thing ends up being tasty so I’ll just stick with this one. This is an unusual pie and admittedly not for everyone, in fact, I would venture to say it’s a rather adult kind of pie. But serve it to the right crowd, especially the lemon lovers in your life, and they’ll be thrilled. If you can manage to do it by 3/14, all the better.
on this blog three years ago: Irish Soda Bread
on this blog two years ago: French Onion Soup
on this blog one year ago: Soda Bread Tarte Tatin
other delicious recipes to celebrate Pi Day: Sour Cherry Slab Pie, Salted Caramel Apple Pie, Concord Grape Pie, Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Pie, Chicken Pot Pie (it counts!), Ginger Peach Hand Pies, Visit Betty’s Pies!, Rhubarb Custard Pie, Tips on Weaving Lattice Crusts, Classic Apple Pie
SHAKER LEMON PIE, MY WAY – based on this Saveur recipe
Makes one double-crust 9” pie
Try to use the thinnest-skinned lemons you can find.
For the filling:
5 medium thin-skinned lemons
2 cups sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
4 large eggs
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
for the crust:
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen, cut into ½” pieces
2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening, frozen, cut into ½” pieces
5 Tablespoons ice water
egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon cream, milk or water
1 Tablespoon sugar
- For the filling: Thoroughly wash and dry the lemons.
- Finely grate the zest of 3 lemons into a medium bowl.
- Cut the ends off all 5 lemons, then stand one lemon upright on the cutting board.
- With a sharp knife, carefully remove the white pith following the curve of the lemon leaving as much of the flesh intact as possible.
- Slice in half lengthwise, then thinly slice, discarding any seeds as you go.
- Add the lemon slices to the bowl with the zest and toss with the sugar and salt.
- Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature to macerate for 24-48 hours.
- For the crust: In a food processor or large bowl, pulse or whisk together the flour and salt.
- Work the butter into the flour mixture until it’s the size of small peas – in the food processor, just a few pulses or in a large bowl, use your hands or a pastry blender to break the butter into smaller pieces. Don’t overwork.
- Sprinkle in the ice water, and pulse the food processor until it just comes together or by stirring and gently working together by hand.
- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and give it a few gentle turns to bring it all together.
- Divide the dough into two pieces, one just slightly larger than the other, pat each into a flat disc and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour, overnight or freeze up to 2 months.
- Preheat oven to 425°F and place a rack in the lowest position.
- For the filling: Add flour and cream to a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Add the eggs and whisk until smooth then whisk in the melted butter. Stir into lemon mixture. Set aside until needed.
- Line a sheet pan with a silpat mat or piece of parchment paper and set aside until needed.
- Make the egg wash and set aside.
- Roll out the pie crust: on a lightly floured surface, roll out the slightly larger piece of pastry first, into a 12” round. Make sure to keep the dough moving – if it sticks, gently flour the surface and the top and continue rolling.
- Roll the pastry up onto the rolling pin and unroll into the 9” pie tin, gently easing the pastry into the pan. If needed, trim the pastry to an even ¾” overhang.
- Place on the prepared sheet pan, brush the pastry edge with the egg wash and pour in the filling. (You may have a smidge too much filling – if so, pour any extra into a ramekin and bake for the last 30 minutes with the pie for a little snack.)
- Roll out the smaller piece of pastry in the same manner to a 10” circle.
- Roll the second piece of pastry up on the rolling pin and unroll on top of the filled pie shell, pressing gently to adhere the pastry edges.
- Trim the pastry, if needed, with a pair of scissors to even up then fold edges of dough under, pressing to make a firm seal.
- Using your fingers or a fork, decoratively crimp the edges. (see tips on how to do this here.)
- Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash and sprinkle evenly with sugar.
- Make a few slits in the top crust for steam vents.
- Bake: Bake until edges begin to brown, about 30 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 350° and bake until crust is golden brown, 30-35 minutes more. If the crust is browning too quickly, gently cover with foil for the remainder of baking time (if you have a little ramekin of extra filling, put it in the oven now.)
- Remove from oven and let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
- The pie is best the day it’s made but keep any leftovers at room temperature, tightly wrapped.