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Thus I'm not sure why it took me so long to investigate Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen's The Four & Twenty Blackbird Pie Book. The recipes within its pages hits all my flavor buttons. Most of the pies have fruit fillings, and many are enhanced with warming spices.
In case you don't know (I didn't) Emily and Melissa are sisters who (after other, separate, careers) moved from the great Midwest to Brooklyn, New York, and started baking pies professionally. They now own a pie and coffee shop called, duh, Four & Twenty Blackbirds.
So what makes the Elsens' pies so different? It all starts with the crust, and Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book contains recipes for about a dozen different varieties--not one containing solid vegetable shortening (one common brand being Crisco). Instead, the crusts call for butter or lard or both. There are cracker crusts, butter crusts, nut crusts, and chocolate crusts. Sounds intriguing, yes?
But, of course, the heart of any pie is the filling, and I can't tell you how much the flavor combinations in this book call to me, just the names give you some clues:
- Wild Ginger Strawberry Pie
- Farmer Cheese Thyme Pie
- Black Currant Lemon Chiffon Pie
- Salted Caramel Apple Pie
- Rosemary Honey Shoofly Pie
- Pear Anise Pie
- Maple Lime Custard Pie
- Cranberry Sage Pie
Delicious sounding is all well and good, but are the pies doable for the home baker? Why, yes they are. The recipes are arranged seasonally, and all the filling ingredients are readily available at any grocery or farmers market. For the handful of ingredients that might be hard to find in a small town, check out the resources section at the back of the book or read the tips on substitutions.
The instructions are well written and very clear. Each step is described in detail, and the Elsens provide additional hints and tips when needed. In addition, there are absolutely stunning photographs of the pies (check out the scans), so you can see where you're headed. Finally, I appreciate the storage information for each pie, so I know how far in advance I can bake dessert for a specific occasion.
Here's another thing that I love about this book: Not all the pies are baked in a traditional round pie pan. I'm intrigued by the concept of the slab pie, which is baked in a 16- by 11-in. baking sheet: This is, as the recipe introduction says, the perfect size and shape to feed a crowd. I think it'd be great on a buffet at a cookout. There are also recipes for mini tarts, individual pies, galettes, and other variations.
Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen's The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book is not your ordinary dessert cookbook. The unique spice combinations are geared to make the fruit flavors pop. This is the perfect cookbook for the baker who wants to push gently into new territory without turning her back on tradition. For a couple of recipes from the book, check out this article from Edible Brooklyn. Other recipes pop up on a simple Internet search, if you care to look.
Published by Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2013
Source: Review (see review policy)
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