Dinner Pies: From Shepherd’s Pies and Pot Pies to Tarts, Turnovers, Quiches, Hand Pies, and More, with 100 Delectable and Foolproof Recipes

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Release Date: 
October 26, 2015
Harvard Common Press
Reviewed by: 

“In an uncertain, overstressed world, full flavor + comfort seems an ideal combination.”

Comfort food + crust: In Dinner Pies, pie master Ken Haedrich goes savory, offering up classic and creative ways to fill some dough. Haedrich doesn’t match his classic, 300-recipe Pie, but with 100 offerings for breakfast, lunch, appetizers, and dinner, this book provides plenty of choice, provided you have plenty of time.

First, a few frustrations: The book includes a host of recipes for individual pies, which make a nice presentation, but doesn’t offer suggestions on converting those into one large pie (which can speed up the preparation). And cooks who go to the trouble of making one pie may want to go ahead and make and freeze a second one simultaneously—but they won’t find much help there, either, for freezing cooked or uncooked pies.

A discussion of pie pans lacks any explanation or chart of how to substitute one pan for another—especially tart pans—while photos sometimes show a shape of a finished tart that doesn’t seem to match the recipe. And there’s only a middling index, which misses some obvious categories—such as a simple listing of all the tarts in the book.

And the big frustration: no measurements by weight as well as volume. By now, this should be standard in cookbooks—and for a pie book, knowing that novice bakers get overly unnerved at the thought of attempting pie dough, the lack of weights makes no sense. It doesn’t completely solve issues with a too-dry or wet dough, but weighing your ingredients certainly gets things off to a solid start.

All this matters because, while most of the recipes aren’t difficult, they take a good bit of time. Cooks can break up the time by prepping piecrusts in advance, but especially for all the pies that require a prebaked crust, there are few ways to speed things up. The pies make great weeknight suppers and lunch leftovers—but only with a good bit of planning ahead. And many of those individual pies look delicious but start to feel unrealistic for busy families.

With enough time, though, the recipes deliver what they promise, and more than a few offer surprising fillings and new ideas.

The recipes generally stick to wholesome ingredients, which do not skimp on fat content, leading to full flavors. Tarte Choucroute, with bacon, bratwurst, sauerkraut, eggs, half-and-half, sour cream and Gruyere gets top mention for flavor. Haedrich describes the pie as “excellent” in his headnote, and that doesn’t overstate things. This is a deeply flavorful, substantial pie for a November night and makes excellent leftovers. In testing for this review, the recipe got tested twice—not because the first test didn’t work, but because it did—very, very well.

English Sausage Rolls, one of the few recipes made with prepared dough (puff pastry), were nearly as successful, though, for as much seasoning as the recipe calls for, an even heavier hand wouldn’t hurt. The lemon zest was an especially nice addition to the usual sage, rosemary, and thyme (and, yes, parsley, if you’ve started singing).

Haedrich proves that nearly anything goes well in a crust. Polenta stands perfectly well on its own, for example, but his pie with spicy Italian sausage and polenta, plus spinach and a strong fontina or cheddar, provides another mouth-pleasing combination of textures and flavor. Haedrich includes generally useful tips for success with this and all recipes—noting things as simple as the preference to buy sausage packaged in bulk, to avoid having to remove casings.

This is a book readers will dog-ear for future nights, weekend meals, or company appetizers—such as Tuscan pork turnovers; roasted tomato tartlets; bacon and tomato tartlets; hot crab tarts based on a classic Southern Christmas-party dip; pizza bites; zucchini, tomato, and mascarpone “cake” baked in a springform; kale spanakopita—a promising use for a vegetable your family may be thoroughly weary of; a cheese-topped tart of creamy, bacon-spiked collards topped with a panko crunch; eggplant parmesan tart; rice and spinach tart (one of a few to include rice as a pie filling, another excellent idea); several skillet pies; and a chicken, rice, and cheese “strudel” folded up decoratively in flaky pie dough rather than delicious but fussy phyllo.

And what about that pie dough itself? Let’s start with these two basics: 1) too many cooks are too scared of pie dough; 2) for all the words Haedrich uses to guide the baker, these recipes still aren’t precise enough for all of today’s cooks who have no mother or grandmother to guide them. (And sorry, Internet, but you’re still no match for Mom.) Again, measurements by weight would go a long way here.  And given the time it takes to make most of these recipes, it would have been useful to note that bakers can, in fact, roll out a dough round right after mixing it, then chill it; unless a cook’s kitchen is so hot that the fat is melting, or the dough was really overworked, this is just fine and saves time and the frustration of rolling out a cold, hard disk. But Haedrich does his best to walk readers through the process, and his opening chapter of 13 dough recipes provide plenty of solid bases for the fillings that follow.

If you have the time, take it to make these recipes—flavorful, reliable, and deeply comforting. In an uncertain, overstressed world, full flavor + comfort seems an ideal combination.