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Erin Jeanne McDowell Transcript

Thanksgiving Pie Tips with Baker Erin Jeanne McDowell

Kerry Diamond: Hey everyone, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the podcast that's all about women and food. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond, coming to you from Brooklyn, New York. Today's guest is Erin Jeanne McDowell, author of the brand new cookbook The Book on Pie: Everything you Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies.

We thought this would be a great week to talk to Erin about all things pie, from crust, to fillings, to toppings, and to hear a little bit about her life. Erin's book, by the way, is a fantastic resource that's as approachable as it is authoritative, and it made the New York Times Bestseller list last week, so congratulations to Erin. That is a big accomplishment. If you are thinking of making a pie or two this holiday season, stay tuned for lots of tips and tricks.

What else? For those of you who are very organized and looking for holiday gifts already, how about a membership to Cherry Bombe? It's $40 for an annual membership and you get access to our membership meetings and special events and classes like the pie class we did with Erin McDowell this past weekend. We learned how to crimp our dough, par-bake our crust, and slice and serve our finished pies like a pro. Visit and click members to learn more.

Thank you to our friends at Kerrygold for supporting this episode of Radio Cherry Bombe. If you are listening to this show, I think it's safe to assume you are going to do some holiday baking, so be sure to pick up some Kerrygold butter and cheese wherever you get your groceries. Let's hear a word from Kerrygold right now.

Kerrygold Announcer: Kerrygold is delicious all natural butter and cheese. Made with milk from Irish grass fed cows. Our farming families pass their craft and knowledge from generation to generation.

Kerrygold Farmer: I'm fifth generation. It goes back over 250 years.

Kerrygold Announcer: This traditional approach is the reason for the rich taste of Kerrygold. Enjoy delicious new sliced or shredded Kerrygold cheddar cheese, available in mild or savory flavors at a retailer near you. Find your nearest store at

Kerry Diamond: Okay, it's pie time. Here's my conversation with Erin Jeanne McDowell, author of The Book on Pie.

Erin McDowell, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Thank you so much for having me! I'm so excited to be here.

Kerry Diamond: It is very exciting to have you on the show because like I said, this is basically Superbowl week for you, and you are basically like the Tom Brady of pie right now.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Well, thank you so much. I don't know enough about sports to make any comparisons to those sorts of things, unless we're talking about basketball. I know a little basketball. But that said, I will take it. This is a busy time of year and I'm so happy to be helping deliver the good word pie.

Kerry Diamond: It's so funny, as soon as those words came out of my mouth, I was like, "Why am I making a sports analogy on Radio Cherry Bombe? I'm the least sporty person on the planet." Let's start at the beginning. Where did you grow up, Erin?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I grew up in and around Lawrence, Kansas, which is a little college town in the northeastern part of Kansas. It's a little college town. The University of Kansas is there.

Kerry Diamond: What is the first thing you baked that you remember?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: The first thing I remember baking with some frequency was chocolate chip cookies. My mom would kind of let me make those. Obviously she would handle the baking part. But I would pretty much get to make the dough by myself without a lot of help from a pretty young age. Get on my little stool or stand at the kitchen counter. I made those with the recipe on the back of the bag, many many many times.

Kerry Diamond: So you were a Toll House girl? Toll House was the gateway for a lot of us.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yep, it sure was. And it was also ... anytime my mom would let me help in the kitchen, I would. I loved helping her and I would help her quite a lot. But those were the first things I remember being like, I was the baker.

Kerry Diamond: When did you realize you had a flair for it?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I'm trying to think of exactly how old I was. But when I was a teenager, I was trying to figure out where I was going to go to college. My dad was asking me that every year. In the summer he'd be like, "All right, what are you thinking, what are you thinking?" I had kind of settled that I might want to go to art school. I wanted to be an artist, but I didn't know if I was one. I started taking a lot of art classes. My two older brothers are artists. I have three older brothers, two of them are artists. One is a painter and one's a photographer.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I thought I maybe would take some classes. I just really didn't have that natural skill that they had. I was still learning and I was trying. But it definitely seemed like a bit of a leap. One day I came home from a ceramics class and my mom was decorating a cake, and she was using a tool that I had used on the pottery wheel. I thought, "I wonder if I could be a pastry chef." If I was a pastry chef, there would be lots of practical ways to use my art form in a slightly different way than just being an artist. That really excited me and so I hit the ground running and I started applying for jobs at bakeries and I got my first job in a bakery when I was 16 years old.

Kerry Diamond: I love that. So seeing that tool that your mom was using made everything click in your brain.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yep. It was like a light bulb moment if there ever was one. It still took a few years for me to really realize it. Because I would tell people for many years still, "I wish I could be an artist like my brother." What I realized eventually is that food was just a medium that I didn't expect.

Kerry Diamond: You were part of our Pie All-Star panel the other day, which was so much fun.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: So fun.

Kerry Diamond: Oh my gosh, it was so much fun. I could not believe how enthusiastic everybody was about this. Jessie Sheehan, the vintage baker was our host. We had you, Lisa Ludwinski from Sister Pie, Lauren Ko who has that fantastic book Pieometry, and Amanda Mack who has the Crust by Mack Bakery in Baltimore. People went nuts with the questions.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: It was the best. I was just saying, I could've been there for four or five hours. I would've kept answering questions. It was so much fun.

Kerry Diamond: I mean, we've done so many Zooms and events. We've done events in person, you were at one of our ... You've been at Jubilee's in the past. I don't think I've ever seen an audience as enthusiastic and with as many questions as the All-Star Pie Panel. I think we should just jump right into the pie conversation. Because this is peak pie moment and you were very prescient with your book, The Book on Pie. Why did you decide to do a pie book?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: My first book that I wrote, The Fearless Baker, I had also pitched a pie book when I was pitching that. I was not sure which direction the publisher that wanted to work with me might be interested in going. I already felt like I was a little known for pie and that was of course four or five years ago and I felt like that was something that I was getting a lot of people asking me pie questions. So I pitched it. They suggested actually a more general baking book, especially for a debut cookbook. Single subject cookbooks are sort of difficult.

That made me realize, I have a lot of pie cookbooks that I love. I was really not sure that I wanted to write one unless I had something new to add to the conversation. I was sort of glad that they made that decision for me almost. Then several years later, it came time to maybe pitch a second book. This is the subject that's so close to my heart. The publisher called two or three days after I had a large piece in The New York Times that we called The New York Times Pies that was a pan, a big spread where the pies were actually printed life size on the page.

They called right after that. They loved the way that that feature looked and I think that it was excited to picture an entire book of that. At that time I had realized I actually did have something new to add to the conversation. I wanted to bring this mix and match component to it. Because that's really what I love about pies. One of the things that made me fall in love with them is their versatility. I thought if I can set up the book so that you've got crusts and you've got fillings and you've got toppings, and we've got full pie recipes. There's a 140 full pie recipes in the book. But you can also take the cranberry filling from this one and top it with the custard filling from this one in a deep dish pie plate, and add a crumble topping and add merengue. Whatever you want to do. It's pie-ssible.

Kerry Diamond: That's so funny. God, I don't even know where to start. There were so many questions the other day from pie enthusiasts. You mentioned that there are some cookbooks that you love. Who were your pie gurus on your pie journey?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Well I first learned to make pie with My Grandma Jeanne. I would be remiss if I didn't say that that was my first pie guru. If she was still here, she would laugh heartily at me calling her a guru, because she was just a hobby baker, just for fun. Didn't necessarily bake a ton of pies. But it just became something we really enjoyed doing together and it became part of our Thanksgiving tradition that we would bake all the pies for our family's Thanksgiving dinner.

I come from a large family, so that was usually five or six pies. We would have a lot of fun the day before Thanksgiving baking those together. Definitely Grandma, but Grandma followed recipes and so I wasn't necessarily taking her lead. I was just getting that practical muscle memory experience with her. One of my baking mentors still to this day is Rose Levy Beranbaum. I'm lucky enough to work with her a lot. I love her book The Pie and Pastry Bible. She of course has a very scientific approach that I love.

I had another book that I fell in love with, my first job out of pastry school I worked at The Culinary Institute of America in their publishing department where I worked on cookbooks. My office was in the basement of their library. So every now and then they would be getting rid of books that they couldn't fit in the library anymore and they would wheel by my office and I would get to pick all the ones that I wanted. A lot of them were really older cookbooks, vintage cookbooks. I have this one that doesn't even have ... it maybe has three pictures in it. It's definitely a different book from a different time so to speak. But it's called Great Pies and Tarts. It's a huge book. It's like this big. I learned so much from that book only because there were no pictures because it was just chock full of information.

I really wanted my book to be somewhere in between that. Chock full of information, but with lots of pictures that would lead you along the way and inspire you to make new combinations and also just that exciting thing of opening a cookbook and seeing those big glossy pictures. I know for me that's one of my favorite parts of a great cookbook.

Kerry Diamond: The cookbook is beautiful. The pictures in there are so good. I don't know what it is about your book, but it's one of the first books that I've looked at where I thought, "I can do this." I don't know if that was the goal, but some pie books are just too intimidating.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I'm smiling from ear to ear, because that's 100% the goal. I want there to be ambitious things in there that maybe if you are wanting to tackle a project, you can tackle. But I also want more people to love pie the way I feel like they love cake. The way that they love cookies. The way that they love these other things. It's a lot of fun. It's a great skill to have in your baking repertoire. There's just something about pies. I think that excitement you were talking about on the panel the other day. I think part of that is this ... Maybe it's me, but there's just this nostalgia around pies. Obviously I have these very specific memories. When I carry a pie into a room, whether they're children, whether they're adults, everybody's eyes go, "Oh!" Really life starry eyed emoji. You just can't beat that. That's the power of the pie.

Kerry Diamond: I wonder if it's because ... I'm not going to say everybody can bake a cake, but cakes are easier than pie. I'm just going to put that out there. Would you agree?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I think yes, only because I think cakes are more understood than pie. I think that people need to understand more of what's going on the way that they ... There are things that are more inherent even with bakers who are only baking a little bit. They understand,don't over mix, don't over bake. Some of those things. But with pie, a lot of the stuff that is don't do this, don't do that, it's not stuff you can see as well. Don't make the dough tough. It's like, "When did that happen? I just mixed it." I think that that's part of it. There's an air of mystery.

Kerry Diamond: I think also cake is more forgiving, and you can cover a multitude of sins with some really good buttercream.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: That's true. Though with pie, you can cover a multitude of sins with ice cream or whipped cream.

Kerry Diamond: I was just going to say that about a la mode. I am an a la mode girl. I know we had that question. Whipped cream versus ice cream. Are you both?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I really do love whipped cream. Actually, I love a drizzle of cold heavy cream plain. I just love that on a fruit pie. Then I think I mentioned in the pie panel, I have this recipe, I'm using air quotes because it's called whipped cream sauce. It's just underwhipped cream. But then it coats the slice like crème anglaise. Like melted ice cream. It's so delicious.

Kerry Diamond: So you just start the process for whipped cream but then you just don't follow through.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yeah, you just stop when your arm first gets tired is about right, and you're right there.

Kerry Diamond: Did that come about as a mistake, or was that intentional?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: It came about indirectly inspired by my mom who ... just one of those Mama McDowell tidbits. She eats everything with a spoon. She believes all foods should be served in a bowl with a spoon because she wants to get all the sauce and be able to get everything.

Kerry Diamond: Oh! I love that! She is so right! I'm just thinking, when you have a piece of pie on a plate and then you put the ice cream, it's a pain in the neck. I mean, not compared to real problems, but just pushing that pie all over the plate trying to get the ice cream or the sauce.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Absolutely. So she just thinks that everything should be with a spoon, and that made me think that I wanted to create a way that you could have whipped cream with absolutely every bite without having to work for it. Without having to dip your bite in whipped cream. I literally, when I make pumpkin pie now, I spoon this whipped cream sauce over the whole thing and I only leave the crust naked. Then you eat it with a spoon and each bite is fully enveloped in whipped cream.

Kerry Diamond: I love it. Well, Mama McDowell, I am with you. Bowls, spoons, just make life a little easier. Erin, let's talk about three different pies. I did not prep you in advance for this question. But you are baking a ton of pies between now and Thanksgiving. Tell us three pies you're making and then we'll walk through the specifics of each of them.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: One of the ones that I'm actually going to be making tomorrow in our pie master class, that I'm making a lot right now is my black bottom pecan pie. This is a really great ... You parbake the pie crust. It has a chocolate black bottom base, which is doubly great because it kind of helps seal the crust in a little bit so that custard doesn't absorb into the crust. Keeping that bottom crisper. Then it's a fairly classic pecan pie filling though it doesn't have one of the common ingredients you often see, corn syrup. It actually has maple syrup, which I just love the maple pecan flavor, especially with the chocolate. It's a little bit extra and yet exactly right at the same time.

Kerry Diamond: When I saw that recipe in your book. I was like, "Oh that's interesting." Because I thought that's definitely a bit of a controversial ingredient right now, albeit traditional. I read the ingredient list and I was like, "Oh wow, there's no corn syrup in this one."

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I actually think corn syrup is misunderstood. Of course, the corn syrup we're buying in the grocery store is not high fructose corn syrup, which of course we have a lot of strong feelings about and negative connotations. My main pro for corn syrup is that as a professionally trained pastry chef, you use things ... you use glucose typically, another syrup that helps to stabilize certain things. It's great in ice cream, it helps make candy making easier so that the candy doesn't seize or crystallize on you. It's good for a variety of jobs. I will just say, while you won't find corn syrup in my pecan pie recipe, because I want the flavor, corn syrup doesn't have any flavor and I wanted the flavor of the maple. But I do think that corn syrup gets a little bit of a bad rap just because people don't understand the science of why it might be included in the recipe.

Kerry Diamond: Amen. Let's start at the beginning for the black bottom pecan pie. Everybody has their own way of making their pie crust. Water, vinegar, chilling the flour, vodka, you name it. Can you walk us through how you do your pie crust for this.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yes. I keep my pie dough pretty simple, because I like to be able to use the same dough ratio for sweet and savory. I don't add any sugar to my pie dough. My pie dough is just all purpose flour, a little bit of salt, cold unsalted butter, and ice water. That's all that it is. I am an all butter baby. I learned to make pie with half butter and half shortening with my grandma. Shortening has a higher melting point than butter so it is a little bit easier to work with and tends to yield better results if you're a person who struggles with pie making a lot.

But if you can get the technique down, you just can't beat the flavor of butter and you can get that beautiful texture. I actually remember once for the Jubilee I made these really yummy cheese pies with bacon jam on them-

Kerry Diamond: I remember them very well.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Oh my gosh they were so good and that flakiness and ... that pie was delicious, but it was partially so delicious because we were using really good butter and that amplified the other flavors that we were using. I just love using butter for that reason. I mix my dough by hand because I think that it gives you the best feel of getting it right and getting yourself that muscle memory that will eventually allow you to make pies with your eyes closed.

But, I also will say that I'm a big believer that there's not just one right way to do things. I also provide in the book instructions on how to make pie dough with other fats, lard, cream cheese, shortening. There's a vegan pie dough that's dairy free that uses a shortening fully. There's a gluten free pie dough that uses gluten free flour blends that I whisk up. Anyway, the point being that while I do believe that you can use your hands, I also think you can use the food processor, and I provide instructions for that. I also think you can use a pastry blender. There's really no wrong way to pie. But there are a lot of right ways. I think with so many things in the kitchen, it is about finding what's comfortable for you.

Sometimes it's a rolling pin. I like to use a french pin without handles. But then on our pie panel the other day, we were split 50/50. Half of people were using the ones ... That just goes to show that what feels good to you, all of these people make pies and they all do something a little bit different. It just shows that it's possible in a lot of different ways.

Kerry Diamond: It's really like a fingerprint.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yeah.

Kerry Diamond: Everyone has their own way of doing this. That's your crust. I only learned about the chilling of the flour the other day. Is that something that you do?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I definitely recommend that in the summer months. If it's really hot and the air conditioning isn't on or the air conditioner is not even available. I actually get a lot of questions from people who live in tropical climates, places like the Philippines or Hawaii where they're saying it is just hot here all the time. How do I make an all butter pie dough? Chilling the flour first is one way that you can kind of keep things cooler longer. You can chill the bowl, you can chill the flour. Anything along the way. When in doubt, chill it out. That's the number one rule with pie dough.

Kerry Diamond: You said you par-bake the crust for this pie.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yes, I like to par-bake pretty much any single crust pie. The single crust pies, the filling, the thickness of it, the crust is never going to bake in the amount of time it will take for the filling to set. Even with a lot of aid and guidance. You can use things to help it, if you insist on going into the oven with a raw pie dough. You can bake in cast iron or forged iron pie plates, or even a cast iron skillet. That helps drive a lot of heat to the bottom of the pie plate. I like to bake my pies on a baking steel. Or you can use a pizza stone. That also helps to drive a lot of heat down there.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Really what you're doing with par-baking is just trying to give the crust a head start so that it's finished at the same time that the filling is. It's worth it because it's not even just getting the bottom done. It's also if you've ever had a pie where the bottom is still golden, but you can see that it's doughy. I feel like a lot of pumpkin pies are like that. A lot of grocery store pumpkin pies are that way.

Kerry Diamond: I know exactly what you're talking about.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yeah. It's also getting it cooked all the way through, not just the base.

Kerry Diamond: Now you also have a lot of thoughts on pie weights.

Erin Jeanne McD...:           I do. I have so many thoughts on them.

Kerry Diamond: I don't think we've ever talked about pie weights on Radio Cherry Bombe. But let's talk about it. You are very particular about pie weights. Tell us your thoughts on the subject.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Well, pie weights are really important because if you're going to be par or blind baking, I already talked about par-baking which is of course partially baking a crust, but blind baking is when you fully bake it if you're going to be adding a cold set filling, something like chocolate cream or lemon curd or something like that. For both of these you need pie weights and you need a sufficient quantity of pie weights to reach all the way up to the top edge of the pie plate. That's really where most people drop the ball.

They put just in the base of the pie pan. Then you're weighing down the bottom, but you're not supporting the sides. Think about the sides of a pie pan. They're tapered typically. They're slick. You have a dough that's made of largely fat, so as soon as it hits a hot oven, if it doesn't have something to support it, what's it going to do? It's going to slump down. Everyone's always saying, "My crust shrank. My crust shrank." Well sometimes it didn't shrink, sometimes it just didn't have the support it needed to become the best pie that it can be.

You've got to fill it all the way up to the top. I like ceramic pie weights. Because again, the distribute heat a little bit too, so it's just kind of an added bonus. And they're reusable. So you buy a set and you'll have them for a while. Unfortunately, I don't know why this is the case, but I want to make sure since you've never talked about pie weights on Radio Cherry Bombe. I've never seen a set of pie weights except for one that I commissioned for my friend Marion Bull who's a ceramicist. I've never seen a set of pie weights that actually is sufficient enough to fill a pie plate all the way. Typically the sets that you see in kitchen supply stores, you need to buy three or four sets to be able to fill it all the way up.

But if you don't want to buy those ceramic weights, you of course can use rice, beans. I really like Stella Parks' technique of filling it all the way to the top with sugar and then the sugar in the oven gets this golden color. She calls it toasted sugar. Then you can use that, so that's a zero waste sort of way. If I use that technique all the time, I would have so much toasted sugar in my house that I wouldn't ... Even reusing the sugar over and over as a pie weight, it would be ...

Kerry Diamond: You'd have a toasted sugar factory.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I would. But the point is there are lots of things you can use as pie weights successfully.

Kerry Diamond: That is so interesting though, that they never sell sufficient amount of pie weights. Because when I'm thinking ... I haven't baked a lot of pies, but the few times I have, the pie weights have just basically covered the bottom. They haven't supported the sides like you said. We all need to start being more supportive of our pie sides.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: We need to support every one and everything. Including our pie sides. I think if all conditions are perfect, you can probably still bake a pie without the weights all the way up to the top. But rarely in any situation is everything perfect. Is your oven absolutely up to temp, is your fridge perfectly cold, are your hands whatever. It's just something you can do and for me that's one of those light bulb moments where a lot of people say, "Oh, I was only putting them in the base." That's what was going wrong all this time.

Kerry Diamond: Yes, and when are the conditions ever perfect, Erin? In life and in pie.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: In 2020 especially.

Kerry Diamond: What do you put in between the pie crust and the pie weights?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I do parchment paper. I know that just because I'm recommending this technique and I always like to talk all things Stella. But I know Stella recommends for the sugar technique using foil. I think that's a pretty important requirement. She specifies it pretty clearly. I like for the others, I like parchment paper best. A lot of people ask how you lift it out when it's hot. You just need to make sure you have enough excess parchment that you can kind of grab all four sides. What I usually do is I put a heat safe bowl, like a stainless steel bowl right next to the oven so that when I pull the crust out, I don't have to go very far. I just lift it right out, drop it into the bowl for those weights to cool down.

Kerry Diamond: Please tell me you have never had a moment where you had hot ceramic balls bouncing around your kitchen?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I've definitely had one or two of them bouncing around at my feet. As my husband finds them sometimes. They're all over the house. Just today I was making a piece of toast in our toaster oven, and I opened it up and there was one pie weight inside the toaster oven. I've never baked a pie in there. I don't understand how that happened.

Kerry Diamond: That is very funny. You have a cute little dog too, don't you? So you don't want those hot little things bouncing all over the place.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Luckily he's very well trained and he's not an eater off the floor-er. Unless he's told to.

Kerry Diamond: We love Cherry Bombe pets. What's your dog's name?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: His name is Brimley and he is just my little pie pup. He was actually born the week of Thanksgiving. It's his birthday week.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, happy birthday, Brimley. That's so sweet. Oh. We've parbaked the crust and then there is the layer of chocolate. Walk us through that.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: It's just a ganache. It's just chopping up some chocolate-

Kerry Diamond: It's just a ganache.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Well, I mean, it's two ingredients. How great for ...

Kerry Diamond: I just loved how that sounded. Just a ganache.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: It's just a ganache, Kerry. Yeah. I have in the book actually to make this with any kind of chocolate. I have ratios for a dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or even caramelized white chocolate so that you can have all your bases covered and customize your pies. Again, it's just heating up some cream, pouring it over some chocolate, stirring it to combine. Then you want to make sure that you pour that into the cooled parbaked pie crust. You wouldn't want to add it while the crust is still hot.

Kerry Diamond: I love that. Because it's such a little surprise in the pie. You think you're getting this pecan pie or whatever pie it is. Some people do it with lemon pie. There'll be the layer of chocolate at the bottom. It's so much fun. Then walk us through the filling.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: The filling is a pretty classic pecan pie filling and it's actually ... I think custard pies are some of the most forgiving pies. They don't often get that reputation because the baking needs to be a little bit more precise. But to mix the filling, it's just dump everything in a bowl and whisk it together which is just amazing. Most fruit pies there's a lot of steps. Cream pies, there's stove top stuff and whipped cream and all these things. Custard pies in that sense, when we would make a lot of pies for Thanksgiving in particular, I would always make sure that there was more than one custard pie. Because that way that would give me the time to focus on the other fruit pies. The ones that needed a little more babysitting.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: You just whisk the eggs and the maple syrup. I put a little bit of cinnamon in mine. Just a little. It's just something that I've always done since baking with Grandma. I also put a splash of heavy cream in my custard. A lot of recipes have a lot of melted butter. Sometimes I opt for a little bit of cream in place of that melted butter, just because I think the dairy flavor fills it out a little bit in a different way, and it gives it a really lovely texture. I put the pecans into the pie shell first and pour the custard over it. That gives you the most even distribution of the pecans and the custard both in my opinion, rather than folding the pecans into the custard and dumping the whole thing in.

Kerry Diamond: Do you have to toast the pecans first? Anything like that?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: You sure can. I sometimes leave those decisions up to people. Because pies do bake at a high temperature, and they're in there for quite a while. So the top layer tends to get that toasty flavor. But also, who's ever mad at a toasted pecan? Not I. You can kind of choose. Especially when you want that toastier flavor, and then even call it toasted pecan pie. Because it might get really extra toasty on the top and it would be delicious.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, it sounds so good. Okay, so the big day comes. You make this pie. Any troubleshooting? Any ways that you can mess up this pie or go wrong that you can advise people on how to avoid those things?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Well, I think there's a couple of things people sometimes do. One of the mistakes we already talked about, which is they don't par-bake the crust. Then they end up with a soggy bottom. But we got that covered. One of the things that I think people do is they're trying to get ahead in the kitchen, especially if it's a holiday and they're making more than one dish. They might think, "Well, I'll just get the custard ready while I wait for that pie shell to cool." But sugar is hygroscopic and it can pull moisture out of ingredients. Specifically with eggs, it'll pull the water content out of the eggs and it'll leave the protein behind, leaving this clumpy mess. It's fine to whisk eggs and sugar together five minutes, even 10 minutes before you're going to use it if you need to. But you would never want to whisk something like that together and think, "Okay, I'm prepped for my pie." and leave that for several hours while you go do other things.

I've seen that mistake actually happen a lot. People saying, I don't understand why my custard is clumpy. There's no cornstarch in it. How did that happen? Then the other thing I think with a pecan pie is just proper baking and what you're looking for is you're looking for it to be set around the outside two inches with a little bit of movement in the center. The reason for that, is just like a steak, pies like to carry over cook. We want to make sure we give them a little bit of room so that if they're already done perfectly when we take them out of the oven, they're going to retain so much heat. That's when you get that crack in the top. If you do get that crack in the top, you just cover it with whipped cream and no one will know.

Kerry Diamond: Amen. How far in advance can you make this pie? Let's say you're making it for Thanksgiving?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: The crust can be par-baked two days ahead. Because it's going to be refreshed in the oven when you bake it again. You can make the dough up to three days ahead or even three months if you want to freeze it. You can make the crust up to two days ahead and you can bake the full pie the day before you want to serve it.

Kerry Diamond: Good advice. What would you top this pie with? I know it's like, "Anything anybody wants, they can top it with." But what is the perfect topping in your opinion?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: One of my favorites with this, I have a lot of different whipped creams in the book. I know I mentioned already how much I love whipped cream on pie. There's more than just a classic whipped cream. There's different flavors of whipped cream. There's chocolate and honey and all different kinds that are really yummy. You could pick a different flavored whipped cream or, I really like my extra thick and creamy whipped cream. It's a naturally stabilized whipped cream, which is sexy I think. Because people ask me all the time, "How can I make that and not have to do whipped cream at the last minute." I created this actually within my first book for my strawberry not so shortcake, which is three huge biscuit layers piled with whipped cream and strawberries. I like to take that to big summer parties or potlucks or picnics. But then you're out in the heat. Of course, whipped cream outside it just falls apart.

What I do is I start with cream cheese and sugar and I beat those together with the whip. Kind of aerate it a little bit. Then you just add the heavy cream to that. The cultures of the cream cheese are what stabilize the whipped cream mixture and it also makes it extra thick and really creamy and a little bit tangy because of the flavor of the cream cheese. I was going to say, you can also make it, it also works with a mascarpone base and I love that with this pecan pie. This mascarpone whipped cream. So so good.

Kerry Diamond: You have a pie in there that I flagged. It's your carrot cake pie, because I have never seen a carrot cake pie, but I am obsessed with carrot cake. Is that the whipped cream that's on top of the carrot cake pie?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yes, yes it is. I thought to give a little bit of an homage to cream cheese icing, which I love on a carrot cake. I would have the cream cheese whipped cream on top of the carrot cake, custard pie. Which is actually, I think, it's one of my favorite pies in the book. I have a really hard time saying what my favorite pies in the book are. Because I love all my pie babies so much. I really love that one. Its pie cousin, which is the German chocolate cake pie.

Kerry Diamond: Let's talk about one more pie, Erin. Pick another pie that would be perfect for Thanksgiving.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I think one of the ones of course, we could talk about apple, we could talk about pumpkin. But I also want to remind people that there are so many other flavors this time of year. I just feel like especially the Cherry Bombe listeners are the kind of people that are like, "Yeah, I already got my apple covered. I already have my pumpkin. Tell me something new." One of the ones that I'm loving for Thanksgiving this year is my cranberry orange pie, which has a couple of really cool things about it. First of all, cranberries because of their high level of pectin, they really don't require a thickener. So it's a really lovely, easy way to make a filling that's always the same consistency. It's always juicy and always just right.

My husband's from Wisconsin originally and they're a very large grower of cranberries. So he loves cranberries. I think he sometimes wonders why apples get all the hype in fall time. Then I love, it has a cream cheese, I've now mentioned cream cheese like five times. Can you tell I'm from the Midwest? It has a cream cheese orange layer in the bottom. It has a lot of orange zest, vanilla, all these flavors. It's a thinner layer. It's maybe a quarter of this cream cheese, orange, and then three quarters this tart cranberry.

It's really just so delicious and it would make an amazing single crust pie. It would make an amazing crumble pie with streusel on top. Of course, I've got two different kinds of streusel in the book for your streuseling needs. You could put merengue on top and make it a tart, cranberry merengue pie and that would be really lovely and showstopping. I really like that pie as something that still feels very Thanksgiving-y but also is maybe something you haven't had exactly at your table before.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us about the crust for that pie. Is it the same?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Well, so, there's over 40 crust recipes in the book.

Kerry Diamond: Amazing.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: There are all different kinds of alternative flours. I really actually like this one, it's good with the spelt pie crust. It's really good with the cornmeal pie crust. The cornmeal pie crust is also really fun for Thanksgiving because in addition to having that little bit of texture from the cornmeal, it holds decorations really well. So if you want to do something fancy like cut out leaf around the outside or braid around the outside edge, some of those things that are really popular around special occasions. That is a really great pie crust. It's very friendly for all of those kinds of décor. I like the texture as well. I also really really like this one with a chocolate pie crust. Which I don't know if cranberry and chocolate are always put together?

Kerry Diamond: But orange and chocolate, it's a beautiful combination.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yeah! It also makes for a very striking slice. Because you have this dark pie crust with this bright white base and then this ruby red filling. Just really really beautiful.

Kerry Diamond: Tell us how to do that crust and how you incorporate the chocolate?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: The chocolate is just cocoa powder that goes in and it replaces a small portion of the flour, but not all of it because of course cocoa powder also has fat. So that's something you have to remember when you're adding it is you don't want to add too much. It won't necessarily throw off the ratio of your pie dough, but it's going to make it stickier and harder to work with. The two hardest things about making chocolate pie dough are not over hydrating it, because if it gets even a little bit sticky, it will be a disaster. Because like I said, it already has a little bit more fat in it.

The other thing that's really hard about it that honestly did not occur to me until I was testing it over and over again is how hard it is to tell when it's done. Because of course it doesn't brown really, it stays about the same color that it was when it went in. There is a bit of a color change. It's more about the texture though. It's about looking almost for it to not be glossy anymore. For it to look matte. It should have a little bit of visible flakiness almost? The surface should be sort of rough and that's how you can tell that it's done.

This is another one, because it's a single crust pie. I'm just going to hammer it home. I par-bake it. I par-bake this baby. I par-bake it and cool it and then that cream cheese layer is really just as simple as mixing those ingredients together. The cream cheese, orange zest, some sugar of course. I like to add Vanilla extract but I also recommend an extract that I wonder if some Cherry Bombe listeners might not have heard of, and it makes a really nice holiday stocking stuffer or something for people because it's just become one of my favorites. It's called, forgive my terrible pronunciation I'm sure, but it's called Fiori de Sicilia. It's a blend of lemon, orange, and vanilla. I usually get mine from King Arthur Baking Company. It's of Italian origin. I don't know in what capacity it's used in traditional Italian deserts. Maybe a listener will know and can fill us in. But I have really loved adding it to all kinds of things. But it is especially lovely in custard pies and fruit pie fillings.

Kerry Diamond: It sounds like something I'd want to wear as a fragrance.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Right? It's my new official scent.

Kerry Diamond: Okay, so we've got this wonderful black bottom pecan pie. We've got this cranberry pie. It's Thanksgiving. You have to serve the pie. I always screw up the slicing of the pie. Do you have any advice for slicing?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I do. I have these tips also inside my book. Because it is actually the question I get asked even more than how do I make my pie dough better. Because even if you're not making your own pie, even if you do just buy one from a bakery or your friend brings it over, you can still have this problem. Sometimes those other problems that happen, happen because of issues with your pie itself. Sometimes if a little bit of the fat has melted out in the oven, your crust could be extra shatter-y and it could be really prone to coming apart. If the pie isn't properly baked, the crust may separate from the filling and just flop over when you slice it.

Kerry Diamond: Yes, I have seen that.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Some of those things are fixed by the other troubleshooting. But when it comes to slicing, the first thing I want everybody to know is that a properly baked pie, assuming that you got a good pie plate, and all things are proper. A properly baked pie should pop right out of the pie plate. It's my pie party trick. I love to do it and make people go, "What was that?" You pull it out. The nice thing about that is then it's actually a lot easier to slice it. Because you can really put it on a cutting board and take even a serrated knife to it if you needed to.

I do sometimes say that the best way to cut a pie is to take a sacrificial slice. You want to take a really tiny slice from wherever. Maybe the ugly edge of the crust if you've got one of those. You take just a little bit, like an inch wide. The nice thing about this is there's always somebody who says, "I only want a little piece." So you can also give them that piece, or you can eat it as your chef snack because you earned it. You made a pie. But you pull out that little sacrificial slice. If it shatters, if it crumbles, it doesn't really matter. Then once you have that literal wiggle room-

Kerry Diamond: So much easier to cut the rest of the pie.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: So much easier. So much easier.

Kerry Diamond: Wow. Well, if you don't know what to do with the sacrificial slice, you can make a little altar to the pie gods and you can put it on there and then get on with your business, right?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Indeed.

Kerry Diamond: We interviewed Erica and Jocelyn of The Butcher Girls about everything turkey. Because everyone's always bedeviled by the best way to do their turkey at Thanksgiving time. We talked about carving at the table. We had interviewed Ina Garten a few weeks ago, and Ina is definitely not into carving at the table. She thinks that's a bad idea. The Butcher Girls think it's a bad idea. But I think it was Erica who said, "Take your turkey, especially if it's beautiful and trust, and wonderful luscious color, and do a victory lap." Do you do a pie victory lap?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Oh my gosh, yes. If only to fill the house with the wafting aromas of a freshly baked pie. I actually can attest. I have done multiple pie victory laps, though I maybe haven't done one in a while because it's been a while since I've baked a pie where I was just, "Oh my gosh, this is even better than ..." I've baked so many right now that they're all looking pretty great to me. But during the photo shoot for the book on pie, we had some moments where they were just absolute perfection, perfect, beautiful babies. We shot the book in my house, but in the lower level of my house in the basement where I have a little studio kitchen.

We shot this pre-COVID. Actually, around this time last year is when we were shooting the book. My assistants and all the people in the kitchen helping me. When something would be beautiful, they would want to take a picture of it. But there's no natural light, because we're in the basement. So they would yell, "Take it to the stairs!" They would run out to the back steps of the basement and they would all be standing there on the stairs taking their Instagrams and what not. That's sort of how it's become actually a bit of a triumphant call in our house still. That when something comes out and it's so beautiful, "Take it to the stairs! We've got to take a picture of it! We've got to celebrate this!"

Kerry Diamond: Or, you do a pie five!

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I love it. I'm totally going to do some pie fives.

Kerry Diamond: I'm sure there was a lot of pie fiving on that photo shoot. Because I'm guessing there were a lot of amazing pies coming out of the oven.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: We baked over 230 pies over the course of the shoot.

Kerry Diamond: Wait, say that again? How many?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Two hundred and thirty pies in 15 days.

Kerry Diamond: Bless you, Erin. That is amazing. You talked about the pie slipping right out of the pie plate. I actually saw someone do that on Instagram the other day and she was taking a pie class and managed to slip it right out. She was just jubilant when that happened. That had never happened to her before. It is really fun to watch that. There's that sense of "Oh my gosh, is the pie actually going to slip out and right onto the floor, or slip out fully intact. What is your pie plate of choice? Earlier you mentioned a few different kinds of pie plates.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I prefer ceramic or metal. Metal does have the added ability of being very non stick. Most ceramic pie plates are non stick, meaning you should look for one that has a bit of a glossier interior. I have some ceramic ones where the pie just pops right out and I have some where it likes to get a little bit stuck. It still comes out, it just doesn't come out in the same satisfying way. But metal, it'll really do that every single time. Metal and ceramic both are good conductors of heat or help retain heat to get that crust nice and brown.

=But I will say, even though it's my least favorite pie plate, I still really recommend glass pie plates for beginners. Because a lot of people, that's what they already have for one thing. No need to go buy all new pie plates if you're just learning and getting started. But it's also clear. So you can see through it. You can actually see if the pie is baked properly, rather than questioning yourself like you might with a ceramic one.

Kerry Diamond: So for all the newbie pie folks out there, is there a brand you recommend?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: The ceramic ones, there are really a lot of ones that are glossy on the inside that work. I do buy several of them from King Arthur Baking. I like Rose Levy Beranbaum has, she has her perfect pie plate. It is beautifully glossy on the inside. It's also one of those ones that has a pre crimped edge for you. So if you're not someone who can fuss with crimping, it's very easy.

Kerry Diamond: Wait, Rose has her own pie plate?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yeah she does, it's called Rose's Perfect Pie Plate and it's a really great pie plate. I have three.

Kerry Diamond: I feel like that's the perfect holiday gift for pie fanatics.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: It's especially great, like I said, it has a nice wide edge. But if you don't like to crimp, it just kind of ruffles it for you. For metal, I also buy them from King Arthur. Sorry to keep shouting them out.

Kerry Diamond: No, it's a great resource. People might not realize you can get more than flour from King Arthur.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Absolutely. They have my favorite metal pie plates and they're about 14 bucks. That's another great, you can stock up on those really easily.

Kerry Diamond: That's fantastic. We have a few minutes left with you, which makes me really sad. But we do have to let you go, because the whole world wants to talk to you this week about pie. I have a style question for you. You always seem like you have a great wrap to keep your hair out of your face and out of your pie.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yes! This actually started, because if I'm being honest, Kerry, I can't do my own hair. I'm a 33-year-old woman and I'm awful at hair, makeup, all of those things. When I was in pastry school, of course we had to wear paper tokes, paper chef hats.

Kerry Diamond: I'm just going to jump in and say those are the worst.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: They are the worst.

Kerry Diamond: Nobody looks good in those. Sorry. Except Ratatouille and that was a cartoon.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yeah. I love my culinary school, The Culinary Institute of America. I did not like wearing those paper hats. When I was out of school, I wanted something to keep my hair off of my face, and I have always had really short hair. It's actually not anymore, but it used to be really really short. The only way I could keep it off my face was to fully wrap it up. I would always wrap my head in a bandana. I used to just get my bandanas at craft stores, but now I have two other resources that I particularly love. I do have a couple of friends who sew who make me bandanas, which is also wonderful. So thank you to my friend Katrina who just sent me a bunch of bandanas in the mail. You're the best.

But Kiriko Made, which is based out of Portland. It's Japanese textiles and they make the most beautiful bandanas I've ever had. I own so many of them, and I call them my dress bandanas because they're just so elegant and beautiful. The one I'm actually wearing right now is more of a turban style headband, and that's from my friend, her business is called I'm With the Band. She makes only headbands and scrunchies and head wraps and stuff. They're great for keeping your hair out of your face and out of your food.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, great resources. Well that's good. We'll share those resources definitely on Instagram or on the website or something. Okay, let's do a little speed round before we let you go. What is the oldest thing in your fridge?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I still have a jar, I think of this pineapple caramel that I made for Rose Levy Beranbaum's ice cream book, the photo shoot. Which, the book came out this summer, so the photo shoot was a year before that at least. It is pure sugar and it's refrigerated, so it's still fine. But yeah, it's maybe ...

Kerry Diamond: It's just old.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: It's almost three years old now. But it was so painstaking to make and it's so delicious, I just can't bear to part with it yet.

Kerry Diamond: It's so funny, I have that book right over there.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: That recipe is so killer. Don't wait for summer and ice cream season to come back to make it. Just find something to put it on. That is so good.

Kerry Diamond: What is one treasured cookbook in your collection?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I think I would have to go with my copy of The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. It's quite an old copy, double volume. An old printing. I think it's 70s-ish. It is very well loved at this point and has many a splattered page. Some that were not splattered by me.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, who had the book before you?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I don't know. I got it at a ... it was a used book.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, okay. A kitchen implement that you can't live without.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: A bench scraper.

Kerry Diamond: A food you would never eat.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Never? Dog food? I don't think that there's human food I wouldn't try. I would try anything.

Kerry Diamond: Oh my god you're so funny. I don't think anyone has ... well, no, I know for a fact. In 300 plus shows, no one has ever given us that answer. So I feel like we should have a little sound effect that goes off when we get an answer we've never gotten before. Okay. A song that makes you smile.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Oh my gosh, why is this so hard. There are so many. Oh, Here Comes the Sun.

Kerry Diamond: Oh, I love that song. That makes me smile, too. Good answer. Given what we're going through right now, dream travel destination.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I would give anything to go home to Kansas right now.

Kerry Diamond: Oh. That's a sweet answer.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: That's not what you meant. Let me give another destination. Another place that I'm very eager to go when we are allowed to travel again is Morocco. That's been on my husband and I's list for some time.

Kerry Diamond: Have you ever been?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I haven't. It's kind of next on the bucket list of places I've never been to.

Kerry Diamond: This is the last question. I'm sure people have asked you this. But if you could make a pie for anybody, living, fictional, non fictional, etc, who would you make a pie for?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: I would really love to have a pie – now, I know this is another sentimental answer, and maybe is not what you were meaning, but I would really love to make one of the pies from my book for my grandma who passed about gosh, maybe seven years ago. Around this same time of year. She's the one who taught me to make pies and I would just love to be able to show her how far I've come since baking them with her in her kitchen.

Kerry Diamond: Did you say earlier her name is Jeanne?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yes. Her name is Jeanne.

Kerry Diamond: Your middle name?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yeah, I'm named after her. It's just my middle name. I'm not a double first namer, but I like to use my full name because my first byline didn't appear or was published until after my grandma had passed, so it was sort of my way of being like, "Grandma! Make sure you see all these on the big screen up there. Wherever you are!"

Kerry Diamond: What pie would you make for her?

Erin Jeanne McDowell: This is not seasonal at all, but in this hypothetical situation, we don't care about the season. Grandma Jeanne would be getting a pure rhubarb pie with a crumble topping because that was what she loved and she always said there were too many strawberry rhubarb pies and not enough pure rhubarb pies. The very first pie that's in the book is a pure rhubarb pie for Grandma Jeanne.

Kerry Diamond: Oh. I love that. That's a beautiful answer. And Grandma Jeanne up in pie heaven, thank you for teaching your granddaughter how to make pies and how to bake. Erin, thank you for sharing all your knowledge. Anybody who's listening to this episode, their minds must be blown. Because I feel like we've barely scratched the surface of everything you know about pie. But, the good news is it's all in The Book on Pie.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Yes!

Kerry Diamond: So if you enjoyed listening to this conversation, and I'm sure you did, you absolutely have to go out and get Erin's book. It's a great holiday gift. I will say that too.

Erin Jeanne McDowell: Get one for yourself, get one for someone else, and then virtually bake pies together. It's a Zoom pie winter. That's what I think.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Erin Jeanne McDowell for hanging out with us and sharing her knowledge. If you enjoyed our conversation, be sure to check out Erin's, The Book on Pie, Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies. As for me, I could really use a slice of pie right now. Maybe a slice of that black bottom pecan with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. That sounds perfect.

Speaking of perfect, Radio Cherry Bombe is edited by Kat Garelli. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tra La La. I hope all of you have a happy and healthy holiday. As always, thank you for listening. You are the Bombe.

When Harry Met Sally Clip: I'll have what she's having.

Maggie Tang: Hey everyone, this is Maggie Tang and I'm the co-founder and co-host of Gourmand. We're a new podcast set on empowering the next generation of food lovers and leaders. Do you want to know who I think is the bomb? Her name is Kristin Kim and she's the COO for FOC aka Friend of Chef. Not only is she an all star that gets to work behind the scenes on some of the world's most amazing hospitality experiences, she continues to inspire me with her leadership and passion for all things food tech. I think she's the Bombe.