If our newsfeeds tell us anything right now, it’s that pie season is officially upon us (though we’d readily argue that anytime is a good time for pie). That means we’re reaching for one thing: the new Sister Pie cookbook from Lisa Ludwinski.
We’ve been anticipating the release of Lisa’s book from the moment we took a road trip up north to meet the infectiously energetic and talented pie owner of Sister Pie. Inside her corner bakery in Detroit’s West Village neighborhood, Lisa and her team make some of the best pies we’ve ever had the pleasure of sticking a fork into. We’re talking flaky and wildly crimped buttery crusts filled with salted maple custard or ground pecans soaked with apple brandy (plus other sweets like buckwheat chocolate chip cookies, cranberry crumble, and apple cheddar pie with rye crust).
We could hardly decide which one of Lisa’s recipes to make first for our Cook from the Book. Apple Sage Gouda Pie. Sweet Beet Pie. Her signature Salted Maple Pie. And we haven’t even reached the scones, bars, and cookies yet … we see you Double-And-By-Double-I-Mean-Triple-Chocolate Cookies.
Keeping it timely, we settled on Lisa’s Sweet Potato Coconut Pie. The verdict? Her directions were easy to follow and basically foolproof—every crust we made (and we baked quite a few so everyone at the office could enjoy a slice) turned out flaky and golden brown. It tasted even better than it looked with a silky, roasted sweet potato custard that gets a flavorful oomph from coconut milk and cardamom. (We paired it with Sweet Potato with Torched Marshmallows ice cream for a sweet potato double down.) The one skill we will be honing? Getting those aggressively gorgeous crimps that Lisa is so terrifyingly skilled at (ours look like tiny ripples next to her rough water waves!).
Lisa was kind enough to share her recipe for Sweet Potato Coconut Pie with us, and now we’re sharing it with you below. And if you want to hear more about Lisa’s journey into pie, check out our interview with Lisa here.
SWEET POTATO COCONUT PIE
Makes one 9-inch pie
Every January at the shop, we face our sad, wintry fate: any produce we’re getting is coming straight from storage. What’s a pie baker to do? The silver lining here is that one of our favorite farmers in Michigan grows the best sweet potatoes around. What’s better yet is that both sweet potatoes and coconut are baking superstars, making for a smooth, hearty winter pie that is a lovely dessert accompaniment to a spicy chili or curry main course. You can just forget that sob story I started at the beginning of this paragraph.
- 1 pound sweet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons (1⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 3⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons fine yellow cornmeal
- 1⁄2 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
- 1⁄4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
- 6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- One 9-inch crust made with All-Butter Pie Dough, extra blind baked and cooled
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1⁄2 cup large flake coconut, toasted
First, roast the sweet potatoes: Preheat your oven to 425°F. Scrub the sweet potatoes and wrap them in aluminum foil. Poke a few holes through the foil and into the sweet potatoes with a fork, and transfer them to a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 40 to 60 minutes, or until you can smoosh the foil package with your oven mitt. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack. When cool enough to touch, carefully remove the skin from the sweet potatoes. Transfer the sweet potato flesh to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Set aside. This step can be done up to 2 days in advance. Store the sweet potato puree in an airtight container in the fridge.
Lower the oven temperature to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Make the filling: In a mixing bowl, combine the sweet potato puree with the butter, brown sugar, cardamom, salt, cornmeal, coconut milk, cream, and egg yolks and whisk until well blended.
Place the blind-baked shell on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the crimped edge with the beaten egg. Pour the sweet potato filling into the pie shell until it reaches the bottom of the crimps. Transfer the baking sheet with the pie on it to the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the edges are puffed and the center jiggles only slightly when shaken.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the pie to a wire rack. Let cool for 15 minutes, then decorate the perimeter of the pie with the toasted coconut. Allow the pie to fully cool for another 4 to 6 hours. When the pie is at room temperature, slice it into 6 to 8 pieces and serve.
Store leftover pie, well wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
ALL-BUTTER PIE DOUGH
Makes 2 discs, enough for one 9-inch double-crust lattice-topped or full-top pie or two 9-inch single-crust pies
This is our go-to dough, and it’s how each pie begins. Every pie baker, professional or at home, seems to have an opinion on the best combination of fats for the flakiest crust—is it lard, shortening, butter, or a mix? Our basic dough is a pure and simple ode to unsalted butter and all-purpose flour—we think it produces the best-tasting, lightest, flakiest pie crust.
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted European-style butter, straight from the fridge
- ½ cup ice-cold water-vinegar mixture*, or more if needed
In a large stainless steel bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and stir to mix well. Place the sticks of butter in the bowl and coat on all sides with the flour mixture. Using a bench scraper, cut the butter into ½-inch cubes. Work quickly to separate the cubes with your hands until they are all lightly coated in flour. Grab that bench scraper once again and cut each cube in half. I always tell my pie dough students that it’s unnecessary to actually cut each cube perfectly in half, but it’s a good idea to break up the butter enough so that you can be super-efficient when it’s pastry blender time.
It’s pastry blender time! Switch to the pastry blender and begin to cut in the butter with one hand while turning the bowl with the other. It’s important not to aim for the same spot at the bottom of the bowl with each stroke of the pastry blender, but to actually slice through butter every time to maximize efficiency. When the pastry blender clogs up, carefully clean it out with your fingers (watch out, it bites!) or a butter knife and use your hands to toss the ingredients a bit. Continue to blend and turn until the largest pieces are the size and shape of peas and the rest of the mixture feels and looks freakishly similar to canned Parmesan cheese.
At this point, add the water-vinegar mixture all at once, and switch back to the bench scraper. Scrape as much of the mixture as you can from one side of the bowl to the other, until you can’t see visible pools of liquid anymore. Now it’s hand time. Scoop up as much of the mixture as you can, and use the tips of your fingers (and a whole lot of pressure) to press it back down onto the rest of the ingredients. Rotate the bowl a quarter-turn and repeat. Scoop, press, and turn. With each fold, your intention is to be quickly forming the mixture into one cohesive mass. Remember to incorporate any dry, floury bits that have congregated at the bottom of the bowl, and once those are completely gone and the dough is formed, it’s time to stop.
Remove the dough from the bowl, place it on a lightly floured counter, and use your bench scraper to divide it into two equal pieces. Gently pat each into a 2-inch-thick disc, working quickly to seal any broken edges before wrapping them tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap. If you’re portioning for a lattice-topped pie, shape one half into a 2-inch-thick disc and the other half into a 6 by 3-inch rectangle. Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or, ideally, overnight. When you go to roll out the crust, you want the discs to feel as hard and cold as the butter did when you removed it from the fridge to make the dough. This will make the roll-out way easier.
You can keep the pie dough in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for up to 1 year. If frozen, remove the dough and place it in the refrigerator to thaw one full day before you intend to use it. If you’re planning to make only one single-crust pie, wrap the discs separately and place one in the freezer.
*Icy water, now improved and with tang: While working at Brooklyn’s Four & Twenty Blackbirds for a summer, I learned a number of good tricks that considerably changed my pie dough–making experience. Here’s one of my favorites: Fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup with about 1 inch of water and freeze until completely frozen. Just after you mix your dry ingredients, grab it from the freezer and fill with water plus 2 tablespoons or so of apple cider vinegar. The ice-cold water-vinegar mixture should look just like apple juice. Let it chill on your counter while you mix the other ingredients for the dough.
The addition of vinegar to pie dough was originally thought to tenderize the gluten (thus avoiding a tough crust), but there isn’t any good scientific evidence proving that it makes a difference. We keep it in our recipe for its tangy flavor and our respect for tradition.
Not the pie-baking plan-ahead type? That’s okay! When you’re ready to make the dough, simply fill a 1-cup liquid measuring cup about halfway with ice, then add water and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BLIND BAKING
(FOR ALL SINGLE-CRUST PIES)
Approximately 80 percent of the pies we serve at Sister Pie begin with a blind-baked crust. We do it to ensure a flaky, well-done crust with every bite of pie. The art of blind baking is a funny, often finicky process that intimidated me for years. It took practicing over and over and over (during a newborn pie business’s first Thanksgiving, no less) to finally achieve mastery. Here are some tricks I learned along the way.
Fully freezing our crusts before baking helps the crimps retain their shape and placement while achieving maximum flakiness. It’s that whole cold-butter-bits-hitting-a-hot-oven thing we talked about earlier. Skip the expensive pie weights (save your pennies for fancy butter) and load up on dried beans. You can use them again and again, and over time they develop a special aroma—all part of the charm of making lots of pie at home.
WHAT YOU NEED
- One 9-inch crust, crimped and frozen for at least 15 minutes
- Aluminum foil
- 1½ pounds dried beans (we use pinto and black, but use whatever you have)
Preheat your oven to 450°F with the rack on the lowest level. Remove the pie crust from the freezer, tear off a square of aluminum foil that is slightly larger than the pie shell, and gently fit it into the frozen crust. Fill the crust with the dried beans (they should come all the way up to the crimps) and place the pie pan on a baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 25 to 27 minutes. Check for doneness by peeling up a piece of foil—the crimps should be light golden brown. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. After 6 minutes, carefully remove the foil and beans. You did it! You are now ready to fill the pie.
EXTRA BLIND BAKING
A few of the more sensitive pies in this book are baked at a lower temperature, which will protect the fillings from separating and curdling but will also result in a lighter crust. To make up for it, you’ll start with an extra-blind-baked crust. Follow the instructions for blind baking up until you take it out of the oven. Immediately after removing the baking sheet from the oven, fold back the foil, exposing the crimps, but keep the bean package in the center of the tin. Brush the crimps with beaten egg and place the baking sheet back in the oven for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the crust turns a deep golden brown.