By Cathy Barrow
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The delicious new food trend of slab pies that makes it easy to serve sweet or savory pastry to a crowd-or just your family!
For those of you who aren’t up on your Pinterest food trends, slab pie is just like regular pie-only better (and bigger)! Instead of crimping and meticulously rolling out a round crust, slab pies are an unfussy twist that are perfect for a potluck or dinner party or just a family dinner. Baked on sheet pans, slab pies can easily serve a crowd of people dinner or dessert. Pie Squared includes seventy-five foolproof recipes, along with inventive decoration tips that will appeal to baking nerds and occasional bakers alike. And this fresh, uncomplicated take on pie will surely pique the interest of those who have previously been reluctant to take out their rolling pin.
Barrow didn’t invent slab pie, but she definitely thinks outside of the crust. In addition to traditional pie dough, she offers more than a dozen crust recipes-from cracker crusts and cornbread crusts to cookie crusts and cheddar cheese crusts. Using these as a base, Barrow then entices readers with both savory and sweet slab pie creations, with recipes like Spinach, Gorgonzola, and Walnut Slab Pie and Curried Chicken Slab Pie to Sour Cream Peach Melba Slab Pie and Grande Mocha Cappuccino Slab Pie. The first book of its kind, this will appeal to lovers of easy food trends like sheet pan suppers and dump cakes. Don’t be surprised when you start spying slab pies at your next potluck!
THE SUM OF ALL PARTS
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,
you must first invent the universe.
I’ve toted my signature sour cherry pie everywhere. I’ve made this pie for summer parties and winter birthdays. It’s been double-crusted, streusel-topped, or decorated with lattice or cutout stars. The filling is barely sweetened. The cherries are suspended in a glaze, clear and never gloppy. The bottom crust is crisp, not soggy. I won a blue ribbon with that cherry pie. I am that person who makes four, and more often six, pies for Thanksgiving. Until recently, every one of those pies has been unapologetically round. It never occurred to me to make a pie in any other shape.
In June 2016, while tossing around story ideas with Bonnie Benwick, my editor at the Washington Post, she said, “How about a slab pie?” A pie baked in a baking sheet. Even though I am an experienced pie maker, I feared slab pie. I wasn’t sure I could successfully roll out even my own trusted pie dough into a rectangle large enough to drape over a baking sheet. As it turned out, it was easier than I thought, and in many ways, more straightforward than a round pie. For a few weeks, I became obsessed with slab pies. In time, I wrote a story for the Post with a recipe that tucked fruit and almond paste between two all-butter crusts (similar to Absolutely Peachy Slab Pie, here).
The story made a splash. We heard from pie makers far and wide sharing their admiration for the sheer functionality of a slab pie. Certainly, I wasn’t the first to make a slab pie. Years earlier, Martha Stewart rolled out a slab pie on her television show. They’ve appeared in magazines and on blogs, and Pinterest is packed with slab pie images. It could be argued that baking sheet quiches, a staple of ’80s cocktail parties, were the precursor to savory slab pies.
It’s no wonder slab pies are welcome at potlucks, church socials, and neighborhood parties. In so many ways, there is no better contribution to a gathering than a slab pie. Slab pies are economical, easily transportable, and easy to portion out to serve a crowd.
Without even realizing it, I began to abandon the glass and ceramic round pie pans stacked in a drawer. The first slab pies I made were baked in a half sheet pan, 18 by 13 inches. Soon I realized that, while it might be the perfect size for a huge crowd, I wanted a slab pie that better suited the family dinner table. A different rectangular baking sheet, a quarter sheet pan 9 by 13 inches and just an inch high, fit the bill. And from that day forward, all my pies had corners: pie-squared.
I began to create recipes, playing with sweet and savory options. Over four months, I made 193 slab pies. At the end of my experimentation, after more than 70 pounds of all-purpose flour and nearly 60 pounds of unsalted butter, I had tweaked and nudged, tested and retested, until the crusts and fillings in the recipes that follow became utterly dependable and positively delicious.
To make a slab pie is not as straightforward as just doubling any old pie recipe. It’s a different pie altogether. Right off the bat, the ratio is different: It’s twice as much crust but only half as much filling. Along the way, I learned to approach pie making differently. I tweaked the seasonings, tinkered with the dough recipe, and learned to rely on a pattern of frequent chilling during the pie-making process.
Fruit pies were clear cut—add more fruit. Other sweet pies worked the same way, with more pudding, nuts, chocolate, or chiffon. The sweet pie recipes just needed a mathematical nudge.
Savory pies were different. Too much salt was catastrophic and too little was a crying shame. Seasonings had to be assertive. The fillings had to cook for just the right amount of time. And I wanted these mealtime pies packed with vegetables that were crisp and flavorful, not mushy and indistinguishable.
I set out to rework old favorites into Ham and Gruyère Slab Pie (here) and Chicken Pot Slab Pie (here) and soon moved on to other flavors I love at dinner, wondering how they might work when slipped between two layers of flaky crust. And while I considered sweet slab pies the ideal option for larger gatherings, savory pies were dinner and then the next day’s lunch (Beefy Empanada Slab Pie, here). Or savory slab pies were the phoenix rising out of a stingy collection of leftovers (Cowboy Beef Stew Slab Pie, here, and “The Reuben” Slab Pie, here). We learned to love pie for lunch, as though we were eating in a proper London pub.
Along with savory pies came savory crusts: cheddar-flecked, studded with caramelized onion, decorated with seeds, or with cheese scattered over the top. And then came the combinations. That’s the thing about pie. It’s very adaptable.
Each recipe offers suggestions for Swaps for alternate crusts, filling ingredients, and toppings. Consider the Southern-Style Tomato Slab Pie (here), where an alternative to the Cheddar Cheese Crust (here) is an All-Butter Crust (here). Or the Loaded Baked Potato Slab Pie (here), where a Pretzel Crust (here), pressed in, can substitute for the Caramelized Onion Crust (here), which is rolled out. The Banana Pudding Slab Pie (here) is luscious and traditional in a Vanilla Wafer Crust (here), but a Chocolate Wafer Crust (here) with a swipe of caramel raises this pie to a whole new level of indulgence.
A beautifully turned out pie is challenging without the right dough—one that is pliable, reliable, and, of course, delicious. My pie crust recipes are sized to fit the pan precisely, with a tidy crimp around the edges. The crust is flaky and crispy, sturdy yet tender, easy to manage, lattice, slice, and crimp. My favorite All-Butter Crust (here) swings from sweet to savory without skipping a beat and takes on flavorings generously. I hope it will become your favorite crust, too.
I am aware that there are doughphobics that walk among us. People for whom a terrible experience has so shaken them that they swear never again to make a pie. Slab pies may be a way back to pie. Keep in mind, pie making is a skill, not a talent. A person can learn a skill and perfect it with practice. I hope the Tools and Techniques section (here) will help you find your own personal rhythm in pie crust, the steady motion of the pin, the easy crimping, the insouciant slashing, all greeted with comfort and ease.
Nevertheless, I realize that some of you are not jumping on the rolled-out pie dough bandwagon no matter what I say. I’ve got you covered. Press-in crusts (here) will fit both sweet and savory recipes. Whether speculoos or Ritz, amaretti or saltines, crumb crusts stand in with no rolling pin involved. An Olive Oil Crust (here) is flaky and complements most savory fillings, and the Shortbread Crust (here) works magic with the sweet pie fillings.
While 4 cups of filling makes for a perfectly plump 9-inch round pie, a slab pie demands a generous 5 or 6 cups to assure a sufficiency of satisfying filling. Slab pies are 2 to 3 inches deep at the most, with squared edges and corners. They’re not like a round pie, where the filling might be twice as deep and the bottom crust is very slightly sloped at the edges. Some filling recipes tended to dry out when slabified. It took plenty of trial and error to find the sweet spot for thickeners where the filling has body, isn’t watery, and is never pasty or gummy. Seasoning is vital. Without salt, the filling can be lost in a sea of crust.
Many of these pies sport a top crust which makes for a much sturdier slice, particularly if you’re serving on paper plates. Lattice or cutout lids are icing on the pie, especially when the filling is extra juicy, as with cherries and blackberries. Turn to lattice or cutouts when a peek into the pie is part of the fun, as in the Just-Like-Artichoke-Dip Slab Pie (here). I’ve shown you some of my favorite lattices and coverings in the pages of this book, and how to do them here. Go ahead. Get fancy.
Slab pies are easier to portion, unlike extracting equal pieces from a round pie where the filling tumbles out and the top crust goes askew. And guests who want “just a sliver” create a whole other situation. Not so with a slab pie where pieces are square or rectangular and easily slivered or slabbed, portioning to meet the appetite. When your partner, roommate, kids, or neighbors show up at the table with a friend, I’ve given you a template for How to Slice a Slab Pie (here) to see just how easily these pies accommodate a crowd.
Change up your pie game with slab pies. Soggy Bottoms begone. Runny fillings won’t do. Tough, pale crusts are history. I’ve honed a few techniques along the way and they appear as tips throughout the book: tricks that make slab pies roll off your pin, bake up deliciously, and lift right out of the pan.
You might wonder what a cookbook author does when baking so many pies. So did I. Coinciding with my deep dive into slab pie, we moved to a condominium in a building with more than forty other units. In the first weeks, I was turning out three or four pies a day and soon began to send all-building emails with subject lines like Coconut Cream Pie on the way to the mailroom. Bring a plate. If you are planning a move, consider slab pie. It’s the ultimate in icebreakers; slab pies are community builders.
Make a pie, make a friend.
IN MY PIE MAKING LIFE, THERE have been times I’ve put together pie in a kitchen equipped with nothing more than a paring knife and a pie pan (back in the day when I believed pies had to be round).
It is possible to make slab pie with no special equipment except a slab pie pan. This 9- by 13-inch baking sheet, no more than 1 inch high, is called a quarter sheet pan in restaurant parlance. I may call it a slab pie pan, but it is sure to become one of the most useful pans in your kitchen. I have four. I use them for roasting vegetables or even a whole chicken, making scones, reheating leftovers, and toasting nuts. Some larger countertop “toaster” ovens fit a slab pie pan and you know what that means? Pie in the summer without turning on the big oven.
I do not line the pan in parchment or with a silicone baking mat. I never spray with cooking spray, coat with butter, dust with flour, or do anything else to prepare the pan. Baking the pie directly in the metal pan makes for the best, brownest, crispiest, flakiest crust.
Please do not let this list of equipment dissuade you from making a slab pie. Many of the following recipes require nothing more than the slab pie pan.
NEED TO HAVE
9- by 13-inch baking sheet (slab pie pan)
GOOD TO HAVE
Ruler and painter’s, or masking tape
NICE TO HAVE
Full-size food processor, not a mini-prep
Baking Steel (also called a baking plate) or baking stone (pizza stone)
Parchment paper or silicone baking mats
FUN TO HAVE
Fluted pastry wheel
Cookie cutters and other decorating tools
OVENS, STEELS, AND STONES
The worst offense of all the pie offenses has to be Soggy Bottom. I had been testing a variety of ways to ensure a crisp-bottomed slab pie, but none was perfect. Then one day, after heating the oven to 425°F, I realized my Baking Steel was still in there. Too hot, too heavy, and too difficult to remove at that moment, I shrugged and slid the slab pie pan on top of the steel. And that was that: The pie that emerged had a bottom crust that was crisp and browned and so darn perfect, I never looked back. That pie lifted right out of the pan in one piece. I placed it on a wooden serving board, cut squares, and served it. The bottom was deeply browned, crisp, and flaky. Yes, the bottom of the pie was perfectly, delightfully, deliciously flaky. That day, I hadn’t set out to combat Soggy Bottom, but I learned that baking the pie on top of a very hot surface did the trick.
While the Baking Steel (a 15-pound behemoth) does a great job as an oven heat booster, if you have a pizza stone it will provide the same result—a crisp-bottomed slab pie, one that slides right out of the pan. Simply heat the steel or stone while preheating the oven. If you don’t have a stone or steel, invert a baking sheet and let it get hot in the preheating oven. Then, when the oven is at temperature, place the pie on top of the steel, pizza stone, or upside-down baking sheet. No more Soggy Bottom.
The best pies bubble over enthusiastically, so prepare ahead for easy cleanup. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the stone, steel, or baking sheet, right under the pie pan. The paper will catch the drips and it’s possible to dodge oven cleaning for one more week.
As for oven rack placement: Some people bake pie in the lower third of the oven, others put pie in the upper third. I like a slab pie to be right smack dab in the center of the oven so it’s cooked all the way around. I almost always use the convection setting if it’s available, because the breeze floating through the oven increases the flaky and crispy factors. When baking on a convection setting, I do not reduce or otherwise change the temperature.
CRUST + FILLING × OVEN = PIE
Pie is egalitarian, democratic, and fundamental, created from the most common ingredients.
The best crusts begin with the triumvirate, the trinity of pie crust: flour, fat, and cold liquid. But note that it’s not always the most expensive or rarest elements that blend to make flaky, flavorful, tender pie crust.
Not all flour is the same. Winter wheat and summer wheat have different protein contents, making them perform differently. Consistency has me returning over and over to King Arthur Flour, a Vermont-based, employee-owned company. Those on the West Coast may not find King Arthur flours in the grocery store (although they may be ordered online); Gold Medal is an excellent substitute.
There’s a time and place for European butter. Pie crust is not one of them. The higher butterfat and lower water content of fancy European butters cause them to soften too quickly, so the “cutting in” process is more challenging than with American-style butter. The recipes in this book were developed using ice cold, briefly frozen, unsalted, American-made butter.
Cold Water and Other Liquids
Any added liquids must be ice cold or the fats will melt as the dough is formed. If the fats melt at this point, the dough emulsifies, and the result is a tough, dense crust that fights back when it is rolled out.
The recipes in this book use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. If using Morton’s kosher salt, cut back just a little as it’s heavier by weight.
There are more than sixty fillings in these pages, ranging from creamy custards to hearty stews. Each one is well spiced and assertively flavored because I’ve learned that once fillings are surrounded by crust, the flavor can be dulled. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Squeeze a little more lemon juice in with the peaches. Use spices and herbs to make the fillings bold. Taste your way to a delicious pie by sampling the filling before it is encased in crust.
Never put a warm filling into a raw crust. That’s a recipe for tough crust. Chill the filling first. Savory fillings often benefit from being made a day in advance so the flavors blend, meld, and develop.
TRUSTY THICKENERS—NOT GLOPPY. NOT RUNNY. JUST RIGHT.
There is no greater pie disappointment than Soggy Bottom, but runny fillings aren’t welcome, either. I’ve got the fix for Soggy Bottom (see Ovens, Steels, and Stones, here). Runny fillings? It’s all about the thickener.
Cornstarch thickens to a clear, not opaque, gel. I like it in fruit pies or with pudding fillings as there is no taste associated (as with flour). Once cornstarch is added, the filling must come to a boil to thicken. This happens as fruit pies bake.
Instant ClearJel is another form of cornstarch. It was developed for commercial use because it has a longer hold than standard cornstarch, allowing pies to sit for more days in a retail bakery setting. That’s handy, I suppose (pies don’t last that long around my house). I like using ClearJel with berry and cherry pies as they tend to be very juicy with a naturally runny gel. I never use ClearJel with custards or puddings—that’s a recipe for glue. Instant ClearJel is found online at KingArthurFlour.com and other places. It keeps for years.
Tapioca pearls are often recommended for pie filling and I’ve had good luck with them, although they can be tricky to find in the grocery store. If you like using tapioca, substitute an equal amount wherever I use cornstarch or Instant ClearJel.
Flour makes gravy and that’s why I choose to use it for many savory pie fillings. Browning the flour along with the fillings and before adding the liquid provides a much deeper, richer flavor: a roux. Cooking also overcomes any possibility of an unappealing raw flour taste.
Dried fruit thickens fruit pies; grind dried fruit with the recipe’s sugar amount for a boost of sturdying pectin that gels the filling naturally. See So Very Apricot Slab Pie, here, for the method.
Pie loves cold. Pies take little active time, but a lot of inactive time, mostly to chill, relax, and get flaky. Chill the dough before rolling. When possible, refrigerate the dough between rolling and filling. Use cold filling, not hot. When possible, chill the assembled pie before baking. Not only does the secondary chill allow the fats to firm up again, to ensure some lift and flake, but it also helps the beautiful crimping and decorative work retain its shape.
UPPING YOUR GAME—BIG SLABS
Once you become adept at rolling out rectangular crusts for slab pies, you may want to make a pie stretched across an entire baking sheet measuring 18 by 13. For potlucks, big parties, the office picnic, or the family reunion, a pie that serves thirty or more is a showstopper.
Making a double-size slab pie is not for the faint of heart: It takes serious muscles, a big flat surface, and plenty of determination to roll out a crust to 20 by 15 inches. Here are my work-arounds.
Make two separate batches of the slab pie crust recipe for a top and bottom crust and use one for the top crust and one for the bottom crust.
For the bottom crust, cut the dough block in half and roll it out in two pieces. Patch them together in the bottom of the pan. No one will be the wiser.
Plan for a lattice or cutout crust. Divide the dough block set aside for the top crust. Roll out each portion, fashioning strips, decorative cutouts, or any other method of topping the filling. Avoid attempting a full coverage crust, if possible.
You’ve decided to attempt the full coverage top crust? Bless you and good luck. I’ve done it. The effort may have included some fiery language. Use masking tape to mark the 20- by 15-inch size on the counter. Work with everything—counter, pin, dough—as cold as possible.
Make two slab pies instead.
WITHOUT CRUST, A PIE WOULD BE
My favorite new cookbook of the year . . . These aren't the gooey fruit oozers I associate with the American classic -- in fact, half the recipes are savory, and many of the "Sweetie Pies" don't even involve fruit.
—Hellen McAlpin, The Christian Science Monitor
This richly illustrated work brings a fresh, creative approach to slab pies; essential for weeknight meals and potlucks.
Barrow devotes an entire, glorious book to the subject of slab pies . . . The most challenging part of this fun and inviting cookbook will be choosing which recipe to make first.
Pie Squared is a collection of creative and ambitious-yet-approachable recipes that, in aggregate, argue that just about any dish can be turned into a slab pie.
—The Austin Chronicle
- [A]n inventive collection of sweet and savory pies baked in rimmed sheet pans. Unlike round pies, slabs have twice as much crust and half as much filling. So pastry lovers can check out the 14 different crust recipes, including one built around caramelized onions and another using hash browns. Ingredients are measured both by volume and weight. Lots of creativity here.—Minneapolis Star Tribune
- On Sale
- Oct 23, 2018
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Grand Central Publishing