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Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life

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Kate McDermott, who learned to make pie from her Iowa grandmother, has taught the time-honored craft of pie-making to thousands of people. Here she shares her secrets to great crusts (including gluten-free options), fabulous fillings, and to living a good life. This is the only PIE cookbook you need.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published October 4, 2016

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Kate McDermott

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 191 reviews
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,817 reviews224 followers
April 6, 2017
Since I am in the midst of a month-long sugar detox, this recipe book was probably not the best choice of reading material, lol. I was tempted by it when I logged into my library's ebook webpage and found it was being offered to everyone as part of the Big Library Read program--March 16-30, 2017.

I enjoyed reading about Kate McDermott's inspiring life journey as well as browsing through her mouth-watering pie recipes. I have never found pie crust making as tricky as she makes it sound and will probably stick with my tried-and true recipes for fillings...but it might be fun to try a few new ones. And yes, the sugar detox will be over and I WILL be making rhubarb pie for Easter!!
Profile Image for Courtnie.
617 reviews59 followers
May 1, 2017
Funny thing happened to me with this book - I actually didn't LOVE it the first time I read it. I thought it was a little trite, a little cliché, a little too cutesy..."In life, like in pie, you must vent"...and so on.

I read this over a month ago and something just told me that I needed to withhold my initial judgment until I could actually make the pie. After all, once you get past the introduction (which was mostly about how pie making can be applied to life and vice versa) the pie making teach part of the book is bountiful with loads of information, experience and understanding in making a pie in whichever way you want to tackle it - from types of dough to alternate ways to roll and how to create all the fillings that go in between: hot, cold, sweet and savory. It's not just a list of her recipes, she gives you practical knowledge with tactile insight.

And that's the thing that gave me pause before rolling my eyes too hard - I've made pie before. I wouldn't say I'm heavily experienced or even super successful (there's a difference between edible and awesome, agreed?), but I've done it and anyone who's made pie before knows that it takes a certain touch -- in short, it is an art. With that in mind, why not take some of her 'feelings' advice into account and give this an honest go? I think the best way to review this is to just give you a taste of my journey making my own pie, the Kate McDermott way

First, I waited until I could be totally chilled, relaxed and in a good space. I chose a Sunday when we had no plans - when I could play with the kids, get them involved if they wanted or work on it while they were busy chasing each other around the house. I didn't even let their crashing and yelling disturb my pie-zen. It helped that mid-day my parents came to pick them up for fun. I'm not going to lie, this is when I *actually* made the pie.

First, the dough. I've only ever made all shortening crusts. One time when I was trying to be a better person, I tried my hand at an all butter crust. The all butter crust did not love me. The all shortening crust is how I was taught and makes a serviceable dough. McDermott has a recipe for half shortening and half butter and this is what I went with because it's what I had on hand - she recommends using leaf lard for pie dough but that was a little too much commitment for me at this point. She has recipes for all butter, gluten free and many more.

McDermott's dough making tips may have not changed my life, but they changed my dough game FOREVER. First, I chilled all the ingredients and tools (rather than just the fat and water). That means that I put the measured flour, salt, shortening, and butter in the freezer. I put the mixing bowl in the freezer. I put the ice water in the freezer. Only when everything was super cold did I start to assemble the dough.

Secondly, I prepared a dish of ice cubes on the side. Why, you ask? One of Kate's tips is that if you use the 'smoosh' method, which means that you combine the dough ingredients by hand, that cold hands are optimal and to use ice. When the heat from my hands started warming the fats a little too much while smooshing, the handy bowl of ice was there for me to cool them off again for further smooshing action.

Lastly, I've read a lot of dough recipes and McDermott's description of what the dough should feel like and look like was a little different. She said the fat should have varying sizes including pea and almond sized pieces and when adding the cold water, once you can pinch the dough together and it holds, it's ready. The variation in fat size was new to me, I've heard pea sized, but always assumed I needed a more consistent size and texture and also looked for the dough to 'come together' instead of the pinch method. Here's what my dough looked like after it was ready to turn out and wrap into 'chubby disks' to chill:

Once chilled, here's my rolled dough - bottom crust:

I meant to get a picture of the apple filling once I piled it in and dotted it with butter. But I guess I was so worried about the dough that it slipped my mind. One thing I did do, as recommended by McDermott, was use a couple varieties of apples. Granny Smith and Gala made it into this pie, at 70/30 ratio respectively. One thing I did NOT do that she recommended was leave the skin on the apples which seemed ALL WRONG. I just couldn't bring myself to do that to my pie.

My pie filled, fluted, and vented:

I tucked this baby into the oven. There was some fussing over the bake, 20 minutes at 425 degrees, 30 minutes at 375, and a final ten minutes with a sugar sprinkling. Here's the finished product:

Because my pie making day was very chill and lazy, I didn't do what all our grandmothers or legitimate pie makers do which is make it in the morning so that it's cooled and ready after supper. I made my dough midafternoon and did an early evening roll and fill. Basically, it came out of the oven at 9pm - too late to be cooled and consumed last night.

This is fine. Pie for breakfast gives me another reason to get out of bed in the morning. Here's the only shot of filling I have:

You might have noticed from my pictures my scarred farm kitchen table, general mess of my pie making, heavily scratched and used pie tin. There are very few areas in my life that are shiny, new, or perfect. I lean towards comfy, relaxed, well-loved and well enjoyed - maybe even a little damaged. Even scarred things can have a lot of life left to give. I feel like that myself most days - a little imperfect, but with some use yet. Maybe a little of that pie-as-life or life-as-pie has rubbed off on me in the end. I say all this because this was THE BEST PIE I HAVE EVER MADE.

True to myself till the end, I can't even get you a good shot of the piece I enjoyed with my coffee at work, here's a shot of it 'tossed' in my to-go container. But seriously, look at that flake!

Overall, this book was quite valuable to me. I used more techniques than I could even journal. For example, I'm convinced 'thumping' the dough before rolling made some sort of difference. I also listened for the 'sizzle-whump' to check for doneness. Most of all though, I loved the approach to pie making the most - it doesn't have to be perfect. Her advice gave me room to try new things and, in retrospect, her tone wasn't pretentious and allowed me be okay with any failure. You can tell that her heart is in teaching this craft. I'm glad I waited to make the pie before making a snap decision about her book.
Profile Image for Robin.
292 reviews2 followers
April 21, 2017
ETA: The thin-skinned author replied to this review and has since deleted her defensive comment. She listed multiple hardships in her life that get no mention in the book. Adding actual substance and detail from those events, and discussing how pie-baking helped her in those times could have helped the book immensely. She should have dug deep, been brave and human and honest, and shared those stories, or stuck with a strict recipe book and skipped the cliches and platitudes.
This book either tries way too hard for a cookbook, or not nearly hard enough to be more than a cookbook.

I read this because Overdrive, which is what my library uses for online book lending, selected it for the "big library read.". I do love pie, but it's not that intimidating to make (it's just food - read and follow the directions), and it's really just not a metaphor for life.

"Pie is a great teacher. It's helped me find my way, even when it has seemed that everything was falling apart. Pie has taught me how to give up my quest for perfection...Being able to patch together dough gave me the confidence to put my own life back together when it had broken apart."

Seriously? This truly makes me suspect the author had zero real challenges in life. Maybe I'd have expected less from this book if it hadn't been chosen as a big group read selection. Either give me straight recipes without the babble, or say something more interesting than name dropping about the 3 hours you spent with Julia Child. Boo.

Profile Image for Yaaresse.
2,011 reviews16 followers
July 18, 2019
ETA: Fellow readers, be aware that if you review this book, no matter how you rate it, the author will insist on commenting. It's a polite, innocuous comment, but that's not the point. If you delete said comment, she will repost. An amateur author move and an annoying novice marketing move at best, but that it's done from other than the official GR author page adds a layer of creepiness and passive-aggression.

I am busting this book down to one star for this. It's indicative of the same annoying approach I disliked in the book. Also, I am deleting again her comments and blocking the account from which it came.

I definitely am not the audience for this book. I didn't enjoy reading it, and I doubt I'd ever cook anything from it. Fortunately for me, it was a library loan.

I knew it wasn't for me when I read "Pie dough really does want to please you," which reminded me far too much of the decluttering book that became a kind of weird cult last year, the one where the author claimed our socks get their feelings hurt if we fold them "wrong." Give me a break. Pie dough isn't out to get you. It's not trying to please you. It has zero consciousness. It is not sentient. Baking is simple chemistry, not channeling spirits or communication with alien life forms.

This book is part cookbook and a whole lot of meandering banter about the author (in first person), but it doesn't offer anything substantive in either. At first glance, there appear to be a lot of recipes, but most of the fruit pies are the same base recipe. There are photos, but they are more decoration than information, and I didn't think that the pies shown were particularly attractive or appetizing.

There simply isn't anything in here that you can't find in most basic cookbooks and without all the blog-like psuedo-confessional commentary about herself or the cutesy made-up terms or the pitches for her pie workshops. Usually I cook something from a cookbook before rating it, but nothing in this made me want to run to the kitchen. Admittedly, I started skimming about halfway through the book because I found all "all about me" stuff so annoying; therefore, I can't comment on whether I think the recipes have ratios that make sense or not.

Sidenote: I am floored that anyone would spend nearly $1000--and that doesn't even include room or meals--for a weekend at this woman's Pie Camp. That's insane. And yet they are allegedly sold out. (I mean, anyone can put anything on a website they own, so who knows the truth?) Look, for $1000 a weekend, my husband and I will teach you to cook pretty much whatever you want, plus put you up in the guest room, feed you, and drive you to the freaking airport. Hell, for $1000 a weekend, you could probably get a Culinary Institute-trained chef to come to your house and give you private lessons.

If the point is simply to learn to bake a good pie, any of the tried-and-true classic cookbooks provide solid recipes for the traditional (butter, lard and butter, shortening, shortening and butter) crusts: Betty Crocker, Fannie Farmer, etc. I can understand not wanting to face the intimidating and slightly OCD Pie and Pastry Bible, but Martha Stewart's Pie and Tarts can't be beat: clear instructions, simple enough for a beginner and interesting enough to keep your attention as confidence grows, and pictures that usually make you wish for scratch and sniff printing.
Profile Image for Jane Bonacci.
1 review2 followers
November 24, 2016
Kate McDermott has written the bible on pie. With recipes that cover different types of fillings and crusts, both sweet and savory, to the personal stories of her life, this is a book you will read cover to cover. With her common sense approach, she demystifies the art of making and baking pies. If you are new to pie baking, Kate will teach you how to become a confident and successful baker and reminds us to always add the secret ingredient, love, to all of our pies. Buy this book, it is one you will pass down through the generations.
Profile Image for Erin Maher.
42 reviews8 followers
March 9, 2017
Pies are amazing, but pie dough is terrifying. This book made it not terrifying; in fact, it made pie dough friendly. It's a cookbook that made me want to try something I'd never done and helped me produce delicious results, and it somehow also got me to by in to sentimental headnotes about love, which is saying something.
Profile Image for Katrina.
45 reviews4 followers
September 20, 2018
This is exactly what it says: A practical guide to pie and life. Loved it. I'll update after I bake my first pie (crust is chilling right now).

Edit: I just baked a pumpkin pie using the recipe from this book for the butter and leaf lard crust. I used beef tallow instead of lard, and it was perfect! I'd say her skill at explaining pie making combined with her recipe means it's practically foolproof! The crust is everything you want it to be! Definitely in pie-love.
Profile Image for Tena Edlin.
780 reviews
September 6, 2022
I found this book in a pile and thought to myself, “Did I ever finish this?” Nope! Well, 5 years later… LOL I’m going to have to reread it to remember the whole first part, but I think it will be worth it. I also know what special treat is going to be waiting for my husband when he gets back from a business trip later this month! I love this author’s whole philosophy on pie… there are lots of ways to get it right, and the journey to making good pie is part of the fun. She leaves lots of room for creativity. Great pie book.
Profile Image for Rachel.
447 reviews
March 27, 2017
"A Practical Guide" indeed. Lots of great recipes, but more importantly, lots of great tips and tricks for making your pastries. A great book to take my Great British Bake Off binging to the next level.

I checked out this book from Overdrive's Big Library Read, but it's one I'd definitely add to my cookbook collection.
Profile Image for Maria Angelica.
365 reviews345 followers
December 16, 2017
Eu aaaaaadorei esse livro. A forma como a autora conta anedotas e liga lições de vida com a arte de fazer tortas é absolutamente fantástica e charmosa. Meu único porém é que senti falta de mais fotos para explicar melhor algumas coisas, como por exemplo fazer o topo da torta entrelaçado. Fora isso, AMEEEEI!
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,771 reviews282 followers
February 25, 2017
"I believe anyone can make pie, and over the years I have taught thousands to do so."

In her introduction to this fabulous new book about pie making, Kate McDermott shares all the pie secrets she's accumulated over the decades she has spent making pies. I love her rules of pie making and life, especially number one: "Keep everything chilled, especially yourself." So wise.

My grandmother was a Pie Maker. Every Sunday we ate Sunday dinner with my grandparents at their home in the country, and my grandmother always made at least three pies for dessert. When she passed away, all of the grandchildren were given the opportunity to pick something of Grandma's to keep for ourselves, and I chose her recipe box. In the box were oodles and oodles of pie recipes. Since she died, more than twenty years ago, I've sought out more pie recipes and more pie books. Pie seems to be in my genes, in my heart, in my soul.

This book is the perfect book for any pie maker, beginner or advanced.

I've now tried out a savory pie recipe, Chicken Pot Pie, and a sweet pie recipe, the Quintessential Apple Pie. I've stretched out the reading of this book for over a month, and I hate to finish it, but I must finally go ahead and write the review and the blog post and share all the wonders of the book with you. Look for a blog post soon.
Profile Image for Lorraine.
1,017 reviews80 followers
October 16, 2016
Kate McDermott's Art of the Pie, A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life has recipes for pie dough, definitions for Leaf Lard and Butter Dough, glossary for pie making terms (short), directions for weaving a lattice top for a pie, signatures for pie makers such as vents, appliqués, crimps, flutes, and lattices, a chapter on Old-Fashioned Rhubarb and Citrus Pies such as Lemon Meringue, Shaker Lemon Pie, and Shaker Blood Orange Pie, a chapter on Savory Supper Pies such as Cottage Pie, Sheperd's Pie, Sausage and Apple Pie, Traditional English Pork Pies, and others. In addition to the previously mentioned information, this book has recipes for creamy, nutty, and pies to be served in warm weather. Of course, fruit pies make an appearance also. Ms. McDermott's book has all kinds of information including some of the history of pie making. The photographs by Andrew Scrivani are beautiful, and so realistic that I wish go to the kitchen and grab a piece of pie. Besides eating a piece of pie, as it states on the back of Ms. McDermott's book, "be happy make pie."
Profile Image for Racheal.
1,015 reviews82 followers
May 11, 2017
I found almost everything about this cookbook to be pretty insufferable, be it the author's rambling blocks of self indulgent text, the fact that everything's "artisan" and "heritage", or her advice to leave apple skins on (you read that right).

But the thing that really gets my goat is that she duplicates recipes to an insane degree. I've never seen anything like this before.

For example, there are literally 16 different recipes for what amounts to the same pie. We're talking recipes where the sole difference is the type of fruit and 1 tsp lemon juice instead of 1/2.

This is like if you picked up a sandwich cookbook that had a recipe for a club sandwich, then on the next page was a new recipe for "Turkey and Ham Sandwich with Bacon", then "Turkey and Roast Beef Sandwich with Bacon", then "Turkey Sandwich with Prosciutto" and then 12 other variations. And then you realized literally half the cookbook is A FUCKING CLUB SANDWICH.

I already thought it was strange to have a cookbook be the Big Library Read, and now I really don't get it. How? did this happen? :P
Profile Image for Katie N.
68 reviews
January 3, 2017
Excellent, detailed recipes for a large variety of pies. There are clear instructions, both wordy and concise. Options for gluten free crusts as well as gluten free. The pictures are so pretty, I wanted to whip out the pie pans and make some myself.
Profile Image for Nancy.
41 reviews8 followers
May 2, 2017
This book made me want to spend all day in the kitchen just baking (and that hasn't happened for a long time). I made the chicken pot pie and the traditional apple pie. The lard and butter crust was amazing! I didn't render my own lard as she suggested (I thought that was going a bit overboard). I just bought it at Walmart. I loved the practical advice and personal stories she included.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
38 reviews6 followers
July 22, 2019
Hit the spot

I'm a reasonably experienced home cook, but this book taught me many useful things. I long to hear a pie heartbeat now! It also had me feeling emotional about cooking with family and love... Not just "pie love."
Profile Image for Onceinabluemoon.
2,543 reviews58 followers
March 16, 2017
Mouthwatering and stunningly gorgeous photos, loved the addition of savory pies.
Profile Image for Kitty.
268 reviews
March 31, 2017
First cook book I've read cover to cover. Pies and life lessons all rolled into one great book.
Profile Image for Dawn.
10 reviews
August 14, 2019
Love the back stories, tricks and tips for the best pies yet!
Profile Image for Kirsten.
483 reviews2 followers
November 27, 2020
Wonderful book for pie lovers!
Made 2 pies already, with plans to take on the savory pies chapter next. Clear directions with sinfully delicious photography make it the perfect cookbook.
Profile Image for Aimee.
277 reviews5 followers
March 27, 2017
Beautiful photos, great stories. Now I want to bake a pie.
Profile Image for Beth.
657 reviews2 followers
March 20, 2017
I read this book as part of the Big Library read program.

Not the best food book I've read, but very useful and interesting at the same time. I want to make her cheddar cheese pie dough. The apple and sausage pie looks amazing. I learned a little more about cooking fruit. If you need to be gluten free- read this book . need a gluten free vegan pie crust...she has it

The best thing about this book - you know how long she has been working at her craft. And how many errors she made
1 review
April 20, 2017
Yum! Delicious from beginning to end. As soon as I closed the book, I ran out to buy flour, butter, and berries.
Profile Image for Jaime.
95 reviews
April 20, 2017
So many great pie recipes, especially for those who grow their own produce. Gooseberry pies, apricot pies, peach blackberry, lots of rhubarb variations, etc.
Profile Image for Paulette.
40 reviews8 followers
March 30, 2017

I loved the writing...all rolled up in the practical advice I will take to heart and try, try again (to bake an edible pie).
5,870 reviews130 followers
August 3, 2018
Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life is written by Kate McDermott with photographs by Andrew Scrivani is the Big Library Read Digital Book Club via the Toronto Public Library book for the March 16 – 30, 2017 period. It is a cookbook, which claims to be the definitive cookbook for pies or so the critics claims. I find reading this book rather interesting, because of the many book clubs I've joined – this is the first time I was asked to read or review a cookbook.

Full Disclosure: this review will not consider the quality or outcome of the recipes within, because quite frankly I've haven't used any recipes within. However, this review would take into account how well and comprehensive the recipes are written and the like. It will also take into account all the other bonus materials that are found in this cookbook.

Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life is a cookbook focusing on pies and is written Kate McDermott with photographs by Andrew Scrivani. This cookbook covers the many different pies available from the sweet fruit pies to the savory meat pies that could be eaten for dinner or supper. It is also design in a logical manner with the equipment needed, techniques, crust recipes, fruit pie recipes, and savory pie recipes in that order.

For the most part, the recipes are written well and very easy to understand. I like the fact that the recipes are nearly all two-page spread in length with a few exceptions. I also liked that the measurements were given in both imperial and metric, which expands the audience of the cookbook. There are variants to some of the recipes, which are much appreciated for variety sake. For the crust recipes, I’m glad that there are so many types – including the non-gluten types.

Typically I loathed recipes that refer to a different section of the book – which is virtually every recipe in the book. However, I don't mind it so much in this particular cookbook. Logistically, it would be problematic to have the same recipes repeating over and over again, considering that every pie needs a crust and thus a crust recipe. So, it makes sense to have the crust recipes and techniques in one section, which McDermott has done.

For the caloric conscious, there are no nutritional facts per serving. However, this is a rather new inclusion and I don't mind so much that it's not given. Then again, one wouldn't be going to a cookbook about pies if one's diet hasn't already been broken. Still, having a sugar content listing would have been nice for those who are diabetic or just trying to cut down on refined sugars.

Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life is extremely informative. It lists all the various equipment one needs to bake pies and more importantly how to take care of them and which type of utensils are more beneficial than others. It also teaches a person how to get to know their ovens better, because each oven are slightly different and knowing one's oven would give better pies and other baked goods. There is also a nifty guide to when to buy fruits and which types of fruits are better for baking than other types – it all depends on what sort of pie one wants to make.

The personal anecdotes are rather charming and it lets the reader know Kate McDermott and her life better, but I pondered if this is apropos to a cookbook. I am unsure if this is typical or not, because I could literally count all the cookbooks I read from cover to cover on one hand. Normally, I would just read the recipe I want and plan accordingly. Regardless, I rather like reading about McDermott's thoughts on not on each recipe, but her pie making journey.

All in all, Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life is a wonderful cookbook for those who love pies or pie making. While I'm not sure if this book is the definitive book in pie making – I think it's extremely close.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 191 reviews

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