The Life of Pi(e), via Carrot Pie
It was over 5 years ago that I first heard about Daniel Tammet. An autistic man living in the UK, I came across Daniel’s story in the documentary film about him, The Boy With the Incredible Brain. Though challenged by life in numerous ways, Daniel’s autism has also given him profound intellect, including the ability to recite, for hours, a good deal of the numbers in the mathematical sequence referred to as “Pi,” as shown here. He can also master languages in hours, like Icelandic, widely considered the most difficult language to learn.
Daniel’s skills are astounding. They really invite us to consider the myriad ways in which life is balanced by struggle and reward, tragedy and triumph, and ultimately, by resilience. For me, the takeaway of learning about him was that, what might upon first viewing seem to be a disability is simply, really, at its essence, a matter of being differently abled, of orienting oneself to life in a different direction, with a different vantage point, and perhaps a different compass.
Today is Pi day. In celebration of Daniel, and difference, and deliciousness, I’d like to share with you my recipe for Carrot Pie, one of the Spring pies from my book on seasonal sweet and savory pies, A Year of Pies. Carrot pie might not be the most commonly recognized pie. It doesn’t possibly have the homey, cozy nostalgia of chocolate or banana cream pie, or the impressiveness of a mountain of meringue generously spread atop lemon meringue pie. It’s not associated with holiday baking (pumpkin), or former presidents with axes and fibs (cherry). What it is, though, is unique, and complex, and most definitely what you should be baking on this fine spring Pi day. Viva la difference!
Carrot Pie (from A Year of Pies, Lark, 2012)
One of my favorite aspects of going out for Indian food is the array of desserts available. My pie tribute to carrot halwa-a mixture of carrots, dried fruits and spices- this recipe pairs the sweet vegetable with classic Indian flavors of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper. Think “pumpkin pie goes to Mumbai” to get a sense of its flavor profile.
Makes: One 9-inch pie.
You Will Need:
Basic Pie Dough
-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 1/4 teaspoons salt
-1 cup butter (2 sticks), chilled and cubed
-3/4 cup ice water
-1 pound carrots, scrubbed and ends removed
– ½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
-1 cup whole milk
-1 teaspoon ground cardamom
– ½ teaspoon ground ginger
– ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
– ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
– ½ teaspoon sea salt
-3 eggs, separated
Prepare the crust:
Mix the flour and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, incorporate the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal, but with several pea and lima bean-sized butter bits in the mix.
Slowly drizzle in the ice water. Stir with a mixing spoon until the dough starts to clump. Transfer the dough onto a floured work surface and fold it together into itself using your hands. The dough should come together easily but shouldn’t feel overly sticky.
Divide the dough in half and shape into two flattened disks. Wrap each dough ball in cellophane (or, my preference, reusable eco-friendly Beeswrap!) and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie pan. Remove one disk of the dough from the refrigerator. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and fit it into the prepared pan. Trim the crust overhang to 1 inch and crimp the edges decoratively. Prick the bottom of the crust about 6 or 7 times with a fork, then place the crust in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Line the crust with parchment paper and fill it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, then remove the crust from the oven, leaving the oven on and reducing the temperature to 375 degrees F. Remove the dried beans or pie weights and parchment. Cool the crust completely before filling. Use the other pie dough within 2-3 days, or store in a airtight container in the freezer and use within 6 months.
Prepare the filling:
Cut the prepped carrots into ¼-inch rounds. Steam them in a saucepan with 1 inch of water for 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Drain off the water in a colander, then puree the carrots in a blender or food processor until completely smooth (you may need to add a bit of water to ensure uniform smoothness).
Add the sugar, milk, spices and salt to the carrots in the processor and puree until well combined. Pour the mixture into a medium-size bowl.
Whisk the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl until blended. Using either a whisk or an electric mixer, beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until foamy.
Whisk the beaten egg yolks into the carrot puree until well blended, then whisk in the beaten whites. This isn’t a soufflé, so don’t worry about being gentle with the whites when you incorporate them into the puree.
Assemble the pie:
Pour the carrot purée into the prepared piecrust. Set the pie pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in the 375 degrees F oven for 40-45 minutes, until the filling is set. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.
*Variation: For a more traditionally-spiced pie, omit the cardamom and black pepper, increase the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon, and add ½ teaspoon each ground nutmeg and ground cloves.