So you want to learn to make pie. Or maybe you just want to eat it. Whatever your reason, there is no shortage of either activity at Nick Malgieri’s Pie, Tart, and Crumble class at the Institute of Culinary Education. My father and I, (he: a graduate of the CIA in Hyde Park, me: the humblest of bakers), were up to our elbows in sweet dough, sour cherries, and ripe raspberries. Peach pie with almond crumble topping, deep dish blueberry pie with cream biscuit crust, sour cherry custard pie, sweet cherry cheese tart, apricot and almond tart, raspberry tartlets with cookie crust, strawberry shortcake tart with biscuit crust, and a summer tomato and basil Quiche. I am gorged all over again, just listing them all.
Working in groups, we took on a gauntlet of 3-4 pies and tarts. The atmosphere was casual and informal, and I wandered back and forth between work stations, watching Nick offer his agile hand to different tasks and checking in on the sundry recipes. Some participants were more able-bodied amongst the kitchen equipment than others, but everyone was there in good spirits and a feeling of camaraderie quickly spread throughout the room.
As our pies baked, Nick interjected the steady stream of fruit and butter with a more savory tart. After rolling the crust onto two sheet pans, we layered on shredded Gruyère, fresh tomato slices, julienned basil, and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Then Nick poured a cheese filling over the tarts and popped them into the convection oven.
Now back to the pies. As Nick showed us how to prepare the quiches as well as the raspberry tartlets, he was constantly asking us to check on the multitude of pies baking in the oven, keeping track of the various steps required. He taught us to bake the crumble topping for the peach pies on a sheet pan while baking the actual peach pies and then sprinkle the crumble onto the pie. This ensured that all of the crumble topping was fully baked and that the underbelly of it did not have that goopy, floury texture. I found it amazing how he kept track of all of the different baking times. Nick accounted for how often the ovens were being open and closed, adding 10-15 minutes onto some of the pies because of this. Every time the oven door opens to check on what’s inside, an abundance of heat escapes. Don’t let your impatience get the best of you.
Four hours later, 13 very hungry and antsy amateur bakers were ready to eat some pie. We sliced cold butter, we rolled our dough, we washed our peaches and our apricots, we pitted our cherries. We were covered in flour, sticky with juices, and sustaining our energy on hidden bites of apricot, stolen shards of Parmigiano, and rapid-fire raspberries. I didn’t care about making the whipped cream for the strawberry shortcake. I wasn’t especially consumed with the glaze for the apricot and almond tart. I just wanted a slice of that peach crumble, and maybe a few other select choices. So finally, finally, we set all the pies out on a work station. We tossed around plastic plates and silverware and dug in. The peach crumble gave in like a flat tire when I sliced it. I spooned the juices and slippery peaches onto my plate. My dad went for the deep dish blueberry pie. Underneath the biscuit crust, the blueberries shined and glistened like black top bathing in rainbow light beneath a sun shower. I was unexpectedly hit with the sour cherry pie, one I planned to otherwise disregard. My dad took the first slice, and if the pie had surpassed his taste tests above and beyond the rest of the bounty, I knew this lattice-topped treat was worthy of a small piece, no matter how satiated with pie I was. The sour cherries had half-bursted within the inside, and the mix of the sweet crust, the sugary sweet filling, and the final burst of the sour cherries was enough to send me over the edge. That’s when we decided to pack it in. I couldn’t possibly stand one more bite. We constructed a pie box, carefully lay a whole sour cherry pie inside, extended our gratitude to Nick for putting up with our lot and making us 10 pounds heavier, and headed home. I could smell the remnants of sweet dough on our clothes and underneath our skin throughout the car ride, but it was most definitely worth it. This is not a class for the light-hearted or the light-eater: Nick Malgieri’s Pie, Tart, and Crumble class is a brimful, chock-a-block, gluttonous affair.