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A holiday pie doesn’t need to be intimidating | TribLIVE.com
Food & Drink

A holiday pie doesn’t need to be intimidating

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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty makes a pumpkin 'dirt' pie and Dutch apple pie with oat crumble topping.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty cuts apples for her Dutch apple pie with oat crumble topping, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty tops her Pumpkin Dirt Mousse.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty uses a food processor to mix a pie crust Dutch apple pie with oat crumble topping, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty spreads whip cream her pumpkin 'dirt,' Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
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Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty checks on her Dutch Apple Pie.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty uses wax paper to roll out a pie crust for her Dutch apple pie with oat crumble topping, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Chef Casey Renee, 31, of Regent Square and pastry chef at Whitfield at Ace Hotel in East Liberty spreads whip cream her pumpkin 'dirt,' Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

Casey Renee likes dishing the dirt, especially when it’s rich and sweet and eight layers thick.

As the pastry chef at Whitfield restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty, Renee suggests making Pumpkin Dirt Mousse as well as a traditional Dutch apple pie with buttermilk-whipped cream for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Dirt pumpkin pie is the dirt that everyone loves to eat at family gatherings,” Renee says. “Adults like it as much as kids. It’s fun and a little different.”

A South Hills native, Renee worked in advertising until she decided to pursue her passion for cooking. She moved to New York and enrolled at the Natural Gourmet Institute, which trains chefs in healthful epicurean food preparation.

“It’s a hippie school,” she says, with a smile. “It influenced my whole way of life. I don’t consider myself a nutritionist — I eat a lot of sugar — but it opened my mind to other ways of cooking.”

Renee, 31, spent years “working savory” at a number of New York City restaurants, including Del Posto and Momofuku Ko in Manhattan, where she gravitated to desserts.

“Pastry is a little more creative. You need to have finesse and style in the plating,” she says. “When a person orders dessert, it’s an indulgence, a luxury, so you want to make the experience — every bite of it — worth it.”

The science — “the chemistry,” she says — behind pastry-making also intrigues Renee, who may spend weeks developing a recipe, such as the whipped butterscotch cheesecake that has been a recent hit at Whitfield.

“Cheesecake is popular, and this one is as light and airy as mousse,” she says. “You can enjoy it after a meal and not feel weighted down.”

Her Whitfield menu includes desserts for folks with special dietary needs without sacrificing flavor, such as a gluten-free alternative to the Pumpkin Dirt Mousse. Her vegan chocolate mousse, made with dark chocolate and coconut milk, tastes like a Mounds bar, she says.

“I don’t want it to be our vegan dessert. I want it to be delicious, and ‘Oh, by the way, it’s vegan.’ ”

Besides her own creations, she enjoys putting a twist on classic recipes, such as adding buttermilk to the whipped cream topping for the Dutch apple pie. “It adds a note of tanginess and it helps cleanse the palate,” she says.

She has fun concocting recipes such as the Pumpkin Dirt Mousse that she says bring out her inner child. She approaches her job with a relaxed attitude, something she advises for the home cook who may feel pressured to achieve perfection when preparing holiday dinners.

“Stress suffocates creativity and happiness,” she says. “If you don’t have time to make whipped cream, Cool Whip isn’t the end of the world. The fact that you’re baking something is enough.”

Nonetheless, making pie crust from scratch needn’t be intimidating, says Renee, who offers the following tips. The key to a flaky crust is to keep the butter in the dough as cold as possible, which means not overworking the dough and rolling it out as quickly as possible. Using a touch of vinegar in the dough makes for a more tender crust. A metal pie pan will bake the crust more quickly, but a glass pan, which she prefers, lets you visually check the bottom crust for doneness before removing the pie from the oven.

Deborah Weisberg is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Dutch Apple Pie

For the oat topping:

34 cup flour

½ cup sugar

½ cup packed light-brown sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup oats

½ cup cold butter, cut into chunks

In a mixer with a paddle, mix until incorporated and crumbly, or use fingers to smash. Chill.

For the pie dough:

2 12 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks cold butter, diced

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons cold water

2 teaspoons apple-cider vinegar

Add the dry ingredients into a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until crumbly. There can be some pea-size butter chunks. With the food processor going, add the eggs, water and vinegar. Mix until dough ball starts to form. Do not overmix. Finish bringing the dough together by hand if necessary. Remove from food processor. Place dough ball between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out to 14 inch thick. Line the bottom of a baking dish with the crust. Crimp edges if desired or cut off excess. Chill for at least 1 hour.

For the pie filling:

3 pounds apples (about 6-8), Galas and Granny Smith

23 cup sugar

¼ cup butter

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

18 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Peel and chop apples to about the size of a nickel. Melt the butter in a pot and then add the apples and sugar. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes. Apples will become very juicy but should still have some crunch to them. Strain apples and reserve in a bowl, and pour the liquid back into the pot. Bring liquid back to a boil and reduce for about 5 minutes until the liquid becomes thicker. Add back into apples along with the spices. Cool slightly and add to pie crust. Top with oat crumble and bake for about 50 minutes, rotating halfway through baking time. If using a glass casserole dish, check underside to see if crust has cooked through. Let cool at least 1 hour.

For the whipped cream:

1 cup heavy cream

13 cup confectioners’ sugar

½ cup buttermilk

Pinch of salt

Whip with mixer or by hand in a cold bowl until stiff.

Pumpkin Dirt Mousse

For the snickerdoodle crumbs:

3¾ cups flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

¼ cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of salt

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, milk and vanilla, making sure to scrape the bowl with a spatula. Next, add the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Roll out dough into thin sheets about ¼-inch thick. Chill for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 325 degrees.Mix the sugar, cinnamon and salt together, sprinkle over the dough and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until cookie is golden brown and crisp. Let cool then pulse in a food processor to make crumbs.

For the mousse:

2 cups whole milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract (or used vanilla bean)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

4 large egg yolks

¾ cup granulated sugar

13 cup cornstarch

¾ teaspoon salt

1 cup pumpkin puree (Libby’s)

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Heat the milk and vanilla in a pot on medium heat. In a separate bowl, whisk together the spices, yolks, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and pumpkin. When milk comes to a simmer (remove the vanilla bean at this time, if using), slowly temper into the yolk mixture while stirring. Add back to the pot and cook on medium heat, stirring until mixture boils, thickens and does not taste like cornstarch. Use a spatula to help prevent sticking in the corners of the pot. Cool.

In a mixing bowl with whisk attachment, whip cream and confectioners’ sugar until stiff peaks form. Mix half of the whipped cream into the pumpkin mousse in three increments, folding gently with a spatula.

Layer pumpkin dirt with snickerdoodle crumbs, mousse, crumbs, whipped cream, crumbs, mousse, crumbs, whipped cream. Garnish with crumbled snickerdoodles and candies of your choice, like mini peanut butter cups, gummy worms and candy corn.

This also can be served as parfait in small cordial glasses.

Pumpkin-Seed Brittle

This can be used as a gluten-free alternative to snickerdoodles.

1¾ cups sugar

¼ cup light corn syrup

1 stick butter

1 tablespoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

In a pot, bring the sugar, corn syrup and butter to a boil and cook until it becomes a light caramel/amber color. Use a spatula at first to make sure the sugar has completely dissolved, but resist the urge to stir after it has dissolved. If necessary, swirl the pot to mix to keep from crystallizing. When the sugar is caramelized, turn off the heat and add the salt and baking soda. With a clean spatula, fold in the pumpkin seeds. Working quickly, pour the brittle onto a silpat and cover with another. Using a rolling pin, roll out the brittle as thin as you can before it cools. You can also pull it with your fingers, but it may be hot! When it is cooled, break into small pieces or crumble in a food processor. Store in an airtight container in a cool place, or else it will become sticky.

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