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Pie by the stack

Take old-fashioned dessert to new heights

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 9:43 a.m. CDT
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Pies can be stacked until curiosity, and your stomach, are satisfied. Here a pumpkin pie is stacked on top of a pecan pie. (Pablo Alcala/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
Caption
(MCT News Service)
Stack pies are unfamiliar to most people except for those in and around Washington and Mercer counties in Kentucky. Sandra Davis of Springfield, Ky., author of “That Special Touch” cookbook, said they probably originated at church potlucks or reunions.

In Kentucky, stack cakes are common, but few people are familiar with stack pies.

A recent article in The New York Times generated some buzz about this old-fashioned dessert. Times food writer Melissa Clark wrote about stack pies in a July issue, then the story was picked up by NBC’s “Today” show, and now it’s getting attention from other food reporters and bloggers.

Clark interviewed Karen Thornton, who was researching her family’s genealogy, and Thornton told Clark about a recipe for stack pies she found in a book from the ‘30s about western North Carolina, where her family is from. In the book, given to her by an aunt, there was “one paragraph that describes people bringing fruit pies to church functions. Each family’s pie would get stacked on top of one another, and when it was dessert time, the whole thing was sliced like a layer cake.”

Thornton and her husband, Chris, who have their own blog, Thepeche.com, were intrigued and began to bake dozens of stack pies in different flavors.

We asked several cooks in Central Kentucky about stack pies, and discovered they are unfamiliar to most people except for those in and around Washington and Mercer counties.

Sandra Davis of Springfield, Ky., author of “That Special Touch” cookbook, said they probably originated at church potlucks or reunions. The recipe she has is from “my mother-in-law who got it from her sister-in-law. The handwritten copy came from Kathy Elliott whose mother came up with the original recipe. Her name was Dot Davis, a wonderful cook. She baked the stack pies for her daughter and son-in-law’s restaurant in Lebanon, Ky., called Country Kitchen. She would make stack pies and then use the egg whites to make old-fashioned angel food cakes for Sunday dinner at the restaurant.

“The people in Lebanon had never heard of stack pies, but they were a sellout every weekend.

“My mother-in-law, Ella Mae Davis, always made them for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I got to take the leftover pie home to put in the freezer and enjoy during the spring. It’s so rich you only cut a sliver. All the pies are stacked and covered with caramel.

“Ella Mae always made them to sell at the homemakers’ annual bazaar. Not many people made them because they were too much trouble and rather expensive. Some were five pies high and some four.”

Tyler Horton, co-owner of 1851 Historic Maple Hill Manor Bed and Breakfast in Springfield, said recipes for stack pies can be found in many Washington County, Ky., cookbooks. “We have been known to serve a stack pie to our guests, however, they are a lot of work,” Horton said.

Stack pies are common around Mercer County, Ky., and in that area they’re referred to as custard stack pies.

Betty Dean Coleman of Harrodsburg, Ky., has never made the stack pie, but she buys them from people in the area. “They are very, very rich and they have a lot of brown sugar and caramel, and they have anywhere from three to 12 pie crusts as the stacking, and this caramel buttery filling goes in between,” she said. “Then when they’re stacked up, you cover it all with frosting or icing of some kind, but most of the time it’s caramel.

“They’re delicious, but you have to serve them ¼-inch thick. You can’t eat any more.”

The Thorntons’ pies were stacked two or three pies high, so we decided to make ours only two pies high, although tradition calls for many stacks.

PUMPKIN-PECAN STACK PIE

Pumpkin pie:

2 cups cooked pumpkin, or 1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup evaporated milk

3 whole eggs

2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell

Pecan pie:

1 cup dark corn syrup

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

1½ cups (6 ounces) pecans

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell

To make pumpkin pie: In medium bowl, beat together all ingredients and pour into unbaked pie shell that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees (do not remove pie from oven); bake an additional 50 minutes or until almost set. Cool completely on wire rack.

To make pecan pie: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie shell that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool completely on wire rack.

To assemble: When pies are completely cool, very gently remove pecan pie from pie pan, using two spatulas, and place on a cake plate. Remove pumpkin pie from pie pan with spatulas, and place atop pecan pie. Slice into thin wedges and serve.

Here is a recipe from Sandra Davis.

MOM’S STACK PIE

Filling:

12 egg yolks

2 whole eggs

3 cups white sugar

2 sticks melted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup cream

4 pie shells, partially baked

Icing:

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons white corn syrup

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup cream

To make filling: In a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and whole eggs on low speed. Add white sugar, melted butter, vanilla and cream. Mix well. Pour into pre-baked pie shells and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. When pies have cooled completely, remove from pie pans, and stack.

To make icing: Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring mixture to a soft boil stage. Pour over stacked pies.

Betty Dean Coleman said this recipe is from the late Virginia Noel of Harrodsburg, Ky.

VIRGINIA NOEL’S STACK PIE

1 stick melted margarine

2 cups sugar

2 heaping tablespoons flour

4 whole eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ pint whipping cream

3 unbaked pie shells

Caramel icing (recipe follows)

In a large mixing bowl, combine margarine, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla and whipping cream. Mix well. Divide mixture equally among pie shells. Bake pies at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely.

Remove pies from pans and gently layer with caramel icing between layers.

CARAMEL ICING

1½ cups brown sugar

½ cup milk

Dash of salt

1 stick butter or margarine

1½ cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, milk, salt, and butter. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until thick enough to spread.

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