Three years ago, Phoebe Wood found herself in desperate need of change. “I had quit my job, packed up my life and travelled to a city that I had never been to and where I barely knew a soul.” Wandering the streets of New York City, she discovered a deep affection for pie and its special place in American culture that was miles away from the savory Aussie hand pies she had grown up with.
Wood eventually returned home — 22 pounds heavier — to her native Sydney, Australia, where she devoted herself to her pie pursuits. With food stylist and recipe writer Kirsten Jenkins, Wood wrote “The Pie Project,” a collection of 60 different recipes that will satisfy every sweet tooth imaginable. The book offers up desserts you’ve never heard of, like this baked ricotta pie infused with orange blossom and dates that is inspired by Middle Eastern ingredients and flavors.
Beginning bakers needn’t be intimidated by the pretty pictures because “The Pie Project” is all about “experimentation, appreciation and enjoyment,” Wood and Jenkins write. “No matter how many times you make a pie, it is always different.” I’ll have another slice of that.
BAKED RICOTTA, ORANGE BLOSSOM AND DATE PIE
Yield: Makes one 6¾-inch pie (8 slices)
10½ ozs shortbread cookies
2¾ ozs unsalted butter, melted then cooled
1 lb + 2 ozs fresh ricotta cheese (firm)
9 ozs cream cheese, at room temperature
6 oz (or ¾ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
2 tsps orange blossom water
2 tsps natural vanilla extract
8 dates, pitted and chopped
A 6¾-inch pie dish
A wire rack, for pressing
An extra pan with baking weights
Prepare the crust: Using a food processor, pulse the shortbread cookies until they become fine crumbs. Add the butter and continue pulsing until thoroughly combined.
Press the crumb mixture into the base and along the sides of a 6¾-inch pie dish. Transfer the crust to the refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.
Prepare the filling: Clean the processor and then pulse the ricotta, cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs, orange blossom water and vanilla; continue pulsing to combine.
Bake the pie: Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Scatter the chopped dates over the chilled pie crust base, then evenly spread the ricotta mixture over the top. Transfer the pie to bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until it turns a golden color and is firm to the touch. Once done, turn the oven off but leave the pie to cool in the oven for 30 minutes with the oven door slightly ajar.
After 30 minutes, transfer the pie from the oven to a flat surface. Press the wire rack firmly over your pie while it is still warm to create a grid-like design across the surface. Weigh the wire rack down using the extra pan with baking weights and allow the pie to cool to room temperature like so.
Once completely cool, remove the pan and wire rack; the grid-like indentations should have set. Transfer the pie to the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours or until cold.
Recipe shared with permission from “The Pie Project” by Phoebe Wood and Kirsten Jenkins, published by Hardie Grant Books, September 2017
All photos by Kirsten Jenkins