A few weeks ago, I began my fourth culinary course at George Brown in Toronto. I’m working my way towards a Bakery Arts Certificate, which requires the completion of ten courses. The course I chose for this session is called Art of Pies. The course explores a variety of different types of pies, including various fillings and crusts.

On the menu for Week 1:  Orange Cream Phyllo Pie with Grand Marnier Glaze

Much like the two courses I took in the last session, this course began with very little introduction. The assumption is that at this point, students are familiar with the basics of baking. As a result, we hit the ground running, scaling our ingredients and preparing for an intricate pie.

Dscn4520We began by preparing the orange custard filling for the pie. The filling consisted of milk, butter, sugar, eggs, orange juice, vanilla extract and a very surprise ingredient – cream of wheat. The instructor indicated that using cream of wheat in a custard filling was uncommon. I think this particular recipe was a way of demonstrating that there a variety of thickeners that can be used in custards and fillings.

We worked with phyllo for our crust and while we did not make the phyllo pastry, we did review some important tips when working with phyllo. The most important tip being that unused phyllo sheets should be covered with a damp cloth to keep them moist while they wait to be used. Phyllo dries up in a flash and a dried up piece of phyllo isn’t going to be of much use.

We used four sheets of phyllo for both the base of the pie and the crust. When building the base, we brushed each sheet of phyllo with melted butter before layering on the next piece. Once we’d prepared our base, we filled it with the custard and then topped it with the phyllo crust. We scored the top of the pie into eight pieces (makes it easier to slice the pie after it’s baked) before baking.

Once baked, we prepared a syrup of sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, lemon peel and Grand Marnier. The syrup was poured over the pie, about ten minute after it came out of the oven. We allowed the syrup to slowly seep into the phyllo crust. The final touch was a sprinkling of icing sugar.

I loved using phyllo to make a pie and the syrup was incredible. I’d have the syrup over ice cream! While the flavour of the filling was good, the texture of the filling, due to the cream of wheat, was a bit strange. While I like cream of wheat, it dominated the filling in terms of texture. I would definitely make this pie again, but I would not use cream of wheat in the filling.

We ended our class by quickly forming a basic pastry crust which we used to make two pie bases each. These were then frozen in preparation for Week 2.

On the menu for Week 2:  Cherry Cream Cheese Pie and Strawberry, Rhubarb and Apple Pie

Having already prepared our pie bases in Week 1, we began by putting together the filling for the Cherry Cream Cheese Pie.

The idea behind this pie is that it’s essentially a cheesecake, except it’s baked in a pastry crust and doesn’t require a water bath, as some cheesecakes do. The cream cheese filling consisted of cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, eggs, sour cream and vanilla extract.

Dscn4530We mixed all the ingredients until we had a smooth, velvety filling. We poured half the filling into the prepared shell, topped the filling with cherry spread, and then topped the cherry with the remainder of the cheese filling. We then topped the pie off with a streusel topping made of butter, sugar, brown sugar and bread flour. Before baking the pies, we sprinkled on cinnamon sugar which would caramelize while baking.

While this pie looked pretty, the main drawback for me was the cherry spread. We used cherry pie filling, which is goopy. Our instructor indicated that at home, a better idea would be to either make your own cherry spread or to use a high quality cherry jam. I did, however, enjoy the cheese filling with the streusel topping. I’d probably try this one again, minus the cherry pie filling of course!

Dscn4526The highlight of this class, for certain, was the Strawberry, Rhubarb and Apple Pie. We used frozen strawberries and rhubarb for the filling. During the summer, when berries and other fruits are at their peak, I freeze loads of them just so that I can make pies like this in the middle of winter! The rest of the filling was made of apples, lemon juice, grated lemon, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, cornstarch and water.

We stewed the fruit in butter, sugar and lemon juice until it softened. We then added a slurry made of water and cornstarch. As soon as it thickened, we spooned our filling into the base and then sprinkled over the same streusel topping as the Cherry Cream Cheese Pie, except we added oats to this streusel topping.

This pie was fantastic! It was proof that when fruit is frozen at its peak, there’s no reason why it can’t be enjoyed when it’s out of season. The only thing missing was a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream!