If you ask me what my most frequently referenced dessert cookbook is, I'd tell you it's The Joy of Cooking: All About Pies and Tarts. This little book by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker shines with great American pie recipes and tips on foolproof pie dough, how to make hand pies, and finessing the fine art of latticework.
It's a keeper and I think that can largely be attributed to the fact that it's a concentrated tome that's devoted to one small subject and is researched within an inch of its life--not as common with cookbooks these days. From what I've gathered, it's now out of print, but there are many used copies out there; I snagged one at Green Apple Books so it's certainly not impossible.
What I love about the book is it's such a good starting point. All of the recipes in Joy of Cooking: All About Pies and Tarts are solid, from their Shoofly Pie to the Vanilla Cream Pie or Sweet Potato Pie. I always find myself starting here, exploring at least one other recipe and then making adaptations to come up with my own version. So why go to all this work in the first place? For many food bloggers who like to cite recipes on their webpage, adapting an original recipe is important for copyright and legal reasons. Many folks have written on this subject in thought-provoking and sometimes even contentious ways, including Diane Jacob and David Lebovitz.
But for bakers like myself, it's also important to adapt recipes to keep up with the times and trends of your customer. And your own tastes. Or those of your mom or your great Aunt Sally. You get the picture. A telling example is the Pecan Pie that appears in Joy of Cooking: All About Pies and Tarts. It's a very classic, common recipe that you're likely to see if you google "Pecan Pie." But it's a little too sweet for my tastes: it's got more of that ooey, goeey-ness going on than I prefer. In general, when working on adapting a baking recipe, I think about the following factors:
Adapting Recipes to Keep up With Trends
Use less sugar whenever possible to allow the other ingredients to shine
Use local ingredients when possible
Use real ingredients (no margarine or Crisco unless when imperative for the end result)
Pare down the number of steps and processes to make it as easy for your reader (or yourself) as possible.
Always ask yourself, is there an easier/more commonsense way?
Likewise, ask yourself: what about this recipe do I like and what must go?
So what I did with the pie recipe is add bittersweet chocolate and espresso powder to balance out the sweetness, took down the amount of corn syrup and sugar, and used my favorite flaky pie dough. And voila: now we're talking. I took a cue from the Baked Cookbook on grinding half of the pecans and laying the other half on top (they also use a dark chocolate in their pie) and got the espresso powder idea from the lovely and always spot-on Dorie Greenspan. So then what are we left with? A pie pecan pie fans love, but also a pie that has coverted many naysayers. Recently at the farmer's market, I traded a slice of this pie with one of the farmers for some meyer lemons and fennel. After one bite, he took a seat and said to me, "Now this is a 'sit down, close your eyes and enjoy' kind of pie." Hopefully you'll feel the same way. If you don't, adapt away! After all, that's what it's all about. We all start somewhere.