The bakers at Wick's Pies in Winchester, Indiana, crossed chess pie with pumpkin pie, adding more eggs, more spices and a little cornmeal to their pumpkin recipe. The result: a pie with a more intense pumpkin and spice flavor, and a slightly thicker filling.
Mommy's Pumpkin Pie: "This recipe is adapted from my mother's classic pumpkin pie," says Linda Hundt, owner of Sweetielicious Bakery Cafe in DeWitt, Michigan. "I added cream to make it a bit richer and orange zest for flavor." The result is a dark, mahogany pumpkin pie with ginger-cinnamon-clove spiciness (bottom pie in photo).
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie: Cream cheese strudel inspired Peter Sterk, owner of Just Pies in Westerville, Ohio, to build a pumpkin pie with a surprise cream cheese layer (top pie in photo). For the creamiest pumpkin pie, don't overbake.
Lisa Sparks, who owns Lisa's Pie Shop in Atlanta, Indiana (north of Indianapolis), blends tangy Granny Smiths and mellower Jonathans in her double-crust pie seasoned with cinnamon. Tapioca thickens her pale filling, making a lusciously clear sauce that wraps itself around the tender sliced fruit. The trick to tapioca: Soften it in liquid before baking. Lisa says this apple pie recipe brought top honors at both local and national pie competitions.
Caramel-dipped apples inspired baker Caroline Imig to create this dessert for Wayne's Family Restaurant in Oconto, Wisconsin (north of Green Bay). A mantle of flour-sugar-butter crumbs bakes crisp over the sliced crisp-tart Cortland apples. Each serving gets a spoonful of caramel topping and a sprinkling of toasted nuts. Carolyn covers the pie loosely with foil during the first 15 minutes of baking to keep it from overbrowning.
This pie from Achatz Handmade Pie Company in Chesterfield, Michigan (north of Detroit), seems basic only until you try it. Our taste panel praised how the cherryness didn't hide behind other flavors. It even draws an accent from the lemon juice's hint of tartness. A sprinkling of sugar bakes onto the top crust for a sweet crunch.
"Cherry Crisp Pie is popular because it's not overly sweet and has just the right bite to it. That makes it a true cherry lover's pie," says Kathy McCauley, owner of Kathy's Pies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. "The crumb topping is a nice twist on the traditional (double-crust) pie, giving it a shot of sweetness" with every bite.
Red raspberries and blueberries join ruby-red cherries in Cherry Berry Berry Pie(left), a favorite from Sweetielicious Bakery Cafe in DeWitt, Michigan (just north of Lansing). The trio yields a dark, rich filling crowned with a crunchy streusel topping.
For another twist, try Cherry Apple Crumb Pie. At Grand Traverse Pie Company in Traverse City, Michigan, cooks use tart Michigan Northern Spy Apples with the local tart Montmorency cherries for this pie to satisfy both apple and cherry lovers.
This picture-perfect pie takes more than a flaky crust. "The key to this pie is the apples you use," says Mary Schrier of Cumberland, Iowa, who got this recipe from an old, handwritten family recipe book. She suggests not using Red Delicious apples. Instead, make this with Granny Smith, Jonathan or any sweet-tart heirloom apples. "There are quite a few orchards that are starting to carry the heirloom apples, and this old recipe is just waiting for them," she says.
Apple trees by the thousands cover the hills that rise along the Missouri River in Nebraska's southeast corner. For more than 25 years, the historic town of Nebraska City has hosted the Applejack Festival. The pie-baking contest draws dozens of entries. This recipe took first place two years in a row. It's easier to eat than a caramel apple, but tastes just as good.
A cheesecake layer and nut topping help this pumpkin pie stand out from its peers. This recipe was a winner at the Morton, Illinois, Pumpkin Festival baking competition. Paradise Pumpkin Pie and Mom's Oatmeal Pie (next slide) both made our list of the 20 top recipes published in Midwest Living's® first two decades.
We love the nutty oatmeal taste of this sweet treat, and it's a healthier alternative to most desserts. If you're watching calories, serve this pie with a berry topping instead of whipped cream. Diana's Delights restaurant in Gaylord, Michigan, shared this recipe with us.
The holiday Pie Fest at Southmoreland on the Plaza, a historic 13-room inn northeast of Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, features several dozen pies including Harvest Pie (front of picture), Sweet Potato Pie (left) and Sweetie Pie (top).
Harvest Pie blends the tastes and aromas of apples, cranberries and baked spices.
Sweet Potato Pie has a soft filling with just a touch of sweetness. Pie lovers with a serious sweet tooth need to try the Sweetie Pie, full of melted chocolate, butterscotch, pecans and coconut.
This berry pie proves that there's beauty in simplicity. The piecrust is wrapped around a three-ingredient filling that includes fine dry breadcrumbs. You don't even need a pie plate to make this juicy treat.
Pumpkin pie is America's second-favorite pie, trailing only apple in a 2008 survey by Crisco and the American Pie Council.
From scratch or a can? Purists start with a real pumpkin, making a puree from scratch. The rest of us just open a can, an admirably Midwestern thing to do since 85 percent of the nation's canned pumpkin comes from Libby's plant in Morton, Illinois.
Better crusts: Blind baking (prebaking the piecrust before filling and baking) avoids the soggy bottom crust that plagues many custard pies.
Seasoning smarts: Once the baking starts, there's no mistaking the spicy aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and maybe cloves or allspice. It's the tweaking of these seasonings that leads most chefs to create unique masterpieces.
Toppers: Almost always, a generous dollop of whipped cream!
Never mind that America's only native apple is the crabapple. Americans know a good thing when we taste it.
The basic recipe: 6 cups thin-sliced fruit tumbled with sugar and some flour or cornstarch as thickener.
To spice or not: Some cooks swear by cinnamon or apple-pie spice in the filling.
Apple choices: Vary your apples until you find the perfect taste and texture. Wendy Achatz of Achatz Handmade Pie Company in Chesterfield, Michigan (north of Detroit), mixes tart and aromatic Northern Spy with sweeter Ida Red and Mutsu apples for her signature pie. See our slideshow "12 Great Apples for Baking" for more apple ideas.
Sugar lightly: Regardless of the fruit you choose, go easy on the sugar; it's easy to add too much. Bakers who prefer a more tart version can toss in a teaspoon or two of lemon juice.
The gorgeous tart red cherries Michigan specializes in (the state produces about 75 percent of the nation's crop) are kind of a pain. They stain your fingers and threaten your clothes if you drip. But who would deny a cherry pie is worth the hassle?
The perfect balance: Try about 6 cups of the pitted fruit and enough granulated sugar to offset the berry tartness.
Thickeners: While flour or cornstarch usually thickens apple pie, we stick to cornstarch or tapioca for cherry because it doesn't cloud the red color.
Smooth taste: Some bakers use a few drops of almond flavoring to mellow the fruit.
Fresh or frozen? Even if you're not lucky enough to have fresh tart red cherries in your area, you can fool almost anybody with a version created with a batch from the supermarket freezer case. Just don't try it on anyone from Michigan.