Once upon a time, The Baking Sheet editorial staff put their heads together and wondered, what can we do that will convince all King Arthur fans to subscribe to our little newsletter? What if we gave them a present, kind of like the recipe cherry-on-top, for subscribing? So we did.  Yours truly shot a DVD with the help of some of our Baking Education Center instructors, with A LOT of information about... pie.

How to make flaky crusts, whole grain crusts, food processor, blind baked, and oil crusts. Tips to help you with a baker's dozen of our most frequent pie questions. What the ingredients do, and how to work with them. How to make mini pies, slab pies, and frozen pies for the holiday ahead.

All in all, 75 minutes of information, techniques, and a whole raft of recipes (for everything we show on the disk). This is one of them: the Thanksgiving Sweet Potato Pie from our King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book.

This pie is a head-turner in a whole grain crust, and a cut above the usual turkey-day casserole, I can tell you. Want to know more? Let's make one. You can follow along with the recipe for Sweet Potato Pie by clicking here.

Let's talk a little bit about whole grain baking first. When PJ, Susan Miller, and I spent a year stirring, slogging, and occasionally swearing our way through testing for the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book, we learned one very important lesson: whole grain recipes need more moisture and more resting time to be as successful as possible. The moisture gets absorbed by the bran in the flour, which eventually softens. The results are whole grain baked goods that behave better in the oven.

We'll start with the crust. In your mixing bowl, measure out

2/3 cup whole barley flour

1/3 cup King Arthur whole wheat flour, Traditional or White, your choice

1/4 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 tablespoon buttermilk powder (optional, but tasty)

1/4 teaspoon baking powder (for a bit of crisp)

1/4 teaspoon salt

One quick note: if you don't have barley flour on hand, you can easily make this crust using all whole wheat flour.

See all the little piles? It's always a good idea to keep them separate in the bowl, so you can backtrack if you get distracted to see how many ingredients you've added. Once you double-check and see they're all in there, you can whisk them together to mix.

Now, take 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut it into 1/2" cubes, and toss them around in the flour mixture. You can squish the cubes flat with your fingers to give things a head start.

Once they're coated, you can cut them in with a PastryPro (my favorite), two knives, or your fingers (my other favorite).

You want the mixture to be fairly crumbly here; not have really big chunks of butter (white flour pastry can handle bigger butter bits than whole grain can; the longer gluten strands in a white flour dough do a better job of surrounding the sheets of butter in the pastry).

Next we bring it all together with 4 to 5 tablespoons of cold orange juice. One of our other whole grain epiphanies was that orange juice and whole grains have a real affinity. The OJ has a subtle flavor interaction with the tannins in the whole grains that creates a milder flavor. You don't taste the juice, and the whole grain tastes a little nuttier and sweeter as a result. It's pretty cool.

Add the juice, a tablespoon at a time, mixing with a pastry fork as you go.

The dough is almost there; the sides of the mixture still have some crumbly parts, so I'm adding another tablespoon of juice. I'll use my dough scraper to bring the dough together; the barley flour can get pretty sticky.

Time to wrap this part up, literally. I'll put the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and pat it into a disk about an inch thick.

Before I finish wrapping I'll pat the edges nice and smooth: if you store the dough that way, you'll have far fewer cracks when you go to roll it out later on. Make sure you give the dough at least a half hour in the refrigerator before trying to roll it; the bran needs some time to absorb the liquid and soften up.

Always label and date. You could make this dough now and have it ready for Thanksgiving, no sweat. Put it in the freezer, and defrost overnight in the refrigerator the day before you want to bake. You could do the same thing with the filling mixture. How smooth would you be, if you started putting your Thanksgiving dinner together before Halloween?

Which brings me to the filling. Basically, you need a good 2 to 2 1/2 cups of cooked, mashed sweet potato, and between you and me, I don't care where it comes from. Bake a couple of extra next time you're having them for dinner. Peel and boil 'em, if that floats your boat. Or nuke them, either in their jackets, or with a little bit of juice for extra flavor. Our recipe calls for either cranberry or apple juice, but I'm going to use pineapple, because it matches the dried pineapple that's going in the filling later on.

Peel and cut the sweet potato into chunks;

put it in a microwave-safe bowl, pour 1/4 cup of pineapple, apple, or cranberry juice on it (I don't see why orange wouldn't work as well), cover, and microwave in 3-minute rounds until the potato is cooked through and very tender.

Once the knife slips in with no resistance, the potatoes are ready to use. We're now at one of those forks in the...uh, pie, where your personal taste dictates what happens next. If you want your filling to have some chunks of potato in it, smash them up and add the remaining ingredients in your mixer.

If you want the sweet potato part of your pie to be smooth, do this next part in the food processor. Put the potatoes in the bowl, and add

2 large eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup half & half or light cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Give everything a buzz until smooth; don't forget to add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Again, you could freeze the filling at this point until Thanksgiving time. If you're making the pie now, the crust has had its rest while we made the filling, so it's time to roll it out.

Every blog I do has one of these moments, where I do what my husband calls the "head smack." Call it human, call it boneheaded, call it forgetting the basics, but heaven help me I rolled this dough out on a counter with a) nothing underneath it and b) waaay too thin. I share my clumsiness in hopes of keeping you off this same dead end.

Looks fine, right? what's the big deal? Try picking this up and getting it into the pie plate in less than a hundred pieces, that's what. It's very nearly soldered onto the countertop. I was too disgusted with myself to take a picture of the demolition that ensued, but rest assured I scraped the dough up and then rolled it again. This time with floured parchment underneath, more flour on top, and a piece of plastic on top of that to boot.

I will often take one of our All-Purpose bags, cut it up one side and across the bottom, and open it up as a big, heavy sheet to put on top  of sticky doughs before rolling them out. It keeps the pin clean, keeps me from adding too much extra flour, and gives me a handy way to move the dough around in one piece.

Now that the dough is rolled out, and I know it's a little on the brittle side (barley flour is a different animal in your hands than wheat flour, even whole wheat: it's a little stickier and not very flexible), I'll use the parchment underneath to help me flip everything over into the pie plate.

Alley-oop, and over she goes!

With generously floured fingers, I'm gathering the wayward dough and crimping it. Once that's done, add 1/2 cup each of diced dried pineapple and ginger mini chips to the pan. And if you haven't done it yet, get that oven preheated to 425°F.

Next, the filling gets poured on top.

Here's an old-timer's trick for you. How many times have you poured something out of a processor's bowl, hoping to get away with it, only to have the blade plop out into whatever you're making? To keep this from happening, put one of your fingers into the hole in the center of the bowl's bottom to hold the blade in place while you pour.

My hands are just barely big enough to pull this off.  But it's a good thing to know, anyhow. With this technique you can hold the bowl upside down and scrape it out without going through too many extra gymnastics.

Assuming the oven is hot, plop a pie shield on top of the crust and put the pie in the oven for 15 minutes. My bad, I didn't realize we now have these groovy adjustable silicone ones (ha! now you have to click on the link to see what I'm talking about!) and I used the old ones we had in the test kitchen. The adjustable one would have been better.

After 15 minutes, drop the oven's temperature to 350°F and bake for 15 minutes more. We're almost there. Next, the marshmallows. I found out a couple of years ago when inventing the S'more Whole Wheat cookie recipe (Baking Sheet Early Spring 2005 issue, page 27) that marshmallows hold their shape much better when baking if you let them get stale first. So a day or two before making this recipe, I opened the bag and poured them into a container with no cover to let that happen.

Pull the pie shield off the edges of the pie and put the marshmallows on top. When you're photographing food, it's hard not to check lots of times and shoot the progression of what's going on.

Just starting to brown now... 5 minutes more, and this is what you get:

Not quite there; I want to get a little more color in the center....

Ahh, you can pretty much smell how tasty this is, can't you? With all the great winter squashes coming in right now, you don't have to wait until turkey day to try this for supper. Sweet Potato Pie is just one slice of the pie ideas you'll find on the Baking Sheet's Pie Essentials DVD.

If you'd like first crack at exclusive baking recipes, recipe makeovers, brilliant ideas from our readers and our test kitchen in a cozy, 24-page, award-winning bimonthly newsletter, consider joining our family of Baking Sheet readers. We'd be thrilled to have you.

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Susan Reid
The Author

About Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.