The ‘good enough’ rule
The Artful Pie Project: A Sweet and Savoury Book of Recipes
by Denise Marchessault, photographs by Deb Garlick
Vancouver: Whitecap Books, 2022
$39.95 / 9781770503601
Reviewed by Rebecca Coleman
The Artful Pie Project feels like a pop-star diva: a substantive and respected body of work, beautiful, but high maintenance.
Published in 2022 by Whitecap, The Artful Pie Project: a Sweet and Savory Book of Recipes is written by Denise Marchessault and features photography and artwork by Deb Garlick. Marchessault is an absolute powerhouse with an amazing Instagram account packed with recipes, tips, and tricks. This is her second cookbook with Whitecap, and for this one, she partnered up with Deb Garlick, a Victoria-based artist, for the visuals.
First off, this book is visually stunning. Even if you never actually made a recipe, it’s worth owning for its sheer gorgeousness. Much of the photography and food styling is dark and moody, a real feast for the eyes. In addition, Garlick includes whimsical doodles and paintings of ingredients that belong in a gallery.
The first chapter of the book is Pie Education 101. Here, we really see Marchessault’s vast pastry knowledge and skill displayed. This section is brimming with tips and tricks to making the perfect pie, plus a list of equipment, ingredient staples, and a section on troubleshooting.
Next up, the foundation of every recipe in the book: pastry. There are 13 basic pie crusts here, ranging from traditional to shortcrust to puff to nut- or cookie-based crusts. The star of this show is the Flaky Pastry Dough, which is the main recipe used as the base for many of the pies in this book, and it’s good. Like really good. Everything you want a pie crust to be: tender, flaky, traditional. I made this recipe several times, and it did not disappoint.
As you can well imagine from a cookbook focused on pie, many of the recipes in this book I would categorize as “sweet.” There are sections for “Cherry & Berry,” “Apple,” “Fruit & Nut,” “Chocolate,” “Custard & Cream,” and “Citrus.” Savoury sections include one devoted entirely to vegetable pies, and a second devoted to meat and fish (and yes, in case you’re wondering, there is a recipe for that Canadian classic, the Tourtière).
I made five recipes from this book, four sweet and one savory. I made the Blueberry Cream Cheese Turnovers, the Potato Cheese Galette, the Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie, the Tarte au Sucre, and the Marmalade Mini Pies. Just before I tell you about them, you first need to know a bit about me. I’ve been baking since I was in single digits, and, well, let’s just say those days are long behind me. I have a significant amount of baking experience that spans several decades, and I’ve written a couple of cookbooks myself, so I’m pretty confident when I arrive in the kitchen.
But the other thing you need to know about me is that I live by the “good enough” rule: if I can get positive results 80% of the time, I’m happy. I don’t strive for perfection, because to me, much of the time, that extra effort needed to get that extra 20% just doesn’t pay off.
Having said that, I found all the recipes I tried, even the simpler ones I picked, to be a lot of work. Okay, it’s pastry, I get it. Pastry, to be done right, is a lot of work. But everything I made took way longer and was way more complicated than I initially thought it would be.
Take for example the Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie, which I made for my family’s Christmas dinner dessert. Now, ostensibly a pretty simple dessert, it doesn’t even require a traditional pie crust, as you make a cookie crust for this one, then fill it with a layer of (uncooked) peanut butter mousse, and then top it with a chocolate ganache. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Okay, but the details: you make the crust (crushed cookies and butter), then it needs to chill for 20 minutes, bake for 6-10, then be chilled again before it can be filled. Once you fill the pie, it again has to be chilled so it can set properly. Then you make the ganache, top it, and chill it again before serving. What seems like a fairly simple recipe actually takes about three hours to make.
Just making the basic pie crust follows a similar trajectory: you first cut together the flour with the butter or lard, then add the liquid ingredients. Once the dough comes together, it needs to be chilled. You then remove it from the refrigerator, roll it out and shape it, and then refrigerate it again. My main beef here is not so much that things take so much time, but just that I would have liked to have known how much time things would have taken. There are no approximate times at all in the book, and I consistently started making things thinking I could get them done in a certain amount of time, only to find that they took twice as long.
The Marmalade Mini Pies, for example, require you to make your own marmalade filling. While I appreciate the attention to detail and the joy of making something from scratch, in retrospect, it was so much work, I would have appreciated a modification that allows you to sub out store-bought marmalade to save time.
The Artful Pie Project is obviously a labour of love. It’s a beautiful book, and the recipes were good, too. But this book is not going to be for everyone. If you have a friend who has lots of time on their hands, is highly detail oriented, and loves to do things from scratch, they would probably love this book.
However, if you’re someone like me, who’s constantly strapped for time and is happy with “good enough,” you may still want to own this book, simply for its visuals. But make sure you clear a large swath of time and read everything very carefully before you start on a recipe.
Rebecca Coleman is a content creator, foodie and 2x cookbook author. She specializes in vegan/vegetarian food, and is always on the hunt for the world’s greatest donut. Rebecca lives in Vancouver, BC, with her son and their tuxedo cat. She has previously reviewed books by Jillian Harris & Tori Wesszer and Jessica Schacht. Visit her website at: https://cookingbylaptop.com
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Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.
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