Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pi(e) day!

March 14th is Pi(e) Day. It's also the birthday of James' brother John, but since we're rarely in New Mexico in March, we tend to celebrate with pie only, rather than pie and birthday cake.

For the uninitiated, who are probably thinking, "US National Pie Day is January 23rd, so I don't know what you're talking about, unless you're telling me that March 14th is French pie day", note the way I've spelled "pie" with parentheses around the "e". Now you know what I'm talking about. Pi(e) Day is March 14th or 3.14, like the number.

My friend Ann, a pie maker extraordinaire, introduced me to this holiday NINE years ago. The tradition has evolved somewhat over the years, and different friends have been brought into the Pi(e) fold, but the core ideals have not changed. You have to eat a lot of different kinds of pie and you have to eat each slice from crust to tip, making a wish on the final bite of each slice. I also like to have pizza or quiche for dinner on Pi(e) day, but that's not really part of the holiday because it's all about eating sweet pies.

Well, Pi(e) Day doesn't work so well in France. For one thing, there is no 3.14 because dates don't go in the format, they're day.month. So for 3.14, you're left with the 3rd day of the 14th month or, if you get a little loosey-goosey with your decimal point, the 31st day of the 4th month -- neither of which exists in the Gregorian calendar. (And even in the French Republican calendar, adopted for about a decade after La Revolution, there were just 12 months of 30 days each with the extra five or six tacked on at the end, so no luck there either!)

Besides that, it's not so easy to find several slices of pie all in one place (even at the tarte-lady's because hers are mostly savory). Most pâtisserie will have one or two sliced tartes (usually an apple and a custard), but in Ann's and my tradition, we need about five different kinds. You'll be able to increase your pie diversity if you buy some individual tartelettes, but these are round and too small to cut into (normal) slices, so you can't eat them from crust to tip and make your wish.

What's a Pi(e) lover to do?

Well, you can improvise, as James and I did. And you can still go on a great hike in Cassis!

Before leaving for our hike, we identified a boulangerie-pâtisserie where there were slices of the requisite apple tarte and custard tarte (although it was chocolate, not plain). They looked ok, but we decided to press on in search of better tartes after the hike. And we were justly rewarded at Sucr'E Délices, where they were extremely friendly and happy to tell us about their desserts and to discuss the fougasse that they had there.

The window was filled with beautiful desserts, unfortunately for my Pi(e) Day quest, mostly of the non-pie variety. As I stood there looking at them, I wondered if I could cut any of them into pie-shaped wedges and call them pie, but they were too un-pie-like, except for the three we got.

Lemon-basil tartelette ...

Orange-cinnamon tartelette ...

Religieuse à la violette ...

Ok, so that last one isn't, strictly speaking, a pie. Une religieuse (or "nun" -- the little choux on top is supposed to be her head) is essentially an eclair of a different shape: choux pastry filled with crème pâtissière and decorated with glaze the flavor of the filling. (They usually come in chocolate or coffee, but this one was violet!) But like I said, we were improvising and it was more like a pie than any of the other wonderful looking desserts in the window (the tartelettes aside). In fact, it turned out to be much more like a pie than any religieuse I have ever eaten because the choux was actually a little salty -- just like a pie crust. So it was perfect.

And here's how they all looked as slices of pie:

The cut-off sides were eaten first, and then the slices of pie from crust to tip.

They were delicious and nuanced and that religieuse was the best non-traditional pie I have ever had on Pi(e) day. Ok, so it's the only non-traditional pie I've had on Pi(e) day, but still. It was an excellent pastry. Its violet crème pâtissière was not at all soapy -- a risk with violet -- and the choux? This choux was not the soggy, bland choux that you eat only because it's the polite way to consume the delicious crème pâtissière that it holds. No, this choux had texture and flavor. Choux never tasted so good, except when fried and dipped in sugar.

But I probably shouldn't be surprised. I learned, when looking for the link to Sucr'E Délices, that one of the co-owners was named pâtissier of the year last year by a famous French food critic and guidebook author.

I will make sure to go there every time we go hiking in Cassis.

And since I feel like I didn't get quite enough pie on Pi(e) Day, I've decided I'm going to celebrate the holiday at least once more this year. I may celebrate on the 118th day (the 365/pi day) of the year, or I may celebrate by taking my first bite of pie at 3:14 on 1.5 (1st of May).


Orange Pippin said...

Cute pies!
I hope your pie wishes come true!
I do believe though, that you've used the word "sweet" redundantly in the phrase "sweet pie". And that nun! I ask you: is Boston Cream Pie really pie?

Ricka said...

I would guess that these little pies were more fun to eat then the cheese!