According to a triumphant release from High 5 Pie last week, the Capitol Hill bakery is now serving "better pies, with MORE butter." But a tasting of the "new and improved" pies suggests there are problems butter can't fix.
I never had a chance to sample High 5's old and mediocre pies, but my predecessor abhorred them: Jason Sheehan used the adjectives "bland," "overcooked," "underloved," "dull," "overworked," and "terrible" to describe the pies that owner Dani Cone was putting out at her shop. If the pies he tried were any worse than the slices I sampled, I'm inclined to think his review was kind.
Perhaps the highlight of my recent road trip from Dallas to Seattle was a daily 4 p.m. pie break. I ate fruit and berry pies from Missouri to Montana that steeled my faith in vernacular pastry. The very best pies, shimmering with sugar and glistening with fat, evoked the freshness of just-plucked produce and translated simplicity into satisfaction.
While I didn't have the luxury of sticking around to chat crust secrets with the small-town bakers who created those pies, I suspect many of them laced their crusts with vegetable shortening or--better yet--lard. Karen Barker and Dorie Greenspan, among other bakers who specialize in instruction, both endorse shortening in pie crusts. That's because while butter has a fantastic flavor, a light and tender crust is typically easier to achieve when the butter's cut by a secondary fat.
The ramped-up butter crusts on High 5's maple blueberry and peach pies are, I suppose, technically flaky: The crust appears to be composed of multiple sheets of sheer dough. But the leaden crust is so overpoweringly dry that devouring it is about as pleasurable as chomping down on a stack of tissue paper.
Sadly, shoveling out the filling isn't a solution. Peaches in clingy syrup were unctuously sweet, and the blueberries--buried under a swatch of pebbly granola--were disastrous. While the pie certainly wasn't helped by a quick tour in the microwave, I'd be hard-pressed to believe the pie emerged from the oven with any of the oozy juices that should define berry pie. The desiccated blueberry nuggets, each no bigger than the eraser on a pencil, were clumped together as tightly as larvae in an insect hive. There's really nothing about pie that should remind eaters of something they saw in National Geographic.
I'm not sure what's gone awry at High 5. As other customers have noted, the venue is lovely and the concept is sound. But I'm guessing this won't be the last time the bakery's forced to revisit its recipes.