Raise Pie: An Alumnus’s Journey from the CDC to Pro Pie Maker

November 25, 2020

As the old saying goes, “cooking is an art, baking is a science” – and that is no better personified than by Paul Arguin, CCAS BS ‘89. After his accomplished career in the medical field – most recently serving as the chief of domestic malaria at the CDC – Arguin and his husband Chris Taylor have now officially set out on a sweeter journey: pie making.

[caption id="attachment_15213" align="alignleft" width="268"] Arguin (left) and Taylor (right) have won 600+ awards for their pies.[/caption]

Since they started baking together in 2009, they’ve racked up 600+ baking awards and recently published a cookbook, The New Pie, chronicling 75 of their favorite recipes.

“Everyone always likes to say that baking is a science and it’s true – you do need to pay attention to what the ingredients are doing so when you start developing new recipes, you can approach it somewhat rationally,” reflects Arguin. “When things are going wrong, you can start looking what you’ve done and start thinking about the properties of those ingredients and then make the appropriate adjustments.”

Their baking journey started by entering a local pie contest on a whim and coming home with a blue ribbon. From there, they climbed the ropes – entering baking competitions at the county and state fair levels in every category. “It was an opportunity to really hone our skills in many different categories. And then we started entering the national pie championship as well,” Arguin says.

Tapping into their science background, Arguin and Taylor differentiate themselves by using modern techniques to ensure precision. One of their most-used methods is sous vide – a process that includes vacuum sealing ingredients in a plastic pouch and heating to an exact temperature in a water bath. Sous vide is commonly used for cooking meats, but the pair adapted the technique for pie fillings to achieve exact flavor and consistency without overcooking.

[caption id="attachment_15214" align="alignright" width="268"] Arguin and Taylor's book, The New Pie, includes 75 pie recipes.[/caption]

“In addition to the sous vide, there are all kinds of precision techniques like that,” Arguin comments. “I’d say the instant read thermometer and the digital scale for baking I’d say are the two most important tools everyone should have not just for baking, they’re so useful all throughout the cooking process.”

Unsurprisingly, their recipes go beyond a run-of-the-mill apple or an everyday pumpkin pie – they up the ante with flavors like Thai iced tea and Old Fashioned (based off the cocktail). But just because the flavors are complex, doesn’t mean the actual baking is – each recipe in their book is categorized on a one to three star system, with one star recipes featuring easy-to-find ingredients and easy-to-use equipment.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, Arguin has a few tips (and a special recipe below!) for the GW community. He recommends sticking with traditional flavors but seizing the opportunity to riff on the classics. “You can have a basic apple pie or we have another apple pie in the book that we call a spiced cider pie – it’s more the style of apple sauce with some dried fruits. It makes it a little bit more exciting,” he recommends.

Arguin emphasizes staying organized and making as much as you can in advance to make sure your pie doesn’t become a Thanksgiving casualty. “You have to think about when you need to make certain components. Especially if you have to change the temperature of your oven – you can’t really throw everything in at the same time,” Arguin explains.  “Start writing it down on paper first and figure out when you’re going to want to have everything made, you can really make life easier by having a proper schedule.”

As for his own Thanksgiving pies? “We haven’t made all of our final decisions yet – in fact, I think we’re going to do Thanksgiving twice this year. We’re having an early Thanksgiving and a Thanksgiving Thanksgiving.”

--Carli Halper

THE 6151 RICHMOND PIE, THANKSGIVING VARIATION

Arguin and Taylor were kind enough to share a special Thanksgiving pie recipe just for GW alumni!

“For the GW Alumni blog readers, we wanted to pick a one-star easy pie that we think people can jump right in with. We picked one and we thought it would be fun to make a Thanksgiving adaptation to it. There’s a recipe in the book called 6151 Richmond – it’s named after the address of the Golden Girls house. It’s a pie that’s inspired by all the characters – a lemon cheesecake with lingonberry topping and pecan crumb crust. It can easily be adapted to more Thanksgiving flavor by changing the lemon to orange and switching the top to cranberry rather than lingonberry.” – Paul Arguin

 

 

INGREDIENTS

YIELD: ONE 9 ½-INCH DEEP-DISH PIE

FOR THE PECAN GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST:

2 ounces pecan halves

3 tablespoons (1.3 ounces) sugar

Pinch of salt

9 graham cracker sheets (5.1 ounces)

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

FOR THE FILLING:

2 tablespoons orange juice

 2 tablespoons orange liqueur such as Cointreau

2½ teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1¼ cups (5 ounces) confectioners' sugar

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1¼ cups heavy cream

⅔ cup whole berry cranberry sauce

PREPARATION

Make the Pecan Graham Cracker Crust: In a food processor, process the pecans with the sugar and salt until the mixture is fine, then add the graham crackers and pulse until they are finely ground. Pulse in the melted butter until the crumbs are moistened throughout. Transfer the mixture to a 9½-inch deep-dish pie pan. Using your fingers, spread the crumbs evenly around the bottom and up the sides. Using a sturdy cup or small bowl, compact the crumbs into a smooth even layer. Preheat oven to 350°F, and place the crust in the freezer to chill for at least ten minutes. Bake the crust for ten minutes on the middle rack. Remove and set aside to cool.

Make the filling: Add the orange juice and orange liqueur to a small microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and set aside. 

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth using a hand mixer on medium speed (or using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment). Reduce the speed to low and beat in the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla; increase the speed to medium and beat until just combined. 

Microwave the gelatin mixture for 20 to 30 seconds, stirring every 5 seconds, until the gelatin has dissolved and the mixture is just bubbling at the edges. Beat the warm gelatin into the cream cheese mixture. 

While mixing, slowly pour in the cream and continue beating on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and smooth the top. Dollop the cranberry sauce over the top of the filling. Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, create swoops and swirls on the top of the pie, incorporating the cranberry sauce into the swirls in a design of your choosing.

Refrigerate the pie for at least 6 hours before serving. (Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up 3 days. Wrapped tightly in foil and placed in a large zippered plastic bag, this pie can be frozen for up to 1 month.)