October 12, 2010

Three decades of pie

Today is my brother's birthday. Well, one of my brothers. I have two. The birthday boy's name is Noah. He's a musician and recording artist, a little quirky as most musicians tend to be, and loves chocolate cream pie. Since he is turning the ripe old age of thirty today, I thought it would be nice to make his favorite dessert for a birthday present. Making food is a much easier (and less expensive) gift than trying to find the musical equipment he very much desires for his studio. As much as I'd like to help him out with that stuff, pie I can definitely make happen.

This recipe has been in my mother's repertoire for years. She used to make it every Thanksgiving, along with a few other much demanded pies, like pumpkin, some form of apple, cherry, and lemon meringue. That's a lot of pie. These days, we don't make quite so many, so the chocolate cream doesn't show up every year, much to Noah's chagrin. So why not make pie for a birthday? For most of my family, the birthday "cake" hasn't actually been cake for some while. For my dad, cobbler has been the dessert of choice for a couple of years, crème brûlée for my mom, some type of pie for my brother Abe, last year I made a walnut-orange cake for Michael's birthday (which he very much appreciated -- it's one of his favorites), and for my own birthday, I tend to fall for some form of chocolate cake, with a deviation here and there. So even though there may be a cake or two in that list, they're never the traditional, frosted sort of cake that comes to mind for a birthday, and we're happier for it.

When making the dough, for some reason I did not add as much ice water as needed, so the dough ended up very tender and difficult to work with, tearing and falling apart. The finished pie crust, inevitably, sort of fell apart when cutting slices, but it still tasted fine and had the required flaky texture. Pie crust takes several sessions to really get it right. This recipe is the standard formula my mom uses with all of her pies, pre-baked or not, and after years of making them, she should know what works. The lady knows her pies. My skills with cookie baking are pretty darn good, but the pie method needs more practice. That shouldn't be a problem, since everyone happens to love pie.

This recipe is basically pudding in a pie crust, capped with a thick layer of whipped cream. The chocolate is rich and creamy, the whipped cream airy and barely sweet, and the crust buttery. Chocolate cream pie is nothing new, but people often have their own versions of old-fashioned desserts, and this is the one my family is familiar with. There are some versions with chocolate cookie crusts, some with less cream, and some with chocolate shavings sprinkled over the top, but this one is basic, uncomplicated, and tastes of memories. It's pretty ingenious and always a crowd pleaser. According to Noah, it needs no improvements, and however much chocolate shavings tempt me, he's probably right.

To make the process easier, bake the pie crust and cook the filling the day before you want to eat it, so the pie can chill overnight, and all you'll need to do the next day is make the whipped cream topping. Cooking the chocolate filling can be a little tricky. I didn't want to take a chance of burning it, but the pudding would have benefited with a little more time on the stove because it was kind of loose and oozed a bit when sliced.

Chocolate Cream Pie
Adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook

For pie crust:
1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp granulated sugar
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg yolk
½ tsp vinegar
2 - 3 Tbsp ice water
For chocolate filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
2 cups whole milk
2 slightly beaten egg yolks
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
For topping:
2 cups chilled heavy cream
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

For pie crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and blend with a pastry blender until pea-sized lumps form. Stir in egg yolk, vinegar, and 2 tablespoons water, forming a dough. If dough is crumbly, add up to another tablespoon of water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Form dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate dough until thoroughly chilled, at least 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F with rack in the middle.

On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate, trimming excess and crimping edges. Prick bottom with a fork and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden, checking the last few minutes to make sure the crust browns evenly.

Cool completely on a wire rack, then remove beans or weights.

For chocolate filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly whisk in the milk. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir two minutes more. Remove from heat.

Carefully stir a small amount of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks, then return to the saucepan. Over medium heat, cook and stir two minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Immediately pour filling into the cooled pie crust, smoothing the top. Lay a piece of waxed paper directly on the surface of the pudding, pressing to adhere. Chill until cold.

For topping: In a medium bowl, beat together the heavy cream and sugar with an electric mixer until firm but not stiff. You want the whipped cream firm enough to hold its shape but not so stiff that it starts to fall apart. Remove waxed paper from chilled pie, then spread whipped cream evenly in a thick layer over the pudding. Chill before serving.

1 comment:

  1. That pie looks tasty - the first photo captures the textures of the pie so well that I feel like I could reach in and grab some. The 'sassy' posts like this make me smile as well. And yes, I really appreciated the orange walnut cake - that one is special to me : ) -- Michael