Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Toy. New Recipe. Chocolate Pudding Pie.

I got a new toy.

I know it a simple little thing, but up to now I have been mostly working with nothing more then a pastry blender and a rolling pin. (I did have to buy a food mill for the grape pies but so far that hasn't actually been useful for anything else).

I have been wanting an electric blender for awhile; however I am also one of the cheapest people alive (except when buying jeans. You find a great pair of jeans and you better buy them, regardless of the price.) But it turns out you can get this set for under $10! So I went ahead and made the purchase.

In celebration, I had to make something that involved whipped cream. Homemade whipped cream was definitely my primary motivation for desiring the electric blender.

Lucky for me, the Smitten Kitchen blog recently posted a chocolate pudding pie that I really wanted to make.

When I previously stated that I had never been exposed to pie making, that was a BIT of a stretch. Chocolate pudding pie is the only kind of pie I have ever seen my mother "make". By "make" I mean dump some out of a Jell-O box chocolate pudding into a pre-made graham cracker crust.

In contrast, this pie is the from-scratch variety and I couldn't help but wonder how from scratch pudding compares to the box. I put it in a crust I made from pecan sandies. And then I topped it with homemade whipped cream.

Honestly, I can't remember how the Jell-O pudding pie tastes to compare. But this one was delicious. And really not that much more effort then the box kind, cuz lets be serious its constantly stirring the heating milk that takes the most effort and either way you still have to do that.

Do This To Make Your Own:

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao), finely chopped

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup chilled heavy cream

Prepared 9" crust, any kind that sounds good to you

Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, its surface covered with wax paper or plastic wrap if you want to prevent a skin from forming, until cold, at least two hours. (I used plastic wrap and found I needed to re-situate it after about an hour, because it formed pockets of condensation when it was still hot hat I couldn't completely flatten. It still seemed to prevent the skin from forming though.)

Beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar until it just holds soft peaks. Now you have homemade whipped cream! Spread it across the top of the pie. (Bonus: this hid the imperfection in my crust edge and pudding top.)

One more pic. Look at those pretty layers.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sandies Suck! (Just for Making Pie Crust) : Pecan Sandie Pie Crust

I like to mix it up with regards to the pie crusts I use. It gets boring to make the same one all the time, plus I really only like "traditional" pie crust for baked fruit pies AND it has been way too hot in my apartment for the last month to roll out a standard butter and flour crust. So most recently I decided to try out making crust with pecan sandies.

I have made my own shortbread crust from scratch a bunch of times, and it is good but I made it so many times I got really bored with it. Plus the packaged Sandies: Pecan Sortbread have a nice silky texture that is different from how my shortbread crust comes out AND the pecans are already added.

I was under the impression you could make a crust with just about any cookie you like, using a standard recipe similar to graham cracker crust recipes. This was a misconception.

I tried this first with last weeks fresh peach pie. The recipe was simple, 1 1/4 cup crushed pecan sandies + 1/3 cup butter. The mix was VERY buttery but I wasn't too worried so I pushed it into the pan and baked at 375 for about 10 minutes. This is what came out of the oven:

It shrunk!

I was able to make it usable by gently pushing it up up the sides of the pie dish while it was still hot and soft and scraping away the extra-brown edges that got left behind at the top. It was usable but certainly not the perfection I crave.

However, I also feel strongly about not being defeated by a little recipe and wasn't about to let one near failure stop me. I was making a chocolate pudding pie this week and thought pecan sandies would go well with chocolate pudding. So I tried again, this time with a somewhat different recipe calling for a slightly larger crumb to butter ratio: 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs to 1/4 cup butter baked the same way (this also produced a much better quantity or crust crumble for filling the 9" pie pan I have been using recently). The crumble was still very moist, but I went ahead and packed it into my pie pan.

Additionally, I got the (not so) brilliant idea to try weighting it down in the hopes this would prevent shrinkage. I lined the unbaked pie shell with aluminum foil and dumped some dry beans inside. After about 8 minutes I thought it would probably be safe to take this out and let the inside brown. Except that when I took it out I found the crust had STILL shrunk. Worse, it had caused the butter to migrate out of the cookies, leaving behind a thin layer of melted butter across the entire floor of the crust. It was pretty gross. Luckily it baked away when I stuck it back in the oven for about 10 more minutes. I performed the same spreading out procedure, and luckily the crust was again usable although not ideal.

The moral of the story: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. There are plenty of cookies perfectly suited to making this kind of crust, pecan sandies just don't seem to be one of them.

If you want a shortbread crust, make your own. This is my recipe (and it works great):

  • 1.5 cup flour
  • 3 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter

1. Stir together flour and powdered sugar (If your heart is set on the pecans, just throw in a couple tablespoons of finely chopped ones here. I haven't tried it yet, but can't imagine it will be a problem.)

2. Cut in butter until cornmeal size

3. Press firmly into pie pan

4. Bake at 425 for 10-12 minutes, until golden

Note: This recipe fills a 9.5" pan, for a 9" or smaller 2/3 of the recipe will be enough.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

If You Like Peaches... Fresh Peach Pie

Ahh, peaches. I enjoy them and therefor naturally assumed as soon as their season rolled around I would be making pie with them; then they got here and not so much. The reason is simple: they are never ripe in the store and I am both impatient and impulsive. I want to make my pies when I want to make them. I don't think “I want to make pie 2 days from now so better buy some peaches and let them ripen.” So it took me awhile to focus, plan ahead for once, get around to making peach pie.

Now I have made 2 (because really, when do I ever make just one). The first one is of no consequence right now, it was in a wholly different style and will receive its own post.

But this pie, this pie was...messy looking, ok, but...I don't really have the right word so how about just REALLY GOOD.

Fresh (Unbaked) Peach Pie. I love a good fresh pie and do not find making them any less satisfying. Making the most tasty fruited glaze that will set perfectly, not too liquidy and not too firm is as much of an art as anything else about pie making.

I picked this recipe for several reasons. First, I adapted it from a recipe that was well rated on and this is always a good starting point.

Second, the glaze is flavored with mashed peaches. This is the most important part of getting a well-flavored glaze. Many fresh pie recipes will use the corresponding flavor of gelatin. While Jell-O is a bit easier, the extra effort of using mashed fruit is beyond worth it. Try it once and you will never go back.

Finally, this recipe adds a bit of nutmeg and vanilla to the glaze, which I though would be nice flavors to go with the peaches.

So here is the recipe:

  • 1 (9 inch) pie shell, baked: Get creative, you can use any kind you want!
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup water: This may need to be adjusted, use less if your peach mash is very watery
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups fresh peaches, pitted and mashed: This means take 2 cups of your cut up pitted peaches and mash them, DON'T measure how much peach mash you have
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups fresh peaches - pitted, skinned, and sliced

NOTE: I know from experience that my 9 1/2” Pyrex holds 5 cups of fresh fruit. Plan accordingly to fit your own crust. This glaze recipe is pretty generous so you can get away with enough peaches to fill a deep dish pie, or you can reserve some if your only using an 8 inch. It's tasty, you'll find a use for it.

AND Don't freak out about skinning if you've never done it, just do this and it'll be easy. I did find the skinned peaches a little slippery for slicing though, so I stuck them in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.

Combine water and cornstarch until cornstarch goes into solution and is not clumpy. Sir water mixture into mashed peaches, then add the sugar, nutmeg, and butter (I just cut my butter into small pieces and let it melt on the stovetop). Cook over medium heat until clear and thick. Stir in vanilla.

Coat the sliced peaches in glaze. Add to pie shell. Refrigerate. I am a nighttime pie baker so I don't know how long it takes to set. My guess is give yourself 4 hours and it should be good.

Results: Delicious. You could really taste the vanilla, but it was not so strong that it covered up the peachy taste. It set up very well. And I got a lot of compliments on this one, even though the crust I tried out was a bit of a mini-disaster. Overall, successful enough that I don't NEED to make it again right away, but I just might want to.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Key Lime Pie Time

As mentioned previously I have made key lime pie.

2 Key lime pies to be exact.

I like key lime pie. I saw key limes in the store. Obviously I was therefore helpless in the face of my urge to make a key lime pie.

I am not from anywhere near Florida, so I really had no idea how an “authentic” key lime pie is made. (I think now I've done enough reading that I probably have a pretty good idea.) So I searched thru recipes, looking for what people gave good ratings and, similar to the graham cracker crust, was able to divide them into 2 categories- sour cream vs. egg yolk.

And therefore I had to make both.

Both were made in the graham cracker crust posted previously with an entire 1/3 cup sugar. The limes can handle it.

Recipe #1: Sour Cream

(a.k.a. Key Lime Pie VII posted on with an average of 5 stars following 380! reviews. This is street cred if I've ever seen it.)

1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker crust

3 cups sweetened condensed milk (2 cans)

1/2 cup sour cream

3/4 cup key lime juice (I used about 30 limes, however my juicer is not the most efficient with these little guys so that is a very rough estimate)

1 tablespoon grated lime zest

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, sour cream, lime juice, and lime rind. Mix well and pour into graham cracker crust.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. DO NOT BROWN! Chill pie thoroughly before serving. Garnish with lime slices and whipped cream if desired.

Review: This pie is just delicious, and it probably comes together easier then any other pie I have ever made. If it wasn't for juicing the limes, I would call it straight-up effortless. It produces a faint light green zest flecked pie.

I also found that this was WAY too much filling for my metal pie pans. But better to have too much then too little so I had prepared this in the smallish pan. It fits much better in my 9-1/2” Pyrex pan with handles.

Recipe #2: Egg Yolks

(adapted from this recipe found on The Pioneer Women's Tasty Kitchen)

2 cans Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 cup Key Lime Juice

4 whole Egg Yolks, beaten (discard Whites)

1 teaspoon lime zest

Prepared graham cracker crust

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, beaten egg yolks, lime juice, and zest. Mix well and pour into graham cracker crust.

3. Bake in preheated oven , until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie.

Review: First of all, I messed up a bit on this one, so maybe should try again one of these days to get it right. The total amount of condensed milk should have come too 14oz., I used 28. In spite of my blunder, this recipe too was delicious. It produces the tradition mild yellow color with slight zest flecking.

It did not set up quite as well as the other recipe, but was still firm enough to not be a problem. I suspect the flavor would be similar with slightly better set if ¾ cup lime juice and 1 tablespoon zest were used. Or maybe this problem would be fixed if I simply used the right amount of condensed milk.

This pie did not come together quite as easily, although it still wasn't difficult. I thought I had beaten the overall mixture together enough, but after pouring it into the crust I still saw flecks of pure egg yolk. I recommend beating it for a good 2-3 minutes after you think it is all combined to avoid this problem.

I also baked this pie in the Pyrex, but with the “right” amount of sweetened condensed milk, it would probably fit best in my smaller metal pan.

The Verdict:

What can I say, they are both fantastic. Egg yolk gets a slight edge for being “the classic” and the color is a giveaway that this is the more traditional of the two recipes. I will probably just use whichever recipe best suites what I have on hand. i.e. If there are eggs in the fridge, I will make it with eggs. If I have sour cream, I will use that. Either way, you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

To Sweeten Or Not To Sweeten? Graham Cracker Crust

Just two days ago I finally made my first graham cracker crust. They are easy, I just never had the need to do it before.

Searching thru recipes I found that there is one major decision to make when choosing a recipe- to add sugar or not.

I decided on sugar, and quite a lot of it. The recipe I picked said to use 1/4 cup, but I confused it with another recipe I looked at that said 1/3 cup so thats how much sugar went into my crust. And some of the reviewers had already said 1/4 cup was too much!

But here is what I realized: YOU HAVE TO MATCH THE CRUST TO THE PIE.

I used this crust for Key Lime Pie (Posting on that to come). With a tart filling, the sweet crust was delicious. But, if I were using this for a sweeter pie like chocolate or peanut butter, this would have been way too much sugar and maybe even no sugar would be the best choice.

So here is the graham cracker pie crust recipe I will stick with (if you can call it a recipe).

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (this was a little under half a box)

1/3 cup melted butter*

Mix together butter and crumbs

Taste- if it doesn't seem sweet enough for your pie add a little sugar and mix well

Taste- if it still doesn't seem sweet enough add a little more...

You get the idea

*(a trusted source said this should be salted butter but since I really only use butter for making pie I only keep unsalted around, so I just threw in a healthy pinch of salt and it came together fine)

Pack into pie pan (this will be enough crust for a deep pan). If your not using a deep pan and have leftovers I recommend getting out a spoon and eating them, they are quite tasty.

Bake ~7 min at 375.