Chocolate Chiffon Pie

Years ago, when I was first starting out in the restaurant business, I put together a business plan.  The idea came to me early one morning while rolling out Danish dough in pastry class.  Lots of ideas came to me while I was in pastry class.  I think it was all the coffee and sugar.  At the time it was just talk and I had no real notion of putting them into place.  But this particular idea stuck with me.  I wanted to open a diner, and not just any diner, but a classic 1940’s Silk City diner.  To me the Silk City is the the Cadillac-Airstream-Harley-Davidson of diners.  I located an empty one just up the road.  It had recently shuttered its doors and gone out of business.  I thought I might get it for a steal.

The Duroc Dinette, that is what I was going to name it because it was to have a pork heavy menu.  I would move the thing to Indianapolis if I had it my way and open in a neighborhood where it was much needed.  A dear friend even owned a lot in a prime location downtown and I was talking to him about giving it up for a reasonable sum and he was ready too.

I don’t know why I didn’t push it any further other then in those days I didn’t have much confidence in my abilities.  At that point I had never worked in a restaurant.  I wanted to get a few years under my belt before I made the leap.  As is the case with many of these things you drift in other directions.   A plan gets put into a file and it never gets pulled out again.

I still love diner food.  I especially like the desserts at diners.  Diner desserts are interesting because they are streamlined much like a diner itself.  In a diner food cost have to be kept down but that doesn’t mean the food is short on flavor.  The desserts are always somewhere between kitsch and homey, lots of gelatin and coconut but mind you that doesn’t mean the refrigerated glass case full of pies won’t grab my attention like I hope this delicious chocolate chiffon pie grabs yours.

For the crust:

12 chocolate graham crackers
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter plus 2 tsp.

For the chiffon:

1/4 cup water
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
4-oz. 72% dark chocolate or unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup whole milk
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

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1. In the bowl of a food processor pulse the graham crackers, cocoa powder, and butter until a fine crumb is formed and a crust forms when you push the crumbs firmly to the side of the processor bowl.
2. Dump the crumbs into a pie pan. Starting with the edges press the crumbs firmly into the pan. Bake the crust in a heated 350˚ F oven for 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
4. While the crust is cooling, combine water, espresso powder, and gelatin in a small bowl and let the gelatin bloom.
Add milk and chocolate to a small sauce pan and place it over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat.
5. In a mixing bowl combine salt, half the sugar, with the egg yolks. Add 1/4 cup of the cream and while whisking add the hot milk and chocolate mixture.
6. Pour milk mixture into the gelatin mixture and whisk until smooth and the gelatin has completely dissolved.
7. Clean all the pots and pans.
8. In the bowl of a mixer begin whipping the egg whites until they become stiff. Slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to whip until the whites become glossy and stiff.
9. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate filling until not trails of white remain.
10. Pour 3/4 of the chocolate filling into prepare pie crust. Refrigerate the pie and the remaining filling.
11. To make the whip cream whisk the remaining 1 3/4 cup of cream until it begins to stiffen. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract until and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.
12. Whisk the extrea cold chocolate filling. Fill a pastry bag fitter with a star tip with the filling and pipe a it around the outer edge of the pie.
13. Fill the the circle you just made with whipped cream being sure not to cover up the piped chocolate.
14. Grate chocolate over the top of the pie and refrigerate for another hour.
15. Cut the pie into pieces. Serve cold.

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Shoofly Pie, with or without gluten

Shoofly Pie

In the dessert world, there is a whole mess of what I like to call pantry pies: pecan, pumpkin, the chess family, derby, custards (like sugar cream), and last but not least, shoofly (or its aliases: shoo-fly, molasses, sorghum, or Montgomery). All of them are good with coffee, exceptional for breakfast, and of course, we all know that they are standards at the Thanksgiving table. 

The least known of this group is the shoofly. While most have heard of it, few, I will wager, have eaten it. Maybe it’s all the molasses, which can be overwhelming, or maybe it’s because it isn’t much known outside of Pennsylvania Dutch country and a few select pockets of the South. Continue reading

Honest Peach Pie

I always thought my friend Steven was lying when he told me that over the course of a few years he sold enough of his handmade old timey-looking leather fly swatters at the Indiana State Fair to pay for his log cabin and farm, until I myself moved to the country. Turns out he is a way smarter man than I because when you live on a farm, at some point during the summer, and especially if you have animals, flies are going to invade the house. It is inevitable and it is just a part of country life.

Like any man, I am always looking for the best tool for the job, and at day’s end I usually come back to the one I started with, because only after trying them all do I realize I had the right one to begin with. This is how I have come to understand that the fly swatter is an important time-honored, tried and true tool. One of those that works as well today as it did hundreds of years ago and is so simple even children like to use it.

So a couple of months back, when my KitchenAid stand mixer went down for the count it was like breaking a fly swatter, as far as I was concerned. But lo and behold, I was in the throes of Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand, which I took as a sign. I just had to wonder what would happen if I didn’t run out and replace it immediately, but instead went without and cooked like I did when I first started.

You see, a KitchenAid is like having a bottle of bourbon hidden in the cupboard. I mean really, as long as the bourbon is there you aren’t going to stop drinking, just like if you have a KitchenAid you won’t not use it. But is a mixer better, was my question, than, say, your tried and true, time-honored hands?

A decision was made: I had the shakes, I would go cold turkey and I would cook by hand. Do it the old way. The  “on the fly” theory, I would call it. Now don’t get me wrong — I am no blast from the past wannabe. I like my technology, my cell phones, computers, my gas stove and car — although the car is black. Nevertheless, I am not about to grow a beard sans mustache and ask you to call me Graber. (Full disclosure: I will, on the other hand, sometimes wear overalls because I am the anti-ass. Yes, when you are the anti-ass, overalls and outdoor labor make sense because when you have no butt you can never pull a belt tight enough to keep your pants from ending up around your ankles when working, and while I know overalls are not the best look — although I think they are making a comeback on Etsy right next to the Hobo Wedding — they are practical.)

So, as I was saying, I had always heard rumor that making doughs, breads and pastas by hand made them more tender, gave them a better rise in the oven or a more satiny feel in the mouth. I just needed to know.

I dove in head first and started out with a couple of yeast breads. One was a very dense whole grain bread and the other was my whole wheat farmhouse loaf. What I noticed right off was the difference in feel.  The whole grain at the end of kneading felt like the wet green block of floral foam that you stick flowers into. You know how when it gets damp and you push on it, it gives a little but seems crunchy and sandy on your hand? The farmhouse loaf is somewhat of a sticky dough and what happened there, how I have come to know the right hydration, is you get barnacle hands. Sounds funny, but these little pieces of dough should sparsely spot your hands and, well, look like tiny barnacles. The wetter the dough, the more barnacles.

I quickly moved on to crusts and the resulting pies have been great. They are more tender, have a better crumb and they aren’t any more difficult to make, although you do need practice to get the feel of it.

The biggest benefit to cooking by hand though is the girls and I aren’t standing there looking at a paddle attachment go round and round, but instead we are getting our hands dirty and learning about different flours and dough. The elasticity, the hydration and all the other technical stuff which, once you know how a dough should feel, allows you to become more confident and more efficient in the kitchen and build an intimacy with your doughs that allows you to make adjustments by intuition.

While I have procured another stand mixer and will use it (probably not for crusts), the one thing I learned that was probably most important and something you will want to remember and just might be the best kitchen tip I can give is: people keep their best liquor hidden in the cupboard and sometimes, maybe that’s where the KitchenAid belongs too.

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 Tips for Making a Pie Crust by Hand

1. Never add all the water to the dough that a recipe calls for. Always stop short and, as you work the dough, you will know pretty quickly if it needs more.

2. Use a bowl that is three times bigger than you think you need to keep the flour from shooting over the sides.

3. Don’t over-knead the dough. There should be a quarter cup or so of crumbles that fall onto and around the crust when you dump it out of the bowl onto the counter. Knead the dough a little more to incorporate them and stop. It doesn’t have to be one homogenous and smooth mass. While the dough rests it will continue to hydrate and when you roll it out the rolling pin will bring it together.

4. Rotating the dough 45 degrees between each use of the rolling pin is key to ending up with a round crust.

5. Always place your rolling pin in the middle of the dough round and roll away from yourself, then put it back in the middle and roll/pull the pin towards you.

For the crust:

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup lard

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

1/2 cup ice cold water

1. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Place the butter and lard into the bowl. Start by squeezing the flour into the butter and lard and then as things start to blend pick up clumps of flour between your hands and rub your hands together like you are trying to warm them up. Do this until the flour looks like course cornmeal. It is ok if there are some larger pieces of butter still in the mix.

2. Add the water and using your hands knead the dough right in the bowl until it comes together. Remove the dough from the bowl to a counter top and knead it two or three times. Divide the dough in half, pat it into two rounds then wrap in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge 30 minutes or more. If you let it sit in the fridge for two hours or more make sure you pull it out and let it warm up a little before trying to roll it.

3. To roll the crust first dust your counter top with some flour. I then dip one of the dough pieces into the flour bin itself and give it a shake. Place the dough on the counter top and starting in the middle of the dough roll with your rolling pin away from you then put the pin back in the middle and roll, backwards, towards yourself. Now turn the dough 45 degrees so it is oblong and horizontal. Roll with your pin, again, starting in the middle. Continue this process until the crust is 10 to 12 inches in diameter and about an 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Using the rolling pin for support roll the dough lightly around the pin, like a carpet, and place it into a 9 inch pie pan. Roll out the remaining piece of dough.

For the Filling and to Finish

6 to 8 peaches depending on their size, firm but ripe, look for free stone peaches, meaning the pit comes out easy. I used Indiana red havens which are semi-free and if they are

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

juice of half a lemon

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 egg white mixed with 2 teaspoons of water

sugar for dusting

1. Heat the oven to 400˚ Fahrenheit.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the peaches for 10 to 20 seconds. Remove them to a bowl. Leave the water on because as you are peeling the peaches you may find a peach that needs to be blanched a little longer. Slip the peaches from their skins, halve them, pit them and then slice each half into 3 pieces.

3. Place the peaches into a large bowl. Mix the sugar with the cornstarch. This will help to prevent the cornstarch from clumping. Combine the peaches with the sugar/cornstarch mix, cinnamon, lemon juice and nutmeg. Using your hands gently turn the peaches to distribute the sugar and spices. Remove the peaches and put them into the crust lined pie pan. Pour the juice over the top until it comes 3/4 of the way to the top. You may have more juice than you need. If you have less, don’t worry — it is fine.

4. Roll out the top crust and either cut it into strips for a lattice top or use it whole. Either way brush the edge of the bottom crust with egg white to help attach the top crust. Trim the excess crust. Crimp the crust. Brush the top crust with egg wash and dust with sugar. Place the pie on a sheet tray with edges just in case it bubbles over and because it will be much easier to get in and out of the oven.

5. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 400 ˚F then turn the heat to 350˚ F and bake another 40 to 50 minutes or until the juices are bubbling and the crust browned. Remove and let cool. Slice and serve cold or warm, with cream or ice cream or just skip and go naked.

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Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie

With the impending second storm barreling down on the Midwest it was feeling like more than a three hour tour. In keeping the castaways at ease we dove into a family baking project, used the last three bananas and watched old episodes of Gilligan’s Island.  After tasting this pie I know why the castaways never left the island.

SERVES 6 – 8

For the pie::

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons corn starch

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 1/2 cups whole milk, do not substitute

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 bananas

For the brittle and whipped cream::

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped, a good time to toast them is when you bake the crust

2 3/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and 1/4 cup of butter in a mixing bowl and combine with a fork until you have a mealy looking mixture.
  2. Pour the mixture into a 9 inch pie pan. Press out the crumbs until you have and even crust up the sides and bottom of the pie pan. Bake the crust until it is beginning to brown and is set. About 5 to 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  3. While the crust is cooling combine the corn starch, sugar, egg yolks, cardamom, vanilla and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.
  4. Place the milk into a sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. While whisking the egg mixture add a cup of hot milk and whisk. Add the egg mixture to the milk pan and put it back over the heat.
  5. Let the pudding come to a boil and then whisk until thick. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter. Pour the pudding into a bowl and set the bowl into an ice bath to cool the pudding.
  6. Place the honey and the remaining cardamom into a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil until it becomes very foamy.(have a cup of very cold water handy and drop a small droplet into the water. It should separate into thin brittle threads) Add the macadamia nuts and stir. Remove the brittle from the heat and pour it onto a greased parchment lined sheet tray. PLace the brittle into the fridge.
  7. Slice the bananas and layer them onto the pie crust. If the pudding has cooled pour it over the bananas. Refrigerate the pie for two hours or more.
  8. Once the pie has set make the whipped cream topping. Either with a stand mixer or a hand mixer whip the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and the vanilla and whip to stiff peaks.
  9. Chop the brittle.
  10. Pipe the whipped cream onto the pie and then top with the chopped brittle. Serve.