Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ann's March Pie - Strawberry Glace

As I've mentioned before, I like to think of some reason to make a certain pie each month, generally out of necessity to use something up. But this month, I went with subtle hints directed towards me. My roommate Scholarastastic has regaled me with stories of her mother's magical strawberry pie that she makes for Valentine's Day each year, and since she had a birthday in March, this pie seemed as good as any to make. I didn't make it for her, per se, but maybe in honor of her.

To start, I'm not sure about the name. The recipe is written as "strawberry glace", Scholarastastic pronounces it "strawberry glass", but glace means "freeze" in French, and glacé, which is what I thought it was called, means "frozen". Neither of these apply to the method or result of the pie. I know that it's supposed to be refering to the glaze, but I don't know what the name is actually supposed to be. Maybe if I spoke French, I'd get it. Stupid Romantic languages.

Anyhoo, I love the idea of this recipe because I knew it'd be gorgeous and that I could try out some new skills, but most appealing is the fact that it is a family favorite and that's what pie making really should be all about. However, the recipe didn't come with a specific crust, so I decided on a butter-and-shortening crust since I hadn't made one yet. I did some research, and decided on a recipe from The Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball (of America's Test Kitchen fame, and Elizabeth's secret boyfriend). I liked that he had a handmade method instead of requiring a food processor, and I especially liked that the recipe said to freeze the fats and then grate them into the dry ingredients. How fun! This allows the fats to be in small enough pieces without a food processor and cuts them down quickly so they can remain as cold as possible as the dough is incorporated together. And it just looks cool:

Is it mozzerella... or butter and Crisco???

The dough came together fairly easily - I think I ended up adding an extra tablespoon or two of water to make it form a ball, but it wasn't bad at all. After I put it in the fridge, I looked at the recipe again to see what I'd need to do for the rolling out and prebaking processes..and then I saw the separate recipe for crusts that require prebaking, which is what I wanted. Gah!!! I really felt like I had read the recipe through and understood it, but how can I compete with a cookbook that doesn't tell me that the recipe I want isn't actually the recipe I want? How would I know that there would be a different recipe if you want to prebake the crust? I thought that was just part of what you did with pie crusts of this nature!! I guess there must be pies that you don't prebake first - clearly, this is something I need to look into. So you'll get different results from the slightly different amounts of fat, which must be true because Chris Kimball says so. He also says "The single most difficult culinary task for the home cook is prebaking a pie shell." Yikes! What was I up against???

Actually, the crust rolled out BEAUTIFULLY - absolutely no dry edges, pliable, perfect. Chris Kimball recommends refrigerating the dough first and then freezing it briefly before baking it to help prevent the crust from shrinking. At this point, I transfered over to Miss Hass's house to finish the pie since we were going to a Scholarastastic's birthday party a little later and it was closer to her apartment. Plus, she promised to take pictures with her amazing camera in exchange for pie. Hooray!!!

The crust didn't bake as nicely as I'd have liked, I think because the oven got REALLY hot fast - ovens can be so tricky, as I've learned since living in various apartments. Anyway, so now for the filling. We took a trip to Sam's Club for strawberries, and so I could gawk at everything (as La Dolcezza recorded in her blog recently) - I also bought bulk cheese and a skirt! We hulled them and mashed some with sugar and water for the glaze. To start, I spread softened cream cheese on the bottom of the crust. Next, I arranged the berries in a lovely pattern.

Then, the glaze:

And then it was basically done! Here is the finished product:

Come, little children, don't fear the pie...

Poor Greta gets no pie:

And then it went into the fridge for several hours - we didn't eat it until the next day in the end.

The strawberries we bought were amazing - they completely made the pie. I don't think it would be worth making without gorgeous, ripe berries, and there's something so satisfying about seeing a mound of perfect glistening red presented to you. However, there are things I would change about the recipe. The glaze was good, but it didn't taste great after the first day - it was more gelatinous than a glaze, so you either ought to eat the pie all at once or make a different kind of glaze. Also, once the pie had chilled, the cream cheese just set up in a very solid layer which I didn't particularly enjoy. Scholarastastic checked with her mom and found out that she usually does a mixture of sour cream and cream cheese, which would make a world of difference. I would whip them together with some lemon juice and zest for extra tang - similar to the top layer of the blueberry sour cream pie in January. Num num nummy!

Of course, Scholarastastic was quite pleased with the result. Happy Birthday!

Strawberry Glace Pie
courtesy Betty Crocker via Barbara S.

9-inch prebaked pie crust
approx. 8 cups strawberries (4 pints)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water)
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened (per Scholarastastic's method - 3 oz. cream cheese, 3 tbs. sour cream, 1 tbs. sugar)

Mash enough strawberries to make 1 cup. Mix sugar and cornstarch in 2 quart saucepan. Stir in water and mashed berries gradually. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute; cool. Beat cream cheese until smooth, spread on bottom of pie shell. Fill with rest of strawberries; pour cooked mixture over top. Refrigerate until set, approximately 3 hours.

Master Recipe for Prebaked Pie Shell, hand variation
from The Dessert Bible by Christopher Kimball

(Note: this the recipe I should have used)

5 tablespoons cold all-vegetable shortening (e.g. Crisco)
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

1. Freeze the vegetable shortening (Crisco) and butter for 30 minutes. Mix flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl with a whisk for 30 seconds. Grate the butter and shortening into the bowl containing the flour mixture. Use your fingers to gently toss the grated butter and shortening with the flour. The flour mixture should turn slightly yellow and take on a course, cornmeal-like tecture. Do not overmix at this point or the butter will melt and the dough will become sticky and hard to handle.

2. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice water onto the mixture and gently toss with your fingers to mix. Add an additional tablespoon and toss and then a third. Check the mixture by taking a handfull and squeezing. If the dough holds together, it is done. (It is better to use too much water than not enough.) If not, add another tablespoon of water, toss, and then squeeze a handful to check. Gather the dough into a ball, turn onto a lightly floured surface, and flatten into a 4-inch disk. Dust very lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

3. If dough has spent more than 1 hour in the refrigerator, let warm up a few minutes on the counter before proceeding. Roll out dough and place into a 8- or 9-inch pie pan. Push dough gently down the sides of the pan. Trim dough around edge of pan, leaving 1/2-inch border. Fold excess dough underneath the edge of the dough and shape edge using fingers, or press with the tines of a fork. Place in refrigerator for at least 40 minutes. Place in freeze for 20 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

4. Remove pie shell from freezer and fit a double thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil (the extra-wide rolls are best; if the foil is too narrow, use two sheets) over shell, fitting foil carefully into the bottom of pie shell and pressing against the sides. Add pie weights or dried beans, enough to generously cover bottom of pie plate. Pile up the weights around the sides of the shell to help hold them in place.

5. Bake on lower rack for about 21 minutes, or until sides of pie shell are set. (They should not be moist and should be firm.) Remove foil and weights and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. (Note: this cooking time was too long for my pie - after removing weights, watch carefully to make sure the crust doesn't brown too much.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Elizabeth's February Pie: Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie

For February I decided to throw my husband a bone, since he only got a half slice of the Chocolate Cream Pie in December and I made a Coconut Cream Pie in January. Jeff hates coconut, but he LOVES peanut butter, so I decided to make him a Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie. I know most people call it a "Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie," but I want the focus to be on the peanut butter, so I'm listing it first in the title.

(Side note: when Jeff is eating something he likes, he very often comments that it would be better with more chocolate and more peanut butter---even if the item has none of either ingredient. He doesn't seem to say it to be funny; he legitimately thinks every food in the world would be better with more chocolate and more peanut butter. I usually think it's funny, but sometimes I want to shout, "ACK! Not everything in the world has to taste like a Reeses!")

(Other side note: around here in Ohio, lots of people say "ReesEEs" with a long e at the end, instead of Reeses, with a short e. I'd never heard it before and I think they're wrong. The commercials never said ReesEEs! What do you say?)

I've made peanut butter chocolate pies before, but they were never just right. Jeff and I have been searching for the "perfect" peanut butter chocolate pie, and America's Test Kitchen is no help! Stupid ATK!! (Just kidding.... Chris, Julia, Bridgette, Adam, Jack.....How could I be mad at you???)

The recipe I came up with is actually a combination and tweaking of 5 separate recipes. It comes as close to the perfect peanut butter chocolate pie that Jeff and I have yet encountered, but there is still some tweaking to go. I will explain that later.

I went with a Nutter Butter crust, a fudge layer, a peanut butter/cream cheese layer, and a ganache top. Fabulous! I'm the perfect combiner of recipes! And using hot fudge topping for the fudge layer was all my idea. I'm brilliant!!

Here is the combo RECIPE that I used:

14 nutter butters
3 Tbl butter melted

Fudge layer:
Mrs. Richardson's Chocolate Fudge Topping (NOT Hershey's)

5 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chilled heavy cream

Ganache Topping:

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the crust by combining cookies and butter. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9" pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly browned.

2. Spread fudge topping on the bottom of the crust to the thickness you prefer. Go slowly, be patient, and use an offset spatula so that the act of spreading the fudge doesn't pull up the crust. Chill the crust after the fudge goes in.

3. Filling: In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer set on high, whip cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add milk, peanut butter and vanilla. Beat until well mixed.

4. In a separate bowl, whip remaining chilled cream until stiff and fold into peanut butter mixture. Spoon gently into chilled crust, using a spatula to smooth the surface of the pie, and refrigerate for at least 5 hours.

5. Make the ganache: In a medium glass bowl, combine the chocolate with the heavy cream and microwave at high power in 20-second intervals until the chocolate is melted and the cream is hot. Stir the ganache until blended, then let cool to barely warm, stirring occasionally.

6. Spread the ganache over the peanut butter filling and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Note: It is vital that you chill the pie for the required time. Otherwise it just weeps all over. When it is properly chilled it slices like a dream and tastes a million times better than a weepy pie.

1. I would add more fat to the crust. A total of 4-6 Tablespoons. The crust didn't hold together as firmly as I would have liked.

2. I would make a thicker fudge layer. More topping. That is Jeff's suggestion, not mine. It is true, though, that that layer wasn't really "present."

3. I would use less sugar and more peanut butter in the filling. I don't like my pies to taste like a candy bar, and even though everyone who ate it gushed at how much they loved it, it was too sweet for me, and I'm the cook, so I get to fiddle with it!

4. I would garnish it with chopped peanuts around the edge of the pie.

5. I would have remembered that it was my friend's birthday that night and actually have said "Happy Birthday" and maybe even have had everyone sing the song, instead of forgetting all about her birthday because of my stupid dinner and pie. I didn't know it was her birthday when I invited her family to dinner, but when she told me that it would be her birthday that night, I certainly planned on doing something for it!! What's my problem? I LOVE birthdays! Who would have thought I would have missed a birthday???!!!