Friday, June 9, 2006

A Brief Pie-ography (and a promise to avoid pie puns in the future)

My grandmother, a good Ohio country cook, always had pie on the table waiting when I came to visit her. My favorite involved any form of berry, and sometimes we’d go to Boone Lake and pick the blackberries ourselves, lacing rubber bands around our well-wrapped wrists and ankles to stop the chiggers’ offensives. I wish I’d paid more attention to Gran’s pie-making technique, but by the time I was old enough to appreciate such things, I was a teenager and far more interested in imagining My Exciting Future.

Years later, after all that excitement, I got married. Lots of good things accompanied my journey into matrimony, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll stick to one: I started making pies. My first attempt took place on an unusually muggy Thanksgiving morning in southern California. Eleven people were coming to our house for the big dinner later that day and for some reason (probably because no one else offered) I was the designated baker.

Things did not go well. The kitchen was hot and the pie dough sticky and resistant. Although I finally managed to roll it into something that resembled a circle, each time I tried to transfer it to the plate, it fell apart in crumbly pieces.

There was nothing to do but cry.

Fortunately, my husband had been handily engaged in a project of his own: mixing up a batch of festive cranberry cocktails. And being the good and wise partner that he is. . . Two cocktails later, I tried again, patching and pressing the dough into a crazy-quilt that suddenly seemed more than acceptable. Besides, my mate assured me, no one would ever notice.

He was right, of course. It was Thanksgiving and everyone simply seemed thankful that I’d persevered. (And thankful for the cranberry cocktails, too.)

These days, I bake lots of pies -- and I hardly ever cry. At least not about the pies.


This week’s recipe is part of my Past.

Reader, last weekend I attended my college reunion in St. Paul. Surprisingly enough -- and contrary to all my dour expectations -- it was fun. Although there was far more beer consumed than pie during the idyllic four years I spent at Macalester College, one pie memory lingers, involving late-night jaunts to the restaurant called Poppin’ Fresh Pies. Over slices of the trashy-sounding “French Silk,” we’d moan about the horrors of our college existence: the lecherous economics professor, the Twin Cities’ persistent subzero temperatures, the roommate who’d erased our favorite party tape.

We also moaned about the mysterious lusciousness of the pie before us. Now that I’ve deconstructed it, I see that the saucy French Silk pie is nothing more than a heap of rich chocolate mousse tucked into a sweetened cracker crust.

Truly, with age comes wisdom. . .


French Silk Pie
Adapted from W.A. Frost & Company and

For the crust:

1/3 c. butter, softened
2 ½ oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 ½ c. Ritz or Townhouse crackers, crushed
1 c. powdered sugar

For the filling:

¾ c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 ½ t. vanilla
½ t. salt
3 large eggs

For the topping:

8 oz. whipping cream
1 t. sugar
bittersweet chocolate, for decoration

Make the crust by creaming together butter and sugar. Add chocolate and cracker crumbs, combining well. Press mixture into a 9 in. pie plate. (Don’t worry if mixture seems wet. It will firm up as it chills.) Chill crust while preparing filling.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until very light and fluffy – approximately 2 minutes. Gradually add melted chocolate, vanilla, and salt. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at medium speed for 4 minutes after each addition. Spoon filling into chilled pie crust and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.


Before serving, whip cream with sugar until soft peaks form. Spread top of pie with whipped cream and using a vegetable peeler, shave chocolate onto top of cream to form curls or confetti.


Note: People in the know still advise against serving food containing raw eggs to pregnant women, individuals with compromised health, and young children. So, to be safe, don’t pass this pie around at baby showers, infirmaries, or birthday parties where clowns are the featured attraction.


At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Majesty, I enjoyed reading the autopie-ography, but methinks you give your husband too much credit.


At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Sorry, I posted this in the wrong place...)

So, I'm lookin' at the second to the last picture of today's addition... the one with the chocolate shavings, and the thing in your right hand doesn't look like a vegetable peeler... at least not the sort with which I grew up.

So, to a guy, any pursuit, project, crisis, interest, or occasion is an excuse to buy TOOLS.

So, I'm wondering, what tools, gadgets, implements, or to use the kitchenary term, "utensils" should a piemaker have? What's essential? What makes the task easier?


At 7:51 PM, Blogger The Queen of Tarts said...

Mark, Obviously you have not tasted his cranberry cocktail...

Currydude, Already you are showing much promise as a pie-maker! Good tools-gadgets-utensils can make any project more satisfying. (Plus it's such a terrific excuse to go shopping.) At the minimum, you should have a couple of porcelain or glass pie plates -- 9 and 10 inches. A heavy-duty rolling pin is useful for crust-rolling and waving wildly in the air. I have a marble slab that I hoist onto the counter to roll out the dough and that's nice, but not essential. When you're ready for more, consult the King Arthur Flour catalogue, a sort of Sharper Image for dedicated bakers.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger e4c5 said...

Heyyy, I graduated from Mac too (1983).


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