So this is definitely the coolest kitchen gadget ever. It’s not high-tech, it doesn’t take up a ton of space, and it dates back to the late 1700s! My dad had one when I was a kid and I used to love turning the crank and playing with the resulting perfect spiral-cut apples. When I saw this one in a secondhand store for only $3.99 I knew it would be coming home with me.
I am indebted to my dad for this recipe, as he’s always been one for making simple desserts that nevertheless end up tasting fantastic. (I still remember him blending up instant chocolate jello pudding with a peppermint Altoid and pouring it into a chocolate crumb crust– easiest chocolate pie ever!) Anyway, he made me try this recipe the last time I visited home and I’ve been making it ever since.
The filling, which you can pour into a graham cracker crust to make a pie, into dishes to make pudding, or into mini muffin tins to make tartlets, is amazingly simple– you just blend together your basic ingredients and you’re set! I admit to making things a bit more complicated with a homemade graham cracker base, but the basic recipe is fantastic just as it is– creamy, tangy, perfect for summer. Plus, unlike other key lime recipes I’ve seen, it’s got (secret ingredient!) low-fat cottage cheese in it rather than cream cheese, sour cream, or egg yolks, making it a healthy (okay, slightly healthier) alternative to the standard dessert!
Emily’s Runaway Imagination is one of Beverly Cleary’s lesser-known works, and it takes place on a farm in the 1920s or thereabouts. One of the scenes I remember best is where Emily (a little girl with a big imagination) bakes custard pie for a church potluck. She’d previously overheard someone say that the secret to a light and flaky pie crust was adding “a generous pinch of baking powder” to it, and she’s eager to demonstrate her newfound pie crust prowess.
“Two and a half cups of flour,” directed Mama. “Some salt — not quite a teaspoonful. Let’s see, some lard. You’d better let me measure that.” Mama came into the pantry and deftly measured the lard out of the lard bucket. “Now Emily, take two knives and slash through the flour and lard until it is as fine as corn meal.” Emily started to slash. […]
Quickly Emily added a generous pinch of baking powder and then, not certain how big a generous pinch should be, added another generous pinch to make sure. Then she slashed and slashed and according to Mama’s directions, added water, just a little bit. “There are two secrets to making good pie crust,” said Mama. “Use very little water and handle the dough lightly.” Emily smiled to herself because she knew a third secret.
Unfortunately for Emily, once the pies come out of the oven, instead of the custard surface being “golden yellow and flecked with nutmeg,” the crust has risen to the top with the custard at the bottom. Her mother concludes that the custard filling was too liquidy to weigh the crust down (apples or raisins would apparently have worked better). No one wants to eat her “funny-looking” pie, until one of her neighbors remarks that the inversion will keep the crust from getting soggy… and then everyone digs in.
I always wondered as a kid if this would really happen if you added baking powder to a custard pie crust. Thinking about it now it doesn’t really make sense, since the custard would have no way of getting down through the bottom of the crust unless the crust had holes in it to let the custard flow through– without the holes even the puffiest crust would just end up pushing the extra custard over the top of the pan to spill on the oven floor. I could dock the crust, of course, but no one would dock a crust with big enough holes to let custard get through in any quantity– that’s just asking for the custard to leak and stick the crust to the pan.
I decided to give this food myth (if one can really call it that) the best possible chance of success by cutting a few 1″ circles out of the pie crust, allowing the custard plenty of space to run through and let the crust rise up to the top. I figured that if that didn’t work, nothing would.
Let’s see what happens!
(Don’t let the quotation marks in “cream” pie scare you– I promise that this recipe is creamy, rich, and delicious, despite being dairy-free!)
Did you know, before I heard of this recipe I’d never made a chocolate cream pie before? It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea– I love chocolate and I love creamy, pudding-y desserts– but I just never got around to making one. I think it was partially because the recipes I saw fell into one of two camps– overly complicated, involving separating eggs and slaving over a hot stove to make custard; or extremely processed, relying on instant pudding and Cool Whip. Not that I have anything against instant pudding or Cool Whip– both are staples of my quick dessert repertoire– but “chocolate cream pie” seemed to call for something a bit more involved to live up to the decadence of its name.
Anyway, that all flew out the window when I heard of a chocolate cream pie recipe that called for only a few ingredients, one of which seemed so preposterous I had to try it. I’m always a sucker for a “secret ingredient,” and this was too good to pass up. What was it?
Okay, I admit that this isn’t really a project. It’s too easy to count as a project. But the results are tasty, and I learned something useful, so I’m posting about it anyway.
The other day I got out a can of refrigerated crescent roll dough and the half-can of raspberry pie filling I had left over from my “Raspberry Swiss No-Meringue Buttercream” (wow, that’s a mouthful), and put them together to make some breakfast rolls. Simplest thing ever– just plop a generous spoonful of pie filling onto the dough, roll it up, and bake until golden brown. Top with a drizzle of powdered sugar glaze and voila– something tasty.
It’s fall in New England, and that means apple-picking! Our family recently took advantage of a gorgeous fall day to head out to an orchard and participate in that most quintessential of fall activities, and came home tired, happy, and weighed down with a full nineteen pounds of apples. While my daughter has been doing her part to consume them (at least insofar as “taking two bites out of an apple and declaring it ‘all done'” can be considered consumption), that’s still a mountain of apples. So I thought I’d try my hand at another quintessential favorite– the apple pie, but with the added twist of a secret ingredient. What is it, you ask? Read on…