The tale of the best ever chocolate cream pie

Gentle readers, today I would like to tell you a story about the most delectable pie I have ever made.

A friend of mine from high school now lives in the far, far away land of Michigan with his wife and beyond-adorable two kids. Although we’ve stayed in touch through Facebook, I’ve now found a new way to spy on my old friend’s goings on: a blog he’s started, wherein he chronicles his year-long endeavor to make many, many delicious pies. Go visit The Rationality of Pie; it will be well worth your while.

I’m more of a fruit pie girl, myself. Give me a blueberry pie and you’ll be out of luck if you want a slice. I’m sure that Zeb has a ton of fruity pie recipes lined up when the weather finally warms up. However, since it’s wintertime and fresh fruits aren’t in season, most of the pies he’s posted about have been of the sweet variety: coconut cream, vanilla cream, Indiana buttermilk, etc. Honestly, I prefer reading about sweet pies, rather than eating them. Of course, that all changed when I saw the recipe for Chocolate Cream Pie.

If there’s one thing I can’t pass up, it’s chocolate, especially when it’s something chocolaty made in one’s own kitchen. Homemade chocolate pudding is just tops, and that’s what goes in the crust of this amazing culinary masterpiece. I’m not kidding, folks, this pie filling is some of the best chocolate pudding I have ever tasted. Zeb sums it up perfectly: “Forget the crust – just give me a pan of filling, a spoon, and ten minutes to myself.”

Having never made a pie filling that required precooking, I was more than a little nervous that I would royally screw it up. I shouldn’t have worried in the slightest: the milk didn’t burn, the cornstarch didn’t clump, the egg yolks didn’t scramble and the chocolate (a combination of semi-sweet and milk) melted into the creamiest, most heavenly concoction ever to grace my stovetop.

While I have been going on about the incredible chocolate filling, I must mention the meringue, which takes this pie to a whole new level of awesomeness. The meringue seems straightforward enough (egg whites, cream of tartar and sugar), but one addition makes it almost unearthly: cinnamon. Cinnamon meringue! It’s such a simple addition to a basic recipe that I never would have thought that it would completely change the taste of the finished dish. All I know is that if I ever have to make a meringue again, I am checking to see if cinnamon would compliment the dish, because the smell of cinnamon wafting through my kitchen is almost too much for me to handle. That’s a good thing, people.

Because this is Zeb’s creation (or rather, the creation of the guy who wrote the book that has become Zeb’s second bible), instead of posting the recipe here, I’ll point you over to the original post itself.

I made this pie for a dinner party about a week ago, and to say that it was a hit is the understatement of the year. Inappropriate, near-orgasmic sounds came from everyone at the table as they took tiny, savoring bites, and one of my friends demanded requested that I make it for his upcoming birthday. As long as I’m invited to the party, I think I’ll be happy to oblige.

Duxelles pizza

Although I don’t eat it nearly as often as I did once upon my youth, I still love myself a good slice of pizza.  Unlike the younger version of me, I’m not as attracted by giant slices of greasy cheese Pizza Hut monstrosities.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the taste, but I know my intestines will pay for it for the next forty-eight hours.  (Isn’t adulthood great?)  What I do love these days is a good slice of the kind of pizza at which I used to turn up my nose: vegetable pizza.

That’s right, gentle readers.  I want my veggies, and lots of ’em.  I like my pizza piled high not with cheese and pepperoni, but slices of gently roasted tomatoes, broccoli florets and the like.  My younger self would scoff at the abomination of my current pizza preferences.  “Ha!” she would exclaim haughtily.  “You can’t trick me into eating vegetables!  You think you’re so smart, but I’m on to you.”

Fast forward about twenty years to a pizzeria just minutes from my parents’ house. My mother ordered for us, as she had had this particular pie before and knew I would love it.  Instead of a traditional tomato-based sauce, it was a mushroom sauce, also known as duxelles (French for “om nom nom”). Atop it was arranged slices of plum tomatoes and roasted garlic, chopped artichoke hearts and crumbled goat cheese.  Certainly not the traditional pizza in any sense, but I was game.

Oh my.  I had never had anything like this before.  It was so delicious that I just had to try and recreate it at home.  It only took about six months before I tried it. Why? Two reasons:

  1. The idea of the duxelles sauce, which made the pizza so nomable, was a little intimidating.  It could easily turn out a little wonky, so I wanted to be sure that I got it just right before I tried using it as a pizza sauce.
  2. Honestly, I kind of forgot about it.

When I discovered that it was so ridiculously easy, I facepalmed at the realization that I could have been eating this delectable slice of heaven months earlier.

(I am probably bastardizing the original French recipe here, but I’m not too worried about it.  The results taste heavenly and to me that’s all that matters.)

Duxelles is made by chopping mushrooms (button, cremini, portobello, whatever) extremely finely.  I used about 12 ounces (a box and a half, if you buy them prepackaged at the grocery store).  With that same fine touch, chop a small shallot. Into the frying pan goes the mushrooms and shallots, along with some fresh thyme leaves and a heaping glop of butter, because what good would French food be without butter?  What happens next is really quite phenomenal.  The mushrooms will absorb all the butter, and then release it all back into the pan along with their own juices and a generous sploosh (read: about 1/3 cup) of sherry.  After some simmering, the liquid will evaporate, leaving you with some mighty delicious, mighty soft and pasty mushrooms.  (I usually give it a little whir with my immersion blender, too, just to make sure it’s extra creamy.)  What you get out of this adventure is a perfect sauce to spread upon your pizza dough.

I usually make my own pizza dough and lay it thinly over my wonderful pizza pan (the circular type with holes in the bottom for even cooking).  Spread on the duxelles and top with rinsed (if canned), chopped artichoke hearts and sliced plum tomatoes (which I forgot when I made the pizza featured in the above photo), and sprinkle on some goat cheese.  Brush the crust with a bit of olive oil and bake for about 20 minutes at 450°F, until the cheese starts to brown.  It won’t melt like mozzarella, but it complements the mushrooms so well!

I’d be curious to know what other veggie combinations others think of to use on a duxelles pizza…

Ginger pumpkin bread

The sudden chill in the air has made me crave all things squashy and pumpkiny, so I thought it was about time I whipped up some pumpkin bread.  It’s a wonderful quick bread with a subtle gingery, tangy twist that can be made by whisking alone; while I adore my KitchenAid stand mixer, sometimes it’s nice to feel empowered by mixing by hand.

I highly recommend placing a sheet of wax paper, foil or some other protective coating under the cooling rack if you decide to glaze your loaf.  If you don’t, you’ll be scrubbing a dried sugary mess from your countertop.  That’s not fun.

This recipe is adapted from the October 2006 issue of Everyday Food magazine.

Ginger Pumpkin Bread

  • 2-1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • shortening for pan
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 can (15-oz.) pumpkin purée (1-3/4 cups)
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • sugar glaze (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Grease and flour a large loaf pan; set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ginger and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together sugars, pumpkin, melted butter and eggs.  Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and stir just until combined.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 60-70 minutes.  Let cool 10 minutes, then invert pan and transfer loaf to a wire rack to cool completely.  Glaze.

Sugar Glaze

  • 1-1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons water

In a small bowl (or spouted measuring cup) gradually add water to confectioner’s sugar, one teaspoon at a time, until mixture is smooth but thick.  Drizzle over loaf.

Tomato Town: Salsa

Today’s tomato recipe comes from the scariest cookbook I know: my brain.

Normally, when I cook, I start with a recipe from a tried and tested cookbook, and then adjust it to give it a spin to reflect my personal tastes.  To start completely from scratch and create a recipe out of thin air is a rare thing, mainly because I am afraid of concocting something so vile that those who eat it will die a horrible, acid reflux-induced death.

However, if I didn’t get a little creative, I would never use up these blasted tomatoes.

Salsa is pretty hard to mess up.  All that is involved is chopping up a little of this and that until it tastes the way you want it to.

My recipe is pretty simple, and can be adjusted, depending upon how oniony or garlicky or spicy or sweet you like your salsa.  Remember, spiciness is determined by the jalapeño – the more seeds and the more of the ribs left in, the spicier it gets. Incidentally, wash your hands immediately after working with a jalapeño, and do not under any circumstances touch your eyes until that jalapeño oil is washed off, unless you enjoy blinding pain.

All-Purpose Salsa

Chop up and mix together the following:

  • about 4 large (beefsteak-sized) tomatoes
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 jalapeño
  • a handful of cilantro

Squeeze half of a lime and drizzle a teeny bit of olive oil over the salsa.  Season to taste with kosher salt and coarsely-ground pepper.

Salmon & zucchini baked in parchment

This recipe was adapted from the April 2007 issue of Everyday Food magazine.  It is a complete meal for one, but can easily be adapted for more people.  The recipe is simple, the food is healthy and the flavors are divine.  It’s fun to assemble, fun to unwrap and fun to eat.  I can safely say that this is one of my favorite meals.

Today we’re going to take a photographic journey through the process of making this flavor-fest. Click each photo to embiggen and see the salmon in all its yumminess.

  • 1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed (or a sprig of fresh)
  • 1 lemon sliced, halved, plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 skinless salmon fillet, about 6-8 ounces

salmon & zucchini 2Preheat oven to 350°F.  Fold a large piece of parchment paper in half to crease it; open it and lay it flat on a baking sheet.

On one side of the crease, mound zucchini.  Top with shallot, butter, dill and lemon slices.  Season with salt and pepper.

 

salmon & zucchini 4

Place salmon on top.  Drizzle with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

To close, fold parchment over the salmon.  Make small overlapping pleats to seal the open sides and create a half-moon-shaped packet.  Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until salmon is opaque throughout, about 15-17 minutes.

salmon & zucchini 6To serve, you can either place the packet on a plate and cut it open, or make a slit in the paper and use a large spatula to transfer the contents to a plate.

salmon & zucchini 5

Banana bread

I have a really bad habit of buying fruit with the good intention of eating it, but I don’t always get to it before it goes bad.  This is why I usually buy bananas: if, for some reason, I don’t get around to eating them before they turn black, I can always make banana bread.

Good banana bread recipes are hard to find.  There is a delicate balance between density, texture and taste that must be found in the finished product. After much experimentation, I think I have finally perfected my recipe for the ultimate banana bread to meet my stringent requirements.  I use applesauce instead of shortening, and add some Grape Nuts for a bit of texture.  I would never eat them as a cereal because I don’t fancy breaking a tooth, but they do soften up in the baking process.

Incidentally, I have to sing praises to my future mother-in-law, who, for Christmas this year, gave me a fantastic set of silicon bakeware, which included a loaf pan.  You know, sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you grease the pan, because stuff will stick, and although it may taste good, it may not look suitable for public consumption.  I am seriously considering tossing my metal loaf pans, because this silicon loaf pan is the best thing since sliced bread.  Not one thing has stuck to it, and because of its pliable nature, I can easily remove breads without fear of tearing off the bottom.

Banana Bread

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 or 3)
  • 1/2 cup Grape Nuts cereal

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9″x5″x3″ loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, sift flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, mix sugar with applesauce.  Add eggs one at a time.  Mix in cinnamon and vanilla.

Alternately mix flour mixture, mashed bananas and Grape Nuts into applesauce mixture, just until combined.  Do not overmix.  Turn batter into greased loaf pan.

Bake 40-60 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan ten minutes before turning out onto cooling rack.

Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

I made these cookies with my mom last weekend, and was so grateful that I had someone there to help.  Sandwich cookies are not very difficult to make, but they are a process: rolling out the dough, cutting different pieces for tops and bottoms, baking, dusting, spreading, and smooshing.

After looking for cookie cutters small enough to make a hole in the center of the top of the sandwich, we finally settled on star-shaped fondant cutters, which came in a pack of four and looked exactly like cookie cutters.

You could use any kind of jelly, jam, or other preserves you have around.  We had raspberry.

I was glad to have my mom help not only because the sandwiching process went by much more quickly, but also because she always thinks of great ways to improve cookies.  In this case, she suggested grinding up some whole, shelled almonds and adding it to the dough.  Great idea!  The almond flavor totally complemented the unsweetened raspberry preserves, and added a little bit of texture to the cookies in a way that almond extract wouldn’t have been able to do.

This recipe was adapted from the December 2008 issue of Everyday Food.

Raspberry Sandwich Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup finely ground almonds
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • raspberry preserves

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Add yolks one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add vanilla.  With mixer on low, gradually add flour, cinnamon and almonds, mixing just until combined.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least one hour until firm.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters.  Using a smaller cookie cutter, cut out the center of half of the cookies (these will be the sandwich tops).  Bake for 8-10 minutes, turning cookie sheets halfway through, just until barely browned.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Using a fine mesh sieve, lightly dust sandwich tops with confectioner’s sugar.  Set aside.  Spread raspberry preserves on bottoms.  Place sugared cookies on top of preserves, creating a sandwich.

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