Sunday, November 22, 2009

Oven-Free S'mores Pie

Firstly, may I acknowledge the well-established fact that I am a terrible blogger?  My sincere apologies to you, hungry reader, for the unkept promises of pie.  Here's the Reader's Digest version of what happened:

Once upon a time, Meg was unemployed and anxious.  She started a pie blog as a creative outlet and a fun excuse to bake tasty things.  Alas! she neglected to consider that having immense amounts of free time does little good when one can't afford baking supplies.  But, lo, what should appear on the horizon but a job at yonder Bi-Mart?  And so, we leave our pie-baking cheese-devouring heroine in a new predicament: all the flour and fruit in the world but never the time to use it!

Wouldn't Reader's Digest be about 1000 times better if they wrote each article like a fairy tale?

Maybe not so much.  On with the pie!  Today's featured pie comes at the request of the dashing foreign love of my life.  Apparently Australia hasn't discovered the wholesome, squishy deliciousness that is s'mores-- can't imagine why a continent threatened by raging wildfires wouldn't embrace that one...  Thankfully, things are a little moister here in the Pacific Northwest, so we've indoctrinated him quite thoroughly.  In honor of his poor deprived Aussie brethren, however, I give you the no-bake outback friendly s'mores pie.

Buy this:
  • Pre-made graham cracker crust
  • 1 pkg. chocolate Jell-O Cook & Serve Pudding (4-serving size)
  • 1/2 tub of Cool Whip
  • 1 c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 regular size Hershey bar
Do this:
  • Prepare pudding as directed on package, stirring constantly.
  • Once pudding begins to thicken in saucepan, stir in Cool Whip.  Continue to stir until Cool Whip has melted completely.
  • Carefully pour pudding into pre-made crust.
  • Sprinkle marshmallows across top of pudding.
  • Place pie in the refrigerator and allow to chill for 30-45 minutes.
  • Remove pie from refrigerator and press chunks of the Hershey bar into the surface.
  • Replace pie in refrigerator and allow to chill for 2 hours.
As a former teacher-in-training, I feel almost preternaturally compelled to explain my choices in putting this little puppy together.  In fact, it kind of bothers me to give such bare-bones directions without immediately describing at length why a person would want to buy or do these things.  So, here are the footnotes, in all their transparent glory!

The first important question is the issue of crust.  I think a graham cracker crust really just makes sense for this pie, since graham cracker flavor belongs in s'mores.  What's unusual, though, is my endorsement of pre-made crusts.  Under most circumstances, pre-made pie crusts are really not my cup of tea; they send the tacit message that the eater need only enjoy the filling, and that the crust really only exists as a formality.  Now, I'm a girl who loves my filling, but to me, the best part about pie is the interplay of filling and crust-- an interplay that loses depth and nuance when you rely on clunky pre-made dough.  However, crumble crusts are my big exception to this pickiness.  I honestly think pre-made crumble crusts taste exactly the same as handmade ones, and they're a hell of a lot less work for those of us without food processors.

Next up is the Jell-O pudding-- this one is deeply negotiable to me.  If I were better-versed in pudding (and less lazy), I might consider doing this from scratch, but the Cook & Serve variety is pretty darn good.  I think the instant variety tastes a little wonky and the consistency isn't as satisfying, plus Cook & Serve is not exactly a huge step up as far as preparation complexity is concerned.  I cut in half a tub of Cool Whip to lighten the filling up a bit, as well as to take up a bit more space inside the pie crust.  If you dig a richer, more chocolatey pie, you could just as easily make 2 packages of filling and leave out the Cool Whip.

Also, it is mandatory that you pronounce "Cool Whip" like this.

Last note of importance is one of explanation: why wait to add the chunks of chocolate?  This was a trial-and-error discovery.  If you break up your Hershey bar and press in the chocolate while the pudding is still hot, the chocolate chunks melt and start looking all zombie-fied, instead of looking clean and crisp.  More than anything, it's aesthetic, but taste-wise it's also nice to maintain the solid chocolate chunks to contrast with the squishy filling and marshmallows.

S'moresy and delicious!

All said and done, this is an almost retardedly easy pie that people really can't get enough of.  I've seen a few restaurants offer various iterations of this idea, often with restauranty flourishes like chocolate mousse across the top.  Call me crazy, but I think this one is best simple and straightforward, with all the tasty s'mores flavors and none of the burnt marshmallow adhered to your tongue.

I've been struggling to rate this pie honestly, because my many layers of guilt complexes tell me that easy undertakings aren't allowed to yield fabulous results.  Yet, try as I might, I can't convince myself that there's anything wrong with the finished product of this pie.  Short on time, I made one for our wedding reception (we had a pie table instead of a cake) and despite my embarrassment from bringing something so simple, it was one of the first to run out.  Bottom line, this pie is lightning quick, hard to mess up and easy to gobble down.  In my book, that earns it a full five decimal places of pi: 3.14159.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for extra Thanksgiving week posts!  Projects on the horizon: Tim Tam cheesecake, Peach Glacé pie, and a bonus recipe for my mom's top-secret Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pie the First: Apple Gruyère

First off, watch Pushing Daisies.  This is mission-critical.  The short-lived Amélie-colored comedy has brought so much joy to my life over the past few months; I feel like I really can't oversell it.  However, I suspect you're not here to get television recommendations, and you're perhaps wondering why my very first pie blog posting appears to have very little to say regarding pie.  Dear reader, have faith and forge on!

In the world of Pushing Daisies lives a girl named Chuck.  Chuck has two socially phobic cheese enthusiast aunts named Lily and Vivian.  In an effort to improve the aunts' spirits, Chuck sneaks homeopathic mood enhancers into pies.  Most often, these pies are covered in cheese.  Naturally, yours truly couldn't resist taking one of her creations for a spin!

One of her first antidepressant Trojan horse pies involves a tasty and complicated flavor pairing: apple filling with Gruyère baked into the crust.  Oh me, oh my.  I had hoped to track down the recipes that used to be posted on the official Pushing Daisies website, but ABC apparently doesn't make a habit of hosting web promotions for shows they've brutally slaughtered (read: cancelled in favor of Grey's Anatomy spinoffs).  No luck, but I did find one benevolent pie enthusiast who dreamt up her own version and shared directions.

In a nutshell, I followed Tisha's recipe for the filling, as well as her helpful hints on integrating the Gruyère.  I departed from her directions for the crust for several important reasons:
  • I am already in possession of a simple and straightforward crust recipe that turns out just the way I want it to (straight from the brain of my pie guru mama)
  • I have a number of vegetarian/vegan friends who would be left out of the pie inhaling process if I used lard in my crust
  • I am massively broke and already have all the ingredients for regular crust
  • Lard is a nasty-sounding word and I'm a pansy
I grated about an ounce and a half of Gruyère into the crust, right before I formed it into dough balls to be rolled out.  I also noticed (after having watched both seasons of Pushing Daisies many times) that Chuck tops her pie with some big, coarse shreds of Gruyère across the top of the finished pie.  Never one to miss an opportunity to add more cheese, I followed suit.  Another notable deviation from the recipe: despite living in Washington, the apple capital of America, I couldn't for the life of me track down any of the varieties Tisha recommended.  I finally got so tired of looking that I just grabbed six of my favorite variety, Gala, and rolled with them.  They were less tart than usual, which I suspect pushed my creation even further away from what it was meant to be, but so it goes.

I'd also like to highly recommend a classy kitchen gadget that has the added advantage of looking like a medieval torture device.  The Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer is a truly ingenious creation that saves mad amounts of time for pies.  You pull the red handle back (toward the right, in the picture), load an apple onto the prongs, and start turning.  The apple spirals toward the left, hitting two mechanisms as it goes.  First, it hits a blade arm that removes the peel in a funky spiral shoestring manner.  Then, the apple reaches a circular blade, which simultaneously slices the apple (once more, spirally) and separates the slices from the core.  Fabulous!  I was lucky enough to find a bargain version of this bad boy on sale at Bi-Mart for $10, but I can vouch more vocally from the "real" Pampered Chef version featured in my link.  My mum's had it for many years and it still works perfectly every time.  My bargain version still does the trick, but is smaller and feels less sturdy, like it might need replacing in the near future.  Bottom line, though-- if you plan to make an apple pie a time or two, this contraption is the way to do it.

But enough with the technical talk and on with the pie!  This bad boy bakes for nearly an hour, and what a grueling hour it is.  The apple filling smells epic good as it heats up, and the cheese melting across the top is nigh on irresistible.  It definitely needed the specified 20 minutes to cool, and placing a cookie sheet under the pie pan saved my oven from becoming a sticky apple mess, as the filling tends to erupt out of any structural weaknesses in the top crust.  However, I am happy to report that the finished product was well-worth the trouble!

This pie is really f***ing good.

I've made an apple pie or two in my twenty-three years on this earth, but I think it's safe to say this one was best by far.  To be fair, cheese is one of my deepest passions, so its addition into most types of food is often a free pass into my belly.  So far, though, my taste testers have been quite pleased!

My observations in hindsight:
  • Gala apples were not the best choice.  I can't remember making an apple pie with anything but Granny Smith apples, but I thought I should at least try something semi-red for this recipe.  If available, I'd try the tart red varieties listed, or just revert back to Granny Smiths.  Non-baking apples yield very mellow pie filling-- sweet but without the subtle tartness you expect when you eat an apple fresh.
  • I really enjoyed having cheese across the top of the pie, as it made for easy bite-stacking possibilities.  Composing a bite with a bit of bottom crust, a few pieces of apple, and a large chunk of cheesy top crust was just about the most fun I've had with a fork all day.  However, the cheese hardens after melting, which makes it hard to cut through when slicing the pie.  In fact, I really destroyed a lot of the top crust just trying to slice the pie.  I'm curious to see if this problem could be partially mitigated by waiting to grate cheese across the top until after the pie has baked.
  • The pie dough needed more cheese (surprise, surprise!).  The recipe called for 2 ounces of Gruyère grated into the dough, but using the smallest grate size makes for very slow progress.  My arm got tired after an ounce and a half, and it looked like plenty of cheese, so I called it quits.  I'd shoot for more like 3 or 4 ounces next time, as we could hardly taste the cheese in the crust this time around.
Overall, a really tasty twist on a classic pie variety.  This one will definitely stay in my recipe box and be reused often.  In keeping with the trend of nerdiness already established within this blog, I think all pies will need to be rated on a painfully dorky scale.  Let's leave stars to the astronomers, how about?  Each finished pie will instead be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 decimal digits of pi, for a lowest score of 3.1 up to a highest score of 3.14159.

Pie the first, Apple with Gruyère crust, was undoubtedly tasty.  The juxtaposition of the sweet apple filling with the strong tangy cheese was exciting and fun, with a good (not too runny) consistency and a nice flaky crust.  More cheese in the crust and better choice of apples would have improved it greatly, but as it stands, this pie earns four decimal places of pi-- 3.1416 (with rounding, of course).

Happy baking and much love,

Friday, September 18, 2009

A very good place to start

It seems that all the cool kids have blogs these days, but the cool kids also tend to lead cool lives, thereby generating interesting material for said blogs.

I lead a decidedly uncool, but deeply happy, life.

In an effort to make said happy life a little happier, I'm starting a new project.  Once a week, I bake a pie, sometimes from a recipe and sometimes freestyle.  Then, I tell you hooligans all about how it went (admittedly, this step will probably come after I take a brief sampling break... om nom nom).  It seems to me like it'd be fun to be the friend who always has pie on hand, and I'm in constant need of a creative outlet.  My hopes are that I can hone my piemaking skills, feed my favorite people, and gum up the series of tubes with some pastry goodness.

Let the pie blogging commence!