A faceful of pie

Cynthia Stone
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Given a week's worth of lead time before what I write sees the light of day in print, I thought for sure I'd lost the window of opportunity to cash in on not one, but two faces full of pie in recent headlines.

I had never considered cream pie as any kind of weapon, although I'm sure it's solved plenty of domestic disputes over the years.

Everyday Kitchen -

Given a week's worth of lead time before what I write sees the light of day in print, I thought for sure I'd lost the window of opportunity to cash in on not one, but two faces full of pie in recent headlines.

I had never considered cream pie as any kind of weapon, although I'm sure it's solved plenty of domestic disputes over the years.

So, let's use pie for the power of good, not evil, and Valentine's Day being Sunday means you even get to practise.

And I wouldn't waste one tiny morsel of any of these fabulous pies in anyone's face - mouth, yes, face, no.

If you're bound and determined, however, to make some stupid political statement, then go for the lemon - it will have the best vertical staying power.

Basic pie crust

Pastry is the best recipe for lazy cooks because the more you try and make it look perfect, the tougher it gets - you fail if you fuss.

The chill-rest step is absolutely crucial so don't leave it out. For cream pies you likely have to blind bake the crust, but you don't have to invest in pie weights.

I crumple up parchment paper or foil so it fits down into the crust and fill it with dried beans.

I may have replaced them twice over the past 10 years, so it's a darned cost-effective cooking tool.

There are dozens of pastry recipes calling for everything from egg yolks to vodka. I like the classic French approach - simpler is better.

You can substitute vegetable shortening for lard, although the texture won't be as flaky.

This is not the place to use margarine, either, and unsalted butter really makes a difference here, so if you don't have any be sure to eliminate the rest of the salt.

There are also some great recipes using pastry flour, but this one calls for all-purpose, and that means one less trip to the store. A food processor makes light work, but I've made a ton using a pastry cutter and half a ton with nothing but my fingertips.

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp. salt

6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter (no other)

2 tbsp. cold lard

1/4 cup ice water

Place flour and salt in a food processor or large bowl and whiz or whisk to combine. Cut butter and lard into small cubes and scatter over the flour.

Pulse 8 to 10 times, just until mixture is mealy, or cut in with a pastry cutter. Add ice water 1 tbsp. at a time, pulsing or tossing just one time after each addition. Pulse a couple of more times at the end. When you squeeze a small amount in your palm it should form a lump - if not, add another spoonful of water and pulse a couple more times.

Dump the mixture onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a rough disk - try not to handle it too much. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove and place on a lightly floured surface.

Flour your rolling pin and begin to roll out the dough, starting at the middle and working towards the edges, turning 1/4 turn after each roll, until circle is about 11 inches in diameter.

Pick it up on your rolling pin and lay it carefully over a pie plate. Don't pull the dough; rather, push it into the plate gently - no muscle here.

Trim the excess, leaving an inch hanging over the edges, then turn under the remaining overhang. Pinch, pleat or press with a floured fork.

Prick the bottom and sides thoroughly with a floured fork. Lay in a scrunched-up piece of parchment paper or foil and fill with dried beans. Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes then lift out the beans. Continue baking 10 minutes longer or until light golden brown.

Now you're ready for your choice of fillings.

In case you're wondering, of course you can use a chocolate, vanilla or graham crumb crust for any of these recipes.

Classic chocolate cream pie

I know you've made chocolate pie or cake using one of those boxed pudding and pie fillings, but this version is worth the extra effort.

3 cups whole milk (not skim)

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

2 tsp. cocoa

1/2 tsp. salt

5 oz. best quality dark chocolate, chopped

3 egg yolks

2 tbsp. soft unsalted butter

2 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. brandy (optional)

In a heavy pot, scald the milk - heat it until bubbles start to form around the sides, but do not boil.

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt and gradually whisk in hot milk. Return mixture to pot and add chocolate, stirring until melted and smooth - off heat. Whisk a small amount of chocolate mixture into egg yolks then return to the pot.

Bring to a very low simmer and cook, stirring just until smooth and thick. Remove from heat and stir in butter, vanilla and brandy.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard and refrigerate until cool but not set.

Spoon into prepared pie crust and smooth the surface. Chill pie 4 hours and top with lightly sweetened whipped cream and some grated chocolate.

Lemon cream cheese pie

Of course, you can make lemon curd from scratch, but I don't bother because it just doesn't add much to the final product.

1 package lemon pie filling

1/3 cup cold water

2 eggs

1-3/4 cups boiling water

1 8-oz. package soft cream cheese

Whisk pie filling together with cold water to make a paste. Whisk in eggs until smooth.

Add boiling water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Allow to burble a minute then remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Beat cream cheese until fluffy and light. Beat in lemon pie filling, reserving 1 cup for the top of the pie. Pour into pie shell and refrigerate 30 minutes. Spread reserved lemon filling on top and refrigerate 3 or 4 hours, until very firm. Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Coconut cream pie

Some recipes call for coconut in the cream filling, but I prefer the smooth texture. If you like the crunch then feel free.

2/3 cup sugar

2-1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/2 tsp. salt

2-1/4 cups coconut milk (not coconut cream)

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. coconut flavouring (optional)

2 tbsp. soft unsalted butter

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt and whisk in coconut milk, eggs and egg yolks.

Stirring constantly, heat over medium-low until mixture comes to a light simmer and is glossy and thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, coconut flavouring and butter.

Strain through a fine sieve - if you're tempted to leave out this step, wait until you see the little bits left behind. Refrigerate to cool slightly then pour into prepared crust.

Lay plastic wrap right on the surface of the pie and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours. Top with whipped cream and maybe a sprinkle of toasted coconut.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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