Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mamaw’s Chocolate Meringue Pie

Inspired by my last post, I asked the blog’s Facebook followers to tell me about their favorite pies. Many of them not only said a flavor but also told a family story to go with it. It seems that pie inspires a lot of memories.

For the Spring 2016 issue of Topeka Magazine, I wrote about Easter on my maternal grandparents’ farm. I also included Mamaw’s Chocolate Meringue Pie recipe. This is what I wrote:

“Mamaw’s country dinners were always delicious, but what everyone most anticipated was the dessert. Her chocolate meringue pie made an appearance at every holiday meal. It was mandatory. The meal wasn’t officially a celebration until the pie made it to the table.

Each of the pie's components was made from scratch. The crust was brown and flaky, the chocolate filling rich and creamy, and the meringue topping light, fluffy, and golden brown. Mamaw never used a mixer to make the meringue. Instead, she put the egg whites into her deep-blue, depression glass bowl, and whisked them until light and airy with a flat metal whisk full of holes. Everyone knew the rapid ting, ting sound of metal against glass meant she was making meringue

(That's Mamaw holding me a long, long, long time ago.)

I remember Mamaw's pies being perfect, but admit that my memory may be clouded by my love and admiration. My pies never seem to turn out as perfect as hers. Still, I make them and remember her kitchen and the holiday in muted color images.”

Mamaw’s Chocolate Meringue Pie
Serves 6 to 8 people

1 9-inch pie shell, baked until golden brown

For the meringue:
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
6 tablespoons sugar

For the filling:
3/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
3 large egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, place the egg whites and the cream of tartar. Turn the mixer on to medium-high and beat until the egg whites form soft peaks. Continue beating while slowing adding the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat until the egg whites are glossy and form stiff peaks. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, place the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk together. Slowly whisk in the milk. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir about 1 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, and then pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the remaining filling. Return to the heat and bring to just a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour the hot filling into the prepared pie crust. Spoon the meringue over the hot filling, making sure to spread it out so it adheres to the edge of the crust. Create swirls with the back of a spoon.

Place the pie in the oven and bake until the meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack for at least two hours before serving.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

When in Doubt, Call Pie Birds Pie

Pie crust still intimidates me. I know how to make it, with all the tips necessary to create a tasty, flaky crust. Still, when the time arrives, my palms start to sweat, my heart skips, and my neck muscles get tense.

Why so nervous? It’s because, in spite of following the recipe exactly every time, the end results are not guaranteed. Sometimes the crust shrinks in spite of chilling it before baking. Sometimes it’s tough instead of flaky.

Life is too short. 

That’s why I was excited to discover Pie Birds Pie in Topeka. Chef Michelle brought me this peach pie to try out, and a neighbor shared a slice of her chocolate cream pie.

Before starting her pie-making business, Chef Michelle worked for the Break Room and Juli’s Bistro here in Topeka. Now she makes pies and teaches cooking classes at Moburts downtown.

Her pies are made with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, so her menu changes with what’s available.

How did the pies taste? The peach was delectable—beautiful, flaky crust and a peach filling that was sweet, but not too sweet. I like the addition of coarse sugar on top to give it some crunch. The chocolate cream pie made me miss my Mamaw, who always made homemade chocolate pie when we came to visit. Yep, it was that good! Notice there are no photos because I ate the slice before it even occurred to me to grab my camera! 

With the upcoming holidays, Chef Michelle’s skills will be a godsend when I need a pie to take for a family gathering. Right now, she is offering:
Apple, Apple Caramel, Bananas Foster, Peach, Buttermilk: 9"-$20, 6"-$10
Chocolate Cream, Coconut Cream, Bourbon Cherry Pie: 9"-$25, 6"-$12

Soon she hopes to offer frozen fruit pies for take-and-bake.  If you live outside of the Topeka area, check with her about shipping. You can keep up to date with her offerings on the Pie Birds Pie Facebook page.

While I’ll keep practicing making my own pie crusts, when I need a pie for an important gathering, I’ll turn to Pie Bird Pies for a beautiful, tasty dessert.

Disclaimer: While Chef Michelle gave me the peach Pie Birds Pie to try, the opinions in the post are all my own. It was delicious!