Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dessert. Show all posts

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Apple Crisp

Tomorrow is the meteorological arrival of autumn although we are in the midst of a record high heat wave. With temperatures in the 90s my plan to spend a day apple picking has temporarily been put on hold. Instead of handpicking apples off of the fruit laden trees in the apple orchard in order to create intoxicating aromas coming out of the kitchen, I had to settle for picking them out of the bins at the Farmer's Market. Yes, the effect was still the same. My grandiose plan of making my first apple crisp of the fall season using hand picked by me apples went belly up. Waiting another week until the fall weather arrived to make a romanticized version of an 'orchard to table' apple crisp was certainly an option. But when one (that one being me) gets a serious craving for something and there is a new recipe one (me again) can't wait to try, a week can seem like an eternity. Waiting has never been high on my list of virtues.

Two years ago I went on endlessly extolling the virtues of the Brown Butter Caramelized Apple Crisp and then four years ago I sang the praises of Shirley's Apple Crisp,. And now I am about to get on another soapbox and tell you about my newest favorite. This Apple Crisp isn't necessary better than the other two, it's different. An incredibly, mouthwatering, delicious, good different. And I am a fan of different.

Depending on your definition of an apple crisp you might think I am passing off a crumble as a crisp. If crisp and crumble (words often used interchangeably) were merged, there might such things as 'crimbles' or 'crusps'. But until such time either of these variations goes mainstream, I am going to stay with calling this a crisp even though oatmeal isn't one of the ingredients. And here's why.

According to Serious Eats, 'crisp and crumble are regional names often used interchangeably to name a crumb-topped baked fruit dish.' In other words, what you call it may depend on where you grew up. Generally, a crisp is a deep dish fruit dessert topped with 'a streusel made of butter, sugar, flour, nuts, oats and/or crumbs'. Crumbles, like a crisp and even a cobbler, have a bottom layer of fruit and a top crumb layer. The crumb layer in crumbles are generally made with butter, flour, sugar, sometimes nuts and always oats. The most significance difference between the crumble and crisp is the texture of the topping. Crumbles are clumpier and crisps are crispier. The cookie-like extra crispy topping of this Apple Crisp gives it its' 'crisp worthy' name. 

I never told you to use more than one type of apple when making the other crisp recipes posted to the blog. My bad. It took making this Apple Crisp with two different kinds of apples for me to see the error of my ways. 

I went with using three pounds of a combination of Honey Crisp and Granny Smith apples as I prefer the taste of sweet-tart apples. Both of these apples fall into that category, although their baked textures differs slightly. Honey Crisp being a little on the softer side and Granny Smith being on the little firmer side is what gives this baked crisp the best of both apple texture worlds. (See note below for other apple options.)

When using fresh apples, you can leave some of the skin on the apple slices. Or you can peel them so no trace of skin remains. If you choose to have a little bit of skin remain on your cut apples, make sure the skin isn't tough (which might happen with apples kept in the refrigerator for a long time). 

You can either core your apples before cutting them or cut around the core before slicing. Either way works. Cut your apples in slightly different thicknesses ranging from a generous 1/4" to a generous 3/8". For apples having a softer texture, cut them a little thicker (3/8") and for apples having a firmer texture, cut them in either or both of the aforementioned thicknesses. 

Sugar, salt, freshly squeezed lemon juice and the zest of a lemon are mixed together and poured over the sliced apples. After the apples are poured into your baking pan, mix in a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Unsalted butter, sugar, all-purpose flour, cinnamon and salt make up the topping. That's it. Just five ingredients.

The dough can be mixed in a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or with a handheld mixer. Once mixed it will have a texture similar to a cookie dough. To make the assembly of the crisp easier, I rolled the dough into a log, chilled it for an hour, and then cut in slices to top the apples. See note below for alternative way of topping the apples with the dough.

The slices of dough are layered over the apples. Leave a few gaps so the steam from the baking apples can escape during baking.

I topped this Apple Crisp with some White Sparkling Sugar. You could also top with either Sanding Sugar or Turbinado Sugar. Or you can leave the added sugar topping off altogether.

The original recipe recommended a baking time of 90 minutes in a 350 degree (F) preheated oven. My baking time was somewhere between 60 and 65 minutes. 

Allow the baked Apple Crisp to cool slightly if serving warm. 

What makes this Apple Crisp so endearing are its' flavors and textures. From the crunchy cinnamon cookie like topping to the caramelized apples, this crisp was beyond delicious even before a scoop of vanilla ice cream was added. It definitely ranks as one of the most satisfying comfort food desserts. It's one worthy of being served either after a causal or fancy dinner. 

There are so many desserts to welcome the fall season. But none may be better at embracing the change in seasons than a rustic, soul satisfying Apple Crisp. Especially this one. Starting making this crisp now, put into your baking rotation throughout the winter, give it a rest in the spring, and then let it make a repeat appearance or two in the summer. What I am trying to say is that THIS Apple Crisp could become habit forming. 

Apple Crisp (a very slight change to Tartine's Apple Crisp recipe)

3 - 3 1/4 pounds of 2-4 varieties of apples (Honey Crisp and Granny Smith were used in this version)
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
generous pinch of ground cinnamon

1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup (200g) grunulated sugar
1 1/4 cups (170g) all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Sanding, Sparkling or Turbinado sugar for finishing
Vanilla Ice Cream

1. Place butter and sugar in a medium-large sized bowl. Using a hand mixer or standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment beat until smooth.
2. Add the flour, cinnamon, and kosher salt. Mix until mixture comes together in a smooth dough.
3. Flip the bowl over onto a long piece of plastic wrap. Using the plastic wrap, shape the dough into a log (about 12 inches long). Wrap tightly and chill in the refrigerator for one hour.
4. Peel (some or all) of the apples. Core or cut around core. Cut into slices of various thicknesses (e.g., ranging from a generous 1/4" to a generous 3/8") and place into a large bowl.
5. In a small bowl, sir together the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt. Add to apples. Toss together with a wooden spoon or with your hands.
6. Transfer the apples to a 9"x12" baking dish and shake until they are in an even layer. (Optional: Lightly butter pan before adding the apples.)
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
8. Remove roll of dough from the refrigerator. Cut into 1/4" slices and arrange to cover the top of the apples. Note: Leave some small gaps in the dough rounds to allow the steam to escape during baking.
9. Sprinkles with sanding, sparkling or turbinado sugar if using.
10. Place pan in the center of the oven and bake for 60-65 minutes or until apples are tender and top is golden brown. 
11. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with or without vanilla ice cream.
12. The crisp will keep for up to a week if covered and stored in the refrigerator.

Notes: (1) Can use only variety of apple, but using at least two varieties (and up to 4) creates an apple crisp with a deeper flavor. Apple options include: Granny Smith, Greening, Gravenstein, Winesap, Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady and Honey Crisp. (2) Instead of forming the dough into the log and chilling, scoop up the dough into palm-sized balls, flatten each scoop to 1/4" thick as if you are making a tortilla and lay on top of the apples. (3) The thickness of the cut apple will affect baking time. Thicker cut apples may have a slightly longer baking time. However, if apples are cut too thin, their may dissolve into an applesauce like consistency.

Fall apples at the Farmer's Market (September 2017)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Pumpkin Bread with Maple Drizzle and Pepitas

"Be still my heart." Last week one of my friends sent me a message saying she was bringing me a dozen farm fresh, free range eggs. The real deal ones. Farm fresh eggs are one of those things I genuinely get super excited about as I am one of those 'fresh eggs make everything they are made with better' zealots. My affinity for these goldenrod yellow, autumn glory orange in color eggs began several years ago when I lived in a town on the east coast where farm fresh eggs were the norm rather than the exception. It didn't take me too long to decide I would bake something to share with this unexpected gift. After I first made some poached or scrambled eggs, of course.

But what recipe would be worthy of being made with these farm fresh, free range eggs?

Pumpkin Bread with Maple Drizzle and Pepitas, my version of Tartine Bakery's Pumpkin Tea Cake recipe as shared in their cookbook 'Tartine' would be. Next to caramel, I love the taste of maple and pumpkin paired together. Adding the maple icing to the pumpkin tea cake would be my take to their beloved pumpkin tea cake.

When I first looked at the ingredients in the recipe for the Pumpkin Tea Cake, I thought it took the concept of pumpkin spice to an extreme. Two teaspoons of freshly grated nutmeg, one tablespoon and two teaspoons of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon of ground cloves seemed 'way too much'. I debated as to whether or not to alter these amounts, but ultimately decided this was going to be one of those 'go big or go home' pumpkin breads. I crossed my fingers three of my farm fresh eggs weren't going to be wasted. Discovering one of the eggs used to make this pumpkin bread had a double yolk was an omen they wouldn't be.

I used a hand mixer to make this Pumpkin Bread, but it could easily be made with a whisk. Key to this bread's soft, tender crumb is not over mixing.

The batter for this pumpkin bread should have the consistency of a thick puree.

To make the removal of any bread from the pan easier I always line with parchment paper along with spraying the bottom and sides of the pan with a vegetable spray.

Tartine's recipe called for a sugar and pepita finish to the pumpkin bread. Before putting the pan in the oven, I sprinkled the bread with a sanding sugar to create a crunchy top. My baking time for this Pumpkin Bread was closer to the 75 minute versus the recommended 60 minute mark. Because there is always some degree of variability in an oven's temperature, I would recommend to begin checking for doneness at 60 minutes.

Rather than evenly slathered or created a fancy design with the Maple Icing over the top of this cake, I decided to channel my inner Jackson Pollock. So I drizzled and splattered the icing before sprinkling on the pepitas to create an abstract art finished Pumpkin Bread. The addition of the rich, thick Maple Icing not only adds the right amount of sweetness to this Pumpkin Bread, it gives you a chance to express yourself.

This aromatic, richly flavored, perfectly (thankfully unaltered) spiced Pumpkin Bread exceeded all of my expectations. It's irresistibly, borderline addictive, swoon worthy delicious. In other words, it is what I would describe as 'wicked good'. If you haven't jumped on the Pumpkin Spice bandwagon yet this season, get on board with this Pumpkin Bread with Maple Drizzle and Pepitas. With or without farm fresh, free range eggs, you will fall in love with the depth of this pumpkin bread's flavors, texture, and moistness.

Next to chocolate it seems I have a thing for pumpkin. In addition to this recipe for the Pumpkin Bread with Maple Drizzle and Pepitas, seven other pumpkin recipes have been posted to the blog over the past several years: Pumpkin SquaresPumpkin PieBrûléed Pumpkin Pie with Caramel SwirlSpiced Pumpkin Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Brown Butter Pumpkin Spice CakeMaple Glazed Mini-Pumpkin Doughnuts, and this Pumpkin Loaf aka a Close Starbucks Version. Eight great reasons for putting to good use those cans of pumpkin puree I have been apparently hoarding. 

Pumpkin Bread with Maple Drizzle and Pepitas (slight adaptation to the Pumpkin Tea Cake recipe shared by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson in their cookbook 'Tartine")
Serves 8 to 10 

Pumpkin Bread
1 2/3 cups (225 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons (255 g) pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups (270 g) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
Sanding sugar and pepitas for finishing

Maple Drizzle
4 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons good quality maple syrup or bourbon infused maple syrup
1 cup confectionary sugar, sifted

Pumpkin Bread
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F). Line a 9"x5" baking pan with parchment paper after first preparing with vegetable spray or butter.
2. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, beat together the pumpkin puree, oil and sugar on medium speed until well blended. Use either a hand mixer or a whisk.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and making sure they are well incorporated before adding the next egg. 
5. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat just until combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl and beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds to make a smooth batter. Batter will have the consistency of a thick puree.
6. Transfer batter to the prepared pan. Smooth top with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar if using.
7. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Note: More than likely the baking time will be longer than 60 minutes. Mine was 75 minutes.
8. Transfer loaf pan to cooling rack and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
9. Remove pumpkin bread from the pan and carefully set back on cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before finishing with maple drizzle if using. Approximately 1 hour. Sprinkle pepitas over the maple drizzle.
10. Cut into slices and serve. 
11. If well wrapped, the Pumpkin Bread will keep at room temperature for several days or up to 1 week if stored in the refrigerator.

Maple Drizzle
1. In a small saucepan, melt butter. Stir in maple syrup. Remove from heat and allow to rest 5 minutes.
2. Stir in sifted confectionary sugar mixing with a whisk until well blended and smooth.

Notes: (1) If you aren't a fan of maple icing, top the cake with sanding sugar and pepitas to the top of the pumpkin bread before putting in the oven to bake. (2) Use a good quality maple syrup when making the maple icing.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Cheesecake with Berries

Every now and then my friends ask if I have ever made anything that didn't turn out. The honest and simple answer is yes. Usually this happens when I am not paying careful attention to a recipe, when I mis-judge doneness, when I don't trust my instincts, or when multi-tasking leads to a disaster. Like the time several years ago when the ceramic pie plate filled with a partially baked cheesecake shattered on the burner of an electric stove in the east coast farmhouse. After the pie plate split in half, the cheesecake filling began oozing and spilling out everywhere. More upsetting than having to throw away a much anticipated dessert was realizing it would take hours to clean up the hot mess. And the cause of this particular kitchen catastrophe? I had inadvertently left the electric burner on, thus causing an extremely hot ceramic pie plate to burst after being set on an extremely hot burner. After that fiasco, two things happened. First, I vowed never to make this or any cheesecake in a glass or ceramic pie dish again as I didn't want history to ever repeat itself. Cheesecakes would only be made in tart pans with removable bottoms or springform pans. And second, I stopped making the cheesecake causing me so much the angst. This self-imposed, slightly over-reactionary, short-sighted cheesecake hiatus finally came to end (hallelujah) over the Labor Day weekend. All I will say is it's never a good idea to deprive yourself of cheesecake bliss or any other kind of bliss for any extended period of time or for any reason. Life is too short.

I had almost forgotten how incredibly creamy this cheesecake was. 

As it turned out, the lengthy cheesecake intermission wasn't completely for naught. I decided to make changes to the graham cracker crust, the baking time and temperature, and the finishing touch. In other words, I took what had been a really, really good cheesecake to a completely new level of mouthwatering lusciousness. 

So what makes this cheesecake different, dare I say better, than most others? Well, for one thing there are no egg yolks in the cheesecake batter, only egg whites whipped until soft, but stable peaks form.

Changing from a 9" pie plate, to a 10 inch springform pan created a significantly better crust to filling ratio. Additionally, the consistency of the cheesecake's texture was more even than the cheesecake I remember from years back.

Back when I made this cheesecake, the graham cracker crust was (1) a mixture of crushed graham crackers, sugar and butter and (2) not pre-baked. My favorite go-to graham cracker crust is now (1) made with crushed graham crackers, sugar, butter, kosher salt, vanilla, and cinnamon and (2) pre-baked for 10 minutes in a 325 degree (F) oven. Pre-baking the crust has multiple benefits. Not only does it give the crust added color and a deeper flavor, but pre-baking helps to stabilize the crust. Preventing the crust from falling apart or crumbling when cut and/or when slices are removed from the pan. Note: Allow crust to cool 10-15 minutes before adding cheesecake batter.

Beating the room temperature cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 4-6 minutes) is a key step in the making of this cheesecake for two reasons. It contributes to the cheesecake's creamy texture and makes it easier to whisk in the whipped to soft, stable peaks egg whites. If the cream cheese/sugar mixture is too stiff, the egg whites will break down, even when carefully whisked in to the batter. Note: I generally add the vanilla after beating the cream cheese/sugar. 

Pour the batter into the slightly cooled graham cracker crust and bake for 25-30 minutes in a 325 degree (F) oven (the batter will puff up slightly, yet retain a jello-like wobbliness feel to it). Note: Remove the cheesecake from the oven for five minutes before adding the sour cream topping and returning to the oven for additional baking time.

For the sour cream topping whisk together two cups of sour cream, two tablespoons of caster (or granulated) sugar, and a teaspoon a vanilla until well blended. Drop the sour cream mixture in dollops over the cheesecake and smooth with an off-set spatula being careful not to poke through the cheesecake layer. After topping with the sour cream mixture, return the cheesecake back to the 325 degree (F) oven for 10-12 minutes of additional baking time. Continuing to bake the cheesecake at the lower 325 degree (F) temperature (versus a much higher temperature), helps to ensure the top layer does not crack. But yes, if you are looking closely at some of the photos of finished cheesecake you might see a small crack. This happened while I removed the cheesecake from the pan and transferred to the cake stand.

Allow the baked cheesecake to cool to room temperature before covering with plastic wrap and chilling in the refrigerator. For best results, allow the cheesecake to chill overnight in the refrigerator (or no less than 6 hours).

The original family recipe did not call for topping the cheesecake with anything. No fresh fruit, no fruit compote. Nothing. But I absolutely love the addition of the fruit. Use your favorite berry or a combination of your favorite berries. Scatter them randomly over the top of the cheesecake or around the edge of the cheesecake. Be your best creative self. Add the fruit right no longer than an hour before you are ready to serve it, particularly if you are using any cut fruit.

This is not your heavy, dense cheesecake. It is an incredibly light, creamy one. So light you may be tempted to have a second piece in the same sitting. 

This Cheesecake with Berries made its return debut at the family dinner over the Labor Day weekend. For a myriad of reasons, I had never served it to them before. There weren't any crumbs left on their plates. And words like 'best ever' could be heard around the table.

Even with all the changes made, this cheesecake still bears some resemblance to the original family recipe. I may be a bit biased, but I believe this version is even better than the original. Thank goodness it is now back in my life. 

I know, I have been on a dessert blog posting roll for awhile now. Not necessarily a bad thing, but we all need a little balance in our meals. I promise the next couple of posts will fall into the savory category. This Cheesecake with Berries wasn't the only 'new' thing I served at the family Labor Day dinner. A Grilled Flank Steak with Rosemary with a Chimichurri Sauce along with a throw down worthy Potato Salad, not yet blog posted recipes, were also on the menu. Given how hectic the holiday weekend was, I am keeping my fingers crossed I captured enough photos of both of them. I like keeping my promises.

Cheesecake with Berries (several changes made to an old family recipe)
Serves 8-10, depending on how you slice it

2 cups (220 g) graham cracker crumbs, preferably made by crushing graham crackers
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional, but recommended)

24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature 
1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
16 ounces sour cream
2 Tablespoons caster, superfine, or granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 cups assorted fruit (e.g., blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, currants)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F).
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the crumbs, sugar, melted butter, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon until well blended. 
3. Press firmly into the bottom and up the sides (about 1/2") of a 10" tart pan.
4. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Approximately 10-15 minutes.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F). Line the bottom of a 10 inch springform pan with parchment paper. 
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese with sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Approximately 4-6 minutes.
3. Add vanilla and mix until blended.
4. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until soft, but stable peaks form.
5. On low speed, using a whisk attachment on the standing mixer, blend in egg whites until no white streaks remain. Or alternately, use a hand held whisk to blend the egg whites into cream cheese mixture using a until no white streaks can be seen.
6. Pour cheesecake batter into the pre-baked crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until puffy, but still jiggly like jello. 
7. Remove from oven and allow to set for 5 minutes before putting sour cream mixture on top.
8. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla.
9. Drop dollops of the sour cream mixture over the top of the cheesecake. Smooth with an offset spatula.
10. Return to the oven and continue baking for 10-12 minutes. Note: My baking time was 12 minutes.
11. Place pan on a cooling rack. Allow to cool at least 1 hour or until it has cooled completely before covering in plastic wrap and refrigerating. Chill cheesecake for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.
12. Run a knife along the edge of the pan before unlatching the springform pan. Transfer cheesecake to cake stand or platter.
13. Arrange fruit on top of cheesecake and serve immediately.
14. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Notes: (1) Instead of fresh fruit, can serve a fruit compote with the cheesecake. (2) For an even more luxurious finish, top each slice of cheesecake with some Luxardo Cherries. (3) If you like a thicker graham cracker crust, increase ingredients by 1/4 (i.e., 2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar, 7 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, 5/8 teaspoon vanilla, 3/8 teaspoon cinnamon, generous pinch of kosher salt).

Monday, August 28, 2017

Graham Cracker Custard Pie

The last time 'the person who shall remain nameless' tasted a beloved Graham Cracker Custard Pie was almost 50 years ago. It was a pie only his maternal grandmother had made. Growing up. his family would regularly go to his grandparents house for Sunday dinner. As soon as he came in the door his grandmother would pull him aside and whisper in his ear 'I made two Graham Cracker Pies, one just for you.' But after his grandmother passed, no one could ever seem to get the beloved pie right. So for decades, the pie became a cherished childhood memory. Then last week, the recipe for the pie he so loved eating during his youth resurfaced in the box of recipes kept by his mother. And like many family recipes, the handwritten recipe card listed only the ingredients, no directions.

Favorite foods, especially ones with powerful memories, can often be a source of comfort during times of grief. This last week brought the unexpected passing of his father. By some kind of divine intervention, work and life had brought 'the person who shall remain nameless' the thousand miles to his father's home. Giving him the chance to spend time with his father during the last week of his life. This small, yet profoundly moving consolation of being able to say goodbye in person could only have been orchestrated by a higher power. There is on other logical explanation. 

Sometimes words cannot fully express one's sympathies when a friend or family member experiences the loss of a loved one. So rather than try to find the right words, I thought I would help ease the overwhelming sense of sadness caused by such a significant loss by making the Graham Cracker Custard Pie. Hoping memories of love and happiness would help soothe a hurting heart.

However, if I could not find directions for this Graham Cracker Custard Pie, all I would have would be my good intentions (and we all know there is a world of difference between thinking about doing something and actually doing it). Having never heard of a Graham Cracker Custard Pie before, I realized I would need to jump into the proverbial recipe search rabbit hole. Crossing my fingers the directions for this pie were out there somewhere. The good news: they were. The bad news: there were conflicting directions on how to make it. I could tell you I used custard making logic in deciding which set of directions made the most sense. But that wouldn't be telling the complete truth. I went with a part logic, part luck, and a part 'hoping someone was watching out for me' decision.

In the process of looking for the directions, I learned this graham cracker pie, filled with a slightly decadent creamy custard, and usually topped with a meringue was one made by grandmothers and mothers in the 1950s. Definitely falling into the category of 'old, cherished and treasured' recipes. Some claimed the 'original' recipe was printed on the box of graham crackers. Although, due to the number of variations in ingredient amounts as well as in directions, I wondered what the 'original' recipe actually might have been. If I stayed down this rabbit hole, I might have found it. But I didn't. Here in the states it was called Graham Cracker Pie, while in Canada it was called Prairie Flapper Pie. Could different graham cracker package labeling been responsible for creating two different names for essentially the same pie? Maybe.

Like all of the cooks, past and present, making this Graham Cracker Custard Pie, I too couldn't leave anything alone. The list of ingredients for the graham cracker crust on the recipe card listed only three ingredients: graham crackers, butter and sugar. The crust for this pie was made with: graham crackers, sugar, butter, kosher salt, vanilla, and cinnamon. In the making of this pie, I stayed true to crushing whole graham crackers to make the crumbs.

The only part of this pie actually baked is the crust. It only takes 10 minutes in a pre-heated 325 degree (F) oven. The crust needs to made first as it needs to cool to room temperature before the custard is added.

I kept all of the ingredients for the custard the same, except the sugar. I increased it from 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup. Mostly because I could not find another recipe using 1/4 cup of sugar with similar ingredient proportions. But more so because I didn't think 1/4 cup wasn't going to give the custard the right amount of sweetness. As luck would have it, this decision turned out to be a good one as after one taste of the custard the person who shall remain nameless had only three words to say: 'you nailed it'.

If you have made a pudding or a custard before, you know it's important to take steps to ensure the egg yolks don't curdle. After the scalded milk is added to the sugar/cornstarch/salt and mixture is slightly thickened, a half cup of the hot mixture is whisked into a bowl of the blended egg yolks. For good measure, I always whisk in a second half cup of the hot mixture into the eggs before returning it all to the pan. By adding a small amount of the hot mixture to the eggs and whisking rapidly, you prevent any curdling from happening to the finished custard. Once this 'egg mixture' is returned to the pan, your custard will have just the right consistency in approximately 2-3 minutes. Note: Whisking constantly throughout the entire custard making process will help assure you end up with the creamiest, smoothest custard possible.

The custard should cool slightly before being poured into the baked graham cracker crust. After 30 minutes, with some regular stirring to prevent a skin from forming on top, my custard was cool enough. 

At this point in the making of the beloved Graham Cracker Custard Pie, it was how the 'person who shall remain nameless' remembered it. His grandmother did not finish it with a meringue topping. I asked 'what did she do with the egg whites?'. But after asking that question, I realized a 12 year old boy might not have known to even ask that question. Instead, I asked 'Would you mind if I added the meringue to the pie?'. The easy was answer was 'no'. Because when you wait 50 years for this pie, all you really care about is re-tasting the custard from your childhood memory.

I could have made a traditional meringue topping, but no. I wanted this one to be finished with something different than a French style meringue. So I decided to try my hand at making a Swiss Meringue. If it didn't turn out, well then the Graham Cracker Custard Pie would be same as the one written on the recipe card. But if it did turn out, well, then it would be one made this time around with even more love.

Instead of first beating egg whites until they are light, airy and having soft peaks and then adding the sugar to stabilize and increase the meringue's volume, a Swiss meringue involves cooking a bowl of egg whites and sugar over hot steaming water. When the mixture reaches 175 degrees (F), the bowl is transferred to a standing mixture and beaten until smooth, silky, and marshmallowy in volume. Swiss meringue is denser and slightly more flavorful than a French meringue. Additionally, it's texture is perfect for piping onto a pie or cake. For a slightly more dramatic finish, I browned Swiss Meringue with a kitchen torch.  Go big or go home, right? Note: Wait until the pie has completely chilled before finishing with the Swiss meringue.

This Graham Cracker Custard Pie lasted less than 24 hours. And with the exception of the teeny, tiny sliver I took, there was only one person eating it. Because when you wait 50 years for a pie, you are given a pass from exercising any form of self-control. Had the creamy custard combined with the slightly decadent Swiss meringue topping not been so rich, it wouldn't have even lasted that long.

In spite of making some slight changes to his grandmother's recipe, it accomplished everything I had hoped it would. Not only is this slightly modified recipe now preserved so it can be made again (this time with directions), the Graham Cracker Custard Pie turned out to be exactly the kind of comfort a grieving heart deserved.
Graham Cracker Custard Pie (Custard recipe based on a treasured family recipe; Swiss Meringue recipe, slightly altered, from Serious Eats)
Serves 8

2 cups (220 g) graham cracker crumbs, preferably made by crushing graham crackers
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional, but recommended)

1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups whole milk
3 large egg yolks (reserve egg whites for meringue)

Swiss Meringue
2/3 cup (170 g) egg whites, from 5-6 large eggs (use the egg whites from the custard, plus whites from 2-3 additional large eggs)
1 1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (255 g) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (F).
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the crumbs, sugar, melted butter, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon until well blended. 
3. Press firmly into the bottom and up the sides (about 3/4") of a 9" tart pan.
4. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

1. Combine cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium sized saucepan. Mix together. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Set aside.
3. Scald milk on the stovetop. Milk will have tiny bubbles along the edge but will not be boiling.
4. Over medium-low flame, slowly add 1 cup of the scalded milk to the cornstarch/sugar/salt mixture whisking constantly. As the mixture begins to thicken, add the second cup of the scalded milk, stirring constantly until mixture begins to thicken. Note: Cooking time will be somewhere between 5 and 8 minutes.
5. Remove pan from heat. Remove about 1/2 cup of the mixture and whisk into the beaten eggs. Add a second 1/2 cup of the mixture, whisk, and immediately return mixture back into the pot. Return pot to medium-low flame and continue to stir constantly.
6. Cook custard for an additional 2-3 minutes or until it reaches pudding consistency and just begins to boil. Remove pan from heat.
7. Stir in vanilla.
8. Allow custard to cool for at least 30 minutes. Note: Stir custard occasionally while cooling in order to prevent a skin from forming on top.
9. Pour cooled custard into the graham cracker shell. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Swiss Meringue
1. Fill a wide deep pan with at least 1 1/2" of water. Make a thick ring of crumpled tinfoil placed inside to act as a 'booster seat'. Over high heat, bring water to a steaming hot level. Then adjust to maintain a gentle simmer.
2. Combine egg whites, sugar, salt, cream of tartar, and vanilla in the metal bowl of a standing mixer. Set on top of the 'booster seat' over the steaming water. 
3. Stirring and scraping continuously using a flexible spatula, bring mixture to 175 degrees (F). Approximately 8-12 minutes.
4. Transfer bowl to a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and whip at high speed until meringue is glossy and beginning to ball up inside the whisk (approximately 5 minutes). 
5. Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with tip of choice. Decorate top of chilled pie. Alternately drop dollops of the meringue on top of the pie and finish by making a swirl pattern using the back of a large spoon.
6. Brown the meringue until desired 'brownness' using a kitchen torch.
7. Serve Graham Cracker Custard Pie. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Notes: (1) Pie can be served without a Swiss Meringue topping or without a traditional meringue. (2) If you have never made Swiss meringue before, recommend watching the Serious Eats video(3) Pie can be made in either a glass/ceramic pie plate or tart pan with removable bottom.