From New York City
I haven’t completely lost my mind. But this did happen today: in Bubby’s underground kitchen, the two new pies I encountered today spoke to me.
That’s because they were the two pies that my daughters would create with a magic wand if someone said, “Design the pie of your dreams.” (And we actually did this; that’s why Sweetie Pie Hannah and Sweetie Pie Sara are on CurvyMama’s menu.)
So when Ricardo told me that he would teach me to make Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, I flashed on my younger daughter, Sara, who adores that flavor combination. She is the one who got me addicted to dipping Trader Joe’s peanut-butter-filled pretzels in Nutella, and she once made homemade Reese’s peanut butter cups that left the storebought version in the dust. Admittedly, I might have launched her on this journey by introducing into our family “lollipops” that are the go-to snack when we have to have something sweet and nothing good is in the house. You dip a spoon into peanut butter, roll it in good semisweet chips, and go to it.
Those lollipops didn’t turn my older daughter, Hannah, into a peanut-butter-chocolate devotee, though. She’s had her share of them, but she adores chocolate more as a solo player. In a demonstration of versatility, though, the pie she dreamed up when I asked for her fantasy pie was a little doozy of coconut cream, bananas and caramel. That’s why I flashed on Hannah when Silvia invited me, later in the afternoon, to watch her make the Banoffee pies.
So the lovely spirits of both my sweetie pies were with me today at Bubby’s, even though one is at college in Philadelphia and the other is on a horse ranch in Wyoming. When they come home at Christmas, we are going to do some serious pie-baking and pie-eating. It’s good that I got a privileged seat today while two of the pies they’d kill for were put together by professionals.
Ricardo started the chocolate peanut butter by pulling out some of those graham cracker crumb crusts you’ve read so much about. He lined them with a chocolate ganache made of semisweet chocolate, cream, and a little butter. While they were chilling, he set to work on the peanut butter filling. In the big Hobart mixer, he whipped heavy cream. He scraped that into a bowl, and in the now-empty Hobart bowl, he creamed butter and powdered sugar, then added cream cheese until the mixture was quite soft. He scraped that out into the whipped-cream bowl, added a lot of Skippy creamy peanut butter, and then used his gloved hands to fold the two together. (I’ve never seen anyone fold with their hands. It’s the damnedest thing. But it works. And since I’m really terrible at folding–I always get chunks and lumps–I admired how well Ricardo’s approach did the job.)
The pies were smoothed out with an offset spatula, and then I got to pipe little rosettes of reserved peanut butter filling around the edge, making it look really appealing, and also camoflauging the rough place where the creamy filling met the graham cracker crust. Ricardo then shaved a little semisweet chocolate over the tops of the pies, and they were done. (I can say here that he gave me a bit of the peanut butter filling, and it’s to die for.) I had a bite of a mangled, too-small piece of the peanut butter chocolate pie earlier this week, too. I love it, but I do think I prefer a chocolate crust for this. So the one on CurvyMama’s menu has a chocolate-lined, cocoa crust. Though I might experiment with a chocolate-cookie-crumb crust and see what works best.
After I had spent a chunk of the afternoon making six Mile-High Apple Pies, Silvia motioned me over in a whisper, as if she were about to tell me a juicy secret. “Venga, Cati, today is Banoffee pies.” I’m not sure why she felt she had to whisper, but perhaps it was something about the passion she knows we share for this pie. We discussed it in intimate detail yesterday (to the extent possible with her limited English and my hobbled Spanish). Once again, we were working with graham cracker crusts. Silvia was now lining them with dulce de leche, which is the evil deep brown silky substance you get when you slow-cook sweetened condensed milk. She spread a generous heap of sliced bananas over that, then followed with the whipped cream and a drizzle of dulce de leche. Gorgeous. As much as I love this pie, and wouldn’t hesitate to eat it, I might actually prefer a version with custard instead of whipped cream. And I’d like a true soft caramel inside instead of dulce de leche. I also might try a pastry crust, since all that sweet mooshy creaminess might benefit from a bit of crunchy structure. We’ll keep you apprised as we experiment.
The newest stuff I learned today was more by watching the pros. But I started out with that wonderful Zen work of rolling out crusts. Ricardo wasn’t in yet, so since the supply of frozen unbaked crusts was low, I decided to bolster it. I rolled out a dozen crusts, trying different subtle shifts in rolling pressure and direction to see what happened. No great bolts of revelation, but still a nice experience. Between that and the six Mile-High Apple Pies I did later (which involved rolling out another dozen crusts, as well as coring and peeling a big box and a half full of apples), my hands are aching and stiff tonight.
Not too stiff to get me back on the subway, though, where I had another pie experience tonight. I met friends for dinner in Tribeca, and we ordered interesting pies for dessert. One was a quince and custard pie; not really a pie I’d bring home to meet mother, but my friend wanted it, and I was glad for the chance to taste it. It did have an intriguing edge to its crust, though. It looked as if someone had cut little squares in the rim, with one square tilting down and the next tilting up. Odd. Not altogether attractive, but somehow intriguing, and I give it points for originality (damn, I should have taken a picture. Sorry. I’m just not thinking like a documentarian yet.) The real hit of the table, though, was something I pushed for: pretzel caramel chocolate tart. One of my companions said the crust seemed stale. But I think it felt resistant to the tooth because it was actually made of crushed pretzels. The soft silky caramel and chocolate inside, with that zing of salt from the pretzels, made it a total winner. And it was served with a dollop of caramel whipped cream. Yum!
CurvyMama’s gotta sign off now. She has to pack up from her little room in the West Village so she can pull her suitcase to Bubby’s in the morning and catch a bus home in the afternoon. Our adventure in pie heaven is nearly over, but there will be more to blog about. Not only will we have a half-day to tell you about tomorrow, but our pie imagination has been totally stoked by coming to the Big Apple Pie. We will be baking and baking, and telling you about our successes and our spectacular failures. We also have Thanksgiving pie orders to fill, so we will report on our venture into baking pies in [modest] volume. Also, just so you don’t desert us, we will have more adventures to report on in January, when CurvyMama goes to Advanced Pastry Techniques class at L’Academie de Cuisine’s industrial complex in Gaithersburg, Md.
We’ve just begun! Keep reading! And try your hand at a pie, then write to tell us about it!