Cool Like Me

As much as I love to bake, I’ve avoided preheating the oven these last few weeks. With raging humidity — and without air conditioning — baking is decidedly less fun. I have no interest in sweating more than I already am.

Luckily for me, and thanks to my aunt, I have in my possession a recipe that likes to keep things cool — Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie. Short of cooking up a custard in a saucepan and browning a meringue topping in the oven for a few minutes, there’s not much heat involved. Just some beating and whipping and the promise of cool, creamy pineapple-coconut bliss.

And, considering it’s a cream pie, it’s relatively light — there’s no heavy cream or milk involved — proving that, with a couple of eggs handy, nearly anything is possible.

Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie (recipe courtesy of Aunt-to-Yours-Truly Lori Johnston)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
8-ounce can crushed pineapple
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup flaked coconut
1 9-inch single-crust pie shell, baked and cooled (I went the crumb-crust route using vanilla wafers, melted butter and a bit of sugar, but the recipe calls for a classic pastry crust. Do what you will.)
meringue topping:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup flaked coconut

In a heavy saucepan (with the burner off), whisk together 1/2 cup sugar, flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Add water, undrained pineapple and egg yolks, stirring after each addition.

Turn the heat to medium and cook until mixture begins to boil (about 6 minutes).

Blend in butter and lemon juice. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

Fold 1 cup coconut into cooled filling. Pour into prepared (*cooled*) pie crust.

Pineapple-coconut bliss in a vanilla-wafer crust.

Beat egg whites with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in vanilla and 1/3 cup coconut.

Spread meringue over pie filling.

Bake at 425 degrees until meringue is light golden-brown (about 4-5 minutes).


Beat the heat with pie, people. Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie.

Lazy Sunday Cream Scones

Still warm from the oven.

I’ve always romanticized the rituals of tea making and tea taking. I have in my possession books that cover tea equipment and tea etiquette; tea history and tea customs; as well as, of course, old-school recipes (or “receipts”) for tea-friendly vittles, savory and sweet. My texts are riddled with delightful quotes like this gem: “I must further advise you, Harriett, … not to heap such mountains of sugar into your tea, nor to pour such a deluge of cream in; people will certainly take you for the daughter of a dairymaid.” —from “The Fool of Quality,” c. 1766-1770, reprinted in “A Dish of Tea: Recipes, History and Etiquette from Connor Prairie Museum.”

Poor Harriett.

A favorite teapot. It belonged to my grandmother, then my mother, and now me.
Both high-octane and herbal teas fill the first shelf of our kitchen’s most frequented cupboard, and tea has replaced coffee as my beverage of choice (for those of you who knew me in my all-day-coffee-swilling years, you may have read this in disbelief, but it’s true). But, sadly, for all of my romantic ideas regarding tea parties — and a collection of accouterments to make those tea parties even more smashing — I have yet to host an afternoon tea with guests beyond our own household. Why can’t I pull this off? I ask myself. When will I get it together? When will I finally use those oh-so-precious teapot placecard-holders purchased years ago at Crabtree & Evelyn for a not-so-bargain price?

Well, maybe I like the idea of a polite tea soiree more than the reality of what is apt to ensue should I embark on such a course. After all, my mother and her longtime friend Joan often enjoyed tea in the afternoon at our house, and these teas were anything but the proper affairs of my imagination: they drank their tea from sturdy mugs (forget dainty teacups) and left their mark with pinky-red lipstick; they didn’t nibble on dainty vittles (didn’t nibble on anything, as I recall); and there were, on several occasions, in these years before my mom finally gave them up for good … cigarettes. Sometimes, I sat at the kitchen table with them, eavesdropping and dodging second-hand smoke, but Joan wouldn’t tolerate this for long. Maryellen, why don’t you go find something to do? Your mother and I are trying to talk. Joan was not to be trifled with.

Anyway, beyond actual tea consumption, the only tea-related ritual I partake in at my house on a somewhat regular basis is the baking of scones. Unlike Joan and my mother, I like a nibble or two, or 10, with my tea. And there’s nothing easier or faster to make to satisfy my desire for a nibble than cream scones: tender, light and fluffy on the inside; a little crunch on the outside, thanks to a brush of cream and sprinkling of coarse sugar; and a not-too-sweet vehicle for butter and jam, lemon curd, whatever one fancies.

This recipe is as straightforward as it gets — no butter involved, just heavy cream — and the flaky scones are delicious plain or perked up with a cup of dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries (with lemon zest), or a handful of bittersweet chocolate chunks (the route I went today as that’s what I had on hand).

Lazy Sunday Cream Scones
(Yield: about 8 scones)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2-3 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried fruit, nuts or chocolate chunks (optional)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

additional cream (or milk) for brushing (optional)
coarse sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Sift dry ingredients into large bowl.

Stir in dried fruit, nuts or chocolate (if using, and yes, do this before adding cream).

Slowly mix in heavy cream (by hand) until dough is formed.

Roll or pat dough into a round on a lightly floured board. Cut into circles using round biscuit cutter or cut into triangles using a sharp knife.

Place scones on ungreased baking sheet, leaving each of them a few inches to groove.

Brush lightly with additional heavy cream or milk and sprinkle with coarse sugar (I use sanding sugar, but straight-up granulated is fine).

Bake in preheated 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes, rotating tray halfway through cooking time.

Remove scones from pan and cool on wire rack.

The tender, fluffy insides. 
These scones have only the slightest touch of sweetness (as it should be, in my book), and there is something very satisfying about the combination of simple breadstuff with bittersweet chocolate.

Chocolate Love

No lumps. No bumps. Just creamy, dreamy bittersweet bliss.

What can I say? I screwed up.

Twice I managed to destroy my Mile-High Chocolate Cream Pie / Valentine’s Day post. But here we go. Again. I won’t even dare to hope the third time will be the charm. I’ll post and never look back, won’t go back even for a quick edit or two.

I’ll try not to, anyway.
In previous posts, I said a lot of lovely things about love, trying my best not to sound too schmaltzy. Forget all that. I no longer have the words, and, anyway, this is all you really need to know: eat pie; love the one you’re with; live together, die alone (gratuitous ‘Lost’ reference).

If you love chocolate pudding, you will love this pie. It is a richer, more adult version of what you probably ate as a kid. Enjoy.

Mile-High Chocolate Cream Pie 
(Adapted from a recipe in Gourmet magazine / February 2004, my version shows off my homemade chocolate wafer cookies, beaten senseless at the altar of pie crust. Keep in mind, though, the cookies are darkly delicious on their own with a tall glass of cold milk [you will have extra wafers].)

Chocolate wafers (for the cookie crust; if you prefer, use store-bought chocolate wafers or graham crackers):
1 stick salted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons skim milk

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Putting the pig to work.

Beat softened butter until creamy; add sugars and beat on high speed until incorporated and fluffy.
Turn mixer to low; beat in milk and gradually add flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time.
Stop mixing once flour is fully incorporated and dough has come together.
Place dough on sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap and form into a log, the diameter of which will be the approximate width of your cookies once sliced.
Refrigerate log for about an hour.
Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
Slice dough log into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Place on cookie sheets.
Bake in preheated oven for 10-13 minutes, depending on the thickness of your dough. Rotate baking sheets at about the 6-minute mark.
Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
1 1/3 cups chocolate wafer crumbs (from homemade wafers —recipe above — or store-bought; crush cookies in food processor or place in food-storage bag and beat with rolling pin.)
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted

2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks (I save the whites for a breakfast sandwich)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk (do not use low-fat or skim)
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70 percent cacao), melted
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
1 heaping tablespoon sugar (or less; the pie is rich, and I find too-sweet cream overkill)
For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (rack should be in middle position).
With fork, mix wafer crumbs with sugar and melted butter until fully incorporated.
Press crumb mixture into 9-inch pie plate, being sure to make it at least 2/3 of the way up the side.
Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on wire rack while you make the filling.
For the filling:
In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt (do not turn on burner for this step).
Slowly add milk, whisking continuously while you turn the burner on medium heat.
Bring to boil, whisking all the while, then reduce heat and simmer for about a minute, still whisking passionately. (I’m sure you’ve caught on to the importance of nonstop whisking. Whisk like you’ve never whisked before. If you do, the promise of creamy, lump-free decadence is yours.)
The filling should be thick. Take off the heat and transfer to large bowl. (At this point, Gourmet instructs one to push the filling through a fine-mesh sieve; well, this one couldn’t find her sieve. I momentarily considered forcing it through my flour sifter but upon further reflection smartly decided against it. After all, I whisked like the dickens and felt confident my custard was lump and bump free. Upon feasting later, I discovered I was right.)
Whisk in both chocolates, vanilla and softened butter, mixing thoroughly.
Cover surface of filling with greased round of wax paper (to avoid formation of a funky skin) and let cool completely in the fridge (about 2 hours).
Spoon chilled filling into crust and refrigerate pie, 6 hours or overnight.
To serve:
When you can’t take it any longer, whip cream and sugar with electric mixer until fluffy. Top pie with cream and have at it.
I had this for breakfast.