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Try these pies to celebrate 'Pi Day'


Michael Knock  |  Cooking Class
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I’m not one who regularly seeks the spotlight. Those who have known me for most of my life might roll their eyes at that statement. Back in high school and college I was a regular in school plays and in the annual speech contest.

My favorite part back then was that of Peter Semyonych – aka, “The Seducer” – in Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor.” Semyonych is an arrogant Russian nobleman who walks on stage and declares, “I am the greatest seducer of other men’s wives that I’ve ever met.” He just gets more “charming” from there delivering a master class in how to convince wives to leave their husbands for him. 

My director told me that Peter is also supposed to seduce women in the audience. He showed me how to wink and to smirk in just such a way. One night it worked so well that the mother of one of my best friends blushed noticeably when I smiled in her direction. 

Still, I can argue that back then when I was acting it wasn’t really “me” up there on the stage. I was playing a part that someone else created and reading lines someone else wrote. In fact, that was the fun of it. I wasn’t out there on stage. Someone else was. 

But when the curtain fell and it was just me, I avoided any and all attention. The best example of this occurred about 15 years ago when Michael and I were preparing dinner on a summer evening. I put a pot of something to boil on the stove and then proceeded to chop up vegetables. After about 15 minutes both Michael and I began to smell something burning. It didn’t smell like food, however. It smelled like rubber or insulation. Michael became so freaked out that he called the fire department to investigate. 

I was horrified – not by the fire but by the prospect that a fire truck would soon be roaring down our street for all of the neighbors to see. I went right on chopping vegetables and said to Michael, “Just tell them not to use their sirens, OK.” They obliged. 

(By the way, the “fire” was actually the plastic handle of a pot on the stove that got too hot and started to smolder.)

Why am I so embarrassed by attention? I joke that it is the Lutheran in me, even though my denomination’s founder – Martin Luther – did everything he could to be noticed. Maybe it’s my parents who always advised us to be humble no matter what. 

But not when it comes to pie. I will admit that I can be something of a Peter Semyonych when it comes to pie, although I am less a master of seduction and more a master of crust and filling. (Though one might argue that there is nothing sexier than a good pie).  

To be honest, however, I don’t know if my pie is that great. I just know how much fun it is to bake. In fact, in honor of Saturday, March 14 – aka, “Pi Day” – I have been busy in the kitchen throwing together concoctions that range from Key lime to lemon meringue. I’ve made chocolate-caramel-pecan and blueberry chiffon. I wouldn’t have stopped there if it had not been for the need to eat all of that pie. 

To help you celebrate Pi Day I’ve included a few of the recipes I’ve been trying out this week. Give them a try for yourself. Or ignore these recipes and bake some of your own. And if you are in the mood to share your creations with me, I am more than happy to oblige. After all, March 14 isn’t just Pi Day. It’s also my birthday. 

Just in case you need one more excuse to celebrate.

Martha Stewart’s Mile High Lemon Meringue

I have been craving lemon meringue pie for a month. There is something about winter that makes a nice, sunny slice of lemon so inviting. Oh, I know what it is. It’s the cold, dark, gray days made worse by the onset of Daylight Savings Time.

But I digress. This pie is a delicious way to celebrate Pi Day with its tart yet sweet lemon filling and the tall cloud of meringue. 

One note: Martha recommends serving this pie immediately after you finish browning the meringue. I learned why. This meringue weeps…like, a lot. Don’t worry, it will still taste great even a few days later. You will simply have to contend with an ocean of liquid pooling on the bottom of your pie. 

Ingredients

1 single crust piecrust, prebaked

For the filling:

¼ cup cornstarch 

1 cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest 

¼ teaspoon salt

2 cups water

½ cup lemon juice

4 egg yolks (save the whites for the meringue)

4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

For the meringue: 

8 egg whites

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

To make the filling:

Combine the cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture bubbles and is thick  - about 7 minutes (about 2 minutes after it comes to a boil). 

In a medium bowl whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour in about a-half-cup of the hot cornstarch mixture whisking continuously as you do (if you don’t whisk, the egg yolks will scramble; that’s very bad). Return the mixture to the saucepan over a medium heat and, stirring continuously, bring it to a boil (1-2 minutes). 

Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon juice. 

Press the mixture through a fine sieve. Then stir in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. Stir until the butter has completely melted into the lemon mixture. 

Pour into your prebaked pie shell. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the lemon filling and refrigerate for 4-6 hours. 

To make the meringue:

Whip the egg whites and the cream of tartar at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and whip until you have stiff glossy peaks. Mix in the vanilla. 

Spread the meringue over the surface of your pie making sure to extend it to the edges. If you have a kitchen torch use it to brown the meringue. If you don’t, use your broiler, but be very careful. The meringue will burn in a heartbeat under the high heat of the broiler. I know this from experience. 

Serve right after you finish browning the meringue. 

Chocolate-Caramel Pie

When I started looking for recipes for this column I got out all of my favorite baking books hoping to discover something new. This one from the King Arthur Flour Baking Book caught my eye. First of all, I love chocolate. Secondly, I love caramel. Thus, I figured how could this pie be bad? 

I started to have my doubts when I began construction. The first issue arose over the crust, which is very dry and crumbly. I doubted my mixture would successfully press into my pie plate before baking. Luckily, it worked. The second issue was the filling. The recipe called for melting caramel candies rather than making your own caramel. This was suspect to me. Again, I was wrong. The filling was beautiful. In fact, it was so good that I didn’t doubt the chocolate glaze (which is also good).

In short, this is a delicious pie. It is basically a candy bar in pie form. I will definitely make it again.

Ingredients

For the crust: 

8 tablespoons butter, room temperature

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup powdered sugar

¼ cup cocoa (the recipe recommends Dutch-process)

1 cup flour

½ cup chopped pecans

For the filling:

2 cups (12 oz.) caramels or caramel morsels

½ cup heavy cream

1 cup (6 oz.) white chocolate

For the chocolate glaze:

1 cup (6 oz.) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate morsels

½ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons corn syrup

½ cup chopped toasted pecans

To make the crust:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spray a 9 ½-inch pie plate (preferably a deep-dish pan) with cooking spray. Set aside.

Beat the butter until fluffy. Add the salt, vanilla, powdered sugar and cocoa. Blend until smooth. Add the flour and the pecans, and stir until the flour is absorbed. The mixture will seem very dry and you will doubt that it will work as a crust. Have faith. It’s going to work.

Press the crust into your pie plate coming up just to the bottom of the rim. Bake crust for 15 minutes, until it has set. Set aside to cool. 

To make the caramel filling:

Melt the caramels, heavy cream, and white chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, stirring regularly to prevent it from scorching (you also can melt it in the microwave in short 30-second bursts). Stir until smooth. Pour mixture into your cooled crust. 

To make the chocolate glaze:

Pour your pecans into a medium-sized skillet. Toast over medium-low heat, stirring the pecans frequently to prevent scorching. Stop cooking the moment they begin to smell toasted and remove from the pan. Seriously, they will go from toasted to scorched in a split second so watch them carefully. Once they are cool enough to touch chop the pecans and set aside. 

Melt the chocolate with the heavy cream and corn syrup over low heat (again, you can do this in the microwave, as well). Stir until smooth. Pour over the caramel layer. Finish with the chopped pecans. Chill the pie for 15-20 minutes before serving. 

Key Lime Pie Bars

During our trip to New York City back in January we stopped into a wonderful little bakery that had all sorts of confections. Among them were Key lime pie bars. I love Key lime pie, and I loved the idea of putting that flavor in bar form. 

Thus, I became committed to the idea of making these bars once I got home. Here is the result based upon a recipe from the website The Salty Marshmallow. 

They are fantastic. However, don’t be fooled. These really aren’t “bars.” A bar can be eaten by hand without a plate or a fork. These are actually a pie that is baked in an 8 x 8-inch square pan. You can try to eat them by hand, but you’ll end up with sticky fingers and graham cracker crumbs everywhere. 

On second thought, that’s not such a bad thing. 

Ingredients

For the crust:

1 ¾ cup graham cracker crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

½ cup butter, melted

For the filling:

2 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon lime zest

½ cup key lime juice

To make the crust:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray. 

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Don’t turn off the oven. Keep temperature at 325 degrees. 

To make the filling:

Beat the cream cheese until soft. Beat in the sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Mix in the egg yolks, one yolk at a time. Stir in the lime zest and lime juice. Pour filling over cooled crust. Bake for 30 minutes. 

Chill for 2 hours before serving. Top “bars” with sweetened whipped cream and grated lime zest if you like.