Sunday, February 05, 2012

Williamsburg Peanut Butter Cream Pie

As I child, I was obsessed with Colonial Williamsburg. On our first visit, my brother and I collectively got to play harpsichords, fire a cannon, don revolutionary garb, make cheese and polish silver (fun!). On a subsequent vacation, when our parents' offered us a choice between Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg, we chose Williamsburg, hands down. And when we got back home, we put on a living history demonstration in our backyard with hoops and fifes, bonnets and tri-corner hats, to show off all we had learned.

So when I finally picked up a copy of the long coveted Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies, the first recipe I tried in it was naturally Williamsburg Peanut Butter Cream Pie. The recipe is a variation on a peanut butter pie served at Williamsburg's Shields Tavern. I'm not sure if it's an original 18th century recipe--we figured it probably wasn't when we remembered that George Washington Carver had, in fact, invented peanut butter and was born in 1864--but perhaps there was some variation of ground peanuts used in the Virginia colony. Nonetheless, there's something about this pie that gives it a nostalgic quality, whether through childhood memories jogged by the peanut butter flavor, or via the old-timey custard like-grandma-used-to make filling, I'm not sure.

Here's my take on Nancie's recipe, altered slightly...

Williamsburg Peanut Butter Cream Pie
from Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies

For Crust:
1 1/2 c. crushed chocolate wafer cookies (I could not find plain wafers, so I ended up using whole Oreos, as in the crust for Nutella Icebox Pie)
1/2 c. butter, melted
2 Tblsp. sugar (could probably do without since Oreos are quite sweet)

For Filling:
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch (I used tapioca flour, as we were out of cornstarch)
2 c. milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 c. creamy peanut butter (I used natural, which added a nice texture, but chose according to your preference)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. heavy cream
1 Tblsp. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. Bourbon (optional)
3/4 c. coarsely chopped, dry-roasted, salted peanuts

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the crushed cookies (also crushed with a food processor), butter, and sugar in a food processor and blend until well incorporated. Pat filling into a 9- or 10-inch greased pie plate. Bake crust for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool. 

For filling:
In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and cornstarch (or tapioca flour). In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and egg yolks, and stir well. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture to the egg yolks and milk and stir to mix them well. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the filling is thick and smooth (will coat the back of a spoon), 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, set aside and let cool.

When the custard has cooled to room temperature, beat with an electric mixer or whisk until creamy and thickened. Add the peanut butter and vanilla, beating until well incorporated. Scrape the filling into the baked pie crust and smooth the surface. Cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, at least one hour. 

For topping:
Combine the cream and sugar in a medium bowl and whip with an electric mixer (or whisk, if you are fast and strong!). When it has thickened enough to hold stiff peaks, beat in the vanilla and bourbon (if using), and cover or partially cover the peanut butter filling with the whipped cream. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over top and serve cold.

This is a delectably rich icebox pie that capitalizes on the perfect synergy of peanut butter and chocolate.  I brought mine to a show (hence the bad lighting for the photos--apologies!) and we enjoyed it late-night in January at the bar with beers and honky-tonk. It would also work just as well, though, at a summertime afternoon tea, or as a special treat at two nerdy kids; backyard living history demonstration...

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