Friday, April 22, 2016

Katharine Hepburn Brownie Pie

There's a photo of me from the fourth grade: I have my hair curled (it was then in its pre-pubescent stick straight stage) and piled high on top of my head. I'm wearing a blue blazer and turtleneck, and holding a wooden tennis racquet, with over-sized sunglasses completing the look. The occasion was a class biography project in which we were to impersonate one of our heroes and I, in case you haven't guessed from my surely obvious costuming, was Katharine Hepburn.

At some point prior I had graduated from Shirley Temple movies to those of Hepburn and Grant, Hepburn and Tracy, Hepburn, Hepburn, Hepburn. This little obsession was perhaps prompted by my mother and grandmother, who presented Kate as the feisty, whip smart, and athletic alternative to the other silver screen starlets my classmates were ogling over (likely via a certain "classic movie" issue of the very '90s pre-teen rag, American Girl).

Me as Katharine Hepburn, 4th grade
I admired Katharine for all of those reasons my elders saw her as an alternative role model. As a nerdy tomboy, I identified with Kate's Bringing up Baby shenanigans, leopard in tow, her cunning smarts that bested Spencer Tracy in Desk Set, and her take no guff attitude in Pat and Mike. I also just found her hilarious. Subsequently, I devoured her autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life, with abandon, and upon learning that as a child, she lived as a boy for the summer, with her parent's buy-in, considered doing the same. Six or so years later, then a sophomore in high school, I got in a heated argument with my honors English teacher who insisted that Katharine and that other Hepburn, Audrey, were sisters. I told her she was wrong, exclaiming, " I know for a fact-- I've read Me!," "So have I," she countered. Well, someone was lying and it wasn't me. 

Later in college, my older friend Ben who worked at Houghton Mifflin for his first job out of school, sent a spare copy of Ruth Reichl's bright yellow Gourmet Cookbook to my group house in Ann Arbor. The first recipe I discovered and ever made from there was Katharine Hepburn's brownies, sourced allegedly from the Hepburn family by a friend of food writer Laurie Colwin's. I've worn that page (688) out, so much that the cookbook now opens directly to it.

The recipe makes the best brownies-- fudgy and dense, they're the only ones I ever make. They're also incredibly simple-- fitting I think, for Kate-- a woman who appreciated luxuries, no doubt, but wouldn't let her get to carried away about them, always tempering her approach with that stubborn blue-blooded New England practicality.

Here, I have Hepburn's brownies the pie treatment, altering the recipe just slightly (I reduced the sugar by 1/4th of a cup) and using it as the filling in a pie crust. It's a Chocolate Chess Pie, essentially, but the richest one you ever had. The added salt and bite of the crust balances that out a bit, and of that, I think Kate would approve.

Katharine Hepburn Brownie Pie

Nothing in the house pie crust, halved
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Prepare half of Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions, reserving the leftover egg for an egg wash and saving other half of the recipe in the freezer for a future pie. Chill dough at least one hour before rolling and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Wrap with plastic wrap and place in fridge until ready to use. 

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter with chocolate over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, eggs, and vanilla, beating until well mixed. Stir in flour and salt just until combined.

3. Pour filling into chilled pie crust and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool, then serve just warm or at room temperature. 

Related recipes:
Berger Cookie Pie
Chocolate Almond Cake
Chocolate Chess Pie
Cranberry Chocolate Chess Pie

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie | Nothing in the House

Somehow I've managed to keep a pie blog for 11 years without featuring Key Lime Pie. I've had Key Lime Pie Popsicles, Florida Citrus Pie, and Bill Smith's very similar Atlantic Beach Pie, but have up until now failed to include a straight recipe for the classic American dessert thought to have originated in the Florida Keys around 1890 (at least so says John Egerton and Nancie McDermott; in the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John Mariani dates it as early as 1856). It's due time to rectify this omission.

Key Lime Pie's history is closely linked to the history of sweetened condensed milk, which Gail Borden began producing just before the Civil War. The canned product found particular traction, in those days before pre-refrigeration, in areas where fresh milk was not readily accessible. Such was the case in southern Florida.

The original Key Lime Pie recipe was likely inspired by another classic pie-- In 1947 the New York Times called it "the equivalent of a lemon meringue pie made with the small, juicy key limes" (Food Timeline). The small, green-yellow citrus fruits, though, were plentiful in the Florida Keys, and were combined with sweetened condensed milk to create a dessert initially distinctive of the region.

Key Lime Pie | Nothing in the House

While the original recipe called for pastry crust, graham crackers are now standard, with some variations employing vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, or occasionally, Ritz crackers. Whether the pie should be topped with whipped cream or meringue can still be a point of contention, though the majority of Key lime pies today opt for the cream.

This version, adapted from Alison Kave's First Prize Pies, is a fairly standard recipe, adding an ample dose of lime zest for extra zing. I think it's the perfect combination of tart and sweet. It's best if you use the smaller Key limes, generally available in the winter months, bought in bulk mesh bags at most grocery stores. If you can't find them, though, regular limes will certainly do.

Key Lime Pie | Nothing in the House

 Key Lime Pie
Adapted from First Prize Pies

For crust:
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
5 Tblsp. unsalted butter
1 Tblsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

For filling:
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup Key lime juice (from 20-25 limes or 5-6 regular limes)
4 large egg yolks
Zest of 4 Key limes or 11/2 regular limes
1/4 teaspoon salt
Key lime slices, for decoration (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)

For the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour graham cracker crumbs in a bowl and stir in melted butter, sugar, and salt until well mixed.

2. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake until crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before adding the filling.

For the filling:
1. In a large bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, lime juice and zest, egg yolks, and salt until blended and frothy. Pour the filling into the baked and cooled pie crust and bake for 15-20 minutes until the filling has just set and bubbles begin to appear. 

2. Remove pie and let cool on a wire rack at room temperature for 20 minutes before refrigerating. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to set. Serve with lime slices and whipped cream, if desired. Enjoy!

Key Lime Pie | Nothing in the House

Related recipes:
Atlantic Beach Pie
Florida Grapefruit-White Chocolate Pie
Key Lime Pie Popsicles
Lime Bundt Cake
Lime and Raspberry Italian Meringue Pie

Cranberry Chess Pie

Fig Pistachio Tarte Tatin

Peppermint Pattie Tart

Whiskey & Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

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