November 9, 2008
As you know, it’s November. In fact, we’re nine days into November. And, well, I’m downright shocked that I haven’t mentioned the month’s arrival yet. Because November is my birthday month, a 30-day portion of the year that I take quite seriously. And it’s also the month of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I was born on the holiday (calling my mother’s doctor, as legend goes, away from his turkey-carving duties; patience was tough for me from the get-go, it seems). And, 28 years later, this Thanksgiving and my birthday will coincide again. I can’t tell you how that thrills me.
Thanksgiving is also my favorite holiday because it’s filled with food (if I could use only one word to describe my parents’ holiday spreads it would be “abundant,” but I really wish you’d allow me two words so that I could also tell you it’s “delicious,” all of it) and family (the exact composition shifts every year and the word “family” is of course elastic, making room for close friends and perfect strangers and even new boyfriends). There’s also the napping and football and the snapshots and the card games and the brisk walk with the dog. And I adore all of it.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
But the very, very best part of all is that there is an absolute blizzard of activity in the kitchen. (Actually, there are so many cooks in the kitchen these days that we bleed into the dining room, too.) Every inch of counter space is crowded with paper Bylery’s bags, cutting boards, recipes, knives and half-drunk cups of coffee. (And, family, if you’re reading this, I hate to break it to you, but this year we’ll have to make room for my camera too. I’m sorry. But it’s important. And it’s my birthday.) We make stuffings, all manner of pureed root vegetables, a green vegetable or three, a turkey, Swedish meatballs, sometimes a ham, and I’m sure a host of other things that I can’t make room for on my plate (let alone in my stomach).
Given that we make all these things, I can’t blame us for normally buying the pies. (But, family, if you’re reading this, I hate to break it to you, but I think that this year we’ll have to make the pies, or at least I’ll have to make the pies. I’m sorry. But it’s important. And it’s my birthday.) I love that late night, post-nap slice of pie. It’s the final piece of the Thanksgiving puzzle; once its eaten, the picture is complete. And, while I’d like to think that my pie tastes have always run traditional—smooth orange pumpkin, double-crust apple, gooey pecan—the truth is that nothing says Thanksgiving to me like French Silk Pie. I think it’s a holdover from my picky-eater past, when I positively refused any piece of turkey that wasn’t pristinely white, balked at the thought of separate foods touching each other on my plate, and would rather have gone hungry than have even a drop of gravy sully my mound of mashed potatoes.
While I’ve shed many of these charming culinary quirks, I am still firmly in favor of French Silk Pie. So, as this November rolled around, my mind kept wandering back to it. As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to try my hand at a homemade version. Our friends Matt and Maggie hosted a chili cook-off on Saturday night (which, in case you’re wondering, is an excellent theme for a party, especially when one of the party guests moonlights as a Pub Quiz host and just so happened to have his hosting materials with him, prompting 10 rounds of trivia that, ahem, my very own team won).
I’ve had Matt’s fiery chili before and if his was any indication of the heat level we could expect from the evening’s contestants, I suspected that people’s mouths would be ablaze after the taste-testing. I wanted a cooling dessert and French Silk Pie, chilled in the refrigerator and sporting a halo of capsicum-killing whipped cream, was just the ticket.
Now, we’ve always called it French Silk Pie, but it appears the rest of the world calls it chocolate pie or chocolate cream pie. Either way, it’s basically this: a crust (normally a traditional flaky pastry crust, but here I opted for an easier and equally tasty cinnamon-flecked graham crust) that cradles a thick, seductive band of lush dark-chocolate pudding. The whole thing is topped with slightly sweetened, just-whipped cream. Sometimes it’s piped on in ornate patterns. But I opted for a simple slump of it, dusted with cocoa powder (but chocolate shavings are nice too).
It’s been firmly added to the homemade pie line-up that will anchor the dessert table this Thanksgiving. I’m hoping it becomes an annual tradition.
Chocolate Cream Pie
Adapted from Gourmet
1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
3 cups whole milk
5 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, for dusting
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Stir together crumbs, butter, sugar and cinnamon and press on bottom and up side of a 9-inch pie plate (1-quart capacity). Bake until crisp, about 15 minutes, and cool on a rack.
Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, and yolks in a 3-quart heavy saucepan until combined well, then add milk in a stream, whisking. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 1 minute (filling will be thick).
Force filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, then whisk in chocolates, butter, and vanilla, stirring until the chocolate and butter is melted. Cover surface of filling with a buttered round of wax paper and cool completely, about 2 hours.
Spoon filling into crust and chill pie, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.
Just before serving, beat cream with sugar in a bowl using an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks, then spoon on top of pie.
Place cocoa powder into a fine mesh strainer and sift the powder over the whipped cream. Serve chilled.
Pie (without topping) can be chilled up to 1 day.