At first I’d planned to put a photo of the perfect, un-cut pie at the top of this post, but the thing is, this pie was all about the texture, and that was what worried me the most. People like pie for a lot of different reasons. For me, pie can be a sensual experience. The layers, the textures, the balance and contrast. But as you may know, I went gluten-free back in January, and I’ve hardly been baking at all since then. Pie Day 2011 was so fun, but I wasn’t sure I’d take part this year. Gluten-free pie? Really? So I got to combing through my cookbooks. Not the gluten-free ones mind you — I searched the old ones, hoping for unexpected inspiration. Then I found it. An ice box pie from the classic My Mother’s Southern Desserts by James Villas with a hazelnut meringue crust!
Despite my love for Homesick Texan’s chocolate pecan chewies, I don’t do meringue often, especially not in the summertime. Lucky for me, we had a break in the humidity. The crust starts with 3 large egg whites, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cream of tartar, and 2/3 cup granulated sugar, beaten to stiff peaks. Then you flavor it with 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. You shape the meringue into a “nest” in the buttered pie pan — you can see the flecks of hazelnut in there. It’s not an exact science — just have fun with the shaping. Then you bake the crust at 300 degrees F for 50 minutes and finally give it time to cool down to room temperature before proceeding.
The filling is all about chocolate, but the original called for 8 ounces of milk chocolate. I couldn’t bring myself to do it — I had a big block of bittersweet in the house that was calling my name. You melt the chocolate with 1/4 cup of water (funny, I thought water and chocolate don’t mix!), and I flavored it with 2 tablespoons brandy instead of the bourbon called for in the original recipe. Then you let the chocolate cool a bit and whip up 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream to soft peaks. Everything gets folded together and you fill the cooled crust with the fluffy, mousse-like filling.
Then comes patience… a lot of it. It’s worth waiting at least two hours for this pie to cool down properly in the refrigerator. It is an icebox pie after all. Top with chocolate curls (oh wait, mine look more like shavings), and serve. I’d make this pie in a non-stick pan next time because I have to admit, the crust stuck hard to the glass pan, but the flavors and textures were good. I mean outrageously good. Happy Pie Day!