The Pie King + Strawberry Chiffon Pie

Strawberry Chiffon Pie

How’s summer rolling along for you? It’s the middle of July, we’ve been able to get out and roam around the city, hitting up some of our old favorite spots and finding new favorites. On top of that, I’m looking forward to Alex’s birthday next week (even if he isn’t), and we may have some exciting travel plans coming up! Summer is just the best, isn’t it?

So, you’re going to need to stick with me on this post. It’s one of those cases where I just got excited about something that’s not as exciting as I think it is, and the next thing I knew I had written about 900 words and there was a whole pie in my fridge.

A while back, I was hunting around for vintage recipes and I came across an article in the L.A. Times from over twenty years ago about a man named Monroe Boston Strause, A.K.A. the Pie King. But it was a line in the second paragraph that caught my eye, that mentioned where Strause’s father was born: Garrett, Indiana. WHERE I GREW UP!

Garrett is small. It’s basically a blip on the map. We do have more than one stop light, but the population hovered just above 6,000 last time I checked. So you can understand my surprise when I learned that a man, who eventually became known as the “Pie King,” had a link to my hometown. It’s not a huge link, but when you’re from a town with nary a claim to fame (with the exception of one tragic silent film star and a MLB player from the early 1900s), even little connections are interesting.

I’m not here to talk about my hometown, though. I’m here to talk about the man known as the Pie King. Somewhat surprisingly, there isn’t a lot known about the personal life of Monroe Boston Strause. We do know that he was born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1901, 117 years ago today. He was born to Boston Monroe Strause and Emma Studer.

Monroe Boston Strause(Portrait of Monroe Boston Strause, taken from his book Pie Marches On.)

It’s said that when Strause was still quite young, he became the owner of a bakery when when a relative who owned the business left it to Monroe. As a way of drumming up interest in the bakery, he began perfecting pie recipes and touring the country teaching others to make pie. By the 1930’s, he was already being written about by reporters who called him a pie expert.

It was also in the 30’s that he wrote Pie Marches On, essentially a pie bible explaining how to make the best versions of pie. He has a chapter dedicated to pie crust (if you’ve ever had a pie featuring a graham cracker crust, you can thank Monroe Boston Strause for it), as well as several variations of fruit and cream pies, black bottom pie (that he is credited with creating), and the chiffon pie, which it is said he invented in 1926.

By the 1940s, his mentions in the newspapers seem mainly to be companies promoting that their baked goods were “baked under the authority” of Strause, who may by this time have been traveling around the country less. His family situation may account for this. In the 1940 Census, he appears with his wife, Violet, and a one-year-old daughter, Marilynn. After that, I couldn’t find much information on him. He and his wife both died in 1981, a few months apart, but were living in different parts of California at the time.

Although his is no longer a household name, you can find vintage pie tins that bear his name still being sold on Ebay. He reminds me of many of our modern-day celebrity cooks. He perfected his technique, made a name for himself, and was able to profit from his celebrity status by allowing his name to be stamped on others’ products.

My search for more information on the Pie King’s later years will continue, because I usually can’t let things like this go. In the meantime, though, I’ve made a slightly updated version of his strawberry chiffon pie, which is a perfect for the dog days of summer, when the idea of turning the oven on at all is not very inviting, let alone long enough to bake a pie. It’s the perfect cool and creamy dessert for a hot and steamy day.

Strause’s original recipe called for uncooked, beaten egg whites to be mixed with a mashed berry/cornstarch concoction. The pie has a graham cracker crust base which only bakes for a short time, before being piled high with a light and airy egg-white-based filling, which is cooked for a short time over a double boiler to make the eggs safe, before it is allowed to set in the fridge.

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Strawberry Chiffon Pie
For my pie, I slightly altered this recipe. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients: 
Graham cracker crust:
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 sheets of graham crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

Chiffon filling:
1 cup strawberry sauce (basically 16 oz of strawberries–see instructions)
2/3 cup sugar
.25 oz of unflavored gelatin
4 egg whites
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions:

Graham cracker crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sheets of graham crackers into a food processor. Process into fine crumbs, but stop before they are powder.

Stir in sugar and salt. Stir in melted butter until very well combined.

Pour into the bottom of a pie pan and use a measuring cup or your fingers to press into the shape of the pan.

Bake for about 9 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the pie filling.

Chiffon filling:
Food process about 16 ounces of strawberries (for me it took the whole carton), until quite liquefied.

Pour into a measuring cup, straining out the larger strawberry pieces and seeds from the mixture, until you get 1 cup of sauce.

In a small heat-proof bowl, big enough to hold 1 1/2 cups of liquid, add 1/4 cup of water and sprinkle .25 oz of gelatin over the top to bloom.

Add the sauce to a small pan with the 2/3 cup sugar. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fill a larger bowl with a little water and several ice cubes. Set aside.

Pour the strawberry mixture into the bloomed gelatin, put the bowl into the ice bath, and continually stir the gelatin mixture until it thickens slightly, about five minutes. Set the bowl in the refrigerator as you prepare the egg whites.

Over a double boiler (a heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water, but not touching the water), add egg whites, 1/4 cup of sugar, and cream of tartar. Whisk to combine. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the egg mixture has reached a temperature of 165 degrees.

Remove from the double boiler, add in the vanilla, and use a mixer to beat the eggs on high speed until they are glossy, light, and fluffy.

Immediately add the gelatin mixture to the egg whites, folding in gently but thoroughly.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell and put back in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight to set.

Top with whipped cream and/or sliced strawberries and serve cold.

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Three really good things about this pie: 1) Intense strawberry flavor. There is little getting in the way of the flavor of whatever berry you use. 2) Almost no bake time. It’s too hot, it’s too hot, etc… 3) It really is as light as air. (That’s perhaps my only gripe with it. Alex liked this recipe better than I did. I like pie with a little bite to it.)

Thanks for indulging me in this walk down pie history lane. If you decide to give this recipe a try, please let me know what you think. I want to know what kind of pie people I’m dealing with here!

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Mini S’mores Pavlovas

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This post could have been about ice cream cones. I’ve really been down deep in state history the last few weeks. The ice cream cone has a fun little history, it’s the state dessert of Missouri, and August 10th is Missouri’s anniversary as a state. But today is, wait for it, National S’mores Day. S’mores! So how could I resist making a S’mores recipe? Especially when they’re as cute as these little Mini S’mores Pavlovas?

Leave it to me to take a beautiful, elegant dessert, like the pavlova, and turn it into the equivalent of a smash cake. The idea of making a S’mores pavlova came to me when I made a regular pavlova last winter and Alex kept saying how much it tasted like a toasted marshmallow. That got me thinking how the base of a pavlova is really just 1/3 of a s’more.

The first “recipe” for S’mores was published in 1927 in the book Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. The recipe published in this book called them Some Mores, which of course was later abbreviated–thank goodness. As everyone 90 years later knows, they are composed of a rectangle of chocolate and a toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham cracker squares.

The snack, in the 20s, would have been both portable, and may even have been considered healthy. Why? The root pulp of the marshmallow plant has been used for thousands of years for medicinal and confectionery purposes, from ancient Rome, Egypt, and parts of Western Asia. However, the process for creating medicine or candy from marshmallows was lengthy and costly, so it was a delicacy reserved only for the higher classes.

By the Middle Ages, marshmallow root was being used in Europe to relieve minor irritations, such as sore throats. Eventually, French confectioners began whipping the sap into a spongy substance together with egg and sugar, which would be more recognizable as today’s marshmallows. When the marshmallow made it to the United States, in the early 1900s, mallow had been replaced by gelatin (basically stripping it of any health benefits). There it was sold in tins for mass consumption.

The graham cracker was inspired, in part by a 19th-century minister, Sylvester Graham. Graham believed that practicing temperance, abstinence, and vegetarianism was the only healthy and pure way to live. While he did not invent graham crackers, his propagation of eating only whole grains led to the creation of the graham bread, and graham crackers.

In the 1890’s, Milton S. Hershey owned a successful caramel company, but after witnessing the chocolate-making process at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, he sold his caramel company and, by 1900, he was creating his Hershey Chocolate Bar.

Around the early 1900’s, someone had already figured out that these three were a match made in heaven. By 1927, when the S’mores recipe was published, there were other chocolate-marshmallow snacks already on the market, including Moon Pies and Mallomars. Perhaps the girl scouts were trying to recreate a treat they had already had before.

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Mini S'mores Pavlovas

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Mini S’mores Pavlovas
Makes one 9-inch pavlova or eight 1-layer or four 2-layer pavlovas.

Ingredients:
Pavlova:
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice

Topping:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

3-5 graham crackers, crushed

4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Line a large cookie sheet (12″ x 18″) with parchment paper. Outline eight circles using the the mouth of a drinking glass, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, onto the parchment paper with a pencil. Flip the parchment over on the baking sheet, so the pencil markings are face down.

In a very clean, very dry mixing bowl (or stand mixer bowl), add 4 egg whites. Be sure there are no yolk remnants.

Mix together the sugar and cornstarch in a separate small bowl and combine.

Begin beating the egg whites on medium speed, until you notice that the mixture becomes frothy, and then smooth. You will begin to notice soft peaks.

Add the cornstarch-sugar mixture to the egg whites two tbsp at a time, beating for about 30 seconds in between each addition, gradually increasing the speed of your mixer during each addition.

Add the vanilla and lemon juice and mix for 30 more seconds to make sure everything is combined.

Immediately after mixing, spoon or pipe the mixture into each of the eight circles on the parchment paper.

Bake for 50 minutes at 250 degrees, then turn off oven and allow the pavlovas to cool in the oven for 10 minutes, without opening the door.

As you wait for the pavlovas, begin making the remaining ingredients. For the whipped cream, whip together 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla. Keep in refrigerator until you’re ready to use. For the ganache, add the chocolate to a heat-safe bowl. Heat the 1/2 cup of heavy cream until it’s just beginning to simmer. Pour the simmering cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, begin stirring the mixture and it will begin to form a smooth, dark ganache. Allow to cool completely before using. Crush the graham crackers with your hands or in a food processor. Set aside.

Remove the pavlovas from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, until completely cool.

Arrange pavlovas on individual plates. Top with whipped cream, chocolate, and graham crackers.

Serve immediately.

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There is no marshmallow sap in this pavlova, just a simple combination of five ingredients, baked in the oven instead of toasted over an open fire, drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with graham cracker dust. Perfect for when you’re around a dinner table, instead of a campfire. (And, if you’re worried about the fact that you’ll have 4 leftover egg yolks, I know a great banana pudding recipe that uses that many exactly!)

Peace out, Girl Scout!
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