Penelope Nejad’s Banana Meringue Pie

Emily Nejad

Emily Nejad and I met last spring when we sat next to each other at a Forth Chicago event for female entrepreneurs. When I sat down and realized who she was, I immediately began fangirling. I had never had one of her cakes, but I had already been following her on Instagram for months, regularly admiring her colorful, textural masterpieces. I asked if she would be interested in sharing a family recipe with me, and I’m so pleased that she said yes!

If you live in Chicago or the surrounding areas, you may already know Emily as the powerhouse behind Bon Vivant Cakes. Emily grew up in southern Indiana, attended Ball State for musical theater, and moved to Chicago. A musician before she was a baker, she and a friend started a band called Celine Neon, whose bright and theatrical videos and energetic electro-pop sound could easily be considered the sonic version of one of Emily’s cakes.

Even though her cakes might seem the product of years of baking experience, the Bon Vivant story is only about two years old. “I was baking for friends and it occurred to me that there might be a market for the cakes I was making. I put up a website and started an Instagram account and went from there,” she says. She was still waiting tables at the time, but after making a cake for a baby shower for a well-known Chicago blogger, her business blew up.

Elegant, whimsical, and each totally unique, Emily tries to ensure that her cakes represent the person ordering them. When you order a cake on her website, she wants to know everything about you. She describes her method on her site: “I want to know your hobbies, your passions, and your favorite band so that I can blast it in my kitchen while I’m baking your cake.”

Emily insists that she does not come from a long line of amazing cooks. “My maternal grandmother is not known for her culinary skills,” she says. “She used to make something called ketchup salad. Holy cow, it is BAD.” Emily’s mother, Penelope, however, has been cooking since she was young. “My mom was the sixth of nine kids. By the time she was a teenager, she was making meals for her whole family.” During college, Penelope met her future husband, an Iranian engineering student with, as Emily describes it, “a gregarious personality and a purple velvet disco suit.” They were married and the couple settled into their roles of bread-winning dad and stay-at-home mom. But in 2009, when the family hit some financial hardships, Penelope decided to go back to work. With her experience cooking for her family and baking during college, she decided to open a restaurant. Emily emphasizes that her mother decided to this “with no experience, in a bad economy, in a one hundred-year-old building, in southern Indiana.” Needless to say, things could have gone badly. “There are many reasons that this was risky, but she did it anyway, because her kids needed health insurance and a college education. So she went to work.” Things have grown quickly for her mother, just as they have for Emily. “Today she owns 3 restaurants, has around 50 employees, and works harder than anyone I know,” says Emily proudly.

Penelope Nejad

The recipe that Emily wanted to share is not a long-held family recipe. Instead, it’s her mom’s banana meringue pie that her mother used to make for holidays and Emily’s birthday. It originated from a recipe in a Presbyterian cookbook from Knox, Pennsylvania, that her mom has tweaked over the years. “Banana cream pie is my favorite pie, hands down,” Emily says. “My favorite time to eat it is at breakfast. There is nothing better than waking up and knowing that there is leftover pie from the night before.”

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Penny’s Banana Meringue Pie

Filling Ingredients:
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups
whole milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 tbsp butter, room temp
1 tbsp, plus 1 tsp vanilla
2-3 bananas

Meringue Ingredients:
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
6 tbsp sugar
1/4
tsp vanilla

Pie Instructions:

Make 1 pie crust of your choice and set aside. (Emily says she prefers an all-butter pie crust. I prefer, and almost always use, this recipe.)

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in ½ quart saucepan, making sure that the sugar and cornstarch are mixed thoroughly so that they don’t clump once heat and liquid is added. Add milk.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir one minute.

To make your pudding, you’ll temper the hot mixture into the egg yolks: stir half of the hot mixture gradually into the egg yolks, being very careful not to scramble the eggs. When the yolks are warmed, add the hot mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the hot mixture. Boil and stir one minute.

Remove the pan from heat and stir in butter & vanilla.

Right before you add the hot pudding to the pie shell, add the sliced bananas to the bottom of the pie crust.

Pour pudding into pie shell to set; press plastic wrap over filling.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours but no longer than 48.

After the pudding has set, add the meringue to the pie. Make whatever swirly pattern you’d like with the fluffy meringue. Bake at 375 for no longer than 5 minutes on the bottom third of the oven, checking constantly. It can burn really easily. It’s done when the peaks of meringue start to brown.

Meringue Instructions:

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar, add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time until very stiff and glossy, and then stir in the vanilla. You must use very clean stainless bowl and stainless whisk.

Banana Meringue Pie

Seeing as how Emily and her mom both started their own businesses around food, I wondered if her mom had influenced Emily as an entrepreneur. She says, “My mom and I started growing as entrepreneurs at relatively the same time. There were a lot of parallels in our lives. The advice we pass back and forth to each other is, ‘Trust yourself. Trust your vision. You have something special.'”

If you want to keep up with Emily, follow her on Instagram @BonVivantCakes, where she showcases her cakes, and new creations, like cookie dough chocolate pops (WHAT?!), which you can sample this Saturday, September 23, at Chicago’s West Elm on North Avenue. AND she will be creating edible art for the MCA’s 50th Anniversary celebration on Oct 21st!

Emily, thank you so much for sharing your story, your mother’s story, and this delicious recipe with me! I’m so excited to see what’s next for you!

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Raspberry Peach Galette

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The big news this week: the eclipse! Did you watch it? Great! I didn’t. I had jury duty. (I didn’t get called.) But I did get to watch live coverage of the eclipse on the jury waiting room TV, preceded by The View, and followed by General Hospital. That’s a good day.

Inspired by everyone’s excitement for the eclipse, I made a solar-inspired raspberry peach galette. Galettes are, in fact, my freaking favorite. If you come to my house for dinner, you’re likely going to get a galette for dessert. It’s so easy to make, it’s great served at room temperature, and it’s even better loaded up with whipped cream or ice cream. It’s perfection, really. This little late-summer galette is especially perfect because it’s positively loaded with sweet, juicy peaches.

Native to China, the peach is a member of the Rose family. Eventually it was widely cultivated in Persia, present-day Iran, which is where it received its scientific name “persica.” From Persia, the peach made its way to Europe, and by the 1500’s, Spanish Franciscan monks had introduced the peach to the Americas. Peach trees were planted all up and down the Eastern Coast of the United States. But the fruit did not take off in America until the 19th century.

Georgia, now known as the peach tree state, received that distinction after the Civil War ended. Fruit growing had not been pursued by many farmers in the South. However, in the 1850’s, a Belgian father and son, Louis and Prosper Berckmans, purchased land in Augusta, GA, in hopes of showing the importance of fruit and ornamental plants as an industry in the South. By the time slavery was abolished, the Berckman’s orchard had grown considerably and needed laborers. Freedmen, now needing employment, began working in the orchards. This work allowed the industry to grow considerably throughout the country. And though the peach is synonymous with Georgia, it is also the state fruit of South Carolina and the familiar phrase “Georgia Peach” is actually in reference to a woman’s complexion, rather than where she is from. Today, California is the largest producer of peaches in the United States.

Raspberry Peach Galette

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Raspberry Peach Galette
Makes one 8-in galette. Serves about 4. I always use this recipe from Jacques Pepin as a general galette-making guide.

Ingredients:

Crust:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3 tbsp water, very cold

Filling:
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp ground almonds
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
8 oz. raspberries, washed and dried
2 large or 3 medium yellow peaches, washed, pitted, and thinly sliced

Topping:
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
2 tbsp sugar

Instructions:

In a food processor, mix the flour, salt, and butter for a few seconds. Add the ice water and process again for a few more seconds. The butter should be smaller than pea-size. At this point, the mixture will still look crumbly.

Pour the contents of the processor out onto a lightly floured surface. Begin pulling the mixture together until it forms a ball.

Roll the dough out into a 10-inch circle. You can trim the edges if you like, but it’s not necessary. Place the dough onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the sugar, ground almonds, and flour and sprinkle over the center of the dough, leaving an inch and a half of dough naked at the edge.

Lay the peach slices in a single layer over the sugar mixture, being sure to still leave an inch and a half edge. Then arrange the raspberries on top of the peaches in a single layer. Add another single layer of peaches over the top of the raspberries.

Sprinkle the cubes of butter over the top of the fruit. Sprinkle most of the 2 tablespoons of sugar over the fruit and butter, reserving about one teaspoon.

Fold the sides of the dough up over the fruit and sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar over the edge of the crust. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the fruit is soft and juicy and the crust of the galette is golden brown.

Allow to cool to room temperature, slice, and enjoy!

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This galette was maybe piled a little high with fruit. The beauty is, galettes are perfectly imperfect. As long as the fruit is tucked enough inside the fold, it will cook down. You might have some juice overflow, but it’s still going to come out fantastic. And, obviously, we’re spoiled right now with the abundance of fresh, beautiful peaches in the grocery store. Quite honestly, I made a peach and blueberry galette last winter for Christmas dinner, completely out of season, and it was still delicious. My guess is that it had something to do with a lot of sugar and an hour of cooking that makes pretty much any fruit incapable of being anything except delicious. It’s nearly impossible to mess up. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie

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What? It’s July now? Where is time going?? As amazing as summer is in Chicago, it can sometimes feel like a sprint. Almost every single one of our summer weekends are already booked. I’m not complaining, of course. It’s just always amazing to me how, when warm weather finally arrives, Chicagoans rush to pack in every ounce of living that we can. It’s because we know that in a few months it will be dark and cold again and, as much as you’ll want to see your friends, you’ll want much more to stay inside, curl up on the couch, and watch TV. Anyway, we’re now in summer-mode, which means we’ve been outside far more than we’ve been inside, and baking seems like a distant memory to me. However, also with summer comes a slew of backyard BBQs, and the tricky question of what to contribute. Luckily for me, I have discovered the perfect potluck dessert solution: Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie.

My initial interest in this recipe sprung from my love of superstition. Along the coast of North Carolina, where seafood is a staple, an old wives’ tale says that eating dessert after consuming seafood will make you terribly sick–with the single exception of a lemon pie, made from condensed milk, with a cracker crust.

Atlantic Beach Pie is known up and down the North Carolina coast. Sometimes it is called Harker’s Island Pie, and sometimes Down East Lemon Milk Pie. While searching for recipes, I came upon many variations. Some used Ritz crackers for the crust, instead of saltines. Most recipes were topped with meringue, instead of whipped cream. And all recipes called for condensed milk, but some were very, very particular that Eagle Brand condensed milk had to be used.

What was once just a local favorite has been brought into the national spotlight by Bill Smith, chef at Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In 2014, Chef Smith’s recipe for Atlantic Beach Pie made its way around the internet and was featured on food websites, from NPR’s Found Recipes to Food52’s Genius Recipes.

Once you have a bite of this pie, you will understand why. It’s as though a key lime pie and lemon meringue pie had a baby. Salty, sweet, tart, and buttery; it’s a magical mix of simple flavors. Summer in a bite!

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Atlantic Beach Pie

Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie. Slight variation of this recipe from NPR.

Ingredients:
For crust:
1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tbsp sugar

For filling:
14 oz. sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup combination of lemon and lime juice (about 2 large lemons, 1 small lime)

For whipped cream, optional:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp powdered sugar
Sprinkle of sea salt, for garnish

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For crust:
In a food processor, or with your hands, crumble saltine crackers into very small pieces, but not into a powder.

Add sugar and combine. Add the melted butter and mix with your hands, continuing to crumble the saltines.

Pour into a pie pan and press with your hands until the crust is shaped to your liking.

Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes. Leave the oven on at 350 degrees.

Allow the crust to cool as you make the filling.

For the filling:
Add condensed milk and egg yolks to a bowl. Beat with a hand mixer (or in a stand mixer) until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

Add lemon and lime juice to the mixture and continue to mix very thoroughly, approximately one more minute.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for 16 minutes, just until the filling has set.

Chill for at least an hour and a half. If topping with whipped cream, beat together 1 cup of heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar until soft peaks form.

Top cooled pie with whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

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In terms of pie, I really feel like I’ve found my “one”. It’s a perfect balance of flavors, and, honestly, one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made. Little baking, very little fuss, and only 6 ingredients! Sheesh, you probably already have most of the ingredients in your house!

I already took it to a July 4th BBQ and I can’t imagine that I won’t be making it several more times this summer. If you’re looking for a simple dessert to impress people, give it a try. And, if you do, let me know. I want to see if other people are as impressed with it as I am. Three cheers for summer desserts and easy living!

Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts

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Picture this: It’s the first week of summer vacation. I am a scrawny kid, probably 80 lbs., soaking wet, likely wearing uneven, homemade jean cut-off shorts and an oversized Marlboro shirt that my dad got when he bought a carton of cigarettes (don’t smoke!). More than likely barefoot and even more likely, eating Pop-Tarts. That was me, every summer, from approximately 1993 to 1998.

Alex and I stopped by my hometown on our way to and from a wedding in Cleveland on Memorial Day weekend, which was bringing up all kinds of warm feelings. On Memorial Day weekend, if I were 11 again, I would have been running around in my friends’ back yards, with all of the other neighbor kids, until the very last second before the sun went down. Then my dad would yell my name or, more likely, my nickname out the backdoor and it would be time to come in for the night. It was making me all nostalgic for childhood and, of course, Pop-Tarts.

For the most part, I try to lead a healthy life. I work out, I eat lots of vegetables, and yes, I make a lot of desserts for this blog, but for the most part, but I usually end up giving a lot of what I make away (after I taste it of course–quality control, you know). On top of that, I really try to avoid eating too many overly-processed foods now, which is a real struggle for me. Being a 90’s kid from small town Indiana means that I am, as my friend Kristina puts it, “90% Ecto Cooler and other preservatives.” For example, nowadays, I never buy Pop-Tarts, even though I love them so much.

Incidentally, the Pop-Tarts that we know and love may never have been. In early 1963, Kellogg’s competitor, the cereal company Post, had announced a plan to release a new breakfast item called Country Squares. However, Post was still months away from releasing their item, which allowed Kellogg to swoop in and develop their own version. In their attempt to best their competitor, Kellogg reached out to Keebler, the famous cookie makers, to create a quick breakfast that could be heated in the toaster.

Perhaps we owe our greatest debt to Bill Post, a plant manager at Keebler during this time who was tasked with creating a toastable treat. (Bill Post appears to have no relation to the Post corporation, but I’m looking into whether there’s a cereal gene in the Post family.) He tested out versions, originally called “fruit scones,” on his children and they were a hit. Pop-Tarts were first tested in markets in Cleveland at the end of 1963. People loved them and they were released to the general public in 1964. They were unfrosted at the time, and only came in four flavors: blueberry, apple-currant, brown sugar cinnamon, and (my personal favorite) strawberry. A few years later, after Bill Post convinced executives that there was a way to create a toaster-safe frosting, frosted versions were made available.

Though I might not buy Pop-Tarts anymore, my cravings for warm, frosted, strawberry goo-filled treats have not diminished. Especially in the summer. I don’t know what it is. So, I made my own version at home.

Strawberry Hand Pies

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Homemade Strawberry Hand Tarts
Makes about 10 2 1/2 x 4-inch tarts.

Ingredients:

For the crust (using this recipe):
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
9 tbsp (1 stick, plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1/4 cup-1/3 cup very cold water
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
Egg wash, optional:
1 egg
1 tsp water

For the filling:
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1-2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
1-2 tsp milk

Colored sugar or sprinkles, optional

Instructions:

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Briefly pulse to mix. Add cold, cubed butter and process again until small clumps form, about 5-7 seconds. Add in 1/4 cup of water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for an additional 5 seconds to combine. If the dough is still dry, add cold water one tablespoon at a time, not exceeding 1/2 cup.

On a well-floured surface, pour out the contents of the food processor. Gather the mixture, separate into two piles and form a disc out of each pile. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour, preferable overnight.

In a saucepan, combine strawberries, water, cornstarch, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is boiling. Boil for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat and continue to cook for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the pie dough. The pie crust should be quite thin, only about 1/8-inch thick, but you shouldn’t be able to see through the crust. You should be able to get about 10 rectangles from each disc, if you cut them 2 1/2 x 4-inches.

Place each rectangle on two large parchment paper-covered baking sheets. Spoon about one tablespoon of the cooled strawberry mixture into the middle of 10 of the rectangles. Place an empty rectangle over the top, carefully pressing down the edges. Then, seal the edges with the tines of a fork. Continue until all 10 tarts are filled. If using an egg wash, beat together one egg, with one teaspoon of water. Using the same fork, poke several holes into the top of each tart. Brush egg wash lightly on each tart.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning the baking sheet 180 degrees halfway through baking.

Remove from baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Mix together the powdered sugar, vanilla, salt, and milk in a small bowl. Spoon one teaspoon of glaze over each cooled tart. Sprinkle with colored sugar or sprinkles, if desired.

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No, they’re not healthy per se. They are basically made from butter and sugar, but I guess you’re replacing the high-fructose corn syrup? Pick your poison, I suppose. I also don’t feel bad about not buying Pop-Tarts because their sales have increased every year since they were introduced. There are plenty of latchkey kids out there, like I was, looking for an easy snack. Then those kids become adults and say, “No, I’m too good for Pop-Tarts, I’ll make my own.” But they’ll secretly have a moment of yearning, every time they walk by them at the grocery store. Or, so I’ve heard…

Sweet Cherry Pie

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“Do I watch too much TV?” part of myself often wonders. “No, TV is amazing,” says all the other parts of myself. And then I “Play next episode” until I, I don’t know… die? I know it’s not great for me, but there is just so much good TV to watch. For example, on Sunday, the new Twin Peaks premieres on Showtime and I couldn’t be more stoked. Last month, while Alex and I were visiting the Pacific Northwest, we visited several Twin Peaks sites, like a couple of tourists. We even got cherry pie at Twede’s Cafe, a.k.a. the Double R Diner. If you’ve ever seen the show, you know how much Agent Dale Cooper loves his snacks in general, but cherry pie in particular. Cherry pie and a “damn fine cup of coffee” served “black as midnight on a moonless night.” 

There are actually two other reasons I’m making cherry pie now. The first is, I’ve never made one and I really wanted to. I count it among my favorites, if not as my favorite pie. (Cherry anything for me, really.) Secondly, I recently found out that it was my grandpa’s favorite dessert. A few days ago, my grandpa would have turned 90 years old, but he passed away just over four years ago. Gruff, quite honestly, is the very best word to describe him. He and my grandma were the parents of three rowdy and mischievous boys, whose rowdiness and mischievousness never really subsided. He probably wasn’t the easiest man to have as a father, but he was a super grandpa. And he gave the best bear hugs. I actually don’t know if he ever realized he was bear-hugging. He was a burly man, so I assume that his default hugging mode was “bear.” Anyway, I like the idea of him having a favorite dessert. As much as I think about food and my grandparents, I unfortunately don’t often think of the things that gave them joy. I think of them along with terms like “stoic” and “hard-working”, but I wish I more often thought of them more in terms of “musician” and “cherry pie-lover.”

Anyway, for me, those were enough good reasons to make cherry pie (even though it’s not quite in season). So, then, it’s cherry pie.

Sweet Cherry Pie

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Sweet Cherry Pie
(Makes one 9-inch pie)

Ingredients for the crust:
Slight variation of this recipe.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
2 sticks (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
8-12 tablespoons ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

For egg wash:
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp sugar

Ingredients for the filling:
5 1/2 cups of sweet cherries (frozen or fresh; pitted)
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
5 tbsp corn starch
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and very cold

Instructions for the crust:

In a food processor, or large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add the cold, cubed butter and process for about 5 seconds. If not using a food processor, incorporate the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is pea sized.

Add in 8 tbsp. of ice water and apple cider vinegar. Pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp. of water at a time until the mixture holds shape when you pinch it together. Do not exceed 12 tbsp. of water.

Pour out onto a floured surface. Separate the dough into two equal parts. Gather one of the parts and form a disk shape. Wrap in plastic wrap. Repeat with the second portion.

Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to two days.

When the dough is ready, roll out on a well-floured surface until it’s large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie pan. Lay the dough across the pan, with the edges hanging off. Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate while you prepare the top crust.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the second disk of dough, making sure you roll your dough out to a diameter of 12 inches.

Using a pizza cutter or a knife, 5 zig-zag cutouts across the diameter of the dough, about 1-inch thick.

Place each line on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, cover with a dishtowel, and refrigerate until you’re ready to cover your pie.

Instructions for the filling:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

If using frozen cherries: Place into a colander over a large mixing bowl to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Discard the juice that is released from the thawed cherries.

In a large bowl, add the cherries, lemon juice, vinegar, and vanilla and stir to combine.

Add the cornstarch and combine well. There should be no streaks of cornstarch. Add the sugar and stir to combine.

Allow the mixture to sit for about 20-30 minutes.

If using frozen cherries, use a slotted spoon to add the cherries to the bottom half of the pie crust. Discard any leftover liquid. If using fresh cherries, pour entire mixture into the pie shell. Arrange the cubed butter over the cherries.

Arrange the zig-zag cutouts over the top of the cherries. Trim away all but about a 1/2-inch of the edge of the dough. Form a decorative edge.

Cover with a dishtowel and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Beat together the egg and milk. Using a pastry brush, paint egg wash on all exposed pie shell. Sprinkle the crust with 1 tbsp of sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. If the pie edges are browning too quickly, cover with a foil tent for the remaining baking time.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting and serving.

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As I said, we’re not fully into cherry season yet. I used frozen sweet cherries, because that’s what I had access to, but I came to the (expected) conclusion that I prefer a tart cherry pie. If you’re starting with tart cherries, you will certainly need to cut down the lemon juice and increase the sugar a bit. Sometime this summer, when I can fully take advantage of Chicago’s farmer’s markets, I will work on perfecting my tart cherry pie recipe. In the meantime, I think this sweet cherry would satisfy the quirkiest of agents, and the gruffest of grandpas.

Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie for Derby Day

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This is not a Cinco de Mayo recipe. I hope anyone reading can make it through this post since I know you all just want margs and tacos. Trust me, I get it. Especially the taco part. And I will be celebrating, but for a different reason. It’s actually a fairly special day for my fella and I. Back when we met in college, I suggested that my Biology project group (Alex included) go out for Cinco de Mayo. I had just recently turned 21 and was very interested in purchasing my first margarita (dumb college student stuff). However, the rest of group was not yet 21 (Alex included) and so they all declined. I guess the idea of quietly watching me drink a margarita as big as my head was not appealing to them. But later, I got a call from Alex asking if I still wanted to go out. I wasn’t sure where to go, so Alex picked a tiny place that he liked–that definitely did not have margaritas and only had a few taco choices, all served only with onion, cilantro, and a little slice of lime. It was the first time, outside of Biology class, that we had talked alone. And we had a great time! He told me about what it was like to grow up in Chicago. I told him about what it was like to grow up in what seemed to be the smallest town on the planet. And we became real friends. Not just Biology group friends. I also learned to love the simple deliciousness of tacos, served only with onion, cilantro, and a little slice of lime (and there you go, there’s my taco recipe). I forget until Cinco de Mayo rolls around every year and then I remember and my heart grows three sizes.

So there will be no fancy Cinco de Mayo recipes from me today. Instead, we’re cruising straight into the weekend, with a recipe for a celebration of a different kind: The Kentucky Derby. I present to you you the only dessert you should be eating tomorrow: Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie.

At first I wasn’t sure if I should post this recipe, which counts as my second chocolate pie post in a month. The first was Chocolate Perfection Pie for Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday. But then I thought, people really like chocolate and pie, so it’s probably fine.

It’s common practice for this pie to be served to mark the running of the Derby.  It’s also apparently common practice to prepare food a day before the race, so that you’re not cooking on Derby Day. Makes sense. I imagine forming pie crust edges is slightly more difficult with a few mint juleps under your belt. Those Kentuckians are just planning ahead.

Have you heard of this pie? Luckily, I didn’t make the mistake of calling it Derby Pie. And, technically, it’s not. The pie officially known as “Derby Pie” is made with walnuts, and the name is trademarked by the Kern family in Kentucky. It’s a somewhat fascinating story of how one family claims to be salvaging its own history by trademarking the name, while others claim that Derby Pie is a generic name for a chocolate-nut pie that has been around for years and does not belong to one particular recipe. That has not stopped the Kern family from suing websites and bakers who sell or provide recipes for “Derby Pie.” It has been called the “most litigious confection in America.” If you want to read more about the pie’s legal troubles, NPR did a story here.

Anyway, this is not Derby Pie, but it is full of semi-sweet chocolate, pecans, and just a little bourbon, for good measure. Alex described it at “Cookie Dough Pie.” That’s not far off, but that doesn’t begin to do it justice. After baking, the pecans become toasty, the chocolate chips melt to form a rich base, and the egg and cornstarch mixture develop a cookie crust on top.

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Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie for Derby Day
Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients:

For pie crust:
I used my favorite pie shell recipe, which can be found here.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 stick, plus 1 tbsp (9 tbsp) unsalted butter, cubed and very cold
3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup ice water

For pie filling:
I used Alice Colombo’s recipe, found in Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie.

2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tbsp bourbon
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

For topping, optional:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

For crust: In a food processor, add the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse for about 5 seconds to mix.

Add the cold butter cubes to the food processor and process for about 5 more seconds. You should still be able to see large pieces of butter.

Add the vinegar and 1/4 cup of cold water, then pulse for 5 more seconds. If the mixture is still quite dry, add 1 tbsp of cold water at a time, quickly pulsing between each addition. Don’t add more than a total of 1/2 cup of cold water.

Pour the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface, gather the mixture together into a ball, form into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate for at least an hour.

For the pie: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Once the dough is ready, roll it out to fit a 9-inch pie pan. Trim edges, fold under and form a decorative edge with your fingers or a fork.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs until they’re light and frothy. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mix the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the cornstarch sugar mixture to the egg mixture in three batches, mixing thoroughly in between each addition.

Add the bourbon and melted butter to the mixture and whisk to combine thoroughly.

Add in the chopped pecans and chocolate chips. Stir to combine.

Pour the entire mixture into the prepared pie shell.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pie 180 degrees in the oven halfway through baking.

Remove pie and allow to cool for an hour before serving.

In a small bowl, using a hand mixer, beat together the heavy cream, bourbon, and vanilla until peaks form. Top the pie pieces, as desired.

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This recipe was created by a former Assistant Food Editor for the Louisville Courier, named Alice Colombo. After some light snooping, I found that Ms. Colombo also wrote her own cookbook a few years ago, which includes recipes from her time at the Courier. If you like this recipe, it might be worth checking out others.

Now grab your big hat and make some pie!

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The Queen’s Chocolate Perfection Pie

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It’s good to be back in the saddle again. I took a brief break from the blog to have a lovely visit to the Pacific Northwest with Alex. We had such a good time, driving all over northwestern Washington, before spending our last few days exploring Seattle. Alex had a conference to attend in Seattle, so I had a lot of time to walk around alone and remember how to eat lunch by myself. I sincerely value the art of doing things by yourself, but it’s a skill, so it was nice to get some practice in. And we still got to spend loads of time together, walking 25,000 steps a day (not an exaggeration) and seeing the city. And luckily Spring had sprung in Chicago while we were gone, and we had warm-ish weather and flowers on the trees to greet us. But here I am, back to the blog I love the most. This time, I’m making pie!

Just last week, Alex asked which famous person I would be completely awed by if I met them. Without hesitation, I answered: Queen Elizabeth II. Of course! She’s more than famous. She’s walking, talking history! That gal has lived through so much. And not only that, she’s ruled through it. 2017 marks her 65th year on the throne!

My very serious confession is that I am 100% totally crazy about the Queen. I’m sure it’s not the most popular position to take, but that’s just how I feel. Of course I understand other folks’ mixed feelings about royalty in general. They can be stodgy and out of touch, they are an expense to the British people… but the Queen. She’s a fascinating figure and I love her. I admire her stoicism, dignity, and commitment to her role. It should also be noted that I owe a big part of my interest in genealogy to royalty. When I was a kid, before we had a computer (remember that?) I used to go through our encyclopedias making family trees of the British royals. (That may be the more serious confession right there.)

Today Queen Elizabeth turns 91 years-old, although her birthday won’t officially be celebrated until June (from what I understand, it’s because the weather is generally better then). But, in honor of this incredible lady’s actual day of birth, I made Chocolate Perfection Pie. A former chef to the Queen recently disclosed that this was her favorite dessert. The pie consists of, get this, a shortbread crust, followed by layers of cinnamon custard, chocolate sauce, cinnamon whipped topping, and chocolate-cinnamon whipped topping. I’m on board. And if it’s good enough for the Queen…

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The Queen’s Chocolate Perfection Pie
Very slightly adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients:
For the crust:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg yolk
1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling and toppings:
2 eggs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt

6 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup water
2 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Dark chocolate or white chocolate bar, optional

Instructions:

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a pie or tart pan and set aside.

In a large bowl or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add in very cold butter cubes. If using a food processor, process for about 5 seconds, until the butter is incorporated and is in small pea-sized pieces. If using a bowl, incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients, pinching between your fingers to achieve pea-sized pieces.

Add egg yolk, 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Process or mix by hand until combined. Pinch the dough in your hand. If it holds, it’s ready. If not, add more heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Do not exceed 1/2 cup of heavy cream.

Pour the crumbs into the tart or pie pan, and use your fingers to shape to the bottom and sides.

Line the interior of the crust with parchment paper, fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake on a cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and remove the pie weights and parchment paper. Poke holes all over the bottom of the pie crust with a fork. Return to the oven and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bottom of the pie crust begins to turn light brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool almost completely.

For the filling and toppings:
Make a double boiler, using a glass or metal mixing bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Whisking constantly, combine the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vinegar, and salt in the bowl. The mixture will begin to foam around the edges. Once this occurs, remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture becomes creamy and ribbons begin to form. Pour the mixture into the bottom of the crust and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the custard just sets and begins to rise. The surface should be firm to the touch, but not hard. Allow the custard to sink and cool slightly.

In a small saucepan, or in a glass bowl in the microwave, melt the semi-sweet chocolate. Add in 1/2 cup room temperature water and whisk until the water and melted chocolate are combined. Add one egg yolk, whisking in completely before adding the second yolk and whisk completely. Pour half of the mixture (about 1/2 cup) onto the custard in the pie shell. Do not discard the remaining syrup! Bake for about 5-8 minutes. Set on a cooling rack and allow to completely cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the whipping cream and cinnamon. Beat with a whisk or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Spread half of the mixture onto the chocolate layer.

Stir together the remaining whipped cream and chocolate syrup until fully combined. Add that layer on top of the cinnamon whipped cream layer.

Shave the dark chocolate or white chocolate bar and sprinkle the shavings over the top of the pie.

Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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The love of cinnamon-flavored, and particularly cinnamon-chocolate-flavored, desserts in the Limanowski household cannot be understated. Examples of that on this blog are here and here. We were more than happy to add another cinnamon-chocolate dish to the rotation and this one, just as its name says, is perfection. It might seem like a lot of steps, but it’s actually quite easy. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Long live the Queen!