Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chestnut Pie

The first time I ever drove to a decided destination for a specific reason was to deliver a slice of homemade chestnut pie to my grandmother. The look on her face was priceless when she saw me, and not my mother, in the driver’s seat. She congratulated me on learning to drive and I smiled abashedly. When you're sixteen, driving is kind of a big deal. It's the rite of turning sixteen, of growing up. This was the first time I'd driven somewhere (i.e. not in pointless circles practicing my right turn) and the chestnut pie seemed a worthy reason of such an occasion.

When I got home, I sat down and enjoyed a slice of pie myself. It was probably the most delicious pie I had ever tasted. Ever. Served with a pillow of  whipped sweetened cream and freshly grated nutmeg, you would think you'd died and went to heaven. I’m probably a little biased because I love chestnuts, but even my brothers liked the pie; the entire pie was gone within a day. Preparing chestnuts for the purpose of baking is no easy feat, but totally worth it. Chestnut puree freezes wonderfully and can be defrosted in the refrigerator overnight. 

But I'm the impatient type and I usually don't even bother with thawing the puree overnight. Such was the case the other day, when I unearthed a container of chestnut puree from the back of my basement freezer. What to make was a question that answered itself when my eyes fell on the frozen homemade pie crust which had also been sitting in my freezer. It was a match made in heaven and there was no way I was going to wait for the puree to defrost overnight; I set it in the microwave let the box do its thing.

Click below for the recipe. 

Chestnut Pie 
When making desserts, I always prefer to use fresh chestnut puree. The freshness is something you can taste in the end product and the packaged stuff just doesn’t measure up.

This recipe is actually adapted from my trusty pumpkin pie recipe. I added some freshly grated nutmeg to enhance the chestnut flavor. 

Pie Crust: Adapted from: BetterHomes and Gardens Anyone
  • 1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 5-6 tablespoons ice water 
  • 1 egg white

Chestnut Filling:
  • 1 ½ cups cooked unsweetened chestnut puree (preferably homemade*)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (a little goes a long way)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of half and half or heavy cream

Sweetened Whipped Cream:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • freshly grated nutmeg

Pie Crust:

In a large bowl, stir flour and salt together. Cut butter into flour until coarse crumbs form. 

In a small bowl, stir lemon juice with water.
Gradually add a few teaspoons of water to the flour-butter mixture at a time. Stir and push moistened pastry to side of bowl. Repeat until all flour is moistened. Form the pastry into a flattened ball and fold the dough over itself a few times. This will create more layers of butter and pastry and result in a flakier crust. Wrap, and chill for at least an hour. 

Place the sweet potatoes in another pie plate and preheat the oven to 425F. On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry to ¼ inch thick. Transfer to a 9-inch pie dish, and trim the dough about ½-inch larger than the pie plate. Fold the excess dough under and crimp in any style you want. I used my thumb, index finger, and middle finger to achieve the classic crimp. Prick bottom with a fork. Line with foil, and fill with pie weights (I used dried, uncooked beans).

Bake pie shell for 15 minutes. The trick is to make sure that your pie crust has set before removing the foil and weights. Once the outer edges of the crust appear opaque and cooked through, remove foil and weights, turn the heat down to 375F, and bake for another 15 minutes until golden. Right after the pie has come out of the oven, brush the surface with the egg white. The egg white will cook and seal the surface so that your pie crust doesn’t get soggy when the filling if poured in.

Chestnut Filling:
Preheat oven to 400F. Stir the sugar and chestnut puree together and add the nutmeg. Stir to combine and add the eggs. Mix thoroughly and add the cream. Stir once more and pour the filling into the pie shell.  

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and continue to bake for 40-50 minutes, until the center is set but still moves when the pie is shaken gently.  Check the pie after about 30 minutes. If the edges are browning too fast, cover the edges with foil.

Let the pie stand for at least two hours and top with sweetened whipped cream before serving. 

Sweetened Whipped Cream:
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the nutmeg. Beat until soft peaks form. Garnish with the freshly grated nutmeg.
*To make chestnut puree, you will need to roast the chestnuts first. Preheat the oven to 425F. Score a pound of chestnuts, using a sharp knife to cut an X into each chestnut. This part is important; the chestnuts might explode if you do not score them properly and they will be difficult to peel. Place the chestnuts on a large cookie sheet, the scored side facing up. Roast the chestnuts for about 25-30 minutes, until the skins burst open and the chestnut are golden brown. Let the chestnuts cool enough to handle and begin peeling them (while they are still warm). It will be quite difficult to peel the chestnut once they are cool. Place the chestnuts in a medium saucepan and pour in enough water to almost cover the chestnuts. Bring the chestnuts to a boil and turn the heat down. Simmer the chestnuts, covered, until tender, about twenty minutes. If there is not enough liquid in the pan, add more water. Let the chestnuts cool down a bit and pour the whole mixture into a blender. Puree until smooth, adding more water as needed.

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