Sunday, December 10, 2017

Chestnut Pie

Gardeners and tree farmers are all too familiar with blight, which is a disease than can kill flowers, vegetables and trees. Overall, I believe that the most destruction it has caused would be the extinction of chestnut trees in the US.

Before the blight took over, chestnut trees were quite plentiful here. They spanned from Maine to Georgia and the amount of trees were too many to count. Sadly, blight can kill a tree in about 5 days. The Christmas song lyrics of "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" no longer applies here in the US. That is, unless you go to the expense of having them shipped to you from another country in order to roast them.

In scanning my pantry, I did find a can of chestnut puree from France. It was an import I ordered previously. With the holidays coming up, I decided to put it to use and make a chestnut pie. This pie is much like a pecan pie, without the chunks of nuts. However, the filling is not as sweet and has a thicker consistency. Regarding flavor, it has the unmistakable earthy taste of chestnuts with a touch of orange.

Outside of crust preparation, the pie comes together easily and only has about 6 ingredients. The crust is not par-baked so you can prepare the dough days before rolling and forming.

If you like chestnuts, do not be discouraged by the fact the trees are extinct in the US. Seek out the chestnut puree on line or at specialty grocers this season. You will be glad you went to the extra trouble. As always, reading the whole recipe along with the tips prior to creating are helpful in order for your efforts to be successful.

Chestnut Pie
adapted from Mrs Rowe's Southern Pies
Ingredients/Pie Pastry
2 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup plus 2 tbs vegetable shortening
6 to 8 tbs milk
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 egg white (depending on form of pie edge)

Ingredients/Pie Filling
3 egg yolks
2 egg whites
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbs orange liqueur
1 tbs orange juice
1 1/2 cups sweetened chestnut puree ( about 1 pound)
ground nutmeg (optional for sprinkling)
sweetened whipped cream (optional for topping serving)

For the crust, start by whisking together the flour and the salt. Then add the shortening and use a pastry blender to cut and mix it in with the sifted ingredients. This will result in a dough that has several small, "pebble sized", clumps. At that point, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of the milk and blend by folding the dough over several times with the fork. Once the liquid is absorbed, continue with the process by adding one tablespoon of milk at a time. Test for consistency at 6 tablespoons, mixture should easily clump together leaving no dry crumbs behind.

Dust a flat surface and a rolling pin lightly with flour. Flatten the dough into a disk and roll out to 1/8 of an inch thick. It should be between 13 and 14 inches in diameter. Once rolled out, carefully roll dough around rolling pin. Then unroll over the top of a 9 inch the pie plate or dish. Lightly press the dough into the plate, smoothing out evenly.

If you are using the fold under and shape type of edge, trim the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang. If you intend to decorate edges with cut out dough, trim leaving only a 1/4 inch overhang.When adding decorative toppings to the edges with cut outs from the excess dough, be sure to brush top of dough edge in pan prior to placing the extra layer of the cut out dough on top. As you can see by the picture, the pie edge has layers of overlapping rectangles. This is the decorative edge that I created with the excess dough.

After you have formed the pie crust, mark the bottom with the tines of a fork to prevent bubbling up when baking. Then place in the refrigerator while you make the filling. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

The filling starts with 2 egg whites. Beat the whites until they are very stiff. Set aside. Using a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Then stir in the cream, orange liqueur and orange juice. Add the chestnut puree and sugar. Using a wooden spoon, blend the mixture together until it comes together, creating a thick batter. Lastly, carefully fold in the egg whites.

Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. Pour the filling in the prepared pie crust and smooth the surface until even. At this point you can opt to sprinkle the surface with some nutmeg, if you prefer. Place in oven and bake until center is set and a knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 hour on rack and then transfer to refrigerator for an additional hour to chill. Then it is ready to slice and serve. Feel free to top each serving with sweetened whipped cream.

Tips and Notes:
1. The original crust recipe was modified, so the above reflects a 1/4 increase in the amount of each pie crust ingredients. This gave me enough to do a nice edge on the crust. The original quantity did not roll out big enough to make a nice edge.

2. I used a stoneware pie dish instead of aluminum. The refrigeration time and the type of pan used added an extra 15 minutes to the baking time.

3. My decorative topping made the back crust too heavy and it collapsed upon serving. Next time I will just make a formed, fold over edge.

                                     **LAST YEAR:Oatmeal Raisin Sandwich Cookies*