SMS: Chocolate Pie Crust – Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie with Pralined Peanuts

To my fellow SMS bakers: Please allow me to apologize profusely that I am presenting this post late. Unfortunately, I have been struggling with my health, and while I’ve been trying very hard to keep up with this fabulous group, it has been difficult for me to complete all the assignments by the specified deadlines. This is absolutely not a reflection of my commitment or desire to continue, as I am honored to be a part of Sweet Melissa Sundays and you all mean so much to me. Baking and blogging with you fabulous ladies has been an invaluable refuge for me, and pushing myself to get back in the kitchen has truly been therapeutic and in a way, very healing. I hope you all understand, and will bare with me a bit- I will do the best I can to participate, and share my results as soon as possible! And now, on to the latest assignment… Chocolate Pie Crust with the filling of your choice!

Julia Child said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” I think part of the reason I am so passionate about baking, is because it is such a tremendous outlet for artistic expression. Whether you’re developing a harmony of flavors by playing with the combination of ingredients, adapting a recipe to make it your own, or executing your vision for a beautiful presentation, baking provides limitless opportunities to evoke inner creativity. Once the basic techniques are mastered and the kitchen becomes a comfortable domain, the imagination is free to run wild, and the plate transforms into a canvas for works of stunning originality. I attribute much of my culinary creativity to the constant inspiration I receive from my bountiful batch of blogging buddies, whose talent shines through in all the beautiful, mouth-watering treats featured on their sites. So imagine my excitement to discover we’d be tackling the very first SMS selection that encouraged each baker to utilize an additional recipe of their choice from a source outside our common cookbook. We were all to bake the same Chocolate Pie Crust, but as for the filling, we were given carte blanch. As much as I was looking forward to some extra brainstorming and recipe research (one of my favorite pass times), I was even more delighted by the prospect of making the internet rounds to explore the mélange of magnificent pies, each one filled to the brim with passion and creativity.

In most cases, I probably would have spent hours pouring over my collection of cookbooks, browsing my favorite websites, and flipping through my binder of “must-tries,” but this time around, I immediately knew exactly what direction I wanted to go in. I’ve had a certain pie waiting patiently in my mind’s recipe queue, just calling for the perfect occasion to be made. And it was time for this pie’s debut. May I present to you, Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie with a Chocolate Pie Crust and Pralined Peanuts. I know, it’s a (delectable) mouth full. I’ll admit, there are multiple components, which require various steps and a wee bit of time, but the overall process is really manageable and relatively simplistic. And I promise- this one is SO worth the effort.

I started from the ground (or pie plate) up, first making the pie dough. Reminiscent of Pate Brisee- a French short crust pastry dough made from a mixture of flour, a little sugar, salt, fat (butter and/or shortening), and ice water- this dough also contained a good amount of dutch-processed cocoa powder, lending it a distinct chocolatey flavor. Thankfully, I’ve made a few pie crusts in my day and am familiar with the process, so I was confident enough to alter the mixing method called for in the book. I opted to use my handy dandy food processor rather than a pastry blender and brute strength (…it’s in short supply around here!), and it came together beautifully. I’ve found that the two keys to a tender, flakey pie crust are: 1. Keep it COLD and 2. Don’t overmix. Starting with super cold ingredients and ensuring the dough remains thoroughly chilled until the moment it hits the heat of the oven will produce consistently scrumptious results. It is important not to break down the butter too much- when those little flecks of butter in the dough are introduced to heat, they melt, creating tiny pockets in the flour that surround it- the steam that escapes from the butter’s water content lifts these pockets, producing the flakiness we’re all after. Remember, if you can see those flecks, you will have flakes! I like my butter to be frozen when I mix it into my flour, and I try to make quick work of rolling/handling- both help to retain the bits of butter of in the dough. And of course, mix just until the ingredients come together to avoid the pitfalls of a tough, chewy dough (over-developed gluten is never a good thing!) Some say that the food processor makes it easier to accidentally overwork the dough- to prove them wrong, only use it to mix the dry ingredients and cut in the fat. Then, fold the water in by hand and stop as soon as it holds together. An extra tip for this particular dough- instead of rolling it out on a lightly floured surface, why not dust the counter (covered with parchment paper for easy clean-up) with cocoa powder? Works like a charm!

Next came the filling, a succulent contrast of silky smooth dark chocolate ganache and fluffy peanut butter mousse. The ganache is an extra punch of chocolate, playing off the cocoa in the crust, and deepening the flavor. I used a combination of bittersweet and semisweet chocolate- in retrospect (keeping in mind my tasters’ preferences) I would have gone heavier on the semisweet, simply to please my Mom’s delicate palate. But even the dark chocolate hater could not deny the luscious texture this rich layer provides. As for the peanut butter mousse, it is moist and light, yet offers a strong, prominent nutty flavor. When preparing the mousse, take care when folding in the whipped cream and you’ll be rewarded with a nice and airy layer. The first third of your cream can be mixed in a little more vigorously to lighten the peanut butter mixture, but the majority should be folded as gently as possible. It might take a few turns around the bowl before those white streaks disappear, but unless you want dense mousse, stick with it!

To push the presentation over the top, I went a little “nuts” with the garnishes. I thought I needed to add another textural element to my pie- a crunch was definitely in order. I remembered a recipe in David Lebovitz’s outstanding compendium of all things ice cream, The Perfect Scoop, for Pralined Almonds (which I, of course, adapted to peanuts). Having conquered my fear of caramel, these glossy candied nuts were a cinch to pull together, and were made and cooled in the time it took for my pie to chill. Surprisingly, these little gems seemed to steal the show, and were arguably my Dad’s favorite part of the whole shebang. (I caught him making extra trips into the kitchen, sneaking nuts off the baking sheet, and later out of the bag, for the rest of the day.) On his day-two slice, he even sprinkled a few extra on top. On David Lebovitz’s blog, he suggests serving these addictive nuts as an appetizer, and I’m sure they’d be the hit of the party.

With a few finishing touches of a chocolate drizzle and some sweetened whipped cream rosettes, the presentation of this pie is certainly impressive, and I had so much fun dressing it up. When all the elements came together, I was really proud of the finished dessert, and was very pleased by the positive reaction I received from my tasters. I’d definitely place this pie in the “decadent” category, but for a special occasion (especially if you have a chocolate-peanut butter lover in your life), it is fantastic choice that I highly recommend. Keep this one in mind, and before you know it, the ideal opportunity will arise to give it a try. I only wish I had made it sooner!

A big thank you to Donna of L’Amour de Tarte for her bold choice- head over to her website for the Chocolate Pie Crust recipe. Also, check out the SMS blogroll to see what everyone else came up with- I know I’ll be inspired by the plethora of creative ideas! You’ll find all the yummy recipes I went with below:

Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie
Bon Appétit | August 2006 via Epicurious.com

Ingredients:

* 1 1/3 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips (about 8 ounces)
* 2/3 cup plus 1 3/4 cups chilled whipping cream, divided
* 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
* 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

* 6 ounces (1 cup) peanut butter chips
* 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned style or freshly ground)

Directions:

Combine chocolate chips, 2/3 cup cream, corn syrup, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium heat until chocolate softens, about 3 minutes. Whisk until melted and smooth. Spread chocolate mixture over bottom of crust. Freeze 10 minutes.

Microwave peanut butter chips and 3/4 cup cream in large microwave-safe bowl on medium heat at 15-second intervals just until chips soften, stirring often. Whisk in peanut butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Cool to barely lukewarm. Beat remaining 1 cup cream and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl until very thick but not yet holding peaks; fold into peanut butter mixture in 3 additions. Spoon mousse over chocolate layer. Chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Pralined Peanuts
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Ingredients:

1/4 cup (60 ml) water
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1 cup (135 g) whole raw peanuts, unsalted
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt, preferably fleur de sel

Directions:

Mix the water, sugar, and peanuts in a large, heavy-duty skillet. Put the pan over medium high heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid boils.

Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring for just a few minutes, until the liquid crystallizes and becomes sandy. Very soon the crystals of sugar on the bottom of the pan will begin to liquefy. Stir the dark syrup at the bottom of the pan over the nuts to coat them. Continue to stir the nuts and scrape the syrup over them until the peanuts are glazed and become a bit glossy and shiny. (Sometimes I remove the pan from the heat while they’re cooking to better control the glazing, so they don’t get burned.) Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the peanuts with the salt. Tip them onto an ungreased baking sheet (I lined with parchment paper) and allow them to cool completely. As they cool, break up any clusters that are stuck together.

Storage: Pralined peanuts can be stored for up to 1 week in an airtight container at room temperature.

The Cake Slice Bakers: White Chocolate Cake + a bonus cupcake!

When I woke up this morning, I peered out my window to discover a world swathed in a blanket of pristine, glistening, pure white snow. Few seasonal panoramas can compare to the beauty of fluffy flakes falling delicately upon unadorned tree branches and layers of freshly collected, bright winter ground cover. It seems only appropriate that the treat I bring you today is in keeping with mother nature’s color palette- a decadent, luscious yet light White Chocolate Layer Cake, this month’s assignment for The Cake Slice Bakers. I’m so glad to be back in action, baking with my fellow blogging buddies, who I’ve missed dearly during my recent absence from Hot Oven, Warm Heart. I can’t wait to catch up and see how everyone dolled up their latest cake. For my own creative spin, I decided to utilize some leftover whipped white chocolate mousse as a filling, and according to my tasters, that element was the perfect addition to an already delicious confection. (You’ll find the recipe below.) Unique and refined with a subtle flavor profile, this elegant cake would be a lovely dessert to grace your holiday table. I guarantee it will disappear well before the snow!

Made of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, vanilla, and lecithin, white chocolate is technically not considered chocolate at all, due to its lack of chocolate liquor. It first appeared in Switzerland in the 1930’s, invented by the Nestle Corporation as a way to use up excess cocoa butter, and was later popularized in America with the distribution of Nestle’s Alpine White Chocolate Bar. To select a good quality white chocolate, make sure it contains cocoa butter rather than the substandard brands made with hydrogenated vegetable fat. The inferior preparations might be less expensive, but they also lack the cocoa butter’s characteristic rich, creamy flavor. The tell tale difference between the two is in the color- true white chocolate has a deeper ivory hue, in contrast to the bright white shade of the imitation variety. When working with white chocolate, a good tip is to treat it with care and always melt it over low heat, which will help prevent the common problems of scorching and seizing.

This month’s Cake Slice Baker’s selection features white chocolate in each of the cake’s components: a healthy dose in the batter, more mixed into the cream cheese frosting, and in my case, a little extra in the improvised mousse filling. Instead of baking in the recommended 9” pans, I decided it was the ideal opportunity to break out my adorable new 6” rounds and give a miniature sized version a go. Of course, I called upon my super knowledgeable friend Steph of the famed A Whisk and A Spoon, who has graciously acted as my personal source for any and all baking 911 needs, and she shared her always reliable tips and tricks. I learned that you can pretty much take any standard 9” cake recipe, and successfully cut it in half to produce an irresistible 6-incher, perfect for a small gathering or in my case, just two grateful tasters. Steph pointed out that the key with such recipe modifications is in the baking time. It can vary greatly from the larger version (she recommends checking about 10 minutes early) OR be nearly identical. That was the case with my mini white chocolate cakes, which were ready to come out of the oven at 27 minutes (right in line with the 25-30 minutes suggested in the recipe instructions.) To test for doneness- I recommend adhering to the instructions- the cakes are ready when golden brown, spring back when touched gently in the center, and are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans. I guess I should have headed the warning mentioned in the book’s Baking 101 section that said checking a cake too soon with a toothpick can cause it to collapse. Whoops! That’ll teach me to be overzealous! But the slight imperfection of a thin concave marking was easily hidden with mousse and frosting, and the cake was none the worse for ware. As with every baking experience, I learned for next time.

And I can’t forget about the bonus cupcake I promised you- it is most definitely a keeper! When my aunt requested something chocolate for her 60th birthday celebration, I knew immediately I had just the thing. By revamping my most-well received cake (of all time!) into cupcake form, I created a batch of knock-your-socks off Super Fluffy Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mousse Filling and Fudgy Milk Chocolate Frosting. If the name is any indication- they were a hit! I feel privileged to share this very thoughtful and incredibly kind comment my dear cousin Sheila left on Hot Oven, Warm Heart after the party (It ended up on the “About” page, since I hadn’t posted yet about these yummy morsels. I’m glad to put it in it’s rightful home! Thanks so much Sheil, your words mean the world to me- I love you!)

“Wow is all we can say about the wonderful chocolate cupcake filled with delicious white chocolate mousse! A work of art, but more than that, an explosion of flavors in our mouths. You are truely an artist. Would love to have Gourmet Magazine taste these. Hmmmmm yes indeed. If we still had our restaurant, you would be our baker. Thank you and keep baking, and of course we will be your tasters.
Sheila & Rip
the former Amontea’s Restaurant
YUM”

Here are the recipes I used, which I highly recommend you try!

Ina Garten’s “Beatty’s Chocolate Cake” recipe
*This recipe makes exactly 2 dozen cupcakes- I’ve baked them this way twice, and both times they took 22 minutes (a toothpick should come out with no crumbs attached- don’t worry, they shouldn’t collapse!). It’s most definitely my go-to chocolate cake recipe, and has never let me down!

White Chocolate Mousse
from Sky High: Irresistible Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne

Ingredients:
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg white
1 tbsp sugar

Directions:
Melt the white chocolate with ¼ cup cream in a double boiler. Whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and let the white chocolate cream cool to room temperature.

When it has cooled, beat the remaining ¾ cup cream until soft peaks form. In a clean bowl whip the egg white with the sugar until fairly stiff peaks form.

Fold the beaten egg white into the white chocolate cream, then fold in the whipped cream until blended. Be sure not to over mix.

*I only used half of this recipe to fill the cupcakes, but if you have any left over, don’t let it go to waste! Before I had my light bulb moment when I thought to put the rest in my White Chocolate Cake, I planned on making these Whoopie Pies– which will still be on my list!

Cook’s Illustrated’s Foolproof Chocolate Frosting
as seen on America’s Test Kitchen

Note: This frosting may be made with milk, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate. (*For these cupcakes, I prefer a frosting made with milk chocolate.) Cool the chocolate to between 85 and 100 degrees before adding it to the butter mixture. The frosting can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, refrigerate the frosting, covered, and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

Makes 3 cups to frost one 9-inch 2-layer cake (or about 2 dozen cupcakes)

Ingredients:
20 tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , softened (60 to 65 degrees)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (4 ounces)
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
Pinch table salt
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces milk chocolate , melted and cooled slightly (see note)

Directions:
In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Frosting can be used immediately or held (see note).

If those cupcakes don’t put a smile on your face, take a look at my baby in her holiday best! Much love to you all and warmest wishes for a glorious holiday season!