Friday, April 6, 2012

Patience, grasshopper (pie)

Express Staff Writer

The first time I tried to make Easter dinner, it was a disaster. I was an overachieving 18-year-old who had never made anything for a large number of people other than my closest friends, so pulling together a holiday meal for eight people sent me into a bit of a tailspin.

Add in a few dietary restrictions, and what should have been a simple and traditional meal turned into a mish-mash of holiday standbys, overly ambitious dishes and a whole mess of nerves.

Among the nine guests that night, there were two who refused to eat ham on the grounds that it was too fatty. There were three vegetarians as well, but also three die-hard carnivores who insisted that Easter wasn't Easter without a sacrificial ham.

The ninth guest, my grandmother, was very concerned that she couldn't get to Buffalo's Broadway Market in time to get a butter lamb for the table—a traditional Polish butter sculpture of a lamb that is unceremoniously decapitated at Easter dinner to provide butter for the bread.

The menu ended up including a ham for the carnivores, a turkey breast for the heart-healthy, lemon risotto for the vegetarians and a side of green beans with almonds and a huge salad. During the meal, two of the vegetarians revealed that they weren't actually vegetarians and just had slightly discriminating tastes. Too bad, because the ham had dried out and I had messed up beans, turning them into a mushy green blob.

And the risotto, which I had labored on for more than an hour and was very proud of, was deemed "an acquired taste" by my grandmother—the implication being that she had not yet acquired that taste and did not particularly care to.

The only saving grace during that meal was the grasshopper pie. Named after the 1950's cocktail, I could eat this pie with a spoon out of the pie plate. It's just. That. Good.

It's the combination of the mint and mashed cookies that makes this pie superlative. Top it with a little chocolate syrup or shaved chocolate, and everyone will forget the rest of the meal—as my guests that Easter did.

There are essentially two ways to make this pie: with gelatin and a huge amount of whipping cream or with marshmallows and a huge amount of whipping cream. My mom made it with marshmallows, which is much quicker, but I like the complexity of making the liquor gelatin mixture first, then folding in the cream.

Whichever way you choose, it doesn't matter—the fundamental appeal of this pie rests in the incredible amount of booze involved. A commenter on the Gourmet comment boards observed that this pie is like a Jell-O shot in a crust, which should be enough to erase the memory of a disastrous meal from your guests' minds completely.

Grasshopper pie

Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook

For the crust

1 1/2 cups fine chocolate wafer crumbs (Nabisco wafers or Oreos will work)

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (from one 1/4 ounce packet)

1 1/3 cups very cold heavy cream

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup green crème de menthe

1/4 cup white crème de cacao

4 large egg yolks

In a large bowl, stir together the crumbs, sugar and melted butter until combined. Pat the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate. Put crust into the freezer to chill while you prepare the filling.

In a small metal bowl, or top part of a double-boiler, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/3 cup of the cream and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk in the sugar, crème de menthe, crème de cacao and yolks until well combined. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and cook, stirring constantly, until it registers 160F on a candy thermometer.

Immediately remove from heat and place in freezer. Check on this occasionally and stir to prevent gelatin from stiffening too much. Remove from freezer when confection is cooled and thickened slightly.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Fold in the crème de menthe combination until consistent in color. Pour filling into the crust and freeze until set. Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving.

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