For our Corned Beef Dinner I made a double batch of this Lemon Sponge Pie recipe, but instead of a standard pie crust, I made one with cocoa powder. Chocolate and lemon go nicely together, so I figured I was onto something with the flavor combination. The other nice feature is visual – the dark crust frames the golden yellow filling – it punches up the lemony yellow by providing contrast.
I made 2 tarts and 2 pies, and I should have just done 3 items. On one hand, I wanted to make sure there would be enough for everyone. (We were a total of 9 on Friday night – and 3 were children. I’m not sure WHY I expected us to go through that much dessert, but I just knew I didn’t want to run out. It would have been bad form, I suppose.)
I made the dough for the crust on Thursday. I’ll give you the measurements I used, but if you’ve got a favorite pie crust recipe, I would say you’re probably safe just adding some cocoa powder to the flour. I used a quarter cup of cocoa powder for a 2-crust pie recipe, and it worked out nicely. I like cocoa powder because you get a rich, chocolate flavor without any added sweetness. You might have a bit of sugar in your crust recipe, and odds are the filling is pretty sweet, too, so you don’t need any additional sweetness. Just the rich chocolate flavor is fine.
Enough babbling. Here’s the chocolate crust info:
Oh – the recipe I used this time was from The Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. Cook’s Illustrated approaches recipes from a test kitchen point of view. Very scientific in the way their cooks sort through all the possible ways to make something – like a pie crust – and explain what happened as they tried various proportions, cooking times, and processes. It’s a great magazine for people that like to know why. The book is a compilation of all of these experiments and explanations.
I have used their method for cooking roast beef (seared brown on the outside and the slow-cooked in a 200 degree oven – it’s sublime) and I’ve tried various recipes from Cook’s Illustrated over the years. I trust them.
So here’s the pie crust they have designated "The Best."
American Pie Dough for Fruit Pies
(For one double-crust 9 inch pie)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour,
plus extra for dusting dough and work surface
1 tsp salt
2 T sugar
12 T unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
8 T all-vegetable shortening, chilled
6-8 T ice water
(and for my chocolate crust – 1/4 cup cocoa powder)
And here’s what you do:
1. Mix flour, salt, and sugar (and cocoa powder) in food processor fitted with steel blade.
Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture, tossing to coat butter with a little of the flour. (Because I had doubled the recipe, I didn’t have room in my food processor to cut the butter in. So I put it all in my larger stand mixer.)
Cut butter into flour with five 1-second pulses. Add shortening and continue cutting in until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about four more 1-second pulses.
Okay, I need to interrupt here because at this point I stopped following the Best Recipe’s method. Their recipe says to pour the flour/butter mixture into a bowl and sprinkle the ice water on top, and use a rubber spatula and a folding motion to work the water into the flour without overworking it. I didn’t do that.
Also – with the cocoa powder in there, your flour isn’t going to be pale yellow. It’s going to be brown with flecks of white (shortening) and yellow (butter).
To continue – I added the ice water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, to the flour mixture.
Drizzle water, then pulse. Drizzle, pulse. It really didn’t take much water or many pulses to achieve a workable dough.
wrap in plastic,
and refrigerate at least half an hour before rolling it out.
Okay, now let’s say some time has passed. In my case, a day, as I made mine on Thursday and baked the pies/tarts on Friday (with help from my petite assistant, Julia). Before you mix up the filling, you need to roll out the dough and get it into your tart or pie crusts into their pans and back in the fridge so the dough can stay chilled. (If the dough is room temp when it goes into the oven, the already-warm fats will quickly and your crust will be kind of gummy beneath the filling.)
Take the dough out of the fridge and divide it in half if you’re making two pies/tarts, or in quarters if, like me, you’re making four.
Lightly flour your work surface and flatten one portion of dough slightly with your hands,
and then roll out your dough to the desired shape. (One of my tart pans was rectangular, the other one and the two pie plates were round.) Use flour sparingly to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface or the rolling pin, and turn the dough in between rolls to keep the thickness and the shape uniform.
I rolled my dough out to about a quarter inch thickness or so. The dough is rather fragile, so once you’ve got it the right size and shape, you can roll the dough back onto the rolling pin
and then unroll onto your pan.
Gently fit the dough down into the inner corners. If it’s a tart pan, trim off the excess right along the edge of the pan…
and if it’s a pie pan, trim the dough to a uniform length of excess along the edge of the pan. Tuck the dough edge under and press together. Crimp the edges with your knuckles or fingers…or press down with the tines of a fork. Whatever makes you happy. I like to practice my crimping.
My assistant thinks my crimping still needs some more practice.
Okay – now get those pans back in the fridge and make the filling….
I’ve posted the recipe for Lemon Sponge Pie before, but what the heck – it’s worth repeating.
My mom got this recipe from a friend years and years ago, and for a while it became my birthday cake – because although I like to decorate them, I don’t really like to eat them all that much.
Here’s what you need: (keep in mind that in all the pictures, you’ll be seeing a doubled version of this recipe)
3 T unsalted butter
1 1/4 C sugar
4 eggs, separated
3 T flour
a dash of salt
1 1/4 C milk
Grated rind of two lemons
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
And here’s what you do with it:
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in the egg yolks,
flour, salt, milk, lemon peel and juice. Set aside.
In separate, VERY CLEAN, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff
but not dried out.
Fold the meringue
the lemon mixture
and pour into your pie shells.
Bake at 375 for 15 minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake until golden on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This will be about 45 minutes or so, depending on your oven.
Let cool on a rack, and then put it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
A little story for you from last night. We served up the lemon sponge tart with some fresh whipped cream (a half pint of heavy cream whipped with about a teaspoon of vanilla and two tablespoons of sugar), and someone said it was delicious, or very good, or something along those lines.
And Julia, without looking up from her plate, said "Thank you very much."
"I made it all by myself," she added.