Suzi's Blog

Dick Taeuber’s Cordial Pie: A Banana and Blueberry Version

banana pie

Looks good? Well, it tastes better. There is a story to this pie, but first a summary. This a chiffon-style pie with a liqueur-infused gelatin base folded into slightly sweetened egg whites and unsweetened whipped cream. Alright, I strongly sweetened the egg whites and I could not resist putting more sugar and booze into the whipped cream, but that is beside the point. I used banana rum for the very delicate chiffon, then garnished it with both banana slices and sugar coated blueberries. Even Suzen liked it. She said it was too sweet, but …

In 1970 the wonderful Craig Claiborne published a reader’s recipe for Brandy Alexander pie. It became one of the most requested recipes from The Times — pre-internet. Other readers improvised and sent in many personalized versions. Dick Taeuber, a statistician from Maryland, went berserk, perfecting the recipe and suggesting twenty different liquor combinations: chocolate mint, brown velvet, raspberry alexander, Cheri Suisse, … His full list was published by Claiborne in 1975 in The Times and now appears in The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

I have tried many different liqueur combinations, and enjoyed them all. There are two changes or points of order to consider when making this pie. First, it calls for ½ cup of liqueur. That may have been appropriate for the 1970s but we are all so much more sophisticated now. Amanda Hesser, in Food 52, says there is “enough alcohol to raise the hair on your neck and then make your neck wobbly too.” So, I reduce the liqueur to ⅓ cup — not counting that dash in the whipped cream — and I’m thinking of going even lower. This pie can rock you or be subtle.

Second, the recipe requires using a package of gelatin, heating it with liquids, and then letting it cool. I have made some real mistakes here. Once I let it not just cool but entirely solidify in the refrigerator — I just forgot about it because it was the fourth quarter and the Jets were about to fumble again. Solidified gelatin is not an easy item to fold into egg whites. And then I tried an ice bath where it did not all solidify, just the part on the bottom — I was watching a TV trial where they let the murderer off.

Be careful with your gelatin. Don’t over chill. Don’t let it solidify. Don’t cook and watch TV at the same time. Do let this pie chill for hours or overnight.

Let your imagination run wild. Is there, on a top shelf, some liqueur you bought in a stupor and never wanted to look at again? Now’s the time!

Dick Taeuber’s Cordial Pie

Yield: 6 servings, enough for up to 6 people but more like 3

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups gingersnap crumbs or graham crackers
  • ¼ cup melted butter, [⅓ cup graham crackers]
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ½ [or less]cup total of liquors, Brandy, Crème de Cacao, …
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the crumbs with the butter. Form into a 9-inch pan and bake for 10 minutes. Cool.

Pour ½ cup cold water in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Add ⅓ cup sugar, salt and egg yolks. Stir to blend.

Place over low heat and stir until the gelatin dissolves and mixture thickens slightly (it won’t be as thick as a custard). Do not boil! Remove from heat.

Stir the liqueurs or liquor into the mixture. [For this banana version, I used banana rum that literally was sitting on the shelf.] Then chill until the mixture starts to mound slightly.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, then add the remaining sugar and beat until the peaks are firm. Fold the meringue into the thickened mixture.

Whip the cream, then fold into the mixture. [Remember, Brian sweetened the cream here and added a splash of liqueur, which could be the same liqueur as in the gelatin or something complementary.]

Turn the mixture into the crust. Decorate as you desire. Here we used bananas and blueberries, but you can leave it alone, dot with whipped cream, shaved chocolate, … Use what works with the liqueur you have added.

Chill for several hours or overnight.

Source: Food52.com, a haven for all foodies

Fruit Crisp with Spiced Pecan Topping

I went to graduate school studying applied mathematics, in particular optimization theory. At the time, some of the biggest users of the optimization techniques were the airlines. They were struggling with how to do scheduling, sizing of aircraft, and optimizing their selection of cities.

Been on a flight recently? That airline thingy did not work out too well. No, I did not work for the airlines. I worked for the Pentagon. That did not go too well either.

But, as a saving grace, working for Pentagon I learned about real world problems and real world data and real world statistics. The textbook stuff I used in graduate school was effectively worthless when confronted with data that had issues or “attitude.”

I had to retrain and to learn something called Robust Statistics, techniques for analyzing data where there is a lot of “noise” and error or just mess. If you think about the current data for the economy, it’s that sort of stuff. The robust techniques I learned allowed me to gain some insights when the input data was contaminated by screwy values, had missing values, or consisted of values that represented the best guess of some expert on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I met of few of those guys at the Pentagon.

That’s why I am in food.

Which brings me to this recipe. Did you have fruit crisp in grade school? I did. Every third Friday. As each school year began, I would like that crisp for a few times, but by springtime I was sick of it. Always the same flavor. Couldn’t that cook just once switch from blueberries? What she needed was a robust recipe, one where you could improvise with the fruit at hand. Glean flavors when the blueberries were out of season.

I present you with this delightfully robust recipe for fruit crisp. It even says to use whatever is in season. So, go ahead. Drift down the produce aisle or, better yet, hit your local farmers’ market. Pick the fruit up, test for ripeness, smell for sugar content and enjoy.

Back on August 9th, I posted a recipe for Lemon Ice Cream. You might consider pairing that ice cream with is crisp. It’s not a Top Secret combination. Just exceptional.

Fruit Crisp with Spiced-Pecan Topping

Servings: 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened; more for the pan
  • 3 ounces (⅔ cup) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • ⅔ cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 3 cups (about 1 lb.) blueberries, blackberries, strawberries or raspberries
  • 1 lb peaches, nectarines, plums or rhubarb (whatever is in season)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

 
Preparation:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly butter a 9-inch square metal or ceramic baking pan. Alternately small individual ramekins may be used.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and ⅛ teaspoon of the salt. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture readily clumps together when pressed. Mix in the pecans.

In a large bowl, toss the fruit. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar with the cornstarch, nutmeg, and the remaining ⅛ teaspoon salt and toss this mixture with the fruit.

Spread the fruit into the prepared baking pan. Pressing the streusel into small lumps, sprinkle it over the fruit. Bake until the fruit is bubbling in the center and the topping is crisp and well browned, about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool slightly and serve warm.

Source: Fine Cooking Magazine