french silk pie

I was reading this Thought Catalog piece titled something like ‘Signs your Friend is a Badass’, and you fit them all.

My phone chirped brightly, signaling a message from Roods. Having lived together for over half a year, it was disconcerting not having seen her for four so many days. The distance apart left us communicating via text and the occasional FaceTime chat – though mostly so I could help her remove the attachments on the stand mixer – and inciting looks of incredulity from my mother for our unanticipated bout of codependency.

I glanced at the screen and scoffed at her message before typing one of my own. “Did it mention getting into fights with pieces of wood and losing? Because if so then I can understand the sentiment.

A few seconds later, another chirp. “You have a BLACK EYE. That is SO badass.

I winced and absentmindedly reached a hand to brush at the cut near the corner of my eye. “That’s because I SLAMMED MY FACE into a kitchen cabinet, in case you’ve forgotten.” I pressed the ice pack gingerly against the still-bruising lid, feeling the coolness wash over the blinding stinging in a wave of relief.

Whatever. Still badass.

I snorted and tapped the screen off, stretching off the couch and slinking back toward the kitchen for the day’s third round of pain pills.

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The first few months of 2014 have rushed by in a blur, weeks measured in coffee cups and suitcases, packing and unpacking changes of clothes and willing the train to more quickly get me to the bus station or airport so as not to miss some mode of transportation or other. Flying out to Toronto for sushi and wedding-planning, reading books for work and even more for pleasure, shaking hands with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, finishing up with Arabic classes, watching Lorde belt her heart out four feet in front of me, meeting professors and students and generally trying to sort out my future. Weekends of alternating mental breakdowns, plane rides, snowstorms and dinner plans, trying to find myself somewhere among the disarray.

Most recently, I spent the weekend at home, spending a few much-missed hours with Noosh and my sister, catching up with my parents for the first time in what felt like ages, letting mum coddle me as I recovered from my inane and utterly self-inflicted injury from a moment of sheer idiocy while at a social event with aforementioned students on Friday.

(Needless to say, the entire ordeal has reaffirmed my commitment to hermitude for fear of further public embarrassment. Luckily, I don’t think anyone everyone noticed. I tried to diffuse the situation by sprinting to the restroom to mop away the blood that was dripping down the side of my face. I’m pretty sure I could’ve been a convincing stand-in for Game of Throne’s Red Wedding last season.)

Things I was not lying about: any of the above.

Things I was not lying about: any of the above.

Like myself, dad has recently gone gluten-free, having spent the past few months in quiet agony from stomach pains. Unlike myself, dad has actually stuck to this resolution, trading mum’s nightly rotis for rice and shunning his morning chai papay in favor of boiled eggs. (I, meanwhile, have eaten a panini, empanada, banana-chocolate chip muffin, and several cookies in the span of 8 hours. My stomach is not failing to make its disapproval unknown.)

Impromptu as my visit was – I certainly hadn’t planned to fly to Richmond after my weekend away, but mum’s alarmed expression at the state of my swollen-shut eye was as good a command as any – I decided to take advantage of my time home (and mum’s massive kitchen) to do some baking. Gluten-free biscotti for dad’s morning tea (a recipe that I plan to perfect over the coming weeks) and a distinctly not-gluten-free French silk pie for mum (who has gotten bored from her inability to indulge in gluten). I got to baking while they were both at work, prancing about from cabinet to cabinet with Carla Bruni serenading in her sexily husky voice from the computer speakers, stirring batters and cracking eggs and licking spatulas and whisks for the first time in weeks.

With the pie setting in the fridge and cookies cooling on racks stacked atop the counter, I busied myself by reorganizing bookshelves, indulging in some shoddy food photography with an iPhone camera, leafing through sheet music, and letting my fingers clumsily dance along the black and white keys of our old piano after months out of practice. I felt a deep sense of familiarity then, felt more like myself than I had since the start of the new year.

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I’m back in DC now, having returned earlier this evening and spent my night catching up with Roods over episodes of The Tudors and bags of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. (Gluten-free starts tomorrow, I always say.) I recall the moment I put my suitcase on the floor when I first walked into my bedroom and shrugged off my coat, breathing in the cold chill of our basement and letting out a long sigh I didn’t realize I was holding. I stood, unmoving, for a moment, reveling in the stillness of it all. Remembering the feel of the piano keys and the smell of cookies in the oven. Thinking about how lovely stillness can be.

(There’s something rather peaceful about a certain type of stillness. Not the silent stillness of loneliness, but the stillness of your own breath, of knowing how alive you are.)

The moment passed as soon as the sigh left me, but the stillness remained, and I welcomed it like an old friend.

“There is an hour of the afternoon when the plain is on the verge of saying something. It never says, or perhaps it says it infinitely, or perhaps we do not understand it, or we understand it and it is untranslatable as music.”

I’m hoping not to take another two months to update, but I’m certain that spring warmth will bring with it some renewed energy for baking. The black eye is quickly healing – faster than I expected, though I’ve always believed that music holds a special type of therapeutic quality about it that pills can hardly match – and looks more like a really lovely shade of purple eyeshadow rather than the not-badass bruising it really is. Back into the fray of foreign policy briefs and teaching tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to the routine.

And perhaps I’ll spend an afternoon at the National Gallery this weekend. After weeks of cities, large crowds, and bright lights, it’s been a while since I’ve sat still and admired the paintings.

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French Silk Pie
Yields one 9-inch pie

Ingredients:

  • 1 9-inch pie crust of choice, blind-baked
  • 4 oz semisweet chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp instant coffee (optional, but intensifies depth of flavor)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs, cold
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

Method:

Blind-bake pie crust as directed and set aside to cool.

Using the whisk attachment of your stand mixer, cream butter and 1 cup sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate, cocoa powder, instant coffee, and vanilla. Mix until blended and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and crack in one egg. Over the course of the next twenty minutes, add the additional three eggs, waiting a period of 5 minutes (whisking all the while) after each egg addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally to ensure that the filling is well-mixed.

Once the eggs have been added and filling is smooth and silky, pour it into the prebaked pie shell (any excess filling can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container). Refrigerate the pie for a minimum of two hours (preferably longer) for the filling to set.  In the meantime, using either your stand mixer or an immersion blender, prepare the whipped topping by whisking the cream with 2 tbsp sugar on high speed until fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Once pie is chilled, spread the whipped cream on top. Garnish with shaved chocolate or a light dusting of cocoa powder. Refrigerate until serving.

Notes:

  • My pie crust of choice is a shortbread crust, but any will do. I imagine a nutty, graham cracker crust would pair quite nicely.
  • It is the time in between cracking in the eggs – 5 minutes of whisking – that gives the filling its titular silkiness. Don’t embark on this endeavor unless you’re willing to spare some time for patience, but if you do, you will find the end result quite heavenly.
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