I read recipes. I read recipes a lot. I don't often follow recipes, except for cakes and things that are more scientifically combined to get the right rise and/or crumb.
Pies tend to be more forgiving in nature. That's probably why I like them so much. Butter, flour and water for the dough that never fails me -- for that one I read Julia Childs' master recipes eons ago, modified it a bit, and then just stuck with it. Really! What is all the to-do about dough? It's pretty easy, and you never have enough no matter what kind it is! (And yes, I'm making a pun.) Then you just fill that crust with whatever looks good.
As I've rolled and rolled dough over the last few years, I happened upon a lovely group of fellow rollers on Facebook, an eclectic lot of folks from all across the nation -- all across Pie Nation, that is what they call this online pie parade where we post our latest creation, ask questions, post funny pie puns, and generally commune over the love of pie. It's a great place to discover new ideas. And it's always a reliable place to get a good cheer for your latest creation.

So when I posted a pic of my Chocolate Espresso and received too many requests for the recipe, how could I decline? As my new year's gift to Pie Nation, following is my recipe, as it currently exists. But also please know that I've already been modifying the recipe in my head ... it might not be the same next time. And Pie Nation folk, if you come up with some new twists on this, please do share!
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Recipe for Chocolate Espresso Pie


Dough:
Use your regular recipe. But to your flour add 1/4 cup cocoa and 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar. Now, instead of adding water, add cold coffee in whatever amount you'd use the water. (I drink a delicious French/Italian espresso mix. If you drink American coffee, then make a small pot of espresso and let it cool.)

Filling:
16 ounces mascarpone, at room temperature
2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups heavy cream
3 cups dark chocolate bits
1 tablespoon instant espresso
2 teaspoons vanilla

Roll out the dough and fit it into a pretty pan. I use a square one with a removable bottom, really a French tart tin. Blind bake the crust at 400-420 for about 20 minutes with pie weights. Remove the weights and bake for another 5 minutes or so. Let it cool.

While it's cooling, make the ganache. In a heavy saucepan, bring the heavy cream to just a good simmer, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. (Some people add a tablespoon or two of butter to make the ganache glossy, that's up to you.) Keep stirring until everything is dissolved and smooth. Let cool. Place in fridge for about an hour or two until it thickens but doesn't harden. Place in a decorating bag with a big star tip.

Mix the mascarpone and the cinnamon together. Then gently spread the cheese evenly in the cocoa-espresso crust.

Then start pushing out the ganache in about 1" or so plops (or whatever you want to call them) in as even rows as you can. I don't do very well with this, they always come out crooked, so I just go back and fill in the spaces with more plops of the ganache.

Sprinkle it with little silver balls and/or confectioner's sugar or whatever you can think of to make it even prettier!

Keep it in the fridge if you have to or serve it right away.

Now, isn't that easy?

 
 
I'm from Rhode Island. And when you're from RI, you don't drink plain milk. And though you might drink chocolate milk, it's not what you're weaned on. For Rhode Islanders like myself, it's the State's official drink that we love -- coffee milk!
No, it's not a cup of coffee with lots of milk.
It's a tall glass of milk with a good dose of coffee syrup -- just like you rest of the U.S. squeeze chocolate syrup into your milk, we Rhode Islanders add coffee syrup to ours. 
In fact, I always have a big half gallon of syrup in my fridge. And when I run low, I call my old sister Maria and ask her to bring some with her on her next visit via Amtrak. She always says the same thing. "You really want your poor old sister to lug that big thing on the train?" 
What a question! Absolutely!

So it seemed fitting when I recently received an email from a customer on the Upper East Side. The email was entitled "What do you think?" and all the email contained was a photo of a coffee cream pie. 
Of course, I would give it a shot.
In following emails, my customer explained that he and an old girlfriend some 40 years back used to enjoy their friend Peggy's coffee cream pie. Peggy now lives in Florida and doesn't bake anymore. However, my customer is still in touch with Peggy as well as many of his girlfriends from 40 years back. (He sounds like quite the dude!)

Now, being a Rhode Islander and being Italian with a love for a truly delicious espresso, I knew I wanted to try a combination of coffee syrup and Italian espresso. 
To my flaky pie dough I added some cocoa and espresso. Then I tackled the coffee cream. All pudding pies have to have a good dollop of fresh whipped cream on top, but I also happened to have some extra chocolate ganache on hand, so I made little dots of those on top of the whipped cream.

How does it look?

I'm pretty happy with it, but I am going to change the crust to a chocolate cookie crust. Stay tuned for round 2!


 
 
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My mother was the most elegant woman I have ever known. She would not like my referring to her as a woman, though, she was a lady through and through and she led quite a charmed life.

She met my father when she was 17 on her first trip to Europe – a high school graduation present from her uncle. It was 1932, not many 17-year-olds traveled to Europe in grand style in those days or in any style at all. My mother actually missed her high school graduation, leaving school early to “go abroad”.

When she was introduced to my father, a medical student at the University of Rome and an officer in the Italian Army, she was not swept off her feet, as she wasn’t fond of the way he combed his hair. I can’t imagine not being swept away by my father, for he was the most charming man I have ever known.

Three years later, he moved to America, settled in Providence, my mother’s home town, learned English while a resident at a local hospital. Once established, he courted my mother, asked her to marry him three separate times until she finally said yes when he kissed her. 

Theirs was a love from storybooks. They were devoted to each other and bore eleven children together. That was some kind of love! Oh yes, can you imagine! Eleven. I’m the only one of my siblings who never saw my mother pregnant. I am their youngest.

A few weeks ago a lovely lady from the Upper East Side called me to place a pie order for Thanksgiving. I was thrilled, it was my first order. She had seen my ad in MUG (Manhattan Users Guide), this online e-newsletter and called to order a pie. As we were chatting, she mentioned that Thanksgiving this year falls on November 24.

My heart stopped. I had to hold back the tears that suddenly welled in my eyes.

Today is my mother’s birthday, she would be 97 years old. And not a day goes by that I don’t miss her.

Every time I pick up my rolling pin I can feel my mother close. And with each round of dough I rolled this past month, I saw my mother sitting in the family kitchen at the long wooden table by the window. She wore that nutmeg brown cashmere polo sweater and a camel-color A-line cashmere skirt, her hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, the diamond earrings she always wore and high heels. She sat on a stool with her legs crossed and a crisp, fresh dish towel impeccably draped over her lap. In front of her on the table was her pie board with a handful of flour.

It’s an image that is crystal clear and always makes me smile and cry at the same time.

We kids would climb up on the table or on the nearby dishwasher and sit and talk to her while she made her pies and rolling out the dough with seemingly little effort. She was known for her ultra-thin, very flaky pies, amongst many other things.

When I roll my pie dough, I usually get some on my face and somewhere else. Not my mother. I’m not sure how she managed to do that, but she never had a spot of flour or anything else on her.

For Thanksgiving she would always make 2 apples and 2 mincemeats.

It wasn’t until my mother was in her 80s that I found out her favorite pie was pumpkin. Why don’t you make that, I asked her. Oh your father never liked pumpkin, she said. From then on, I’d make her a pumpkin pie for her birthday.

Over the last two days I must have made about 97 pumpkin pies sweetened with Vermont maple syrup and spiced with freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of ground cloves. In my heart I made each one of those for her.

Happy birthday, Mom.


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