Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Battle of the Pies

This is a picture of the Vanilla Pudding Mousse Pie. I'm sorry, but I didn't take one of the Milk Mousse Pie - it was gone too fast. It looked the same, though, except that the mousse was a pure, snowy white.

You don't know this about me, but I almost always manage to screw up easy things. I have no explanation for this. I did it with this cake, for example, which I salvaged by turning it into cake pops. I've also managed to ruin another supposedly easy Dorie Greenspan cake since, but I didn't blog about it (I was embarrassed). Funny enough, I've never failed when trying something complicated for the first time. This said, you might understand why I usually go for the more advanced recipes when baking. And sometimes, that tendency of mine makes my life more complicated than it needs to be.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I was asked to make this the other day. I brought back a box from New York last summer and my friends loved it.
Problem: They don't sell the stuff in this country. You can order it online, but it's way too expensive. Once again, it was do it yourself or forget about eating it again.
Second problem: I didn't have a recipe. And while there are tons of mousse recipes out there, I didn't find one for a milk mousse that didn't contain either chocolate or cream cheese, which I figured would be the kind of mousse I'd need. I initially figured I could just dissolve gelatin in milk, then add whipped cream. But then I began to doubt myself, thinking it just couldn't be that easy. There had to be some secret ingredient or at least some complicated step involved.
So instead, I picked this vanilla mousse recipe for my pie filling (scroll down). Since it involves tempering yolks and whisking vigorously, it seemed complicated enough to be bound to be a success. See where it says "pastry cream"? That's actually pudding. I didn't catch on to the fact that I was making pudding until it had happened.
So I ended up with pudding mousse pie. I didn't screw it up and it was very good, just not what I had been looking for.
I was a little disappointed as I went back to my room. I was also determined to master the no-bake pie. Fortunately, I had used my mini springform pan the first time around, because I hadn't been sure if I'd have enough mousse for a 9-inch pan. I had only used up half of the crumbs, so there was still enough left to give it another try
This time, I went with my very first instinct. Turns out it really was that easy. And how convenient to find out that the New York Times had published a recipe since I first started looking. I love the New York Times.

Pie Crust (makes enough for one 9-inch or two 6-inch springform pans):

- Line the springform pan(s) with parchment paper.

- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over low heat (butter should not separate).

- Add cookie crumbs.

- Mix until the crumbs are evenly moistened.

- Spoon mixture into prepared pan(s), press into pan with bottom of drinking glass or back of tablespoon.

- Refrigerate until needed.

- Then fill pie crust with mousse and refrigerate again until firm.

- To remove pie from the pan, run a knife under hot water, then wipe dry. Run it around the edges of the pie to loosen it, then remove springform ring. You can now carefully transfer the whole pie to a cake stand.

Vanilla Pudding Mousse Pie Filling (it's originally part of a French Yule Log recipe from Florilege Gourmand; I found it at Good Eats'n Sweets):

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 135 ml (1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon) 2 % milk
  • 215 ml (1 cup minus 2 Tablespoons) heavy cream*
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 80 g (6 Tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 4 g (2 sheets/4 teaspoons) fish gelatin
  • 25 g (3 Tablespoons) cornstarch, sifted
  • Another 240 ml (1 cup) whipping cream*

- Pour milk and 215 ml cream into a saucepan.

- Split vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds and add both the seeds and the vanilla bean to the pot as well.

- Bring the mixture to a boil, then take it off the heat, cover with a lid and let it infuse for at least 30 minutes. When the time is up, remove the vanilla bean.

- In a medium bowl, whip egg yolks and sugar until white, thick and fluffy.

- Add the sifted cornstarch while whisking to make sure there are no lumps.

- Whisking vigorously, gradually add some of the warm milk mixture to the eggs to temper them.

- Put the vanilla milk back on the stove (medium heat) and slowly add the egg mixture, whisking vigorously to keep it from curdling.

- Keep whisking until the mixture starts to thicken considerably.

- When the mixture starts to boil, leave it on for only 2 more minutes. Afterwards, keep whisking and remove from heat.

- Now either put your pot into a cold water bath, stirring very frequently to prevent a skin from forming, until the mixture has come to room temperature.

- Or cover the pastry cream by putting plastic wrap directly on its surface. This will also prevent a skin from forming. Let cool at room temperature. I'm impatient, so I used the former method.

- For gelatin sheets: Let soak in cold water, then melt in a saucepan with 1 teaspoon of water. For powdered gelatin: Sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of water, let it bloom, then melt as described above. Don't let the gelatin boil!

- Pour melted gelatin over pastry cream, stir very well.

- Whisk 240 ml whipping cream until stiff peaks form, then gradually add it to the cream. Fold it in carefully with a silicone spatula.

- Pour mousse into prepared pie crust and refrigerate until firm (at least 3 hours, preferably overnight).

*I have never understood the difference between heavy cream and whipping cream (is there even a difference?). We only have one kind of sweet cream in Germany that I know of, so that's what I used.

This is a very good pie filling. It tastes like a rich, milky vanilla pudding/custard and it has a similar creamy mouthfeel, but it's much much lighter (tastewise. I'm afraid it contains about a million calories). It doesn't produce the gunk in your throat that I often get from eating very creamy desserts. It's sweet, but not throat-searingly so. Very good. I wonder why I was so upset at first. However, it's a good thing I was, because otherwise I wouldn't have made Mousse Filling 2.0. Here's the recipe:

Milk Mousse Pie Filling (adapted from the NYT, June 17th, 2009); double the recipe for a 9-inch springform pan:

  • 240 ml (1 cup) milk, divided
  • 1.5 teaspoons powdered fish gelatin (sooo much better than agar-agar!); I would use 2 teaspoons next time, the mousse was a little on the soft side
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 240 ml (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
- Sprinkle gelatin over 120 ml (1/2 cup) milk.

- Scald the other 120 ml (1/2 cup) milk with salt and sugar.

- Whisk hot milk into cold milk until gelatin has dissolved.

- Chill until not quite set (about 1.5-2 hours).

- Whisk cream until stiff peaks form.

- Using a rubber/silicone spatula, fold cream into the milk jelly.

- Fill mousse into prepared pie crust and chill until set completely (preferably overnight).

This makes an extremely light, milky mousse. It isn't very sweet at all and there's no artificial taste to it, in fact, I think the taste can best be described as "pure". In combination with the pie crust, it basically tastes like deep chocolate cookies with a glass of cool milk - but more sophisticated.

We ended up with so much pie that we decided we'd have a big pie testing to determine which one was better. So I invited some friends over to be my jurors. I don't think I've ever witnessed a group of my friends fighting over dessert. Both pies were a huge success. And the final verdict? Undecided. Most of the guys preferred the pudding mousse pie, while most of the girls said they liked the milk mousse pie just a tad better, at least during the hot summer months. They also mentioned they'd like a strawberry coulis with it next time. I think that's an awesome idea.
It was decided I'd had to make both pies again. And more!
Oh, and btw, we all agreed that neither pie tasted like the boxed version. Personally, I think that's a good thing.

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