What do you think about when you hear “chiffon pie”? I think of it as rather retro – a dessert not as popular as, say, in the 1950s. However, my recent experience making one convinced me that there should be a chiffon revival (pie, not the fabric, though I guess they could go together…).
For Canada Day, I wanted to incorporate red and white as well as use the strawberries, which had just started to ripen locally (late after a rainy spring). For reasons totally unrelated to these objectives, I was paging through intriguing cookbook, Kathy Casey’s Northwest Table. In this fine transnational cookbook, I stumbled upon the subject of this post and decided I had to make it.
While I collect cookbooks from all over and featuring a wide variety of cuisines, I am particularly interested in the region spanning what in the US is called the “northwest” and in Canada, it is called “coastal BC” or the “wet coast” or the “left coast”, depending on the seriousness of the speaker. (One time I actually had to explain to someone in the US why Canadians do not refer to Vancouver as being in the “northwest”; given that it is in the southwestern-most part of the country; the frame of reference simply does not work. I did point out that we should call Metro Vancouver the “southwest” and that would just confuse everybody, making them think about Georgia O’Keefe and Fritos Pie, rather than Emily Carr and Japa Dog.)
About a decade ago or so, there was a movement of people across the border, in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and maybe Alaska – although I do not believe that Sarah Palin was ever part of this effort – to create a region called “Cascadia” as a geo-eco-political realm. Of course, there is no such Cascadian entity, but I can just imagine its Nu-agey anthem, with Enya chanting “Cascadia” repeatedly, in her wispy way, in a heavily acoustic hypnotizing song.
However, there is one cookbook which unites much of the territory of Cascadia. Ms. Casey’s book features extraordinary photographs of the landscape as well as the dishes. She really is big on the local-locavore-field-to-table-sustainable thing, which works well out here, with the abundance of seafood, berries, fine wines, green pastures, and lush fields, made possible by all the rain.
There was too much rain and cool weather in British Columbia this spring, so the strawberries ripened later than usual. The strawberry season here is usually quite short, so I try to do something significant to mark the occasion of our smaller, more intense sweet berries – nowhere near the immense size of the California imports available year round (and generally with little flavour).
My comments about this recipe – and the other chiffon pie I had made once (a blood orange one) is that they are a bit time-consuming, both in preparation and chilling. Nonetheless, they are good for hot weather, as they have very minimal baking time just for a cookie crust, highlight seasonal fruit very well, and tend to be lighter than many cream pies (egg whites and gelatin help provide the body in the pie filling, in addition to a modest amount of whipped cream).
For a description of strawberry chiffon perfection – and the recipe…
As for adaptations, I substituted a chocolate wafer cookie crust for the vanilla wafer cookie crust, both for taste and appearance. The vanilla cookie counterpart would be tasty, too, but I prefer the rich chocolate cookie crunch as a counterpoint to the light, fluffy, and delicate strawberry interior – also black and pink were big together in the 1950s, so it is graphically appropriate, too, as a retro dessert.
Otherwise, I added fresh mint and black pepper, sort of as an homage to Christine Ferber’s strawberry jam which incorporates these two unexpected ingredients into the most delectable preserves around. The mint and pepper highlight the strawberries but do not stand out themselves – sort of like adding espresso powder in chocolate baked goods.
Ms. Casey calls it “pink and puffy”, but I think of it as “pink and puffy and perfect” strawberry chiffon pie. I bet you will agree.
Pink and Puffy and Perfect Strawberry Chiffon Pie, adapted from Kathy Casey’s Northwest Table
- 1 ½ cups very finely crushed chocolate wafer cookies (use food processor or put in plastic bag and crush with rolling pin)
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 pint fresh strawberries, stemmed and sliced
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- ½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- ½ cranberry or cranberry-raspberry
- 1/2 cup cranberry or cranberry-raspberry juice cocktail (NB: I used cranberry-pomegranate)
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 egg whites
- Sweetened whipped cream (add one half-teaspoon of vanilla extract, if you like, to boost the flavour)
- Fresh strawberries with stems, halved lengthwise
- To make the crust, preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.
- Thoroughly mix the cookie crumbs, butter, and sugar in a medium bowl.
- Put the mixture in a 9-inch pie pan and press evenly into the pan bottom, then up the sides and out onto the rim.
- Bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, then let cool to room temperature.
- To make the filling, combine the berries and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a food processor and just lightly pulse a couple of times to break up the berries-do not puree or chop fine, and add the black pepper and mint. (If you don’t have a food processor, use a potato masher or clean hands to do this.)
- Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes (no longer!) before continuing.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir the cranberry juice and gelatin together.
- Stir the mixture over low heat until the gelatin is just dissolved, then pour into a large bowl and set aside to let cool.
- Add the strawberry mixture to the cooled gelatin mixture.
- Refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is partially set-gloppy but not firm. (This takes about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on your refrigerator.)
- When the mixture is partially set, quickly whip the cream in a mixer until quite stiff and then refrigerate the cream while you whip the egg whites.
- In a clean, grease-free mixer bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form.
- Then very, very slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.
- Gently fold the egg whites into the strawberry mixture, then gradually and very gently fold in the cream.
- Working quickly, mound the filling in the cooled pie shell.
- Refrigerate the pie until the filling is firm, at least 3 hours.
- Garnish with sweetened whipped cream and halved strawberries.
Keep any leftover pie refrigerated for up to 2 days.