Butterscotch pie, always second fiddle, is a secret crowd pleaser


Recently, over wedges of homemade pie, my sisters shared that they love butterscotch. Turns out the nieces do too. Then, my father, a self-confessed chocoholic, capitulated. We spoke of butterscotch sundaes, candies, warm sauce, boxed pudding and restaurant desserts layered in fancy glasses. Mom mentioned Thanksgiving pie, and the deal was sealed. Butterscotch. Pie. Done.

Like all the chocolate cream pies in my life, this cream pie starts with a crumb crust. Easy, peasy, says the daughter. Instead of the expected graham-cracker crumbs, the crust uses the sweetly spiced Belgian cookies known as speculoos. Anyone enchanted with jars of cookie-butter spread will recognize the flavor of this classic cookie. The Biscoff brand sets the gold standard for a perfect balance of spice, sweetness and crunch, though the Trader Joe’s private label speculoos cookie works well here too. Make crumbs with a rolling pin, and the crust is nearly done.

The pudding part of the pie requires more patience than the crust. This soft-set filling sports deep butterscotch elements from browned butter and dark brown, mildly molasses-flavored sugar. The directions look intimidating, but I’m just offering guidelines for successful butter browning and smooth texture.

The pudding can be thickened like a traditional pudding with cornstarch. If you are avoiding corn-based products, substitute tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour). If minute tapioca is all that is available, you can pulverize it to a powder in a coffee grinder or spice mill.

Upgrade all your holiday baking by investing in pure vanilla. Pure vanilla bean paste makes your pudding look as if you’ve gone to the trouble of steeping and scraping the vanilla bean without the work or mess. To my mind, good vanilla proves essential to butterscotch.

Of course, you always can skip the cookie crust and serve the butterscotch pudding out of the bowl. Or, portion the pudding into small dessert dishes, let it set overnight in the refrigerator and garnish with whipped cream before serving.

Ginger sweet potato semifreddo

Sweet potatoes and a nondairy frozen dessert form the base of this vegan semifreddo. Garnish it with nuts and serve in slices after the big meal. (Michael Tercha / Chicago Tribune)

More often than not, we’re cooking for all types of eaters. That’s why I’m also including a vegan semifreddo, a super-chilled dessert made from swirled sweet potatoes and nondairy “ice cream.” It proves reminiscent of sweet potato pie and will delight all guests. Serve it sliced and garnished with candied nuts and a swirl of nondairy whipped topping.

This Thanksgiving we’re saying thanks to our fellow cooks and all our enthusiastic eaters.

RECIPES

BUTTERSCOTCH CREAM PIE WITH COOKIE CRUST

Prep: 45 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Chill: Overnight

Makes: 10 servings

Substitute shortbread cookies, chocolate wafers or about 2 cups of graham cracker or gingersnap crumbs for the spiced cookies, if desired.

Cookie crust:

1 box (7 ounces) cinnamon spiced Belgian cookies (speculoos or Biscoff)

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Brown butter butterscotch pudding:

2 1/2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup cornstarch (or 1/3 cup tapioca starch)

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large egg yolks

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

3/4 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

2 teaspoons pure vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

Whipped cream for garnish

1. For the crust, heat oven to 350 degrees. Have a shallow 9-inch pie plate ready.

2. Break the cookies into the food processor. Use on/off turns to crush them into fine crumbs. (Alternatively, put the cookies into a clean zippered plastic food bag, seal the bag and crush them into crumbs with a rolling pin or heavy can.) Transfer the crumbs to a bowl. Set aside 1 or 2 tablespoons of the crumbs for garnish.

3. Stir 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 5 tablespoons melted butter into remaining crumbs until mixture resembles wet sand. Press mixture over bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake until crust is set and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

4. For the pudding, put milk, cornstarch and salt into food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Add egg yolks and process to blend. Set aside.

5. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large, deep saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until butter bubbles and looks and smells toasted (but not burned). Whisk in 3/4 cup sugar, and keep whisking until mixture is smooth and homogenous. (You will see the melted butter pool around the sugar — just keep whisking.) Remove the pan from the heat. (Be careful, the sugar is very hot.)

6. Slowly and carefully whisk in cream until smooth. (It is normal for the sugar to seize into small, hard bits as the cream is added. If necessary, return the pan to low heat and continue whisking until the sugar has melted.)

7. Add about a cup of this hot butterscotch cream to egg mixture, and whisk to blend. (This tempers the yolks, so they do not curdle.) Return this egg yolk mixture to the remaining butterscotch cream in the pan. Set the pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking and whisking until smooth and thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and whisk in vanilla.

8. For smoother results, strain the pudding through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Then pour the strained pudding into the cooled and baked pie shell. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap or wax paper (this prevents a “pudding skin” from forming.) Refrigerate the pie overnight.

9. To garnish, pipe whipped cream around the edge of the cold pie and sprinkle with reserved cookie crumbs. Cut into wedges with a knife dipped in warm water. Serve cold.

GINGER AND SWEET POTATO SEMIFREDDO

Prep: 15 minutes

Freeze: 6 hours or overnight

Makes: 8 servings

This vegan dessert proves simpler to make than pie. It transports well too — use a cooler and ice packs. I like Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Organic Ginger Cookie Caramel Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert here. But other nondairy brands will work, in ginger, vanilla or pumpkin flavors.

1 can (29 ounces) cut sweet potatoes (or yams) in light syrup

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or cinnamon

1 pint non-dairy frozen dessert, softened

1 cup pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds or chopped candied pecans

Nondairy whipped topping for garnish

Pumpkin-spiced pumpkin seeds or candied pecans for garnish

1. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving some overhang on the sides.

2. Drain the sweet potatoes in a colander and rinse them briefly. Transfer potatoes to the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix until smooth. Beat in the cloves or cinnamon. Add the softened frozen dessert and blend just enough to combine the ingredients into a smooth, light-colored mixture. It’s attractive to see streaks of varying color, so you don’t need to mix too much. Gently stir in the pumpkin seeds.

3. Scrape the mixture into prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for 6 hours or overnight.

4. Use the plastic wrap to help lift the sweet potato loaf out of pan. Slice with a knife dipped in hot water. Place slices on chilled plates. Garnish with whipped topping and more seeds or nuts.


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