by Sheila Connolly
When I was young, my mother used to make pies. She had a standard repertory that she rotated:
--chocolate cream pie
--chocolate chiffon pie
--lemon chiffon pie
--lemon meringue pie
At least, those are the ones I remember—there were probably a few apple and blueberry pies thrown in. I think I loved them all equally.
For some reason (could it be the evil influence of Mystery Lovers' Kitchen?) I've been collecting flours lately, and now I have over a dozen kinds (and a large bin to keep them in). The latest addition is hazelnut flour, which I saw in a store and had to have.
I brought it home and started looking for something to do with it. My first thought was to make a hazelnut cream pie, sort of an homage to my mother. But I couldn't find a recipe. I went through my mother's old stand-bys—Fannie Farmer, The Joy of Cooking—and I found the recipes she used, but no hazelnut. So, being a glutton for punishment (as well as for desserts), I decided to invent one.
It starts with a crumb crust (I've told you I'm pie-crust challenged, right?), a combination of vanilla wafers and ground hazelnuts.
1½ cups crumbs (I used equal amounts of vanilla wafers and hazelnuts, ground in a food processor)
½ cup confectioner's sugar
6 Tblsp melted butter
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and press into a baking tin (you may use a pie tin or a 9" springform pan). Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. (This is important if you're using a cream filling and don't want the crust to absorb all the liquid.)
Next, I wanted to add some complexity, so I thought a layer of chocolate ganache would go well, and would protect the crust from the custard filling. The chocolate-hazelnut combination works for the Nutella people, doesn't it? Heck, you could probably just slather on some Nutella, or any nice chocolate syrup. This is my daughter's recipe for ganache (she can't remember where she found it), and it's very easy. Just don't eat it all right out of the pan!
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tblsp salted butter
1 heaping cup chocolate chips (semisweet works well)
Heat the cream and butter together until bubbles appear (but don't let it boil!). Remove it from the heat and add the chocolate chips. Let it sit for a minute or two, and when the chips are gooey, start whisking it all together (this may take a bit). That's it! It will thicken to frosting consistency as it cools.
Hazelnut Cream Filling
Now the challenge: to create a hazelnut filling. The old cookbooks had recipes for chocolate, coffee, mocha, praline, caramel, butterscotch, banana, and coconut cream fillings, but I wanted hazelnut! So I began with the basic cream pie filling recipe from The Joy of Cooking.
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup flour
½ tsp salt
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 Tblsp butter
2 tsp hazelnut extract
In a double boiler over simmering water, combine the sugar, flour and salt. [Note: I wasn't sure that hazelnut flour would work as well as wheat flour as a thickener, so I went with the regular flour—the hazelnut flour remains merely an inspiration!]
Stir in the milk (room temperature) and continue stirring until the mixture thickens.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks, then add small amounts of the hot mixture (if you add the eggs directly to the hot milk in the pan, you risk ending up with scrambled eggs!), then transfer to the double boiler, stirring constantly. Cook until the mixture thickens even more (and the eggs are cooked).
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and your flavoring. The amount of hazelnut extract you need will depend on how strong it is, and how much you like hazelnuts (keep tastiing!). You could also substitute Frangelico liqueur.
Let it cool slightly, then pour it over the crust. Let the whole thing cool, then refrigerate (you want all the steam to escape before you refrigerate it).