Celebrate Pi Day as Pie Day

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Little did we know we’d have snow Monday.

Somehow that makes pie day or Pi Day, depending on what you’d like to celebrate, a little cozier.

Pi Day is always March 14, as in 3-14 as in 3.14, the value of pi — you remember that, don’t you, from the way back when days of math classes?

The reason I am a journalist is because I can’t do math. Many journalists will say the same thing.

But I can make pie!

It’s not fresh fruit season — the blueberries in the grocery store are quite tart, and the apples are a little dry from being in the refrigerator.

And the pumpkins are gone, although you can still get sweet potatoes or butternut squash.

So in searching for recipes, I stumbled on two that are custard-based, and custard, to me, is one of the ultimate comfort foods.

In Fine Cooking’s 2018 Easter Guide, I found Ricotta and Rice Pie, which came from the cookbook “Sweetie Pies.”

It’s quite easy to make, and it produces a sweet, rich custard pie that would, indeed, make a good Easter dessert, especially if you’ll be serving a salty ham.

You can make your own crust, but I’m going to bet a lot of you rely on the premade crust, and that’s what I used. It came out perfectly, nice and flaky.  I don’t do pie crusts. They defeat me every time.

Another note — the baking time is 45-60 minutes. It needed the full 60 minutes for the pie to set. I used a 10-inch, deep dish pie plate, and the custard completely filled the crust. Be very careful putting it in the oven. At 45 minutes, the pie was still very liquid, and at 60, the outer rim was firm, but the center was still jiggling. Guessing it would firm up as it cooled, I took it out and it turned out perfectly. It’s delicious, but messy while still slightly warm. For a pretty pie slice, let it cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate for about 2 hours. Once chilled, it is not as sweet.

Ricotta and Rice Pie

1 refrigerated pie crust

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 3/4 cups ricotta cheese

1 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon rind

2 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup cooked white rice

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Place the refrigerated crust into the pie plate per the instructions on the box. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat until well blended. Beat in the sugar, then stir in the ricotta, lemon rind and juice until thoroughly incorporated. Add the cream and stir until smooth and creamy. Fold in the rice, then stir in the cinnamon. Pour the filling slowly into the unbaked crust. Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top is slightly browned, 45-60 minutes (see notes above).

Let cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate for 1-2 hours before slicing.

I might add a bit of nutmeg to the filling the next time I make it.

The other custard pie we made is an old favorite, from an old favorite. Who remembers Willard Scott? He was the weatherman on the “Today” show, the guy who wished 100-year-olds a happy birthday.

Well, Willard is cousin to one of my best friends from college, and she gave me his 1986 cookbook, “Willard Scott’s All-American Cookbook.”

And in there is one of my husband’s favorite recipes, The Peanut Butter Cream Pie.

It does take several steps, but it has always baked up perfectly, and it’s not an overwhelming flavor of peanut butter. My husband is also a wonderful meringue maker, so this pie really shows off his skills, and he enjoys making it.

The Peanut Butter Cream Pie

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 baked and cooled 9-inch pie crust

1 cup plus 4 Tbsp. granulated sugar

4 Tbsp. corn starch

1/4 tsp. salt

1 13-oz. can evaporated milk

4 large egg yolks, beaten

1 1/2 cups hot water

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

4 large egg whites

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rub peanut butter and confectioner’s sugar between your fingers until they are crumbly and well combined. Spread in bottom of pie shell. Mix together 1 cup of the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heavy saucepan. Whisk in the evaporated milk and egg yolks.

Place over medium heat and slowly whisk in the hot water. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens enough to stand a spoon in. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Pour the custard over the peanut butter mixture in the pie shell.

Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Then beat in the remaining sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and continue beating until stiff but not dry. Spread the meringue over the custard filling, making sure to bring it all the way out to the crust. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the meringue has browned.

I hear a rumor that spring might stop by North Carolina one day. Nothing says spring to me more than lemon desserts. I think it’s the light brightness of the citrus that is so appealing. Eggs are very springy, too, so that’s another good reason for one more custard pie recipe, this one from Taste of Home:

Mom’s Lemon Custard Pie

1 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. butter, softened

2 large eggs, separated

1 cup milk

3 Tbsp. all purpose flour

1/8 tsp. salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tsp. grated lemon zest

1 unbaked pie pastry (9 inches)

Whipped cream

Lemon slices

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until well blended. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk, flour and salt; mix well. Stir in lemon juice and zest; set aside. In a small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into lemon mixture.

Pour into pie shell. Bake 1 hour or until lightly browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Garnish with whipped cream and lemon slice, if desired. Store in the refrigerator.