There is a certain time of year when nothing is more comforting than the smell of a pie in the oven and the warmth radiating from the hearth as it bakes.
This is not that time of year.
Oh, we still want dessert. But the thought of turning on a heat-producing device is more than we can take in Florida in August.
What we need are pies that are easily mixed, require little to no cooking and reach their optimum consistency in the cold environs of the refrigerator, or even the freezer.
We need icebox pies.
Fruit or chocolate. Cream or cheese. They can go in any direction.
The process is simple. It can be as easy as stirring pieces of your favorite candy bar into softened ice cream, then freezing the mixture in a store-bought graham cracker crust.
Or it can be a more involved, as with the Bittersweet Chocolate Mascarpone Pie with Warm Mocha Sauce featured here. The sauce and homemade crust give this pie sophisticated flair — but even they can be replaced with an off-the-shelf Oreo crust and a bottle of chocolate syrup.
Icebox pies are infinitely open to interpretation to match your mood or your pantry.
• Peanut butter pie sounds good, but all you have is Nutella? Or almond butter? That works.
• Can't find key limes, but lemons are on sale? Or better, ripe on your tree? Try them instead.
• Add a tablespoon or two of your favorite liqueur to bring an extra dimension to cream pies such as the featured Bittersweet Chocolate Mascarpone Pie. Kahlua, amaretto, Frangelico or creme de menthe work well.
• Add some candy to a creamy pie. Make this one for the kids: crushed cookies, chopped-up candy bars, malted milk balls, anything goes.
• Make a nice mocha sauce to dress up your pie. Or break out the squeeze bottle of chocolate syrup.
Serving an icebox pie can be tricky, especially outside. It doesn't take long for these desserts to become a puddle on the plate. Even the refrigerator pies benefit from a half-hour or so in the freezer just before serving. That will firm up the filling and give you cleaner slices.
The good news is that none of these pies takes much active prep time. The bad news is that they are best after sitting in cold storage for a few hours, so the most important ingredient could be patience.
Bittersweet Chocolate Mascarpone Pie with Warm Mocha Sauce
For the crust:
20 Oreo cookie sandwiches, filling removed
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 to 3 teaspoons milk
For the filling:
2 teaspoons instant coffee
1 tablespoon hot water
12 ounces mascarpone cheese
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
1⁄2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
For the mocha sauce, optional:
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the crust, preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a food processor, pulse cookies and cinnamon until cookies are a fine crumb. Place crumbs into a mixing bowl, add butter and mix until well incorporated. Add milk and continue to mix until the crumbs clump together.
Press crumbs into a pie pan, working up the sides and across the bottom until the pan is covered and thickness is uniform. Refrigerate 10 minutes.
Bake crust for 6 minutes at 325 degrees. Let cool on a wire rack and refrigerate 10 minutes before filling.
To make the filling, dissolve the instant coffee in the hot water. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir the mascarpone to soften. Add the coffee, chocolate and vanilla and stir gently until evenly blended. Hold at room temperature while making the whipped cream.
Beat the cream with an electric mixer until it holds soft peaks. Add confectioners' sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold 1⁄3 of the whipped cream into the chocolate-cheese mixture, then spoon into the crust. Top with remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight before serving.
To serve with warm mocha sauce, make the sauce by bringing cream, coffee and butter to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add chocolate chips and let the mixture sit 2 minutes. Add corn syrup and vanilla and whisk until smooth. The sauce will thicken as it cools and is best served slightly warm.
Source: Pie by Ken Haedrich (Harvard Common Press, 2004)
Frozen Peanut Butter Pie
1 2⁄3 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (about 8 1⁄2 cookie sheets)
7 tablespoons sugar, divided use
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 1⁄4 cups fat-free milk
2⁄3 cup reduced-fat crunchy peanut butter
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla
1⁄2 cup (4 ounces) fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 (8-ounce) container frozen fat-free whipped topping, thawed
3 tablespoons finely chopped salted, dry-roasted peanuts
1⁄4 cup shaved milk chocolate (about 1 ounce)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine crumbs, 3 tablespoons sugar and egg whites; toss with a fork until moist. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray. Prick crust with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; cool on a wire rack.
Combine milk and remaining sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly; transfer mixture to a bowl. Add peanut butter and vanilla, stirring with a whisk until combined. Cover and chill 30 minutes.
Place cream cheese in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add milk mixture, beating on low speed until combined. Fold in whipped topping; pour mixture into prepared pie crust. Freeze, uncovered, 8 hours or overnight, or until hard. Sprinkle with peanuts and shaved chocolate. Transfer pie to refrigerator 30 minutes before slicing.
Source: Cooking Light, August 2007
Mango Key Lime Icebox Pie
For the crust:
1 1⁄2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1⁄4 cup sugar
cup butter, melted
For the filling:
1 cup mango nectar
3⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup fresh key lime juice (about 12 to 14 limes)
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1⁄2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons grated lime rind
Key lime slices, thinly cut, optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, combine crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Mix well, then press into a 9-inch pie plate.
Bake for 7 minutes, or until crust just begins to brown. Take care not to overbake, or the crust will turn hard. Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare the filling, combine mango nectar, sugar, key lime juice, cornstarch and orange juice in a large saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Slowly add eggs, stirring well to combine.
Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat; stir in butter and grated lime rind. Spoon mango mixture into a bowl; place bowl in a large, ice-filled bowl for 10 minutes or until mango mixture comes to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Remove bowl from ice; spoon mango mixture into prepared crust. Cover and chill 8 hours or until firm.
Top each slice with whipped cream and garnish with lime slice if desired. Makes 8 servings.
Source: Adapted from Cooking Light, June 2002