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A pie that does the impossible

Published Oct. 12, 2005

Amazing. Mysterious. It could be none other than Impossible Pie, one of the most successful corporate recipe projects in U.S. food-marketing history.

Versions of Impossible Pie were also named Mystery Pie or Amazing Coconut Pie. By any name, though, Americans took to the easy recipe that is adaptable for making both sweet dessert pies and savory meat, vegetable or cheese pies.

Back when quiche was trendy, the Impossible Pie formula called for ingredients similar to those for quiche yet eliminated the need to make a separate pie-pastry crust.

The "impossibility" of the so-named pies comes into play during baking, when a "crust" magically forms on the bottom. That crust generally consists of flour and shortening, or biscuit mix, sinking through the other ingredients.

Not one but two huge food corporations benefited by popularizing the simple recipe formula for the Impossible Pie mixtures: the two big "Generals."

One was the Minneapolis-based General Mills, home of the mythical Betty Crocker and maker of Bisquick all-purpose baking mix. The other was General Foods of White Plains, N.Y., marketer of Angel Flake processed coconut, now a double giant known as Kraft General Foods.

In its sweet guise as Amazing Coconut Pie, the recipe helped sell lots of coconut. In sweet or savory versions, Impossible Pie recipes have sold lots of Bisquick.

The real mystery: From where did this recipe idea come?

We know the two Generals took a basic formula and then developed variations to showcase their respective products.

Lisa Van Riper, spokeswoman for Kraft General Foods, said the company's well-advertised recipe for Amazing Coconut Pie "was developed as a result of a creative adaptation of the Bisquick Impossible Pies.

"We took a Bisquick Impossible Pie and did a creative twist by adding coconut, raisins and some other things. That was developed in June 1976 by our test-kitchens' task force from a recipe submitted from various sources. Essentially that source was the Bisquick Impossible Pie."

The Amazing Coconut Pie recipe also forms its own crust _ with the biscuit mix sinking to the bottom of a custard mixture _ and has been used ever since 1976, according to Ms. Van Riper.

General Mills' Marcia Copeland, director of Betty Crocker foods and publications, recalls that "we first saw the recipe for (crustless) coconut custard pies in Southern community cookbooks."

So it was a grass-roots recipe first, origin unknown. Some very old community cookbooks contain pie recipes that make their own crusts just from flour; other versions call for homemade biscuit mix.

Ms. Copeland said the Impossible Pie phenomenon lasted from the late-1970s through the '80s, but General Mills still gets requests for recipes.

"At first we were leery because the recipe called for an electric blender; we knew that only 20 percent of households had one But it's amazing how a recipe can become so popular.

"Our first ad was for the Cheeseburger Impossible Pie," Ms. Copeland said. "Then we came up with Impossible Pies for dessert, for more main dishes, as appetizers."

Through the '80s, General Mills' home economists developed variations for Impossible Chicken 'n' Broccoli Pie, for Enchilada, Lasagna, Taco, Pizza and Beef Mushroom Impossible Pies, even an Impossible Turkey 'n' Stuffing Pie.

"In the early '80s," said Ms. Copeland, "it was the most requested recipe, generically. But now so many new cooks don't own pie plates. And they're not for small families."

Still, people are making Impossible Pies, and leftovers can easily be reheated with microwaves. More healthful versions could be made with low-fat cheeses now on the market and low-cholesterol liquid egg products.

Cooks without blenders can beat the mixtures by hand and still enjoy this ultimate comfort food _ a homemade savory or sweet pie, warm from the oven, that's easy to make.

Here are some unusual Impossible Pie recipes from General Mills.

Impossible Pecan Pie

1{ cups chopped pecans

} cup packed brown sugar

} cup milk

} cup light or dark corn syrup

{ cup biscuit baking mix

\ cup margarine or butter, softened

4 eggs

1{ teaspoons vanilla

Yield: 8 servings. Prep time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by 1\-inch pie plate. Sprinkle pecans in plate. Beat remaining ingredients until smooth, 15 seconds in a blender on high or 1 minute with a hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake until knife in center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.

Impossible Seafood Pie

1 (6-ounce) package frozen crab meat or shrimp, thawed and drained

1 cup shredded process sharp American cheese

1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, cut in \-inch cubes

\ cup sliced green onions

1 (2-ounce) jar chopped pimento, drained, if desired

2 cups milk

1 cup biscuit baking mix

4 eggs

} teaspoon salt

Dash of nutmeg

Yield: 6 servings. Prep time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease pie plate, 10-by-1{ inches. Mix crabmeat, cheese, onions and pimento in plate. Beat remaining ingredients until smooth, 15 seconds in blender on high or 1 minute with hand beater. Pour into pie plate. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.

Impossible Taco Pie

1 pound ground beef

{ cup chopped onion

1 envelope (1\ ounces) taco seasoning mix

1 (4-ounce) can mild green chilies, chopped, drained

1\ cups milk

} cup biscuit baking mix

3 eggs

2 sliced tomatoes

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese

Yield: 6 servings. Prep time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a pie plate or quiche dish, 10-by=1{ inches. Cook beef and onion over medium heat in a skillet until beef is brown; drain. Stir in seasoning mix. Spread in plate; sprinkle with chilies. Beat milk, baking mix and eggs until smooth, 15 seconds in blender on high or 1 minute with hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake 25 minutes. Top with tomatoes; sprinkle with cheese. Bake until knife between center and edge comes out clean, 8 to 10 minutes more. Cool 5 minutes. Serve with sour cream, chopped tomatoes and lettuce, if desired.

Impossible Chicken Tamale Pie

1{ cups cut-up cooked chicken

1 cup frozen corn, thawed, drained

1 envelope (1\ ounces) taco seasoning mix

1 (4-ounce) can chopped mild green chilies, drained

1 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

1\ cups milk

} cup biscuit baking mix

3 eggs

Yield: 6 servings. Prep time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease pie plate, 10-by-1{ inches. Mix chicken, corn and seasoning mix. Spread in plate; sprinkle with chilies and cheese.

Beat remaining ingredients until smooth, 15 seconds in blender on high or 1 minute with hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake until center is set, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before cutting.