Dessert Essentials: Graham Cracker Crust and Homemade Whipped Cream

Graham cracker crust was one of the first things I learned how to cook myself.  I remember being in elementary school crushing graham crackers with a rolling pin (too little to work a food processor), melting butter in the microwave in what always seemed to be the wrong container (plastic, metal), and stirring in a little sugar to make it all come together with a fork.  Over the years I’ve improved my original recipe, but sometimes I still use the rolling pin just for nostalgia’s sake.  I use salted butter and I typically add a little extra salt because I love salt, but definitely taste before you do – it typically needs none unless you use unsalted butter.

As for homemade whipped cream, it’s one of my most favorite things in the world.  It classes up the simplest of desserts, comes together in about 4 minutes, and is light years ahead of anything you could purchase.

I’m putting these two recipes together because you need both to make my two favorite summer pies: key lime and coconut, both of which I’ll be sharing soon.  You could also make a graham cracker crust, fill with chocolate Jello pudding pie filling (the directions are on the box!), top with whipped cream, and have a pretty excellent chocolate pie in no time.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 sleeve “Nabisco Graham” graham crackers in the red box.  No cinnamon, no honey, just the red nabisco box.  A box comes with 3 sleeves, I think there are 8 long crackers in each.

2-3 Tbsp sugar

5 Tbsp butter (salted or unsalted – add 1/2 tsp of salt if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)

1. Crush the graham crackers in either a food processor or using a rolling pin.  Add the sugar and melted butter and stir with a fork until well combined.  Fold in the coconut (if using).

2. Preheat the oven to 350.  Press the crust into a pie pan using the bottom of a smooth glass or measuring cup and/or your fingers to cover the bottom and sides.  Bake the pie for 10-15 minutes until brown and fragrant.  Allow to cool before filling.

Note: if you’re making a pie that requires no additional baking, bake for closer to 15 minutes.  If you will be doing additional baking, only bake for about 10.


Homemade Whipped Cream

8 oz. whipping cream

3 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

1. Combine ingredients in a bowl and beat at high speed using either a hand mixer or stand mixer until soft peaks form.

2. You can easily add coconut or almond extract in lieu of (or in addition to) the vanilla to give the cream a different flavor – it works well!


Crunchy Apple Pie

This week I had a special request for a recipe.  A neighbor from 20 years ago, one of my very favorite babysitting clients, contacted me for a recipe for apple pie to make for her boyfriend’s birthday this week.  I love a challenge, so of course, I had to make an apple pie this week.  The thing is, for being a mainstay in piedom, I haven’t made all that many apple pies in my day.  See, apple pie is my grandma’s pie.  Her signature – the one she always makes for holidays and always is amazing and so delicious that there would be no use in me making one.  In our family, we have a strong respect for one’s signature pie – my sister-in-law makes an amazing pecan bourbon pie, my grandma does apple pie, and my signature is cherry.  So basically, I have no business replicating my grandma’s apple pie, which is a classic 2-types of apples, cinnamon, sugar, and double-crusted.  Instead, I sought out a recipe that was very different, but still fit the bill of an awesome apple pie.  This pie truly delivers.  It tastes amazing, is pretty easy to put together, and the topping gives it a nice texture.

I made this with an all-butter crust, which is different from my usual crust.  It turned out really well.  I’m planning on doing a step-by-step tutorial on making your own pie crust in the future.  Obviously, a homemade crust is fabulous with this pie, but certainly not required.  Also note that the pie starts out looking ridiculously tall, but as it cooks, and especially cools, it will flatten down significantly.


Crunchy Apple Pie

1 prepared pie crust (unbaked)

6 granny smith apples

1 lime (for juice)

1/2 cup sugar

4 T and 1/2 cup of flour, divided


12 T cold butter (1.5 sticks)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup oatmeal

1 cup pecans

1.  Preheat your oven to 375.  Peel and core the apples.  I use a vegetable peeler first, then one of those apple slicers that cores and cuts the apple into 8 slices.   This is the most time consuming part of the recipe.  Slice the apples into 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices (I just cut each of the 8 pieces in half).  Squeeze the lime over the apples and toss with the sugar and 4T of flour.  Set aside.

2. Cut the butter into the 1/2 cup of flour.  I slice the butter into 1cm sized cubes first, then mash it up with a pastry cutter.  Stir in the brown sugar and the oatmeal.  This mixture will be crumbly and dry, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

3. Arrange the apple slices into the pie crust.  Spoon the brown sugar/oatmeal/butter topping over the top.  You may have to use your hands to press the topping into the apples to make sure it stays put.  This may cause your pie to look really tall and precarious, but I promise it will flatten down.

4. Carefully transfer your crust to the oven.  Bake for 25 minutes and then check on the pie.  If the crust is beginning to brown, add some foil around the edge.  Rotate the pie 180 degrees (especially if you have an oven that has a hot spot).  Bake the pie for another 25 minutes.  During the second baking session, chop the pecans.  After the pie has baked for 50 total minutes, scatter the pecans over the top of the pie (I used an oven mitt to sort of pat them in).  Bake for 5 more minutes (55 total minutes of baking).  Allow the pie to cool for several hours and serve, ideally, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Eggnog pie

Full disclosure: I’m a serious pie snob.  As in, I don’t count it as “making a pie” if you don’t make your own crust.  As in, I have extended conversations about pie crust with my grandma.  As in, I plan my Thanksgiving pies a month in advance.  As in, I have serious opinions as to which pies can be served in which seasons.  As in, we served pie instead of cake at our wedding.  I take my pies very seriously, so my resolution to try a new pie every month was not flippant and it should be known that I already have a pretty vast repertoire of really good pies that I can make.

In my quest to add new pies to the repertoire, I invested in some resources, the first being the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book.  It’s a really stellar collection of authentic pie recipes, organized by season, with creative flavor combinations.  The authors of the cookbook, and owners of an adorable pie shop of the same name, take pie snobbery to a whole new level.  I decided my first pie should obviously come from their “Winter” chapter.  Eggnog immediately caught my eye.

See, I’m not really an eggnog fan, but my husband is a huge eggnog fan.  It seems that there are really two camps as far as eggnog consumption and it boils down to whether or not you find the idea of melted ice cream appealing or not.  Personally, I say, I’d prefer it frozen.  My husband would say “drinkable ice cream? Awesome!”.  This pie is not nearly so divisive – it’s enough like eggnog to please eggnog lovers, but not enough so that it would turn eggnog haters off.  To me, it has a really nice cheesecake quality without the work (and extreme richness) of actual cheesecake.

Although this pie took me 3 days to make, it’s not really very difficult and you can knock it out in 2 hours (including baking time), which is great for a pie.  It took me 3 days because on Monday I decided to make the pie and added the ingredients to my grocery list, including gingersnaps for the gingersnap crust.  On Tuesday, I went to the store and they had no gingersnaps, so I decided to make my own.  Tuesday night, I made gingersnaps (and they were awesome, I’ll blog about them soon!), but realized I was a cup short of flour so I stuck the dough in the freezer until Wednesday, when I went back and got flour.  Wednesday I baked the gingersnaps, and Friday I finally baked the actual pie.  Then I went to Trader Joe’s where they sell gingersnap cookies.  Alas, storebought would work fine (I mean, the homemade cookies were REALLY good, but I’m not sure how much better).

So I say all of this to say – try this pie.  It’s really good.


Eggnog Pie

For the crust:

1 cup gingersnap cookie crumbs

2T sugar

4T butter, melted (I used salted, if you have unsalted, add a little salt)

For the filling:

3/4 cup cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla paste (which is delicious, but if you don’t have it, vanilla extract would be fine)

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ground cloves

3 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

3T rum

1/4 of a lemon

1. Take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator to soften.  Preheat the oven to 375.  To make the crust, use a food processor, crush the gingersnap cookies into a fine crumb (to get a cup, I used 13 2.5″ homemade cookies).  Transfer to a bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, and melted butter.  Press the mixture into a pie dish, using the bottom of a glass or measuring cup to distribute.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 325 after you remove it.

2. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar, spices, and vanilla together until smooth.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides between to make sure you don’t get a big glob of cream cheese at the bottom.  Add the heavy cream and rum, continuing to beat until incorporated.  Squeeze the wedge of lemon in and give it a few more seconds of mixing.

3. Pour the filling into the prepared, cooling crust.  I had slightly too much filling, so you may have a little excess.  Bake the pie at 325 for 25 minutes, then rotate it to make sure it bakes evenly.  Bake another 20 minutes, until the edges are set (45 minutes).  The middle will still not be set, but it will after you remove it from the oven.

4. Let the pie cool for a few hours before serving.  I found it really set up well after an hour in the refrigerator.  You could sift a little cinnamon over the top, but warning that it may come out in a big blob, which you’ll try to scrape off and leave a big hole and cinnamon smear in the side of the pie, which is why the picture is cropped way close.

Source: Barely adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book by Melissa and Emily Elsen