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You heard me, “pie.” Not cheesecake.

This is a Dad special, though I found a copy of a slightly different cheese pie recipe in Gram’s notes too. The recipes both produce a pale, creamy pie with a good zing of lemon in the base.

I’ve mentioned this before, and will again: Dad was not a happy crust-maker. He was sanguine when he could start with someone else’s crust in hand and go from there. In this case, the “someone” was the Keebler elves. They stayed up late in the magical forest making my father his ready-to-use graham-cracker crusts.

Graham-cracker crusts are actually pretty easy to make, and Gram’s recipe included instructions and ingredients for making six crusts at once. But in the spirit of Dad, I retested this recipe with his old standby. And you know, those elves make good crusts.

This is also a recipe that can benefit from using reduced-fat sour cream. Normally, I don’t reach for this, but I liked it in this pie. I’m not talking about non-fat sour cream (shudder). Not for baking, my friends.

The variation in the amount of grated lemon rind is both a question of taste and of your grater. A regular box grater keeps a large portion of the rind for itself, so that a half-lemon’s yield may feel chintzy. A Microplane grater (I will post on this, one of my favorite tools) gives you a giant pile of fluffy zest — such productivity that a whole lemon’s-worth was almost overkill. Play with this; there are no wrong answers.

When digging in to the final product, my tasters had a question: “Can we please change the name?” They wrinkled their noses at Cheese Pie, saying that that name did NOT make them think of dessert. I’m too close to this. Is this as bad a name as that British pudding classic, “spotted dick”? Would something like “Lemony Cream Cheese Pie” be better? Make it, taste it, tell me.

Cheese Pie from "Baking Family," Garside Group LLC

Cheese Pie (For Now)

Makes one 8-inch or 9-inch pie

  • Graham cracker crust for single-crust pie
  • 12 ounces cream cheese (4 small packages or 1-1/2 large), softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • Grated rind of one-half to one lemon
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar. Add eggs and lemon peel, and mix well. Your mixture will be slightly lumpy. Pour mixture into pie shell and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for one hour.

Preheat over to 450°F.

In a small bowl mix sour cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla. Spread carefully over the top of the pie, leaving the edge of the crust showing. Put pie into hot oven and bake 5 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, then refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

Photo and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

In past posts, I have acknowledged the ease of using the red box for my pie crust. Making your own crust, however, adds a level of satisfaction that the box can’t provide.

Fellow pie-lovers, you can do this.

The pie crust recipe I use is adapted from Helen Worth, which means that my mother learned it from Helen Worth’s Cooking School in New York, back in the early 1960s. It was called a “pattern for pie dough,” which makes it sound like you’ll be cutting the crust out of fabric. In a way, you will — only the “fabric” is flour, water, fat and salt, and sometimes sugar. It’s making the fabric hold together the right way that drives so many of us to frustration or the Dubonnet bottle, whichever is closer.

There are a few basic rules, and a few simple tools, that make pie-crust easier. First, you want everything to be cold — your fat in particular, be that butter or Crisco or both. If I remember to, I pop the Crisco in the freezer for a half-hour before I start. Second, you’ll love having a pastry scraper and a pastry blender or Cuisinart for making pie crust. And third, less is more. The less time you process the dough, the less you handle or roll it, the likelier you are to like your results.

(If you live in Washington DC and don’t have the pastry blender or pastry scraper — or heck, the Cuisinart — you can buy instant gratification at Hill’s Kitchen on Capitol Hill.)

The Cuisinart makes the combining of the flour and fat very easy. Sometimes TOO easy. If you’re using the Cuisinart, whir fat and flour only a few pulses, and then transfer dough into a bowl for the final mix. (I’ve done the whole thing in the Cuisinart, running the machine until I hear a satisfying ka-thump-etta-thump-etta and the whole ball of dough comes together in one neat clump. Fine dough, but a bit dense.)

I use unbleached all-purpose white flour. It’s what I usually have on hand, and it’s not fussy.

I like a combo of butter and Crisco. The butter adds flavor (and I use salted, not sweet) and the Crisco makes the dough easier to handle than a pure-butter crust. There are many crusts out there that use a TON of whatever fat. This one — as I imagine Helen Worth was in all things, having never met her — is restrained, using enough but not overly much fat.

Try this crust, and tell me how it works for you!

“Of Course You Can” Pie Crust

Pastry scraper, crust ready to foldMakes enough for a two-crust 9-inch pie

  • 2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
  • 8 tablespoons (1/4 pound) butter, cut into small chunks and returned to fridge until time to use
  • 1/4 cup Crisco
  • 6 or 7 tablespoons cold water

In a large bowl, mix flour and salt. Add the cold butter chunks and Crisco, and using a pastry blender or two knives, cut fat into flour until there are some pea-sized pieces left. The flour and fat combination should look sort of ragged and slightly lumpy. (If using the Cuisinart: Use the cutting blade. Add the cold butter, and pulse five or six times to chop. Add Crisco and do a few more pulses. Turn out into a big bowl.)

Dribble the cold water across the surface and down the sides of the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to fold water into the flour mixture. When you start to see big clumps of dough, and are finding it hard to use the spatula, use one or both hands to pull the dough together in a rubbing motion of thumb against fingers (think of snapping your fingers, but through dough). When dough pulls away from sides of bowl and starts to clump into a single whole, stop blending. Divide dough into two roughly equal pieces and pat into flattened 6-inch circles. Wrap in plastic or waxed paper and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and for up to two days.

To roll out: Remove pie crust from refrigerator 30 minutes before rolling, or 45 minutes if refrigerated overnight. Sprinkle flour sparingly on counter and rolling pin; starting at any edge, roll across the side of the disk to start flattening it. You can also roll from the center outward. (Rolling straight across the dough is guaranteed to give you cracks and crevices.) When your dough circle is four inches larger in diameter than the bottom of your pie plate, use the pastry scraper to help you fold dough in half, then in half again, to create a quarter-round. Use the scraper to transfer dough to pie plate; fit dough in place, patting and pinching to deal with any holes.

If you’re doing a two-crust pie, trim off dough at edge of pie pan and roll out top piece. For one-crust pie, leave slightly larger overhang. Using your fingers, tease the dough into a fluted edge, or use a fork to flatten folded-over edge.

Follow baking directions for whatever recipe you are using.

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