I'm trying to get down to the basics lately. I want to learn how to be a better cook and baker on a more basic level. I wouldn't say it's easy to replicate complicated recipes, but if you know how to follow directions it's not exactly rocket science (although I realize getting things perfect takes years of practice and experience). When it comes to knowing the basics, though, most of the time I'm as knowledgable as anyone.
So, lately, I've decided to swap out my complicated macaron and pastry recipes for more basic ones - i.e. learning how to make scratch sugar cookies without having to look at a recipe or learning how to make a perfect simple caramel every time. I realize that a lot of recipes simply riff on standard techniques. Most people don't realize (or take the time to think) that a raspberry thumbprint cookie is as simple as a plain sugar cookie with jam or that lemon cream puffs are just a plain pate a cheux with plain vanilla pudding plus some lemon zest. This recipe is an example of a pretty basic technique that anyone can learn and memorize - a peanut butter layer and peanut butter pretzels make it extra special and delicious. Anyone can learn and memorize a basic chocolate pudding, so I've provided a basic one to experiment with. The recipes for the rest of the pie follow. Memorize the basic recipe and anytime you want to make something special you can use your imagination to add some extra flavors, layers, crusts, or applications to put it in. Learning how to combine flavors and textures is half technique, half experience, and half instinct (don't check my math on that one) but some ideas for a plain chocolate pie could be to add orange zest, cinnamon, whipped cream, raspberry jam on the bottom and fresh raspberries on top, swirl in nutella, etc., etc. from the most basic to the most complicated. I hope you enjoy. :)
Basic Chocolate Pudding
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbl cornstarch
4 egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 tsp vanilla
Whisk together the sugar, salt and cornstarch in a medium saucepan to get rid of lumps. Whisk in the egg yolks to form a thick paste. Slowly whisk in the milk a little at a time, being sure to break up any lumps before adding more. Bring the whole mixture to a boil for 30 seconds, remove from heat. Whisk in the chocolate and vanilla for a couple minutes. Serve hot or let cool to room temp before refrigerating. Press plastic wrap firmly against the top if you want to prevent a skin from forming.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
For the graham cracker crust:
1 sleeve (about 4 1/2 ounces) honey graham crackers
2 tbl sugar
4 tbl salted butter, melted
Place the graham crackers and sugar in a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs form. Add in the melted butter and pulse until combined. Empty into a greased 9" pie plate and press down to cover. Freeze while you make the peanut butter filling.
For the peanut butter filling:
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (don't use natural)
2-3 tbl whole milk
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and peanut butter until smooth and creamy. Remove 1/4 cup of the filling and thin to desired consistency with milk, reserve for drizzling. Smooth the rest into the frozen pie shell and chill while you make the pudding.
To finish assembling:
1 recipe for basic chocolate pudding, above
peanut butter filled pretzels, roughly chopped
reserved peanut butter filling
Add the chocolate pudding to the pie plate prepared with crust and peanut butter filling. Chill until set, about 4 hours. Press in the peanut butter filled pretzels. Using a piping bag, zip-loc bag, or spoon swirl the reserved peanut butter filling over top.