Peanut Butter Meringue Pie

I got this recipe when I was visiting some folk in Georgia. I’ve since seen it in restaurants in other southern states but it’s rather uncommon. Which means you can pull it out as ‘different but good’ at all sorts of places if that’s your goal, but I digress.

The young lady I got this from, well, I was with a co-worker who needed to to stop and see his grandmother. She gave us ‘just a bite to carry us over’, and when she discovered I knew skillet from saucepan she shared. So her version first, then I’ll get to the translation.

Bake a crust.
Take enough peanut butter to cover the bottom of the crust and cream it with double that of sugar, line the crust with that.
Make a three yolk custard to fill the pie.
Use the whites to make a meringue.

So before I expand that a bit, I’ll add the variation I created (though I doubt I’m first). Before you add the peanut butter, put down a lining of chocolate. I’ll note that in the two following guides (too sloppy to be recipes) as [optional].

Two guides. One for the non-cook, one for the cook.

For both guides it’s staged recipe in 4 [5] parts. Don’t let that throw you – except for prebaking the crust I’ve done the non-cook way in less than 10 minutes, and if you time everything right you can do the cooked way in under half an hour. (If I were practiced I think it could be one in 20 minutes.)

The non-cook guide.
Buy a crust from the store.
1/2 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup sugar (ideally confectioners but granular works)
[half a bag of chocolate chips]
small box instant vanilla pudding.
Small container instant whipped cream.

Bake the pie crust according to instructions. Usually that’s five to ten minutes in a hot (around 400F) oven.

[Add the chocolate chips to the hot crust. As soon as they melt carefully spread the chocolate to cover the bottom and as far up the side as it’ll go. Yes, you can use the whole bag of chips if you want, but you may have to stick it in the oven for another 30 seconds or so to melt enough.]

Blend the peanut butter and sugar (the cooking snobs call it creaming) till it’s fully mixed – pretty much a paste by the time you’re done. Put it in the crust [on top of the chocolate] and spread it, pressing lightly to pack it, so it forms an inner lining for the pie crust.

Mix up the vanilla pudding and fill the pie.

Top with whipped cream.

That’s the fast version for people who “can’t” cook. As you’ll see it’s surprisingly similar to the ‘cooking’ version, except we’ll do a meringue and a little different pudding/custard.

Ingredients.
{crust}
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons shortening
3 tablespoons (cold) water
[{ganache}]
4 ounces sweetened chocolate
4 ounces heavy cream
{peanut butter}
1/2 cup peanut butter (your choice chunky or smooth)
3/4 cup sugar (confectioner’s preferred, granulated works)
{custard}
1 1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1 vanilla bean
3 tablespoons corn starch
3 egg yolks
{meringue]
3 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup sugar (again confectioner or granulated)

Timing notes. This recipe will progress in order of assembly. However if you’re trying to assemble quickly, cook the custard while the crust is resting and baking. Cream the peanut butter, [make the ganache,] and whip the meringue next – depending on space and equipment (stand mixer, whisks, bowls) you can overlap their production, and pour everything in only a couple of minutes after the crust comes out of the oven and you’ve removed any pie weights. With that off to the recipe.

Using a heavy fork, work the butter and shortening into the flour until it’s a consistent but coarse texture. Add the water, stir just till it appears to be absorbed, cover, and put the bowl into the refrigerator for fifteen minutes. Pull it out, knead the dough gently until the moisture is evenly distributed, and roll between two sheets of waxed paper until it’s large enough to cover your pie pan.

Lay into the pie pan without stretching. Add pie weights if desired, and bake for 10-15 minutes in a hot (400-425F) oven until lightly browned.

{comments. The more you work the dough the more gluten it will develop and the tougher the crust will be. If you’re planning to eat the pie slices out of hand work that crust. Otherwise do as little as possible – and you should know that even rolling it do part of the kneading and working.

Also, the thing about pie weights is that opinions are mixed on their usefulness. The crust will puff due to steam, but it will compress again from filling. Some of us swear by them, the rest of us swear at them. Feel free to take a side as works best for you.}

[ the whole optional chocolate layer
{ganache}
For all the fanciness, a ganache is one of the easiest things I know to make. In this case I’m making it very chocolatey – the norm is 2 parts cream to 1 part chocolate.

Break up the chocolate into chips and put in a mixing bowl. Heat the cream to just short of boiling. Pour over the chocolate and stir till the chocolate is melted and the product is smooth and glossy. Pour the whole into the pie crust and tilt to cover all the sides, then let the rest settle into the bottom.

{At this point you have a choice. If you let the crust and ganache cool it’ll be a clearly separate layer. If you go immediately to the next step you’ll still have layers but there will be some mingling. Both ways are good, go with what you prefer.}]

{Peanut butter cream}

Cream 1/2 cup peanut butter and 3/4 sugar together. If you’re using confectioner’s sugar you’ll end up with something about the texture of what you find in peanut butter cups. If you use granulated sugar you’ll have that crystal texture.

Reserve about 2-3 tablespoons of the mix, and spread the rest inside the crust to form a full lining. It can be loose or smooth and lightly packed as you prefer.

{Custard}
Not a true custard but close.

Combine milk, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla, and heat until just before it boils (it will thicken to a very soft pudding consistency). Lightly beat egg yolks in a separate container till they yellow, temper with the milk mixture, and add to the custard. Simmer for 3-5 minutes stirring constantly. Remove, and add immediately to the pie.

{comment time again, this time about tempering. If you know what that is, go on. For those who don’t, if you just add the egg yolks directly you end up with scrambled egg chunks in your pudding. What you do to prevent this is add a spoonful of hot mixture to the eggs, stir briskly till it’s all mixed in, and repeat. You’re done when you’ve about doubled what’s in the egg yolk container and it’s all really hot – not as hot as what’s in the pan, but definitely hot. Then you can stir this mixture back into the pudding and it won’t turn into little egg lumps.}

{meringue}
Put the egg whites and the cream of tartar into a mixing bowl and start whipping them. When they reach a heavy froth stage start adding sugar a teaspoon or so at a time, adding more when the previous spoon full is absorbed. Take the whites to a stiff peak. This means when you lift out the (stopped, please) blender the peaks form sharp points.

Spoon the mixture over the top of the pie, and spread so it covers the entire pie and crust. Shape if desired (pat the top with a spoon so it forms those pretty waves and spikes you see in all the fancy cookbooks.)

Put this in a hot (400-425) oven for 5-10 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned. Those waves and spikes will be browner – watch out for burning, but that medium to dark brown is caramelization of the sugar.

You can serve this hot but it works a lot better after being chilled for about an hour.

Enjoy.

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