Icebox pies go upper crust

Have your pie and eat it too, even when it's too hot to bake

  • The Prime Rib's no-bake pie, featuring a rich chocolate mousse, has been on its menu for years.
The Prime Rib's no-bake pie, featuring a rich chocolate… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
August 21, 2012|By Donna M. Owens, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Pining for homemade pie, but don't want to crank up the oven while summer's still upon us? Then skip those preheating rituals in favor of no-bake pies.

Also known as icebox pies, these delightfully retro desserts require minimal fuss and kitchen time, making them ideal summertime desserts.

A no-bake pie generally begins with a cookie-crumb crust, which cradles some type of filling. Think pudding, custard and mousse. Creamy cheesecake, perhaps. Or airy whipped cream and fresh fruit combos.

"The fillings are either uncooked or cooked on top of the stove," writes chef and author Lauren Chattman in the cookbook "Icebox Pies: 100 Scrumptious Recipes for No-Bake, No-Fail Pies." "None need to baked."

"I think of tartness and sweetness — flavors like lemon and Key lime," says Michael "Al" Meckel, co-owner and head baker at Fenwick Bakery in Parkville. "These types of pies are served chilled for that refreshing coolness."

With a few staples from the pantry or local farmers' market, experts say, home cooks can whip up icebox pies in no time.

"Summer is hot enough, so why not keep the ovens off and leave the heat for somewhere else?" says pastry chef David Guas, author of "DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style."

Guas, who owns Bayou Bakery in Arlington, Va., and does catering in Maryland, appears regularly on NBC's"Today" show, sharing baking techniques.

Among his recipes is a no-bake cheesecake made on the stovetop.

The secret: skipping the eggs and using gelatin sheets, which help transform liquids into a semisolid, jellylike consistency.

"By eliminating the eggs and adding gelatin, we're able to totally skip sitting in front of a hot oven," says Guas. "Since this simple cheesecake can be made in advance, you won't miss out on fun in the sun."

While tasty filling is important, the crust can make or break a pie.

Unlike baked pie crust traditionally made with dough, cookies reign supreme in no-bake creations.

Graham cracker crusts are recipe mainstays. Sandwich cremes, vanilla wafers and oatmeal cookies also get the nod.

The cookies can be finely crushed by hand or with a food processor, mixed with butter and other ingredients (such as nuts), then molded in a pie pan. And store-bought no-bake pie shells work, too.

In the Baltimore area, icebox pies can be found on the menus of more than a few diners, bakeries and restaurants.

At the Prime Rib, an upscale steak and seafood restaurant in Mount Vernon, its signature chocolate mousse pie has an Oreo cookie crust.

The decadent filling is made with a blend of Belgian dark chocolate, sweet heavy cream and a touch of milk chocolate.

"It's light and fluffy," says executive chef James Minarik, who credits their recipe to Cleo BeLer, the late mother of proprietors Buzz and Nick BeLer.

"The pie has been on the menu for 45 years and hasn't changed from the original," says Minarik. "It's one of our most popular desserts."

Rusty Scupper, a seafood restaurant with panoramic views of the Inner Harbor, has a dessert menu that includes Smith Island layer cake, ice cream and assorted pies.

Among them is a sweet potato cheesecake served year-round.

"I created our sweet potato cheesecake four years ago," says chef Mark Miranda, who adapted a no-bake version of his popular recipe for Baltimore Sun readers.

It blends canned sweet potatoes, heavy cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg, which is then placed in a graham cracker pie shell.

It's served topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. "The recipe is very simple," Miranda says.

Lazlo Lee, the head baker at Dangerously Delicious Pies in Canton, had something elaborate in mind with his version of no-bake margarita pie.

"It's a cheesecake. The crust is made of crushed pretzels, sugar and butter," says Lee, who says the pie can be special-ordered. "The filling has Triple Sec and tequila. The salty taste of the pretzel plays off that."

In any given week at Fenwick Bakery, Meckel and his team churn out hundreds of pies from scratch, such as banana cream, lemon meringue, coconut custard and peach.

While no-bake pies aren't their specialty — they also make bread, pastries and cakes that have been featured on the Wedding Channel — the head baker sometimes wishes they were.

"In the store there's air conditioning," Meckel says. "But in the shop, between the oven, stove and fryer, it's been 99 degrees in here all summer."

The Prime Rib's chocolate mousse pie

Makes: 1 pie

For the pie crust:

18 Oreo cookies

1 tablespoon melted butter

For the chocolate mousse filling:

2 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

2 ounces powdered sugar

7 ounces dark chocolate

To make the crust, finely crush the Oreo cookies (by hand or with a food processor). Add melted butter. Mix butter and cookies together. Press mixture in pie tin, then tefrigerate until needed

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