Plotting Pi

By Angela Denstad Stigeler

March plays host to myriad events and associations, ranging from Employee Appreciation Day and International Women’s Day to the vernal equinox and the Ides of March. Figure in St. Patrick’s Day, Passover, and the revolving Easter calendar, and it all adds up to one busy month. But on a plot point near the month’s center, I’m calculating a particularly pleasant observance—International Pi Day. Set at March 14, and approximately at 1:59 (symbolizing 3.14159), my angle will be to indulge in some of the tastiest pie found between two radii. Although this circular dessert might well lead you to geometric musing, it’s best enjoyed occasionally, without thought of one’s personal circumference. Nevertheless, pi is one terrific discovery!

 

Chocolate Cream Pie Crust

1 cup pecan halves, toasted and finely ground

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Filling

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large egg yolks

3 cups whole milk

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), melted

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

Topping

1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

chocolate shavings

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. For the crust, beat ½ cup butter until fluffy. Add the salt, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar, and cocoa, and blend until smooth. Add the flour, then the nuts. The mixture will be dry. Lightly grease a large pie pan and press the crust into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the crust is set, then let it cool.

Meanwhile, make the filling by whisking together the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and yolks in a 3-quart heavy saucepan until well-combined, then add the milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking, one minute. The filling will be thick. Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve (if desired) into a medium bowl. Whisk in chocolates, butter, and vanilla. Quickly cool the filling in an ice water bath, whisking until just warm to the touch. Pour the filling into the crust and chill the pie, loosely covered, at least 6 hours.

Just before serving, beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until it just holds stiff peaks. Spoon the whipped cream onto the pie and spread it evenly with a spatula. Garnish with chocolate shavings.

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