Tonawanda News

February 25, 2012

HAYNES: Celebrating the Oscars with a little 'Help' in the kitchen

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

— I love the Oscars. I mean, love them.

Readers probably already gathered this based on the fact that this is my second column on the subject in this section (read about my support for “Midnight in Paris” as best picture winner on the front page).

The love affair I have with the Academy Awards started at a very young age — my mother and I made sure to plop down in front of the television each year come late February and select not only our favorite movies, but favorite dresses, actors and music as well.

In my later years, I’ve taken to filling out my own ballot and marking the winners as I go along. The show is never too long for me, as some might complain, and I try to overlook the distasteful campaigning some filmmakers and actors do to garner votes.

To me, the Oscars are the epitome of all the glitz and glamour one associates with Hollywood and filmmaking and I love nothing more than to immerse myself in that magic each year.

And so I headed into this week’s Curious Culinarian with tonight’s Academy Awards in mind — I wanted to cook something related to one of the best picture nominated films.

I played with the idea of whipping up something Hawaiian in honor of the latest George Clooney flick, “The Descendants.” But I’m not a huge fan of Spam, so that was nixed.

I could have easily gone with something highlighting the French culinary world, a nod to “Hugo” and “Midnight in Paris.” Or perhaps something from my own Texas roots for “The Tree of Life” — the film was set in my birthplace of Waco, after all.

But if any one of the nine best picture nominees were to get the golden statue based on the role of food, it would be “The Help.” And that dish would be Minny’s chocolate pie. You know ... the pie involved in the “terrible awful.”

We won’t go into the detail of the “terrible awful” in a column that’s meant to support the consumption of this pie. Suffice it to say, this one’s the G-rated version of that oh-so-delicious pie Minny makes.

The recipe — which is straight from Lee Ann Flemming, the woman who baked the pies for the movie — is actually pretty darn easy and its construction reminds me quite a bit of another southern favorite, the buttermilk pie. You essentially mix all the ingredients together, pour into a blind-baked pie shell, bake and voila!

I think the most important thing I learned from this baking project was how to blind bake a pie crust. Feel free to make your own pie dough or cheat like I did and buy the rolled up stuff from the grocery store (found near the biscuits in a cooler case).

The important thing to remember is to use pie weights or dried beans to weigh the dough down during its first go at baking sans filling. Otherwise, the dough will puff up in areas and make for uneven baking later.

I found the baking times given by Flemming, whose recipe I found on www.foodandwine.com, to be a little off and that may just be a problem I have with my over. Good thing is you can eyeball this a bit, which is not something you can say for most baking ventures.

Fellow Curious Culinarian Jill Keppeler even suggested making little mini Minny’s pies, which would be a perfect treat to serve at an Oscar’s party. The recipe is so easy, you still have plenty of time to whip it up for tonight.

Minny’s chocolate pie

1 packaged pie dough crust

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, beaten

3/4 cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place pie dough into a 9-inch pie plate, crimping edges for decoration and poking a few holes throughout. Line the dough with parchment paper or foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans to cover entire bottom of crust.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is set. (It took my oven about 10 minutes.) Remove weights and parchment or foil and bake for another 5 minutes or until the crust is dry but not brown.

In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until smooth. Make sure that the melted butter isn’t straight from the stove or microwave — hot butter could cook the eggs in the mixture.

Pour the filling into the pie shell and bake for about 20 minutes.

Cover the edges of the crust with foil and put back into the over for another 20 minutes or so, until the filling is set around the edges but still a little wobbly in the center.

Let pie cool completely before serving and keep uneaten pie refrigerated.

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.