Last week was non-stop rumble and flash. Gray flannel days. Swollen skies. Ozone air, heavy, fraught, the sort that is almost sulfurous. Clouds moving so quickly you could clock them. We were stuck inside nearly every waking hour. It was, in other words, pretty much perfect.
Looking up the forecast on my phone, late one night, I nearly dropped the thing. You know the way the weather app's wallpaper quaintly reflects the current conditions? How it's usually sweet, fairly iconic, cherry blossoms, maybe snowflakes, a star-freckled night sky? Maybe you knew to expect that, sometimes, you tap the app and *BAM*, bright angry bolts, scissoring the screen in furious, flashing succession. I did not. I've been schooled.
We tucked in after-dinner walks, anyway, because the temperatures were splendid, and the dark receding, and so, the appeal, irresistible. Never mind the reality. With one eye to the radar, and one eye to the atmosphere, we'd dash out the door, fingers crossed, feet fast. Still, we were caught out in thunderstorms. Twice. Breakneck bowling games, up above. Electric white scars, crackling the air ahead. When the school principal sees you and yours booking down the sidewalk, and offers you a ride home, probably you know you should make better choices, next time.
Still, those walks were glorious.
The thunder arrived with a side of rain. Last Wednesday, I left a meeting at noon, and noticed the drops were really picking up. My car was exactly one block away. I shrugged, looked both ways, and ran at top speed. And came home with jeans soaked well past my knees; sweater sagging six inches; hair dripping like a faucet. I think I gained eight pounds on that block. In retrospect, an ark might've been better.
The rains were a little biblical.
Because of the weather, and our walking follies, we grew wise, stayed home, re-directed our efforts. There was much paper craft, building, folding, cutting, coloring. Due to a binge reading of all six of these books over break, there's been a steady stream of origami yodas (and ewoks, and Vaders, and R2s, and etc.), almost as heavy as the rains. Flood might be a better description.
Also, we've been watching the movies. Finally. A first for them, a first for me. Show of hands: who among you born in the seventies missed the original Star Wars trilogy?
Anyway, it's been good to finally catch up with this little pop-culture phenom. I totally stay on top of trends, but I like to, you know, give them a little space, to prove they've got legs, ensure they'll stick around. Thirty five years, say. And Star Wars, well, it's proving pretty sticky. (Then again, I may just love it for all the built-in knitting time. Maude and Luke will forever be linked for me, inextricably.)
Star Wars certainly has legs around here. Indeed, the flurry of Jedi-directed paper's been so intense, I had to stage an intervention on the art table. ("Dear Sir and Madam: The Department of Home Health has condemned this drawing table, due to its constant state of disorder..." The note went on. The mess has not. Sometimes, I find, it's really best to handle things in the third person. Caution tape doesn't hurt.)
Because of the weather, the garden wasn't glaring at me, menacingly, as it's wont to do. Stalking me through the sliding glass doors. Staring me down, if I dare to look up. Wagging its newly-minted-green fingers at me, every time I turned around. This was such a relief.
Guilt-free spring hours indoors are so rare, so much an unexpected pleasure. Time to clean deep, begin the snow boots-to-swim suits transition, spend hours (and hours), head bent over taxes. Without that taskmaster, Mother Nature, tapping her watch, peering over my shoulder, peppering me with outdoor to do's. Spring can be such a terrible nag. (Once a Toad, ever a Toad.)
And last week, all was still resolutely, relentlessly, gloriously brown. Weeks (and months) after Northwest friends started instagramming flagrant pink blossoms and fields of tulips, we were still steeped in stark-and-barren territory. Such is Ohio, in earliest April. (No matter. I've read the Tortoise and the Hare. Our tomatoes stand ten feet tall, by July.)
During one rare dry hour, we did dash out doors, scratched some stripes in the earth, and tucked in a few seeds which were threatening to outgrow their Ziplocs. I don't have especially high hopes for them, as any seed subjected to the week that was last week has, in all likelihood, washed away to Kentucky. I nearly did. And I'm much bigger than a bean.
This week, of course, on the heels of that rain, we're back to the greening up portion of the program. Daffodils here, hyacinths there, foliage, foliage everywhere! And as every year, the dinosaurs are out in force. We must be on their Spring migratory path. Come by any week, in mid-April, and you'll find herds of diplodoci, triceratops, and brontosauruses (they're baaaaack!) roaming the grounds.
By next week, we'll be streaming 24-hour blossoms. Mark my words. And round-the-clock weeds. And runaway dandelions. And a bumper crop of assorted garden ne'er-do-wells. *Sigh*. All in due time. I'm building up to it. But right now, I'm holding onto the memories of last week's expanse of lovely, gentle blank brown. It is such a fine color, warm, welcoming, undemanding. Past snow, pre-yardwork, prepared for anything. I don't think it gets the appreciation it deserves.
Case in point: this buckeye pie. It is brown, so brown. Light, medium, dark, middling-muddy brown. You might as well call it Spring Dirt Pie. It looks like our backyard, and the bottom of my boots, and my kitchen floor, after a week of unremitting rain. Did I mention I was once a Marketing Director? Twice, actually. Clearly, it's worn off.
Let's try another angle: this pretzel-crusted, peanut butter-mousse filled, ganache-buttressed buckeye pie. (As if words could contain its glory.) We made this humdinger a few weeks ago, for a re-scheduled Pi Day with friends. Typically, we make and bring two pies, our adored coconut cream, and beloved mile-high chocolate pie. This year, we swapped out the latter for this. Can I just state for the record that I now embrace change?
This particular change was not hard to execute, despite its multiple personalities. There are a few steps, and some chilling hours involved, but nothing is remotely difficult. The crust, which I accidentally doubled, and adored in its extra-thick, extra-excellent form, is a simple blitz of pretzels(!), butter and brown sugar, baked into bliss. Think graham cracker crust, buttery, crisp, but with pretzels' salty smack. Think press-in-simple. Think brilliant.
I also doubled the bittersweet ganache, though that was pure pre-meditation. One layer on top seemed like a scrooge play, all buff and shine, no serious wallop. Ganache, that snazzy kitchen alchemy, no more than chopped chocolate hit with heated cream, which chameleons itself into everything from hot chocolate base to glaze to frosting, here serves as a sort of truffle layer, creamy and dense and intensely chocolate, sandwiching the peanut butter cloud. (As far as peanut butter sandwiches go? This whole concept sort of leaves PB&J in the dust...)
About that filling. It struts under the moniker "peanut butter mousse", but pfffft. It's nothing more than peanut butter, cream cheese and whipped cream, sweetened and blended and folded together. Into something, just, else. It's so easy a kid can make it (mine did). And so crazy, a kid might steal swipes from the bowl (I did). It's deeply peanut-y, faintly tangy, not too sweet, and beautifully leavened by all that lofty, lush heavy cream. (How I love how whipped cream can so lighten a dish...)
Altogether, the combination's pretty much what you'd expect: absolutely, completely insane. The swoosh of ganache against that peanut butter cloud, girded by more ganache, then that brittle-salty-sweet crust? Reese's can't even comment. I can't even comment. It's the whole drooling thing. No room for words. You can toss some salted peanuts on top, or fleur de sel if you're fancy, or mini pretzels if you're not. Or all of the above. Or none. I used what I had. It didn't matter, really. You're in it entirely for the insides. Which, admittedly, are about as brown as the mud out my window and that quinoa salad from last week. Though I strongly suspect you won't confuse the two.
adapted from Baking the Goods
Please note you will need a 10" springform pan for this pie. Also, please allow at least 3 hours, for chilling the crust and ganache.
My main alterations involved intentionally doubling the ganache, for top and bottom layers, to great effect; and accidentally doubling the crust quantities, also to great, if unintentional effect. Also, more salt. The sweet-salty thing here is the bomb. A graham cracker crust (or a split graham/pretzel crust) is also pretty wonderful, here. Simply substitute grahams, 1:1, for pretzels. Crust can be baked up to two days in advance.
Pretzel Pie Crust:
4 cups crushed pretzels (from about 8 cups whole mini pretzels)
1 1/4 cups salted butter (10 oz.; 2.5 sticks)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
16 oz. good bittersweet (60% or higher) chocolate, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
Peanut Butter Mousse Filling:
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup powdered sugar, whisked or sifted
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
12 oz. creamy peanut butter
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
To Top: salted peanuts; mini pretzels; flaky sea salt; all or none
Bake Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Blitz pretzels in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulsing until you have fairly fine crumbs. (Alternately, place pretzels in a large freezer bag, and hand to a child, equipped with a rolling pin.) Melt butter. To the pretzel crumbs (still in the processor, or in a bowl, if you've crushed them by hand), add the melted butter, salt and brown sugar. Pulse (or mix with a wooden spoon) until crumbs cohere, around 30 seconds.
Snap shut the sides on your springform pan, then tip in prepared crust crumbs. With clean fingers, distribute crumbs generally, evenly, up the sides and across the bottom. Finesse a bit, adding here, pinching there, aiming for roughly even, though not remotely perfect. Finally, with a measuring cup, press crumbs into place, compacting and condensing.
Place crust in the preheated oven, and bake for 15-19 minutes, until crust is darkening slightly at the edges, and the air is intoxicating.
Set aside to cool while you make the ganache.
Make Ganache: Chop chocolate into smallish shards. (We do this most easily with a long, serrated bread knife.) Heat cream until steaming and just-bubbling at the edges. Add chopped chocolate to hot cream, and set aside, 2-3 minutes. When the bell rings, stir gently, steadily with a fork. The cream's heat will have softened the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts completely, and combines thoroughly with the cream.
Pour half the ganache into the baked crust. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until crust and ganache layer are completely cool. (Don't skip this step, else your mousse will melt.)
Make Peanut Butter Mouse: Pour remaining 2 cups of heavy cream plus powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, and whip to stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, add the softened cream cheese, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla. Stir with a spatula until cream cheese and peanut butter are thoroughly combined, with no streaks remaining. Finally, combine the two, as follows: First, add a third of the whipped cream to the peanut butter mixture, using a spatula to fold the light into the heavy, a dozen or so strokes. Homogenous is not the goal, here; leavening the mixture is. Streaks at this stage are fine. Add another third, and again, fold in with a dozen or so broad, sweeping strokes. Add the final third of the whipped cream, and fold in, just until thoroughly combined.
FInish the Pie: Remove the now-cool, ganache-filled crust, and tip in the peanut butter mousse. Spread gently to level. Pour remaining ganache (mine was still pourable; if yours is not, simply microwave 10-15 seconds until just warmed) over the mousse-filled pie. Ganache will likely cover all the mousse easily, but if not, pick up the pan, and tip gently, this way and that, to encourage coverage to all "corners" of the pan. Tipping rather than spreading keeps the top glossy. Garnish, if you wish, with salted peanuts, pretzels, and/or sea salt. Refrigerate at least one hour, to cool top layer of ganache.
I'm sorry. You're welcome.
Keeps beautifully 3 days in the fridge. Likely longer. If you have a spare padlock.