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In January 1970, The Times published a recipe for brandy Alexander pie. It was an unassuming confection: a graham-cracker crust filled with a wobbly, creamy mousse and enough alcohol to raise the hair on your neck and then make your neck wobbly too. Later that year, Craig Claiborne, then the food editor, declared it one of the paper's three most-requested dessert recipes (the other two were cheesecake and pots-de-creme) and ran it again. By rights, this should have been the recipe's swan song.
But thanks to Dick Taeuber, a Maryland statistician, the pie lived on. Taeuber discovered that you could use a simple formula to make the pie in the flavor of almost any cocktail you wanted (3 eggs to 1 cup cream to 1/2 cup liquor). Among the ones he came up with were the Fifth Avenue (apricot brandy and brown creme de cacao), the Shady Lady (coffee-flavored brandy and triple sec) and Taeuber's favorite, the Pink Squirrel (made with creme de almond and white creme de cacao). Each pie had a corresponding crust made with graham crackers, gingersnaps or chocolate cookies. Taeuber sent Claiborne a letter including 10 variations on the pie. By the time Claiborne responded and said he wanted to run his recipes, Taeuber was up to 20. In 1975, Claiborne renamed it Dick Taeuber's cordial pie and published it once more, this time with all 20 variations in a chart. (A complete list can be found in the book.)
Calling it a cordial pie doesn't quite capture its punch or proof. Booze pie would be more fitting. It's not the kind of thing you want to serve for a children's birthday party. “I kept going, and in 1978, I think, it was up to 50 variations,” said Taeuber, now 73 and retired. ''I mailed Craig a copy just for information. He put a note in his food column that I had copies available if anybody wanted to send me a quarter and a self-addressed envelope. The quarter was so I could pay for the postage. Everyone sent a quarter and a stamp.'' The note came out on a Monday. By Friday, Taeuber had 1,200 requests.
And then the pie went into a 32-year hibernation.
The chiffon filling will be fluffier if you let the egg whites come to room temperature before whipping.
The filling is made by folding whipped egg whites into a base thickened with egg yolks and gelatin. Be careful not to chill the base too much or the filling will be lumpy.
Chocolate shaved into curls with a vegetable peeler was once a classy garnish. Why not?
1975 Dick Taeuber’s Brandy Alexander Pie
- 1 1/2 cups gingersnap crumbs
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1/4 cup Cognac
- 1/4 cup Crème de Cacao
- 1 cup heavy cream
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine the crumbs with the butter. Form in a 9-inch pan and bake for 10 minutes. Cool.
3. Pour 1/2 cup cold water in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Add 1/3 cup sugar, salt and egg yolks. Stir to blend.
4. Place over low heat and stir until the gelatin dissolves and mixture thickens slightly (it won’t be as thick as a custard). Do not boil! Remove from heat.
5. Stir the liqueurs or liquor into the mixture. Then chill until the mixture starts to mound slightly.
6. Beat the egg whites until stiff, then add the remaining sugar and beat until the peaks are firm. Fold the meringue into the thickened mixture.
7. Whip the cream, then fold into the mixture.
8. Turn the mixture into the crust. Chill for several hours or overnight.
August 3, 1975: “Food; Pie, Spiked” by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey. Recipe adapted from reader Richard C. Taeuber from College Park, Maryland.