Icebox pies go upper crust

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 mousse, has been on its menu for years. (Karl Merton Ferron, 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

To make the mousse, place the dark chocolate in double boiler to melt. Whip heavy cream and powdered sugar together until thick. Separate egg whites from the yolks. Fluff egg whites until thick. Blend chocolate and the egg yolks. Fold chocolate mixture into egg whites. Fold all into the heavy cream. Add to pie shell. Refrigerate.

Courtesy of the Prime Rib

The Rusty Scupper's sweet potato cheesecake pie

Makes: 1 pie

1 9-inch graham cracker pie shell

1 12-ounce can sweet potatoes

1 pint heavy cream

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Drain sweet potatoes. Place heavy cream in mixer with all of the ingredients except the sweet potatoes. Beat until soft peaks form; add sweet potatoes. Mix until incorporated. Pour mixture into pie shell and place in refrigerator. Let set for up to two hours and serve with fresh whipped cream.

Courtesy of the Rusty Scupper

David Guas' no-bake cheesecake

Makes: 1 pie

1 1/2 sheets bronze gelatin

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup sour cream

5 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

Submerge gelatin sheets in a bowl of ice water and allow the sheets to soften or "bloom" (approximately 5 minutes).

Place cream cheese in a metal bowl above boiling water and allow cream cheese to melt, stirring occasionally.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sour cream, sugar, vanilla extract, heavy cream and salt. Whip using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form.

Remove the cream cheese from heat. Squeeze excess water from softened gelatin sheets and whisk gelatin into cream cheese. Add approximately 1/2 cup of the whipped sour-cream mixture into the cream-cheese mixture and whisk until smooth. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining sour cream mixture into the cream cheese mixture.

Using a 4-ounce scoop, portion 4 ounces of the combined mixture into rocks glasses or glass coffee cups; glasses should be approximately 6 ounces in capacity or, if 8 ounces in capacity, make 5-ounce portions. Tap each glass onto a soft towel to allow the filling to settle in and remove any possible air bubbles. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 2-3 hours before adding any toppings of your choice. Un-topped cheesecake can be refrigerated for 2-3 days.

Adapted from "DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style" by David Guas

Making icebox pies

•Choose cookies for the crumb crust (graham crackers, or sandwich cremes). The crust should be able to remain crisp after being filled with moist ingredients and refrigerated. Some chefs bake the crust for 5-10 minutes to give it firmness.

•Fillings can be uncooked (fresh fruit) or cooked (custards) on the stovetop.

•Once the fillings have been transferred to the pie crust, pies should be wrapped and then put in the refrigerator/ freezer for at least three hours to set. Remove and let stand for a few minutes. Slice and serve plain or with toppings such as nuts, chocolate sauce and fruit.

Source: Adapted from "Icebox Pies: 100 Scrumptious Recipes for No-Bake, No-Fail Pies" by Lauren Chattman

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