Monday, August 15, 2011

The Unbearable Lightness of Chiffon Pies

In 1958 Jell-O tried a line of instant chiffon pie fillings - lemon and strawberry. I don't think that they were around for very long, though it sounds like a good idea.

Chiffon pies were first mentioned in print in the 1920s, and are named for chiffon fabric, a light sheer fabric whose French name comes from the word for cloth or rags. According to John Mariani in The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, the very first chiffon pie was a pumpkin chiffon pie presented by the Beverly Hills Women's Club in their 1929 recipe book. The filling of a chiffon pie is lightened by folding beaten egg whites into it just before it is chilled.

Chiffon cake is made with oil instead of butter or shortening, and like chiffon pie has whipped egg whites folded into it before baking. It was invented in the 1920s by a California caterer who kept the recipe a secret until he sold the recipe to Betty Crocker in 1947.

I've seen chiffon pie recipes from the 1940s-50s ranging from cherry, prune, lime, pineapple, and orange - as well as the more popular strawberry and lemon flavors. The most unusual? This Toffee Chiffon Pie from The American Woman's Cookbook (1962 edition, p. 603):

A lovely grey chiffon dress, circa 1905

1 Tb unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
2 cups hot milk
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup crushed pecan toffee
1 Zwiebach pie shell [any plain cookie crumb crust would do, I think]
Pecan toffee shavings

Soften gelatin in water 5 minutes. Combine milk, salt and 4 Tb sugar; stir until dissolved. Add to slightly beaten egg yolks and cook over boiling water until thickened, stirring constantly. Add gelatin and stir until dissolved. Cool. Add vanilla and toffee when custard begins to thicken. Beat egg whites until stiff, add remaining sugar and fold into custard. Fill crumb shell and chill/ Sprinkle with toffee shavings. Makes 1 (9 inch) pie.

There is also a Sherry Chiffon Pie variation, in which you use almond extract instead of vanilla; and add 2 Tb sherry and use 1/4 cup chopped almonds instead of toffee and toffee shavings. Toasted almonds would be really good in this, I think. I'll bet you could substitute liqueur for the sherry and then you could do all kinds of lovely boozy chiffon pies. What do you think? It's too hot for me to start baking now but i might try this in the fall and I'll let you know what I come up with...

P.S. Yes, I used the jokey title before - back in 2008, in The Unbearable Lightness of Beans. I like to think of it as recycling!


vanilla said...

That "four minute prep" does sound wonderful as over against all that combining, stirring and beating. However, I have to say, I do like some of that "unbearable" nothingness of sweet fluff! Your recipe sounds heavenly.

randomcreative said...

The color of the pie in the original print is great!

Scrapyard Butterfly said...

When I was small, I had a children's book called "Pickle Chiffon Pie". I can only imagine how odd that must have tasted.

A Mom said...

wow! thanks for sharing this one! my hubby loves this.

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Lidian! Long time no see:)

Love this post! I did a Chiffon post a while back but I missed that Toffee Chiffon Pie. I may just need to include this link in my post.

Thanks for's so nice to "see" you!