Lemon Espresso Pie To Brighten the Day

Two different layers of lemony goodness, plus hot fudge sauce, and  vanilla-scented whipped cream, make for one outrageously good pie.
Two different layers of lemony goodness, plus hot fudge sauce, and vanilla-scented whipped cream, make for one outrageously good pie.

After all this merciless rain — including the destruction it has wrought even as it’s vanquished our years-long drought — it’s a relief to experience some sunshine, isn’t it?

Yet even on the dreariest, gloomiest day, there’s an ideal way to brighten things up majorly.

Just bake this “Lemon Espresso Pie” that dazzles and delights with a burst of bright sunny citrus in its thick, pudding-like filling, as well as in its crowning layer of velvety lemon curd.

The recipe is the cover star of the cookbook, “Justice of the Pies” (Clarkson Potter, 2022), of which I received a review copy.

The cookbook is by By Maya-Camille Broussard, chef-owner of the Justice of the Pies bakery in Chicago and member of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Established 9 years ago, this is a social mission-based bakery that proudly started the “I Knead Love Workshop,” which provides elementary-aged kids from lower-income communities instruction on nutrition and basic cooking.

The bakery was launched in memory of her late father, a criminal defense attorney with a penchant for baking pies. So much so, that he’d often bake a quiche on Saturday mornings, dressed in an apron and his very own toque.

The book is filled with more than 85 recipes, as well as Broussard’s sweet life stories that only make the pies, tarts, and quiches even more enticing. Get your taste buds primed for everything from “Dark Chocolate Cherry Crumble Pie,” “Fig & Pig Quiche” and “Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies” to “Apple-Braised Turkey Pot Pie” and “Open-Face Pizza Puffs.”

I used homegrown Meyer lemons in this pie.
I used homegrown Meyer lemons in this pie.

I like to think of this “Lemon Espresso Pie” as “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”

It doesn’t have the jarring, discombobulating quality of that Academy Award-winning movie. But when it comes to pies, it has pretty much everything you would want — all at once. We’re talking a crisp crust, a very creamy filling, an intense dark chocolate taste, and a hit of coffee, plus bracing tartness to reset the palate for one bite after another.

The just-formed espresso-chocolate cookie crust.
The just-formed espresso-chocolate cookie crust.
Unbaked, with the filling poured into the crust.
Unbaked, with the filling poured into the crust.

This grand pie is composed of a chocolate cookie crust made from pulverized Oreos stirred with ground espresso and melted butter; a baked filling of sweetened condensed milk fortified with egg yolks, lemon juice and lemon zest; and a final layer of lemon curd that gets extra lemony with zest stirred in at the last moment. Serve slices with a dollop of vanilla bean Chantilly cream and hot fudge sauce to really take it over the top.

The lemon curd and chocolate sauce after being made and refrigerated.
The lemon curd and chocolate sauce after being made and refrigerated.

The pie is less daunting if you make the components over several days, especially because after baking, the filling needs to chill at least 6 hours. Then, the lemon curd is spread over top, and the whole pie chilled again for at least 1 more hour. Make the process easier by making the lemon curd and chocolate sauce ahead of time, as they keep well in the fridge for days.

You can see the zest visible in the curd topping and the distinct layers in this pie.
You can see the zest visible in the curd topping and the distinct layers in this pie.

Lemon is definitely front and center in this pie. The chocolate-espresso cookie crust adds a nice contrast so the pie isn’t just one-note yet still lets the citrus be the star. The vanilla-scented whipped cream makes everything better. And the chocolate sauce really revs up the richness of everything it touches. Because this one is made with both evaporated milk and heavy cream, as well as some butter, it’s deeply luscious. Indeed, once refrigerated, it will firm up to the consistency of thick ganache. So, you’ll want to warm it slightly before serving.

Pie time -- big-time.
Pie time — big-time.

For people like my husband, who don’t always enjoy the tartness of lemon desserts, the chocolate sauce mutes that a bit, and makes it a more pleasing dessert for them. For folks who relish the pert and perky taste of lemon curd, the chocolate sauce might be superfluous. Still, it’s a delightful addition definitely worth trying.

This heavenly pie won’t chase the rain away, but it will surely give a sunny lift to any day.

Everything, everywhere all at once -- in one forkful.
Everything, everywhere all at once — in one forkful.

Lemon Espresso Pie

(Makes one 9-inch pie)

2 (14-ounce ) cans sweetened condensed milk

4 large egg yolks

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Espresso Chocolate Cookie Crust (see recipe below)

1/4 cup Lemon Curd (see recipe below)

Hot fudge Sauce (see recipe below) or store-bought, warmed

Vanilla Bean Chantilly Cream (see recipe below)

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks until well combined (the sweetened condensed milk will become thin). While whisking, slowly pour the lemon juice and continue whisking until well blended. Fold in the lemon zest. The mixture will begin to thicken as the acids in the lemon juice react with the proteins in the sweetened condensed milk. Set aside for 5 minutes to thicken.

Place the espresso bean-infused cookie crust on a baking sheet and pour the filling into the crust.

Bake until tiny bubbles emerge on the surface of the pie’s filling, about 15 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and refrigerate for at least 6 hours to chill and set.

Using a silicone or offset spatula, spread the lemon curd across the entire surface of the pie and refrigerate for 1 more hour.

Before serving, pour 1/4 cup of the hot fudge sauce on a plate. Place a slice of pie on the fudge and top with Chantilly cream.

Refrigerate the pie in a cake box for up to 7 days or freeze for up to 2 months. Remove the pie from the freezer and allow it to thaw for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing. Wait until just before serving to add sauce and top with Chantilly cream.

Espresso Chocolate Cookie Crust

(Makes one 9-inch crust)

2 cups chocolate sandwich cookies with filling such as Oreos (about 21 cookies)

1 tablespoon ground espresso

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Place cookies in a blender or food processor and pulse until crumbs are formed. Add the ground espresso to the food processor with the cookies and pulse to combine.

Transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl, pour in the melted butter, and using a silcone spatula, stir together until crumbs are well moistened and the crumbs hold a shape when pressed.

Transfer the crumbs to a 9-inch pie pan, pressing crumb mixture onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate the pan for about 15 minutes to help the crust firm up.

Lemon Curd

(Makes 1/2 cup)

4 large egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (2 to 3 lemons)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons

Fill a pot halfway with water and set over medium-high heat to fashion a double-boiler.

In a medium glass bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Once the water boils, place the glass bowl on top of the pot and turn the heat down to low. Whisk the curd constantly until a spoon across the top of the curd leaves a trail (even a loose one), 10 to 12 minutes.

Carefully remove the glass bowl from the pot and set aside. If the curd has any cooked egg bits (or looks lumpy), strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve and into a medium bowl. Immediately whisk in the butter and lemon zest until the butter melts. Cover with plastic wrap so that it touches the top of the curd (this will prevent a film from forming as the curd cooks). Don’t worry if the curd looks thin — it will continue to thicken as it cools. Once the custard is cooled, transfer it to an airtight glass jar or container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 12 days.

Hot fudge Sauce

(Makes 4 cups)

1 cup evaporated milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate

1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, combine the evaporated milk, heavy cream, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, salt, and butter. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add the chocolate and whisk until it dissolves, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and, while whisking, sift in the cocoa powder. Return to low heat and constantly whisk until a sheen is formed, about 1 minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla.

Allow the fudge sauce to cool slightly before using.

Store in a jar at room temperature for up to 3 days or refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Vanilla Bean Chantilly Cream

(Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups)

1 cup heavy cream (with at least 35 percent butterfat)

1/2 vanilla bean

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place a stand mixer bowl and the whisk attachment (or a medium mixing bowl and beaters if using a hand mixer) in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes.

While the equipment chills, pour the heavy cream into a measuring cup. Using a sharp paring knife, slice he vanilla bean lengthwise down the center of the pod. Gently scrape the seeds from each half of the pod into the heavy cream. (Try not to apply too much pressure or you may actually scrape up some of the skin.). Discard the vanilla pod (or add it to a container of granulated sugar to infuse for other purposes).

Remove the mixing bowl and beaters from the freezer and pour the heavy cream into the bowl (make sure to scrape out any seeds that stick to the measuring cup). Whip the heavy cream on medium-high speed until it thickens slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Once the cream has thickened slightly, pour in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form, about 3 more minutes (a soft peak will form at the tip of the whisk attachment). Turn off the mixer and pour in the vanilla extract. Fold in the vanilla using a silicone spatula.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use (you may need to give it a quick whisk before using). Chantilly cream is best used within a day of making, but will keep for another 2 days, covered in the refrigerator. If it looks like it’s separating, just use a hand whisk to whip it again until smooth.)

Adapted from “Justice of the Pies” by Maya-Camille Broussard

More Lemon Inspired Treats to Perk Up the Day: Gin and Tonic with Burnt Lemon and Cucumber

And: Aebleskiver with Lemon Curd

And: Chunky Lemon Cornmeal Cake by Dorie Greenspan

And: Iced Matcha and Lemon Loaf Cake

And: Lemon Mint Cake

And: Lemon Squares by Emily Luchetti

And: Lemon-Walnut Biscotti

And: Lemon Ricotta Muffins

And: Fennel and Meyer Lemon Relish

And: Meyer Lemon Salsa


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