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Nesselrode Pie

Nesselrode Pie


    It's extinct now -- no restaurant serves it, no bakery makes it -- but this old New York dessert still lives vividly in the taste memories of many.

    Nesselrode is named after one Count Nesselrode, as are a number of dishes that are made with chestnuts or chestnut puree. This is according to Larousse Gastronomique, the French food encyclopedia. Larousse doesn't say why chestnuts are associated with the Count, a 19th century Russian diplomat who negotiated the Treaty of Paris after the Crimean War, but it does note that nesselrode pudding was created for the count by his chef Monsieur Mouy.

    The pie, as we know it in New York, however, was popularized by Hortense Spier, who started her business not as a pie bakery but as a brownstone restaurant on 94th St. between Columbus Ave. and Central Park West. The restaurant closed before World War II and Mrs. Spier baked her specialty pies for other restaurants after that. Besides the nesselrode, there was a lemon meringue, a banana cream, and a coconut custard. By the mid 1950s, these were, indeed, the standard pies served in New York's seafood restaurants and steakhouses. When Mrs. Spierr died, her daughter, Ruth, and daughter-in-law, Mildred, continued the business.

    Nesselrode pie is really a classic Bavarian cream -- in a pie shell, of course -- which is to say a custard base into which gelatin is blended for stability and egg whites are folded for added volume and lightness. The flavoring ought to be candied chestnuts and rum, but chestnuts haven't been a major part of the pie for a long time. The following recipe uses a product called Raffetto's "Nesselro" fruits, which does indeed contain a trace of chestnut, though the first ingredient listed is, of all things, cauliflower, which apparently has a similar texture to chestnuts when candied. The remaining ingredients are candied fruits. You can use a mix of candied fruit -- tutti fruiti -- if you cannot find the Raffetto product.

    In case you'd like your grocer to order some, Raffetto's "Nesselro" is manufactured and marketed by Romanoff International, Inc., the same people who market the caviar you can buy in the supermarket. It is distributed through Haddon House.

1   envelope unflavored gelatin
3   tablespoons dark rum
1   tablespoon water
1 1/2   cups heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
    Pinch of salt
2   tablespoons sugar
2   eggs, separated
1/4   cup sugar
1   10-ounce jar Raffetto's "Nesselro" fruits, well-drained (see note)
1 baked deep 9" pie shell
1   ounce semi-sweet chocolate, optional for decorating

    1. Sprinkle gelatin on rum and water and let stand until softened.

    2. Scald cream and milk together.

    3. In a medium bowl, with a wooden spoon, mix salt and 2 tablespoons sugar into yolks. Add scalded cream slowly to yolks, stirring constantly. Pour into the top of a double boiler, over simmering water, and cook until thickened, stirring frequently. Do not boil.

    4. Stir in gelatin and chill until almost set.

    5. Beat egg whites until they hold peaks, then add 1/4 cup sugar, while continuing to beat until stiff.

    6. Fold beaten whites into cream mixture along with nesselrode fruits. Chill 5 minutes. Stir and turn into pie shell. Decorate with shaved chocolate, if desired.

    Note: Place nesselrode fruits in a strainer over a bowl to drain thoroughly. Syrup may be saved for another use -- for instance, to sweeten a rice pudding, to blend with rum and soda for a tall drink.

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