For thoughtful cooks and hosts, it's easy to bite off more than we can chew during the holidays. Weeks ahead of time, I make a list of guests and menu options, noting allergies and aversions in order to accommodate everyone's tastes. Even the most seasoned cooks can get overwhelmed.
I always like to have one dessert option that's quick and easy to put together. And speaking of, I just came back from a trip with chef and cookbook author Sara Foster, who recently published a book titled "Pie" filled with inspiring recipes, including a simple apple sour cream slab and buttermilk cardamom pie that I might add to the dessert offerings this year. For another easy option, I'm opting for an old-school pantry pie that turns cookie crumbs and shelf-stable condensed milk into something luxurious. But keep in mind that this combo is for the relentless sweet tooth, so it might be wise to have some lighter fruit options on hand as well.
Making the caramel takes some slow-cooking time. There are slow cooker and stove-top versions but this one, made in the oven, gets a little help from a water bath. Graham crackers make for a classic crust but I've had a bit of an obsession lately with the cinnamon-flecked Biscoff cookies (thanks Alaska Air) and am happy to report that you can buy whole sleeves of the addictive biscuits at Safeway. Top with fresh whipped cream and some finishing salt, or add a drizzle of glossy chocolate ganache and a few crushed cookie crumbs or some bright pomegranate arils. Make sure to let the pie sit out a good 30 minutes before serving.
Easy Caramel Pie
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
1 (8.8-ounce) package Biscoff cookies (or graham crackers)
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
1/2 teaspoon Maldon flake salt or Fleur de sel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
Garnish: chocolate ganache; cookie crumbs; pomegranate arils
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, combine cookies, brown sugar, and cinnamon and pulse into fine crumbs. (Leave out 1 to 2 tablespoons for garnish). Pour in the melted butter and pulse until well blended. Press cookie mixture into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove and let cool. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.
Pour condensed milk into a 9- by 13-inch ovenproof glass baking dish and sprinkle with salt. Cover dish with foil and place dish in a larger pan, such as a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the larger pan to reach at least halfway up the side of the baking dish. Bake, lifting foil to stir 2 to 3 times, until milk is deep golden and thickened, about 2 1/4 hours. NOTE: add more water, as needed, to the larger pan. The consistency should be like a soft deep caramel. If lumpy, it will smooth out as it cools.
Remove pan and carefully whisk vanilla extract into the hot caramel. Scrape caramel filling into pie crust and smooth top. Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking oil and place on top of filling. Chill in refrigerator until filling is set, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Remove pie from fridge at least 30 minutes before serving. Whip cream and sugar together until medium peaks form. Pile on top of pie and garnish with reserved cookie crumbs; slice and serve, if desired with chocolate ganache or pomegranate arils.