August 14th is National Creamsicle day. I love that we live in a world where we can set aside a day of devotion to such a novel and simple pleasure. Some people would argue, with the current state the world is in, that celebrating trivial holidays for novelty dessert treats, or any foodstuff, is almost shameful; that there are more important things happening in the world than creating days to honor raspberry tarts, whiskey sours and chop suey (all part of the August festivities). Those people aren’t wrong. But I think that it’s because of the other darker goings-on in the world that we should take every opportunity we can to celebrate, enjoy and relish in the simplest of things–no matter how stupid they are.
This is my contribution to both the celebration and the shame. Creamsicle pies are nothing new. They are usually made up of orange-flavored gelatin, cream cheese and whipped topping, all coming together in a graham cracker crust before being decorated with more whipped cream and, often, canned mandarin oranges. Nothing wrong with that, really, but I’ll admit here to my snobbish aversion for flavored gelatin (not quite sure why–it’s kind of a principle thing I guess) as well as my dislike for the too-foamy texture of whipped topping. I am also slightly apprehensive of using even unflavored powdered gelatin simply because my track record with it is less than stellar: a long time ago some panna cottas didn’t go so well, the gelatin not fully mixing into the cream, resulting in lumps of chewy gelatin suspended in only slightly thickened cream and, more recently, an experimental venture into rhubarb icebox bars that were a textural abomination (imagine a very solid Jell-O, like you used half the amount of liquid required for the gelatin used, made of milk… Epic fail).
Of course I could have gone the Key Lime Pie route, making a custard-like base, but that would require baking and I didn’t quite want to do that; it is summer after all and we’re all suckers for no-bake desserts. Structure. Structure was what was needed. Many no-bake cheesecakes use gelatin to give them structure, where others rely solely on slightly stiffened whip cream folded into cream cheese to give it body, but that latter is a bit to soft set for me and more reminiscent of a syllabub or fool than anything. Then I thought about grasshopper pie, that chocolate and mint flavored jade-green pie and its marshmallow and cream base; appropriate considering the sweet dessert was based on the cocktail of the same name and, conversely, the creamsicle dessert is the basis for a cocktail. The marshmallows not only provide the gelatin needed to give this its hold but also the subtle creamy essences–a nod to the ice cream-filling of the dayglow orange treats. And the orange flavor? Well, booze, of course! When all is said and done you have something that’s a bit fresher tasting, like the essence of oranges, rather than that of orange flavored candy. Oh, and I kept the chocolate base of the grasshopper pie because, c’mon, orange and chocolate–right?!
First, start by making the crust: pulverize Oreos until they’re a fine crumb. Add in the soft butter and process until the butter and Oreos are well mixed. With the processor still running stream in the melted butter. Using only soft butter doesn’t give it a firm hold, while only melted butter makes it too dense and wet so I use both—the best of both worlds.
Tumble the rubble out into a 10” fluted tart pan, with a removable bottom, and press it evenly along the bottom and up the sides. Put this in the fridge to chill while you get on with the filling.
Next, melt some mini marshmallows in a medium saucepan with some milk over low heat.
Once they’re totally melted, pour them into a heatproof dish and whisk in some orange marmalade, orange zest and juice, vanilla extract and, the crowning elixir of the pie, Cointreau. I think it has a cleaner orange-flavor and perfume than triple sec, like orange essential oils. Set this aside until it is totally and completely cooled.
Once it is, whip some heavy cream until medium-to-stiff peaks form—about 4 – 5 minutes on medium speed in a standup mixer.
Pour in the cooled marshmallow mix and beat just until it’s combined. Scrape it down with a rubber spatula before adding some food coloring. The coloring is optional but I recommend gel coloring because it doesn’t dilute the filling and doesn’t have the same acerbic taste as liquid dyes. Beat it again, though not too much, to combine it. Fold with the spatula until its totally combine and pour it into the chilled crust.
Cover it very loosely with foil, as not to mar the surface, and chill in the fridge for at least 8 hours, or 24 ideally. You could also freeze it for at least 4 – 6 hours if you want more of a frozen pie.
Scatter the top with more orange zest, either finely grated or in long, thin curls (if you want to) and serve it chilled, prepared for a nostalgic trip to childhood.
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