Week 6: Skillet Tamale Pie

This week covers two 52WeeksOfPie firsts: (1) A savory pie (as opposed to sweet) and (b) a top crust pie (as opposed to a filled or bottom crust-only pie).

Of course any time you start introducing new things, it only means more new ways to screw up!

Here at 52Weeks HQ, the hope here is that the Skillet Tamale Pie will be a meal, rather than as with previous weekly entries, which were all contrived to be sweet desserts. This brings the element of timing into play. With a dessert pie, there is less pressure on timing everything so that the pie is ready at a specific time. After all, dessert is not always a specifically timed event.  You might have it moments after your last bite of dinner or you might wait until hours later. If you are preparing pie as the meal, your audience is going to be less enthusiastic if the pie isn’t ready when they’re famished!

However, this one shouldn’t be too tough to time correctly. It will consist of two parts, which can be made concurrently with a little effort made towards timing. The two parts consists of the filling and the cornbread crust topping. The filling will feature flavored ground beef with tomatoes and black beans. The crust will be an easy to prepare cornbread topping, not from a mix, but rather some simple ingredients that will give it a real corn flavor.

Here are the ingredients:

Tamale Filling6 ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 minced cloves garlic
  • 1 pound ground sirloin (lean)
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup of cheddar cheese, shredded

    Cornbread topping

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

OK, lots of stuff going into this one! More intimidating than it looks, though.

If you know how to mince garlic and onions, more power to you. Since these are not ingredients I have used in previous pies, I watched a couple of quick “How To” videos posted on the internet. They didn’t tell me anything I wouldn’t have guessed to do on my own but it reassured me I was on the right track,

Before starting, adjust your oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.

For the tamale filling:

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the onion is softened. This took about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so.   6 skillet

At this point, stir in the ground meat, the beans and the tomatoes. I drained the beans but forgot to do that with the tomatoes. It did not make a huge difference in quality but the sauce pan’s limits were already being tested by the volume of ingredients so removing this little bit of liquid would have helped!

6 mixture

I broke up the meat with a wooden spoon and made sure it was browning throughout,. When I felt it was cooked through, I added the shredded cheese and then decided to add salt & pepper. Rather than just take a simple salt shaker and distribute NaCl across the skillet’s contents, I decided to use a salt grinder. As I was grinding the salt, the device broke and salt poured out everywhere. Fortunately, MOST of it missed the skillet, landing on the stovetop and floor. However, far more salt went into the concoction than I would have preferred. At this point, there wasn’t much I could do except blame everyone else in the kitchen, naturally, and move on.

6 mixture 2

For the cornbread topping

In between cooking the filling ingredients, I prepared the topping by whisking the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk and egg together. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture until it’s all uniform. Then stir in the butter. The resulting mixture is sticky and thick.

6 topping

Dollop the cornbread batter evenly over the filling and spread into an even layer. I struggled this part. The stickiness of the batter made it tough to spread once it was on top of the filling. I should have dolloped it out in smaller amounts rather than large globs. As a result, it did not completely cover my filling and ended up baking a little thicker than I would have wanted. I baked the pie for 15 minutes. I started checking at 12 minutes. If the cornbread topping had been applied thinner, it would have been done earlier.

6 baking

I let it cool for a few minutes and then served. The taste testers noticed the salt, though they were kind enough to downplay it as no big deal. A chef is probably his or her own worst critic though, and the extra salt flavoring was too much to ignore. At least I can chalk that up to kitchen error rather than a bad recipe. Not draining the tomatoes was a mistake. It made the pie more soupy than it should have been. The cornbread topping was terrific. It was slightly crunchy and complimented the spiced mixture. The beans gave it some extra heartiness and the tomatoes added flavor and texture. You could add cilantro to the mix if that’s your thing. It’s not mine.

6 finished

It was a fun diversion into savory rather than sweet. Hey, with 52 weeks of pie, it makes sense to mix it up a bit!

Thanks for reading!

Week 5: Chocolate Cream Pie

This week I was looking to make a well-balanced chocolate pie. I had a couple requests from taste testers for something chocolate. While the staff at 52 Weeks of Pie isn’t keen on taking requests, it seemed like the right time to dive into this one.

The idea here would be to make a chocolate filling with flavor somewhere between a melted candy bar and a milkshake served on a cookie crust with a freshly whipped topping. Lots of opportunity to screw this one up! Let’s see how it worked out…

5 ingred


         Cookie Crust
  • 16 Oreo cookies
  • 2 tablespoons butter – melted and cooled
    Chocolate Cream Filling
  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • pinch table salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 6 large egg yolks a
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Whipped Cream Topping
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

The crust was pretty simple. I pulverized the cookies in a Ninja food processor. I used Double Stuf Oreo brand cookies. I know there are some people who don’t like the Double Stuf, preferring a thin, single layer of white cream filling. These people generally are joy-less souls, stubbornly refusing to partake in the extra – the “Double” – layer of white cream filling, and, by extension, the fine extras in life in general. Avoid these people.

I took the pulverized granular mix and added the melted butter and then stirred it up, mixing thoroughly. I pressed this into my pie pan and then put it in the fridge for 20 minutes to help it keep shape before popping it into the oven for 10 minutes.

5 crust mix5 crust

While the crust was baking, I moved on to the filling prep. Bring the half-and-half, salt, and about 3 tablespoons of sugar to simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stir together the remaining sugar and cornstarch in small bowl, then sprinkle over your yolks and whisk until mixture is glossy and sugar has begun to dissolve.

5 eggs
Whisking the eggs with corn starch and sugar
5 eggs 2
Looking for a glossy mixture
5 egg
A suicidal casualty

When the half-and-half mixture reaches full simmer, drizzle about 1/2 cup hot half-and-half over yolks, whisking constantly. Then whisk the egg yolk mixture into the simmering half-and-half (the mixture should thicken in about 30 seconds). I learned this technique from a cooking show a while back. Rather than just pouring the yolks directly into the hot saucepan, this method will temper the mixture and avoid scrambling your eggs. After you do this, return the pot to a simmer, whisking constantly, until bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy.

Remove this mixture from the heat, add your butter, vanilla and chocolate until it all melts. I used a spatula to make sure none of the chocolate was sticking to the sides or bottom of the pan. It took longer than I expected to melt the chocolate thoroughly and it didn’t look as dark as expected. I poured this into my cooled crust and stuck the pie in the fridge for about 3 hours.

5 choco5 pie fin

When the tasters were assembled and ready, the whipped cream topping was prepared. The ingredients for this were thrown into a high bowl and beaten like they owed us money, until the mix was seemingly frothy and thick. In reality, the whipped topping wasn’t as firm as we wanted but further whipping would have just made it completely flat.

While the flavor was a hit with all the taste testers, the visual of the pie was not great. The whole thing seemed a bit flat and liquid-y. I think I might have mis-measured the butter, using 4 tablespoons instead of 6 in the filling. Would that make it runnier? There was no way a picture was going to work well but we did our best. The Oreo cookie crust was complimented as a highlight, furthering the theory that anything short of a Double-Stuf Oreo is just wasting everyone’s time.

5 fin pie 2

5 finpie 3