This is a picture of my Great-Aunt Dava on her wedding day to her second husband, Joe Catone, in New Haven, Connecticut in the early 1950s. Dava’s first husband died young in World War II, as did her sister Dora's (my grandmother's) first husband.
Dava always had a sweet tooth, which may explain why she was such a great baker. Nonni tells the story of when they were young (Dava was 7, Dora was 9) and they found themselves at a bakery with their mother, Lydia. Dava wanted a pie. But, the family couldn’t afford such luxuries, so Lydia said no.
Still, Dava continued to loiter close to the pies that were on display out in the open. Angela, the shop-owner, got suspicious. She warned Dava that if she so much as touched one, her mother would have to pay for it. Dava promptly stuck her finger right into that pie. Lydia was furious, but she paid up. The apple pie, Nonni remembers, was delicious!
This recipe for Dava's Italian cream pie is also delicious.
Italian Cream Pie
The basic recipe is for a vanilla cream pie, but Dava also sometimes made a half vanilla/half chocolate cream pie by melting a couple of chocolate squares into half of the Italian cream. Then, she would pour the chocolate and vanilla creams into the crust at the same time (easier with help) so that they bump up against each other, but don’t mix. You can also pour the cream in two layers.
Heat milk until hot, but not boiling. In another pot that’s more wide than tall, bring an inch or two of water to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. In a large bowl (one that will be able to sit comfortably on top of the pot), mix flour, sugar, and eggs. Stir in vanilla and lemon extracts. Whisk in heated milk, then set bowl on top of pot. Alternatively, you can use an actual double boiler, if you have one. Cook, whisking constantly to remove lumps, until thickened. Remove from heat and mix in Galliano. Let cool. (If you want to make a pie with both vanilla and chocolate cream, divide cream in half into two bowls. Melt 1 oz. of chocolate in the double boiler, and stir into the cream in one of the bowls. Let cool.)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out one pie crust on a well-floured counter until ¼-inch thick and at least 12 inches in diameter. Dough will be soft and sticky, so flour rolling pin well. To transfer dough to a 10-inch, deep-dish pie plate. I use a bench scraper to loosen the dough from the counter and push it up and over my rolling pin. Once half the dough is draped over the pin, I center it over the pie plate and gently unfurl it.
Pour the Italian cream into the pie shell. If using two flavors, either gently layer them without mixing, or pour into two different sides at the same time to create the half-and-half pie. Roll out the second pie crust the same way as the first and place on top of the cream. Press edges together and tuck under itself along the rim of the pie plate and crimp. Brush crust with milk or beaten egg, if desired.
Bake about 50 minutes, until crust is puffed and golden-brown. If crust starts to brown too much too early, just cover top with foil. Let cool. Chill before serving.
Dava [Barbaresi] Catone
1921 - 1998
* Galliano has an anise flavor that some people don’t like, but I happen to love. In the Italian cream, you can barely notice the licorice-like flavor and instead get more of an herbal tinge. It really does add something, so I’d recommend trying it once (even though the smallest bottle of Galliano costs $15). I’ll have to come up with some interesting cocktails to polish off the rest of the bottle. Or make more pie.
Next Recipe: Stuffed Artichokes
(Previously: The Cherry Tree)