pomegranate chocolate cream pie

pomegranate chocolate cream pie

Ok well, it’s August 29, and this my official last pie of summer. I mean, don’t worry—I totally have one in the works for Thanksgiving, but fall and summer desserts have a very different vibe. The days of bright red strawberry pies and cherry galettes will yield to persimmons and apples, and we’ll all finally lose the patience to let them cool on the windowsill, because on a chilly November day, a disastrously runny yet warm slice of apple pie sounds a million times better than a perfectly set room temperature one.

But here between seasons, this pomegranate chocolate cream pie is the perfect thing for easing into the fall. It’s chilled, so you don’t have to leave your oven on for over an hour waiting for the center to get bubbly on a warm August day. But it’s also got a little preview of the fall flavors ahead. If pomegranates aren’t yet available where you are, feel free to skip the topping of fresh arils. The real flavor comes from pomegranate molasses, an ingredient that’s more traditionally used in savory dishes, but also works wonderfully with some sweets, and is conveniently available year-round.

Pomegranate molasses is one of those funny cases where store-bought is actually better than homemade, because manufacturers add a bit of extra acidity that’s hard to replicate when you reduce down pomegranate juice at home. That sweet tanginess works perfectly with chocolate, as anyone who’s ever had one of those addictive “chocolate covered pomegranate-açaí-blueberry (but actually just candy)” thingies can confirm. This is basically the chocolate cream pie version of one of those.

I tried a couple different formulas while developing this recipe, and at the end of the day, the chocolate filling is best sweetened entirely with pomegranate molasses and dark chocolate. Any added sugar and it’s too cloyingly sweet, but any less pomegranate molasses and its flavors and acidity are lost.

Hope you enjoy a slice during this last little bit of warm weather!

pomegranate chocolate cream pie
pomegranate chocolate cream pie
pomegranate chocolate cream pie
pomegranate chocolate cream pie

pomegranate chocolate cream pie

serves 8
active time: 35 minutes
total time: 4 1/2 hours
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for the crust

  • 200g all purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups)

  • 3.5g salt (1/2 teaspoon)

  • 130g cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks (9 tablespoons)

  • 60g cold yogurt (1/4 cup)

  • 15g cold water (1 tablespoon)

for the filling

  • 30g cornstarch (3 tablespoons)

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 165g pomegranate molasses (1/2 cup)

  • 2 large eggs (110g)  

  • 590g whole milk (2 1/2 cups)

  • 60g heavy whipping cream (1/4 cup)

  • 30g unsalted butter (2 tablespoons)

  • 200g chopped dark chocolate (at least 72% cacao) (1 1/3 cups)

for the topping

  • 20g sugar (1 1/2 tablespoons)

  • 230 cold heavy whipping cream (1 cup)

  • pinch of salt

  • Chocolate shavings (for decorating)***

  • Pomegranate arils (for decorating)****

The crust:

  1. Place the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse several times, until the butter blends into the flour, and there aren’t any lumps bigger than a tic tac. Add the yogurt, and pulse 2 or 3 times to distribute. Drizzle in the water.* Pulse a few times until it can be squeezed together into a pliable and smooth dough (don’t over-process). Shape the dough into a ball, flatten the ball into a disc, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

  2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out to between 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick; it should be wider than the pie pan (about 13-13.5 inches). Rotate occasionally as you work, but try not to handle the dough too much.

  3. Once it’s rolled out, gently wrap it around your rolling pin to transfer it to the pie pan. Unroll it onto a 9-inch pie pan and gently press the dough into place so it’s in contact with the entire pan. Use scissors to trim some of the excess off, but leave about 3/4-inch of dough hanging past the edge of the pan. Go back and fold the edge under itself so it still overhangs by just about 1/8-inch (you shouldn’t be able to see the pan from above). Crimp, let it sit at cool room temperature for 10 minutes, then refrigerate for 90 minutes.

  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C) convection once the dough is almost done chilling.

  5. Once the pie shell is ready to bake, dock it all over with a fork, and bake for about 20 minutes total, until golden brown. About 5 minutes into baking, check on it to see if it’s sliding or puffing too much on the bottom. Take it out and dock it again with a fork to make it collapse, and nudge it back into place if it’s shrinking/sliding. Put it back in the oven, and check on it again after another 5 to 10 minutes, repeating if it’s puffing up again. Or feel free to use pie weights instead if you’re not super experienced with pie dough (see note). **

The filling and toppings:

  1. Combine the cornstarch, salt, pomegranate molasses, and eggs (off the heat) in a medium saucepan. Whisk together until there are no more lumps. Stir in the whole milk and 1/4 cup heavy cream, and whisk together until completely combined. Set over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer while stirring constantly.

  2. Once bubbles start to break the surface, cook for 1 minute (keep stirring), and then remove from heat. Immediately add the butter and chocolate, and stir until both the butter and chocolate have melted completely and incorporated into the filling.

  3. Immediately pour it into the baked pie shell, and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before continuing.

  4. While you’re waiting on the pie to chill, place the sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a stainless steel bowl), and place it along with the whisk attachment (or a regular whisk) in the refrigerator to chill.

  5. When the pie is ready to come out of the refrigerator, whip the cream: add the 1 cup heavy whipping cream and a pinch of salt to the sugar, and beat at medium-high speed, until it reaches soft- to medium-peaks (don’t beat it all the way to stiff peaks unless you plan to pipe it).

  6. Top the pie with the whipped cream, not quite spreading it all the way out to the edges, and making little swooshes on the surface with a small offset spatula or knife.

  7. Top with chocolate shavings and pomegranate arils, and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve it. It keeps very well in the refrigerator for a few days, although the whipped cream may start weeping after the first 24 hours (don’t make it more than 12 hours ahead of time for special guests, but enjoy the leftovers for days).

* If you measured precisely in grams, you can add the water all at once. If you’re using volume, you should add the water in 2 installments, and you might even need to add a bit more to get it to hold together (volume is less precise).
** To prevent shrinking and puffing in the first place, you can use pie weights. If you go the pie weight route, you don’t need to do the whole thing with the folded-under crust, and you don’t need to let it rest in the refrigerator for so long. I hate pie weights, and always use this method to avoid them, but some might find this technique more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s totally a matter of preference. If you use pie weights, your pastry won’t be as flaky and puffy, and you’ll need to bake it for a few minutes without the weights to make sure the bottom browns. If you’re new to baking, you might want to try using weights, because it’s a little easier and failproof.
*** For big, bold shavings, make sure your bar of chocolate isn’t too cold. I like to microwave mine for about 10-20 seconds, not to melt it, but just to help it soften very slightly and take the room temperature chill off. A slightly warmed bar of chocolate will let you shave off bigger pieces, and those pieces will look velvety rather than chalky. Simply drag your knife across the surface at a 45 degree angle (carefully, away from yourself), or use a veggie peeler.
**** The easiest way to seed a pomegranate is under water.

pomegranate chocolate cream pie
 

how to learn from failure in recipe developing

This  milk tea baklawa  took so much trial and error (emphasis on the error) before I finally came up with a reliable recipe, but I learned a lot along the way.

This milk tea baklawa took so much trial and error (emphasis on the error) before I finally came up with a reliable recipe, but I learned a lot along the way.

My husband and I were recently visiting Bob and Laura, our good friends from grad school, and one day while chatting about new challenges and projects, Laura introduced me to my new favorite concept: growth mindset. Here’s the general idea: if you’re in a “fixed mindset,” you assume that everyone is good at a few particular things, and the key to life is discovering unlocking those innate talents. With a fixed mindset, finding your passion is reduced to figuring out what you’re good at and avoiding what you’re bad at.

But with a growth mindset, you recognize that becoming good at something requires practice and patience, and that you can become better at something you’re not so great at, if given the opportunity to do so (see the note at the very end of this post for more on what this doesn’t mean*). And more importantly, with a growth mindset, you recognize that failure is not only perfectly fine… it’s actually a good thing!

This resonated with me, because I’ve been trying to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset for the last few years, and am really proud of the progress I’ve made. When I first started recipe developing, I would internalize every kitchen disaster as a personal failing, and when a recipe didn’t go right, I was annoyed that I had wasted my time and ingredients on an idea that would never even make it to my blog.

It didn’t take very long to realize that this was not a productive or healthy way of thinking, and that failure is essential to creativity. So after the first couple months, I decided I was going to think of every failure as a learning opportunity, and understand it as part of my creative process. But declaring this and actually believing it are two very different things.

I’m obviously not perfect, but after a few years of working at it, I’ve finally shifted to thinking of things in terms of growth. I still feel disappointed when things don’t go well, but I’ve learned to be okay with that feeling, while actively taking steps to learn from the failed experiment.

There are a few concrete things I’ve done to get to this point, which I’m going to share below. But before I get to that, I just want to say that there are a lot of other wonderful essays on the subject of kitchen failure, which you should absolutely read. This piece by Maggie Shi is positively life-affirming, and this post by a Couple Cooks is a nice reminder that it happens to everyone. And as Ashley C. Ford says, “You are more than the worst thing you've ever done.”

Oh, and to my non-writer readers: while I wrote this one with recipe developers in mind, you’re totally welcome to stick around, because a lot of this stuff is pretty universally applicable to anyone doing any sort of learning or creating. Or feel free to check back on Thursday for a chocolate pomegranate pie (eek! so excited to share it!).

my super cute reflective journal 💁🏽‍♀️…

my super cute reflective journal 💁🏽‍♀️…

… on a stack of very practical recipe developing journals

… on a stack of very practical recipe developing journals

how to work toward a growth mindset while developing recipes

Intending to focus on your growth and learn from failure is a wonderful step, but in my experience, it took a few concrete actions to really train myself to learn from disasters (and to learn how to be kinder to myself!). These strategies might not be for everyone, but they work for me, and I hope you find something useful to take away:

 

1. balance comfort with challenge, so you can grow on your own terms

The main question here is “do I actually feel like focusing on growth today?” Spend a second deciding whether a recipe is going to be easy to develop, or whether it’s going to be a challenge, and then spend another second deciding whether you feel up for a challenge today. Does it feel like a good day to try something new? Or are you not really feeling it? There’s no right answer, and you know what you need better than anyone else.

Don’t let fear of failure stop you from trying something new, but also don’t push yourself into trying new things when you don’t feel like it. You’ll learn a lot more when you’re actually in the mood to.

Also try not to develop too many challenging recipes in a row, because (in my experience) this leads to burnout. Easy wins are good for confidence and productivity, and there will be periods when you just need to execute rather than grow. There will also be periods when you need to take a break rather than execute. Pay attention to what you need.

 

2. while writing the first draft, think critically and learn all you can

The work that leads to growth can happen before, during, and after kitchen testing time, but the stakes are lowest right before heading into the kitchen. It’s easier to view failure productively before there are ingredients and kitchen time involved, so these days I spend a lot more time on the first drafts of recipes, compared to when I first started.

I have a recipe developing journal, where I take notes while researching recipes, and write first drafts. Once I’ve jotted down a bare-bones first draft, I type it up and flesh it out, and then bring it to the kitchen to test, edit, and re-test, until I’m happy with it (you can read more about this process in my post about how to research and write original recipes). Then I ask myself these questions:

  • What will the major challenges be while testing this recipe in the kitchen? What skills will I need to focus on? Do I need to brush up on any of these techniques before heading to the kitchen? E.g., if I don’t have much experience weaving lattice tops, I would watch a couple videos to make sure that my recipe explains the process clearly and accurately.

  • What are some ways things might go wrong? What do I need to learn to prevent things from going wrong? E.g., if I’m developing a recipe for toum, I know the biggest potential pitfall is the emulsion breaking, so I’d research and write up a list of techniques for ensuring the emulsion doesn’t break, and I’d make sure these are incorporated into the recipe.

  • Does my recipe look like other ones out there? Once you have your own recipe written up, it’s a good idea to do a few side-by-side comparisons, to see if anything seems off. You shouldn’t necessarily doubt yourself if yours is different (do I want my recipe to look like the other ones out there?)—it’s just helpful to see what other people are writing, to decide if you want to tweak your own ratios or techniques. Don’t forget to cite others if you end up finding help or inspiration in someone else’s recipe.

  • Is this recipe ready to take to the kitchen? Don’t give into perfectionism—a recipe will never be 100% ready to test, but you have to decide if it’s as ready as it’s ever going to be.

Do I always get it right after all this effort with the first draft? Absolutely not! These days, now that I’ve gotten much better at this, the first draft tends to be about 90% of the way there—a couple small things are a little wonky in the initial kitchen test. Then I tweak the recipe, try again, and usually love the second attempt.

But even now that things are running smoothly, disasters still happen. If they didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be learning new things. So here’s what I do after things go wrong in the kitchen:

 

3. keep a reflective journal for kitchen disasters

I go through a lot of recipe developing notebooks, and they’re not particularly special. But I have a second totally separate journal, which I use to work through kitchen failures: my reflective journal! Part of its purpose is to jot down practical notes like “needs 1/2 teaspoon more baking powder,” or “try 30 minutes instead,” but it’s above all a place where I think about what I learned, and what I can take forward with me.

My recipe developing journals are super utilitarian and cost like $1 each, but my reflective journal is one of those cute Anthropologie ones. You don’t have to buy a fancy-schmancy journal for this, but if you happen to have a notebook that feels too special to start using (journaling people—if you know, you know), I highly recommend using it for this purpose, because you need to re-conceptualize failure as something that you look forward to thinking and writing about, instead of something that feels like a chore.

 

4. ask yourself these questions, and write down your answers:

It takes about 20 minutes total to answer these, and it’s worth every second. At first, journaling was the last thing I wanted to do after disaster, but it’s helped me so much. These are the things I generally focus on, but don’t feel like you have to answer every single question, and feel free to use them as a general prompt:

How do I feel?

  • Engage your compassion. Try not to judge yourself if you feel awful about the day—just acknowledge how you feel, and sit with it for a second. Treat yourself with the same understanding you’d extend to a friend.

  • Maybe these things roll off your back, and you’re cool as a cucumber—that’s ok too!

What did I enjoy about the time I spent working on this?

  • Engage your sensory memories. Did you enjoy the feeling of kneading bread dough? Did you enjoy the food smells? Did you enjoy the walk to the supermarket?

  • Amidst the failure, did something small go right? Instead of thinking of the day as a waste of time, this reframes things and helps you understand your time as having both good moments and bad ones, all of which are worthwhile.

What went badly, and what would I do differently next time to fix it?

  • Engage your curiosity and problem solving skills to troubleshoot. Identify problems, and propose solutions.

  • If you have no idea how to solve a particular problem, it’s totally ok to write that you have no idea.

Exactly what do I need to learn between now and the next try?

  • Time to come up with a plan! What steps do I need to take to learn these new things? Is this a problem that will be solved by doing research or practicing, or both?

  • If I feel lost and don’t even know where to start, who can I reach out to for advice and guidance?

  • Should I try again right away, or do I need some time to learn something between now and the next attempt?

  • Do I even want to try again? Sometimes it’s ok to just shelve an idea forever. You can always revisit it if you feel ready later or change your mind.

What did I learn from all this? What can I take with me into the future?

  • What are some detail-oriented things I learned, which will help me in future recipes beyond this one? (e.g., “always use a little less cardamom than you think”)

  • What are some big-picture things I learned, that I can take forward with me? (e.g., “I hate failing, but that’s ok!”)

 

5. talk openly about this stuff and support each other

Talk about this stuff with your friends, colleagues, other food bloggers, etc. A lot of people confront this kind of challenge in their daily work—my friend Laura who I mentioned above is a computer engineer, not a recipe writer. Even if someone doesn’t work on the same thing you do, we can all learn from each other, listen, and relate.

You might learn a new strategy for dealing productively with failure, or you might just find solace in talking about this stuff with other people who understand. Reach out to other recipe developers and work on building a community of people who learn from, challenge, and support each other.

 

* A quick (but important) note: This concept can potentially be misused to say “everyone is capable of success, so if you’re not succeeding, you’re not really trying hard enough.” It’s important to remember that no one’s journey has the same beginning, middle, or end. Also, not everyone’s goals are going to be the same, and not every goal in life has to be about work. This post is about defining success for yourself, trying to figure out what goals you want to set for yourself, and focusing most of your energy on the journey that gets you there… and most definitely not about judging or blaming either yourself or others for what they are or aren’t doing.

These  eggs poached in grits  took so much troubleshooting, I almost gave up on the recipe altogether… then one day while journaling, I finally figured out what to do differently!

These eggs poached in grits took so much troubleshooting, I almost gave up on the recipe altogether… then one day while journaling, I finally figured out what to do differently!