I first baked “Open Sesame Pie” in 1954 soon after the recipe won the Grand Prize of $25,000 at Pillsbury’s 6th Grand National Bake-Off. As a 15-year-old, I just had to bake this pie because of two ingredients: sesame seeds and dates. I grew up living with my Arabic granny, and loved all sorts of her Middle-Eastern flavorings. But I just was mad about sesame seeds–toasted, of course–and dates.
Toasted sesame seeds in the piecrust and dates in a chiffon filling were a food marriage like no other I had ever seen. As a young baker my pastry technique was in its infancy. But I soldiered on, and claimed victory for a crisp and flaky crust. The chiffon filling was the perfect foil for finely cut dates, and I couldn’t stop eating slice after slice of pie.
Back in 1954 I could buy packages of cut up pitted dates. Today, I use lusciousMedjool dates. I pit them, weigh the 8 ounces called for in the recipe, and use scissors to snip the fruit into small pieces. The instruction to cook the chiffon custard until it coats a metal spoon is a tricky step because the custard barely thickens. I measure the temperature of the custard with an instant-read thermometer. When it reads 175-180 degrees F, the custard is done.
More recent versions of this pie published by Pillsbury have increased the amount of whipped cream in the chiffon filling considerably. I find 1 cup of cream, whipped until thick, is just right. Make this pie! You just may fall in love with it as much as I did.
Open Sesame Pie
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds toasted
- 1 cup all-purpose flour bleached or unbleached
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons vegetable shortening can use half butter
- 5 to 6 tablespoons ice water
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 12 Medjool dates pitted and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 tablespoons sugar for meringue
- nutmeg for garnish
- To make the pastry, toast the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat, swirling pan frequently, to keep seeds in motion. Cook about 5 minutes, or until seeds are deep golden brown and fragrant. Immediately pour the seeds onto a plate to cool.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cooled sesame seeds. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until particles are the size of small peas. While tossing with a fork, sprinkle in the water a little at a time, adding water to the driest areas. Keep tossing until the dough just gathers into a mass that holds together. Shape the dough into a ball, and flatten it to a 5-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Roll the dough on a floured surface (canvas or pastry cloth is best) to a 13-inch circle. Fir the pastry into a 9-inch oven-proof glass pie plate without stretching the dough. Lift and nudge the dough on the sides so that the bottom and sides fit snugly on the pie plate. Cut off excess dough with scissors leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold this overhanging edge to make a standing rim. Flute. Refrigerate the shaped pie crust for 1 hour or more.
- To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack adjusted to the lower third position. Press a square of aluminum foil onto the sides and bottom of the chilled crust. Don’t cover the pastry edge with foil. Leave the foil edges standing up. Add dried beans to the foil-lined pastry to fill the foil by about two-thirds.
- Set the pastry on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Carefully remove the foil and beans. If the pastry is not evenly brown, return it to the oven for 5 minutes or so. Cool completely while you prepare the filling.
- To prepare dates, cut dates in half lengthwise and remove pits, Divide each half into two pieces and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch dice.
- For the filling, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small cup. Stir to make sure gelatin is totally moistened. Set aside. In a medium (2 quart) heavy saucepan, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly but gently, until the custard thickens slightly and coats a metal spoon, about 10 minutes. It’s best to measure the temperature of the custard with an instant-read thermometer—175 to 180 degrees. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the softened gelatin. Stir to dissolve the gelatin.
- Set the custard into an ice bath and stir frequently with a flexible spatula just until the custard is thickened and partially set. Remove the saucepan from the water and immediately stir in the vanilla and dates.
- Beat the cream until very thick and fold into the custard. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the 2 tablespoons sugar gradually, while beating, until the whites form straight glossy peaks. Fold gently but thoroughly into the date custard.
- Spoon into the baked pastry, heaping into fluffy mounds. Refrigerate until set, at least 1 hour. To serve, sprinkle lightly with freshly grated nutmeg.