Growing up outside of Pittsburgh, I always assumed that peanut butter pie came from my part of the country. Every picnic my family attended and almost every restaurant where we ate offered a version of this rich sweet. Some bakers made it with a classic pie dough. They spooned the no-bake filling into the crisp crust and served the dessert at room temperature. Others lined their pie pans with graham cracker, shortbread or Oreo cookie crumbs, added the peanut butter mixture and refrigerated or froze the pie before serving. Each type—crunchy yet velvety or crumbly, hard and cold—had its diehard fans.
The variations didn’t end with crust and consistency. Toppings ranged from chopped peanuts, shaved chocolate, cocoa powder or more cookie crumbs to whipped cream, chocolate glazes, or, my least favorites, overly sugary caramel, banana or strawberry sauces. No matter what differences existed, people gobbled up this dessert.
In spite of my home turf’s love of this pie, Western Pennsylvanians cannot claim it as one of their own. Peanut butter pie has its roots in the American South where both peanuts and pies thrive. Even so, the best that I ever ate was not in the South but in Bedford, Pa. Located two hours southeast of Pittsburgh, Bedford is home to the 18th century Jean Bonnet Tavern and the most extraordinary peanut butter pie.
I came across this pie on a recent road trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater. Tired and hungry, my friends and I stopped in Bedford for dinner and a wisely chosen dessert at Jean Bonnet Tavern. That dessert was a slice of peanut butter pie accompanied by four forks.
What made the pie so delightful was its smooth, silky texture. This is achieved by folding whipped cream into the peanut butter filling. How do I know that? Because our server provided us with typed copies of the restaurant’s recipe for peanut butter pie. Since it would be greedy of me not share this treat, I’ve included the original Jean Bonnet Tavern recipe and just a minor tweak, which I’ve noted below.
PEANUT BUTTER PIE
Recipe from Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford, PA
Serves 8 to 10
Because I prefer a thicker topping, I halved the amount of heavy cream (from 2/3 to 1/3 cup) and increased the amount of chocolate (from 2 to 3 ounces) listed in the original recipe. If you like a soupier consistency, use 2/3 cup heavy cream and only 2 ounces of chocolate in the topping.
for the crust:
1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
for the filling:
12 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
for the topping:
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter until well combined. Spoon roughly half of the graham cracker crust into a 9-inch pie pan. Using your fingers, evenly press the crumbs into the pan. Repeat with the remaining crumbs.
Place the crust in the oven and bake for 8 minutes, until the crust is beginning to brown slightly. Remove the crust and allow it to cool to room temperature.
While the crust cools, make the filling. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the peanut butter and sugar and beat again until smooth and well-combined. Set aside.
In a separate bowl beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter-cream cheese mixture. When finished, you will have a light, creamy filling. Spoon this into the pie crust. Refrigerate the pie for a minimum of 4 hours.
About 30 minutes before serving the pie, make the chocolate sauce. Place the cream, butter, chopped chocolate, sugar and salt in either a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl. If using a stovetop, simmer the ingredients together over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the chocolate has melted and the ingredients are blended together. If using a microwave, heat the ingredients for 30 to 60 seconds, stirring frequently, until the chocolate has melted and the ingredients are blended together. Cool the sauce to room temperature before spreading or piping onto the chilled pie.