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When I was growing up, my grandmother's house was a wonderland of trinkets and tinkering. A place where an early 20th century pimento cheese grinder dominated the dining room table, a taxidermy bobcat served as a coffee table, and an extensive collection of bird-shaped pie vents perched on the kitchen windowsill, peeping down (in what I assumed to be harsh judgment) at the messes of sugar and lard that I would concoct as a child.
One of the first successful pies I whipped up was the Kentucky regional favorite Transparent Pie: a dessert so filled with sugar (two cups!) that I'm sure it alone has bankrolled several area dentists for decades.
What makes Transparent Pie different than the old Southern standby Chess Pie? The use of heavy cream. While they may be kissing cousins, the cream adds a level of richness which sets it apart with a smooth, custardy texture. The Texas classic Buttermilk Pie, which has a tart, tangy bite, also falls into this saccharine family of confections, along with Indiana Sugar Pie and the rural Pennsylvania favorite Shoofly Pie. (Little old ladies across the state of Kentucky would shake their heads disparagingly at these comparisons, though, so keep it to a whisper.)
The additions of rosewater and lime add an international flair to a traditionally regional sweet, and help the dessert to develop a much more complex flavor. Rosewater has been associated with romantic folklore for centuries—Cornish maidens would adorn their blouses with rosewater-dipped rosemary sprigs before going to market in hopes of attracting a suitor—and is an alternate flavoring used for marzipan. However if you don't have a taste for its fluttery, floral notes, orange blossom water can be easily substituted and would continue to compliment the rosewater crust. Consider the Transparent Pie a dense, sticky palate on which to paint your own vibrant flavors.
When the pie is baking, it will puff up much like a cake: do not be alarmed when this happens. The pie will sink back down (and many times become a bit concave) once allowed to cool. The pie is ready to be removed from the over when a crispy, golden brown shell has formed on its top. The shell is deliciously addictive—like a thin sugar cookie—but resist the urge to snap off crisp, sugary bites: it should be allowed to mingle with the creamy center of the pie in each mouthful.
This pie should not be served in regular-sized slices, but instead in very thin slivers: it is incredibly rich, and is best enjoyed in this delicate form. Explore playing up both sides of the dessert by pairing it with a cup of Turkish coffee for a warm and international bite, or keep it classic with a chilled slice and a trusty glass of frothy milk.
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