This is my first month participating in the Burwell General Store Recipe Swap. Burwell General Store is a fantastic food blog run by my new friend Christianna who I recently met while working on Beat the Chefs for Game Show Network. Though we were on the same show, we actually have only been in the presence of one another a handful of times. Nevertheless, as is often the case when two foodies with extroverted personalities run into one another, it was admiration at first sight.
Once a month Christianna sends to all the Burwell swapping participants a recipe from The Second Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places, compiled in 1954. Participants are asked to re-create the recipe and put their own spin on it in the process. This month it was Lemon Sponge Pie, as presented by the Old Court House Tea Room in New Castle, Delaware.
As I am of the type to duly investigate a subject before diving in (see my post on Heidi Bohay and the NuWave oven), I pulled the old Google off the shelf and learned what I could about the Tea House’s history before deciding on my “in” for changing up the recipe. Here’s what I learned:
There’s great debate on how old the New Castle Court House actually is, though a 1952 article from Wilmington’s The Sunday Star confirms that the Delaware state constitution was adopted there in the 1780s. The accompanying Tea Room, however, didn’t open its doors until 1926, when it began luring in with food and drink the Delaware passengers lining up to board the ferry to New Jersey.
A quick call to the court house informed me that the tea room disappeared in the early 1950s. According to the court house supervisor/museum curator, its fate was sealed in April 1945 when the Delaware State Highway Department authorized construction of a bridge which would connect New Castle to Pennsville, New Jersey, thus eliminating the need for the ferry. No ferry meant no line of people outside the tea room, and no line of people meant lots of Oolong and lemon sponge cake left untouched in the kitchen. On August 15, 1951, The Del Memorial Bridge officially opened… the final nail in the coffin for the birthplace of this month’s recipe.
Here’s something else: On July 2, 1938, a 10 year old Shirley Temple lunched at the Old Court House Tea Room with her parents, business manager, and friends. Shirley had a chicken sandwhich, a piece of cheese, and a chocolate milkshake! Over 300 people turned out to greet Shirley on Delaware Street up on her exit. No word on whether she took the ferry to Jersey.
So I decided to take my cue for twisting up this month’s recipe from Miss Temple’s visit to the Tea room. I have yet to read anywhere that lemon sponge pie pairs well with chicken or cheese, so I zeroed in on the chocolate, adding an Oreo crust for the bottom and a chocolate shell for the top. I won’t say it made for the most attractive pictures as no matter how delicately I pierced the shell on top it immediately cracked into chocolate shards each time. But the flavor combination more than made up for what this rich, citrusy dessert lacked in camera flair.
You can check out my recipe, and the rest of the Burwell interpretations below.
Lemon Sponge Pie
For the pie:
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk
- Juice of 3 lemons
- Grated rind of one lemon
For The Crust:
- 2 1/2 cups Oreo Cookies (or chocolate wafers or chocolate graham crackers)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 stick of butter (6 tablespoons)
For the Chocolate Topping:
- 5 ounces 72% cacao chocolate
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
Make the crust: Pulse the Oreos (or wafer or graham crackers) in a food processor until fine and granular. You can also put them in a closed plastic bag and crush with a spoon until you reach the same consistency. Next, melt the butter in the microwave. Combine the melted butter with the sugar and granulated chocolate particles (if you’re going with Oreos, the quarter cup of sugar is – used guessed it – totally necessary! ;)). Press ingredients into 9-inch buttered pie pan, making sure to cover all sides. Bake for 10 minutes at 325°F and remove. Let cool.
For the pie: Cream butter and blend with sugar, egg yolks, flour, milk, lemon juice and rind. Beat egg whites separately and fold into mixture. Pour into pie crust and bake in oven at 350°F for approximately 45 minutes.
To make the chocolate shell topping: Combine chocolate and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and then stir, repeat, heating in 15 second increments until butter is just melted and smooth. Stir in corn syrup. Set mixture aside until it is only slightly warm to touch.
Pour chocolate mixture over cooled pie and spread to completely cover the top of the pie. Refrigerate overnight or at least four hours to allow pie filling to set completely and chocolate top to harden. Store covered.