Satsuma Creole Cream Cheese Pie

T’was the night before Christmas…or so we claimed, and comported ourselves accordingly!  Having land-obligations for the actual holiday, Upward Wing had Christmas dinner aboard with friends this past weekend.  With weather in the mid-70s, your southern Louisiana Pirate wasn’t feeling rich stuffings or green bean casserole or pumpkin pie.  Enter Satsumas, a local crop cousin to tangerines, which are fond part of my childhood Christmas memories…even in freezing Boston, in an age before universal produce distribution, we somehow got tangerines at Christmas as some sort of special dispensation.  Creole cream cheese is another local specialty for which you can substitute sour cream if you’re not blessed to be in range of a Louisiana dairy.  So the night before Christmas dinner, I got this pie into the icebox to chill while Captain Peter decked the halyards, and Swab Eddy watched both activities, the former with anticipation, the latter with confusion.

Stay tuned for the main course and sides, all with Satsumas, but for now, enjoy…

Satsuma Creole Cream Cheese Pie

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For Crust:
5 oz (about 20 average) gingersnaps
3/4 cup raw pecans
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in pieces

For Filling:
8 ounces regular cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
8 ounces Creole cream cheese or sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces prepared whipped topping (Cool Whip), thawed
2 teaspoons Satsuma, tangerine, or orange zest
1/4 cup Satsuma, tangerine, or fresh orange juice

For Topping:
2-3 Satsumas, tangerines, or 1-2 oranges
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Handful of pecan halves, toasted

This pie is the creation of a Pirate unable to make up her mind.  I saw the gingersnap crust in a pie recipe online, and was sold — who doesn’t love gingersnaps on a boat?  But I was craving cheesecake and wanted to make something with Creole cream cheese — which would need to be unbaked, since the crust would be prebaked.  But I was already deeply committed to Satsuma-fest, and orange is not a common pie theme, unless candied.  So, here we go!

Preheat your oven to 350.  In your hand-cranked food processor, grind the ginger snaps, pecans, sugar and pinch of salt until finely ground.  Word of advice…you might do this in stages and/or break or chop the ginger snaps up a bit before putting them in the processor.  In my case, the full installment, unbroken, was like winching a jib sheet up in 20 knot winds.  I gave up earlier than I should have and the crust was slightly less cohesive for the bigger grains — still delicious and maybe even more so with the extra crunch, but that’s your choice.  If you do work in stages, put all the finely-ground elements back in the bowl together for the next stage.

Add the cold butter — I cut the 3 tablespoons into 6 pieces — and crank until well incorporated and dough sticks together when pressed.  Pour into a pie tin and use your hands or the back of a measuring cup to press the dough evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  As mentioned…the above photo isn’t as finely ground as is probably optimal, but it was tasty and not too crumbly in the end result.  Bake the crust at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool completely while you make the filling and topping.

For the topping, thinly slice your whole citrus as close to 1/8 inch or less as you can get with your sharpest knife.  Combine 1 cup sugar and 3/4 cup water with lemon juice in a large frying pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat to dissolve the sugar.  Add your citrus slices and bring back to a simmer.  Cover and simmer about 5 minutes.

Continue to simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until the slices are lightly candied and translucent, and the liquid is slightly syrupy.  Keep about 1/2 cup of liquid in the pan throughout this process, adding a bit of hot water and shaking the pan to combine it with the syrup if needed.  Let cool in the pan, then cover and chill for at least 15 minutes (I left mine in the icebox overnight and topped the pie right before serving).

For the filling, combine the softened cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, the Creole cream cheese or sour cream, and the vanilla and mix thoroughly until smooth.  Creole cream cheese is a unique and treasured New Orleans-area “slow food.”  A sort of farmer’s cheese, it’s mildly tart-sweet and frequently served for dessert or decadent breakfast with cream, sugar and fruit — like a version of whole-milk yogurt.  Sour cream is a good substitute in this pie.

When smooth, stir in the citrus zest and juice.

And fold in the thawed Cool Whip.

Pour into the baked, cooled pie crust and spread evenly.  Cover well, and chill at least four hours, or overnight.

Before serving, unwrap the pie and candied citrus.  One at a time, blot most of the syrup off the slices and place them on top of the pie.

Fill the gaps with the toasted pecans and take orders for orange-flavored coffee or pecan beer as accompaniment!

And before you worry about how to store the leftovers in the icebox for too long, consider this refreshing and balanced pie for breakfast tomorrow!

***UPDATE: as this post published, New Orleans had two unprecedented inches of snow, and was expecting a hard freeze overnight.  That’ll teach me to “bemoan” 70s weather at Christmas.  I would lie in a pan of warm stuffing like a bathtub right now if I could.


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