The story of how a random childhood memory inspired one dreamy Pi Day creation.
Do you remember when you first started to realize that your parents were real people? I don’t mean like that moment in your twenties when you witness one of your parents going through some mid-life meltdown and it suddenly dawns on you that they’re not some all-knowing higher being of maturity and adult-like grace; rather, they’re actually a lot like you, an imperfect and confused (but well-intentioned) person, just doing their best. That’s an important conclusion to reach, for sure, but I’m talking about when you first begin to consciously notice that there are details about who they are and how they act that are unique to them. Like, there are actual things to know about them besides the simple fact that they are your mom or dad.
This happened for me around age five, when I found out that my mom doesn’t drink milk. It’s not that she can’t drink milk, it just grosses her out—always has, ever since she was a kid. I learned this one morning when I decided that I wanted to open a restaurant out of our kitchen (this became a common make-believe theme in my life). It was to be one of those no-menu concepts that operates on the premise that you eat what the chef is making; this was largely due to the fact that I was five and cereal was about the only breakfast item I knew how to “cook” by myself. Plus, our home kitchen pretty much always operated by that philosophy, so it’s what I knew… if only I’d been able to appreciate the blessing that it is to have someone qualified and trustworthy making a simple decision on my behalf. (Unfortunately, when you’re in kindergarten and unable to make anything more complicated than a bowl of cereal, you kinda can’t anticipate that you’ll grow up to be not-a-doctor, not-a-teacher, not-a-cowgirl, but some indecisive weirdo who requires extremely patient, empathetic, almost therapist-like servers to take your order at any given restaurant.) Anyway, so I make my first and only customer of the day, my mom, the day’s special: A bowl of off-brand frosted flakes, bathed in 2% milk. When I delivered put the dish in front of my customer, I could immediately tell there was something off. Look, my mom was so grateful for the effort, but she had to break it to her eager-to-impress child that plain milk makes her gag.
As I ate my disappointment, along with the breakfast I’d so carefully dumped into a bowl for my mom, I considered this oddity… and all of a sudden, I remembered—my mom eats dry cereal. I’d only ever seen her eat dry cereal. She ate dry frosted flakes out of plastic cups instead of bowls. Sometimes, I too opted to eat dry cereal specifically because that’s what she did. It had just never made enough of an impact on me that I remembered or cared or asked why? up until that point.
Now, you may be wondering, why am I rambling on about my mundane childhood memories? Well, for one, sometimes rambling is just what I do. But more importantly, besides eating dry cereal from a plastic cup, there was another very important byproduct of my mom’s disdain for milk: She’d regularly mix a hearty pour of the stuff into her orange juice. She did this in order to reap the nutritive benefits of milk (I’m not sure if this was before orange juice fortified with vitamins and calcium was “a thing” or if we just didn’t know about it because we bought canned, frozen orange juice concentrate), without ever suffering through the experience of actually drinking straight milk. And her rebuttal to anyone who’d say “gross…” at the sight of her milky OJ mix was always the same, “It tastes just like a Dreamsicle!”
This is one of my mom’s signature phrases, that for some reason, has stuck in my brain for decades of life—“It tastes just like a Dreamsicle!” I have no earthly idea why. At some point or another, I know that my mom convinced me to give her drinkable iteration of the Dreamsicle—which for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a variety of creamy orange ice pop produced by Popsicle brand, and is apparently somehow different from an Orange Creamsicle—a try, no joke, it was delicious. And frankly, kind of genius. Given, I’ve never had an actual Dreamsicle, and I’m almost certain they no longer exist, but I’ve certainly eaten my fair share of orange sherbet… and I’m thinking it’s just about the same thing flavor-wise. If you’re still drawing a blank and mentally gagging over the idea of milk + OJ, another popular basis for comparison would be an (original) Orange Julius.
So look, the moral of this entire story is that dairy and orange juice are an absolutely delightful combination. And that exists as a stand-out fact in my brain solely because of my mom and her bizzare food preferences. That being the case, I just wanted to make clear that although it is named after the Dreamsicle, the inspiration behind this pie was 110% my mother—right down to the cornflake crust, which I incorporated to pay homage to the cereal she’d eat dry alongside her glass of pastel orange milk.
Perhaps you’re more interested in making this pie (I hope so, it’s rather tasty) than you are in receiving the entire “behind the music” story of its conception—in which case, you’re in luck, the recipe is right below. It’s creamy, it’s dreamy, and hey—it’s pretty easy to make. The construct of this pie is very similar to your classic, sweetened condensed milk-based key lime pie. The key differentiating factor between the two is that you legitimately need gelatin in this pie; your filling isn’t going set up with egg yolks alone. And if you're not exahusted with my rambling quite yet, I’ve tacked a few other pertinent *notes about baking this here pie onto the end of the recipe. So make it, share it (with #TryMyRecipes), and may you have the happiest of Pi Days, my friend.
Orange Dreamsicle Pie
For the Crust*
- 4.5 ounces graham crackers (1 sleeve of graham crackers)
- 3 ounces cornflakes (about 3 cups cornflakes; 1 cup and 3 tablespoons crumbs)
- 1 ounce brown sugar (about 2 packed tablespoons)
- 1/2 ounce instant dry milk powder (about 2 tablespoons)**
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling
- 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk, divided***
- 1/4 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 2 tsp. unflavored gelatin****
- 2 tsp. orange zest
- 3/4 cup fresh orange juice, divided
- 2 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. orange extract
- orange gel food coloring
- Whipped cream (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 °.
2. To prepare the crust, combine graham crackers and cornflakes in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add sugar, milk powder, and salt; pulse to combine. Add melted butter; process until mixture is moist and clumps together easily. Press crumb mixture evenly along bottom and up sides of a (9-inch) glass pie plate.
3. Bake crust on center rack at 350° for 8 minutes; place on a wire rack to cool. Prepare filling while crust cools, leaving oven on.
4. To prepare the filling, Measure out 1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk in a glass measuring cup; whisk in the vanilla and set aside. Whisk together the remaining condensed milk, sour cream, and egg yolks in a large mixing bowl until combined.
5. Place 1/2 cup orange juice in a small saucepan; sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the juice. Warm the juice over medium-low heat, whisking, until gelatin dissolves; remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
6. Whisk the lemon juice, orange zest, remaining 1/4 cup orange juice, and orange extract into the condensed milk mixture. Add the orange juice and gelatin mixture to bowl and whisk well to combine. Stir in coloring, 1 drop at a time, until desired color is reached. Place the pie plate onto a rimmed baking sheet and pour filling mixture into prepared crust. Carefully transfer to oven and bake at 350° for 5 minutes.
7. Gently spoon the reserved condensed milk over surface of the pie and use a butter knife to “swirl” the milk into the orange layer.
8. Continue baking at 350° until pie is just set (pie should still be slightly jiggly in the center), about 10 to 12 minutes more. Cool pie completely on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Slice and serve with freshly whipped cream, if desired
*I like my crumb crusts thick. I like there to be enough of the crumb mixture for me to build up a nice looking edge around the lip of the pie plate (and maybe drop a little on the floor like the klutz I am); that said, it you prefer a more delicate layer of crumb crust, you can easily get away with cutting the amount of cookies and salt in half, and the butter down to 5 tablespoons. Personally, I’d leave the amounts on the other ingredients as is.
**I like to include dehydrated milk in crumb crusts because this helps the melted butter really kick ass at it’s job of binding everything together, and it adds a very subtle touch of dairy depth. This is a little trick I picked up from seeing how Christina Tosi uses the ingredient in some of her recipes. That said, it’s not essential to making this recipe “work,” so if you don’t have it in your pantry and don’t feel like buying it, that’s A-OK. Just leave it out this time, but I’d highly recommend grabbing a box next time you’re at the store so you can try it next time. (It also really comes in handy when you completely forget that you’re out of milk until you’re standing in front of a cup of morning coffee that you desperately need… but desperately do not want to drink black.)
***I am adding this note to say that if you want to save yourself a step on this pie, you can bypass the dividing of your sweetened condensed milk and the rest of what that entails.The idea here was to create something of a nice little swirly effect—with a pure vanilla-y cream mixed into the surface of this orange pie—to drive the concept home, both visually and (if you’re really paying attention) in flavor. That said, you’re also A-OK to just go right ahead and mix in all of the condensed milk with your sour cream and yolks, and then stir in your vanilla at the same time you add the orange extract. Plop a pile of whipped cream on top before serving, and you’re good to go.
****Just want to throw this out there—2 teaspoons is not a full (0.25-ounce) package of unflavored gelatin, which contains about 2 1/2 teaspoons. I tried making this pie with the full package and the consistency was a bit overly gelled. I fully recognize that it might seem tedious and silly to measure out a portion of a package of anything that weighs a quarter of an ounce; and honestly, it’s not going to be the end of the world if you dump that whole package in. However, for a more enjoyable textural experience, I’d recommend that you do not.