Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work Pie

This pie went through a couple of name changes before I found one that suited it. For Adam’s birthday, I asked what he’d like me to make. He said “Something with chocolate.” Alright, well here goes. As Braz asked when I told him what Adam had requested, “That’s effing [he did not say effing] ridiculous. That’s a whole lot more than something chocolate.”

He was correct. I packed as much into this pie as anyone could possibly stomach. And, when time came to lay the blame for bellyaches and waistlines, I left a note. “This pie contains peanut butter, chocolate, pretzels, and caramel. Blame Adam for being born.” Adam took a picture of the note to show his wife. I felt a real sense of gratification when I was in his office later on, and another coworker came in waving his fork around, plate in hand, saying “Damn you! Damn you for being born! I held out from temptation for the entire pie, then I saw there was a second one.” Yes. I made two.

Anyways, it was just going to be called Adam’s Birthday Pie, but Miss J pointed out his birthday comes but once a year and she expected this  more frequently. She suggested Chocolate Pot Pie, and knowing I’m a huge fan of Chicken Pot Pie she was onto something. That name almost stuck, until I saw the Joan Rivers documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” Now let me indulge for a minute in telling what happened on Saturday. (As I’m typing this, it was last night, but I know this won’t be posted until later in the week.)

My neighbor’s family invited me to join them for dinner and a movie. I agreed, not even knowing what we were going to see. I drove down to the theater with my neighbor to meet her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson at the restaurant downstairs.  On the car ride, she was regaling me with one of her hilarious stories about her friends who are old, stubborn, and set in their ways. This particular friend had commented when my neighbor, Millie,  mentioned she was going to see The Karate Kid. (Believe me, this story is going somewhere.) “Oh, the musical, right?” Millie said, no, it’s not a musical. The friend said, “Yes it is, it’s about that Chinese guy and little girl.” Millie said, “No, it’s not a little girl, it’s a boy.” To which her friend replies, “Yes, it’s a girl. I saw the braids!”

Anyways, Millie has mentioned on many an occasion that this woman should have been a brain surgeon. She fights over words that she’s mispronounced, even after she’s corrected. That’s what got us on the topic of Showgirls. I was telling her about the scene where someone compliments Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) on her dress, and she says, “Thanks, it’s Versace (read Ver-sayce).” At this point we get to the movie theater, park, and are about to get on the escalator when, no lie I almost peed my pants, Elizabeth Berkley steps onto it before us. In as hushed a voice as I can manage, I said “remember when I was telling you that story a minute ago about Showgirls? The girl in the movie is that blonde ahead of us on the escalator.” Millie said I should ask if she was wearing Versace. I wanted to, I really wanted to, but I couldn’t muster the chutzpah. I know she saw me staring though, as she walked into the same restaurant at which we were about to dine. What are the odds?

My celebrity sighting gets better, believe it or not. So now we’re at dinner, and I’m told the movie starts at 7:45. I asked what we were seeing and am told it’s the Joan Rivers documentary. I’d never heard of it, but I’m game because why not. So we eat dinner, and we’re getting ready to leave and Dustin Hoffman is walking in with a group of people, and they sit down at a table. He chats for a minute, and walks away. Once we stood up to walk out, we realized he was talking to Joan and Melissa Rivers! I was completely shocked myself, until I found out that Joan was doing a Q&A after the movie. Well that explains it, but does not under any circumstances make it any less awesome!! My favorite part is that before Joan started the Q&A, after the movie, she said “I just came from dinner with Dustin Hoffman! He saw me walk in and came over!” She was so excited, and then realized (aloud) she was supposed to be casual about things like this, so she starts smoking a mock cigarette and says “Yeah, I had dinner with Dusty.”

The documentary was fabulous, I laughed and I cried – but mostly laughed. The woman is an icon, even if she’d tell you Eff You for saying it. My first encounter with her was in The Muppets Take Manhattan, when she’s the perfume girl behind the counter getting all drunk and giggly with Miss Piggy and they both get fired. It’s sad that she’s the butt of jokes now because of all her plastic surgery, but it’s also completely understandable. The side of her we saw in the movie was how insecure she is because no one has ever told her she’s pretty. By the end of it I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything was going to be okay. I’d recommend you see it if you have a sense of humor, and aren’t too easily offended.

Back to the real star of this entry- the pie. Though it wasn’t called a piece of work specifically, I have been on many an occasion. And boy, was this a piece of work. It was either going to be the most disgusting or awesome pie in creation, as I told Miss J. We decided that we should try it together, and in the worst case scenario just dump it out before everyone else got in. It was so good, I changed my original note of caution to the one you read above. And here’s how you make it… (The directions are for 2 pies, as I made them, but the recipe could easily be halved)

JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK PIE (and Adam’s Birthday Pie)

For the Pie Crust, I didn’t use this exact recipe from, but it’s very  close (and done by volume, not weight). You can use any pie crust recipe you like, or even a tart recipe. I didn’t do a tart because I thought that would make this whole thing even more ridiculous.

I made two 9″ pies, so you could easily double the recipe and do the same. I’ll admit, I’m new to pie making. My crust shrunk when I blind-baked it, so you might know better. I’d recommend docking the bottom and using pie weights, but I didn’t have any and at the time I was in a rush to get the crust done. I baked for about 25 minutes at 350F. If you’re using weights, bake for 15 with them, and at least another 10 without to get the bottom done.

Once the pies are baked, let them cool! The filling doesn’t need to be cooked, so you can start on them whenever the pie is cool enough.


Peanut Butter Layer – bottom

  • 1 cup(ish) peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup(ish) powdered sugar

Combine peanut butter and powdered sugar in a bowl. A mixer might have been a good idea, but I did it by hand with a silicon spatula. I used “ish” after the measurements, because in the end it was a little too crumbly, and I wanted it more creamy and  smooth, so I added more peanut butter.

At this stage, spreading it into the pie, I started ripping the crust. I’d recommend pouring the mix in the middle of the pie, spreading a little with a spatula, but using your fingers to press down the rest. Even my non-stick spatula was giving me a hard time. Next time I’d consider greasing my fingers, no lie. It was that sticky.

Chocolate Ganache Layer – middle

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 16 0z chocolate – I used 8oz unsweetened, 4 oz bittersweet, 4 oz semi-sweet. (I didn’t want the chocolate too sweet because there is plenty of sugar elsewhere)
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter – soft, but not melted
  • about 1.5 cups coarsely broken/chopped pretzels. (I used thick sourdough pretzels, but I’m sure you can use whatever kind you like/have lying around)

Heat the cream in a medium saucepan. Once it’s steaming, but not boiling, remove it from heat and add chocolate. (You can also pour it into another bowl over chocolate) Let it sit for a few while it melts the chocolate, then stir it up. Add butter, and finish stirring until smooth. I didn’t need the entire amount, so I probably removed about a cup and put it in another container in case I needed to smooth over the top. (Or eat it with strawberries.) Add the pretzels to the chocolate, stir until mixed in evenly, then pour on top of the peanut butter layer. Use a spatula to smooth it out as much as you can, but obviously it will be lumpy because of the pretzels. Since the Dulce de Leche is going on top, you really don’t have to worry about it being unsightly, but you want everything equally distributed. Pop those in the fridge while you make the next layer.

Left pie is the peanut butter layer, the chocolate has been added on the right.

Dulce de Leche Layer – top

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

More specific directions, with pictures, can be found in my post about caramel cupcakes, but here is the gist. Heat the cream and sugar, stir ’til they’re combined. You might notice I left the butter out of it this time too, so it wouldn’t be even worse for you than it already is. You can choose to add it if you like. Add the condensed milk to the sugar and cream, and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat a little and let the dulce de leche reduce and thicken. This took me a lot longer than I expected, and re-reading the entry from the cupcakes I think it did that time too. This won’t solidify, and you don’t want it to, but you’ll notice that it will thicken significantly. When it’s ready, pour it on top of the chocolate layer and quickly smooth it out with a silicon spatula.

Pop those suckers back in the fridge to harden, or not, and get ready to enjoy the most insane slice of pie ever. It’s not the prettiest pie ever, but appearances can be deceiving. It warrants an evil rating of 5. Seriously. The comments I got, and hearing people yell at the birthday boy for being born, let me know that this was a real winner. Like I said, it’s a real piece of work.

(the slice picture is from my camera phone… note the layers. It’s like an onion, or an ogre.)

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