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Shapeshifting Kushtaka Cream Pie


By Lee Dunn, pastry chef, and Chelsea Leven, expedition leader, Wilderness Discoverer

On our Eastern Coves itinerary, the Wilderness Discoverer spends a day or two in Thomas Bay. It is a place of devastating beauty with glaciers accessible by foot, eerie fog that arrives and dissipates without warning, breathtaking kayak opportunities, and stunning hikes past cascading rivers.

However, this is also a place of ancient myth, a place that has been referred to by Alaska Natives as the “Bay of Death,” a place nestled into the edge of Devil’s Country. It is said to be a home of the Kushtaka, the shape-shifting, half-man, half-otter beings from Tlingit tradition known to lure men to their dooms.

Though we can’t bring all of our readers here at once, our pastry chef, Lee Dunn, has devised an experience that will bring you a taste of what it’s like to be aboard the Wilderness Discoverer in Thomas Bay. Thus, we encourage you to try his Kushtaka Cream Pie at home. (editor's note: this may shift your shape but dang, it's worth it.)


Go crazy and eat all the Kushtaka Cream Pie you want!

If you can imagine Lee Dunn’s devious grin as you attempt to enjoy only one piece, you might gain a new depth of understanding to “Devil’s Country.” (editor's other note: Oh, it's clear as a bell now after three pieces.)

Kushtaka Cream Pie
Yields 1, 10-inch round pie

2 egg whites (1/4 cup)
3/4 cup half-and-half, room temp
8 oz cake flour
8 oz sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz melted butter, unsalted
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour (or pan spray) a 10-inch round pie pan. Stir together the egg whites and one-third of the half-and-half. Reserve. Sift together the cake flour, sugar, powder and salt. Add the vanilla, melted butter the remaining half-and-half, and the whole egg. Beat at high speed for a few minutes. Gradually stir in the reserved egg white mixture and mix until combined. Pour into the prepared pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 40 minutes or until the center springs back when you press the cake lightly with your finger. Invert on a sheet pan lined with baking paper. Let cool.

Rum Syrup
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp hot water
1/4 cup dark rum

Dissolve the sugar in the hot water. Mix in the rum.

Pastry Cream (custard)
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 pod vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
1 oz cornstarch
4 oz sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 oz butter, unsalted
4 oz white chocolate chips

Place the half-and-half in a heavy bottomed saucepan. If using vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod halves to the half-and-half. Bring to a boil. Keeping an eye on the milk, whisk the cornstarch, sugar and salt together in a bowl. Gradually add the eggs and mix until smooth. Slowly add about one-third of the hot milk to the egg mixture while whisking rapidly. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the remaining milk. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Boil for a few seconds longer to make sure the raw starch taste has disappeared. Remove the vanilla bean. Stir in the vanilla extract, if using. Stir in the butter continuing to stir until it is completely incorporated. Stir in the white chocolate, mixing until completely melted. Pour the custard into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to touch the surface of the custard. Chill.

Chocolate Glaze
4 oz sweet dark chocolate
1 1/4 oz room temp butter, unsalted
4 tsp sifted cocoa powder
1 Tbsp dark rum
2 1/4 oz honey

Cut the chocolate into small chunks and melt over hot water. Remove from the heat, add the butter, and stir until fully incorporated.


Ingredients for the chocolate glaze

Stir the cocoa powder into the rum, mixing until smooth. Add the honey, then stir into the chocolate mixture. Let cool.

Cut the skin and as much of the top as necessary off the cake base to make the top level. Invert so that the wider end of the cake becomes the bottom and split into 2 layers.


Cut the cake into two layers

Brush half the rum syrup over the bottom layer. Spread the pastry cream evenly over the bottom layer.


Spread all the custard on first layer

Place the top cake layer on the custard. Press down lightly to secure and to force the custard to the edges of the cake. Brush the remaining rum syrup over the top layer.


Place the second layer on top of the custard

Place the cake on a cooling rack over a sheet pan. Pour the chocolate glaze on top of the cake (you may have to reheat it to get it to a spreadable consistency). Use a spatula to carefully push some of the glaze from the top to the edge, letting it run down the sides. Transfer to a cardboard cake circle, or other serving plate. Refrigerate until the glaze is set, then cut into the desired number of servings, using a knife dipped in hot water.

Happy finger-licking delicious shapeshifting! (Oh yummy...the editor can now do no other work then drool over this cake.)

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