As an American author of several dessert cookbooks, I am embarrassed to admit that during the last few years, the only cream pies I paid attention to were those I happened to see thrown in someone's face in old movies. But on a recent trip to Las Vegas, I rediscovered the charm of this time-honored American treat. Of course, I didn't have to go to Sin City to pamper myself with cream pies. I could find them in any good American pie shop, family restaurant or diner. But since I was on vacation and more relaxed than usual, when I noticed a slice of cream pie on a dessert buffet table, I allowed myself the indulgence, and I loved the results so much that I tried another, and another. Those luscious cream pies were at the Spice Market Buffet in Las Vegas (in Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, formerly the Aladdin). This eatery is famous for its Middle Eastern food, but I was also impressed by the great variety of enticing American desserts. Among the dozens of sweet choices, from cheesecakes to mousses to ice cream, the cream pies stood out for their fine quality. Banana cream pie was scrumptious, with a delicate flaky pastry, a rich banana filling with fresh-tasting banana slices embedded in it and a generous layer of lightly sweetened whipped cream embellished with chopped walnuts. Coconut cream pie, another American classic, featured a coconut filling and a garnish of toasted, shredded coconut sprinkled on the whipped cream. A few days later, at a restaurant in a casino in Laughlin, Nevada, I sampled a smooth chocolate cream pie garnished with shaved chocolate. New variations created by home cooks and chefs over the years seem to vie with each other for pie appeal. Laurie Strickland and Elizabeth Dunn, authors of Old-Time Southern Cooking, add homemade caramel to their vanilla custard filling, then top the finished pie with whipped cream. White chocolate enriches the banana cream pie in Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends, which is finished with baked meringue. Irene Clark et al., authors of The Streamliner Diner Cookbook, make Kahlua cream pie with a filling flavored with coffee liqueur, then covered with whipped cream and finally, drizzled with a chocolate sauce made of melted chocolate chips, cream and butter. Basically cream pies are composed of three parts: an American-style pie crust (which is unsweetened), a thickened custard filling and a cloud of whipped cream. The filling, which can be cooked on the stovetop or baked, does not take long to prepare, and neither does the whipped cream. Of course, you'll get the finest result if you make your own pastry, but you can also use a prepared pastry shell or a cookie-crumb crust. There's nothing complicated about making these smooth concoctions, and this might account for cream pies' long-lived popularity. CHOCOLATE-ALMOND CREAM PIE This pie pairs chocolate with almonds in two ways - in the rich, fudgy chocolate filling and in the garnish of toasted sliced almonds and grated chocolate sprinkled over the vanilla whipped cream topping. If you prefer, you can substitute pecans in the filling and chopped pecans as the garnish. If you are making your own pie shell or if you buy one that is not baked, follow the first paragraph of the recipe to partially bake the pastry before adding the filling. If using a baked shell or a crumb crust, begin with the second paragraph. A 23-cm. to 24-cm. pie crust 115 gr. bittersweet chocolate, chopped 7 Tbsp. unsalted butter 1â„2 cup blanched almonds 1â„2 cup sugar, plus 11â„4 tsp. for whipping with cream 2 large eggs 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 1â„4 cup sliced almonds 1 cup whipping cream, well-chilled 11â„4 tsp. sugar 3â„4 tsp. pure vanilla extract Grated bittersweet chocolate (for garnish) If you are making your own pie pastry, roll it out and line a 23-cm. to 24-cm. pie pan or tart pan. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 220 . Line pastry shell with parchment paper or foil; fill with dried beans. Set shell on a baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until side of pie shell is firm and beginning to brown. Reduce oven temperature to 190 . Carefully remove paper with beans. Bake shell for 10 minutes or until base is firm. Transfer to a rack to cool while you prepare the filling. Preheat oven to 175 . For the filling, melt chopped chocolate with butter in a medium bowl set over nearly simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from water; cool slightly. Grind almonds with 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor to a fine powder. Whisk eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk in 6 tablespoons sugar. Still using whisk, stir in chocolate mixture, almonds and flour. Pour into pie shell. Bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center of filling comes out clean. Transfer pie to a rack and cool. Topping: Toast sliced almonds in a shallow baking pan in oven, stirring often, for six minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate. Refrigerate pie for at least 30 minutes. You can keep it, covered, up to two days in the refrigerator. A short time before serving, in a large chilled bowl whip cream with 11â„4 teaspoons sugar and vanilla until stiff. Spread cream over top of tart, covering it completely. Swirl top. Sprinkle toasted almonds and grated chocolate over top. Makes 8 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Sensational Chocolate, which was published in Hebrew as Shokolad (Sirkis Publishing).