Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

Pi_plate It’s been a while since I’ve done a food post here that wasn’t about weight management, and I just made this pie for my birthday, so I thought I’d share the recipe.

This is a ridiculously easy, unbelievably delicious recipe for chocolate pie. And it’s not just me saying so: friends have been known to demand it for celebratory events, and will shed hot tears of bitter disappointment if it doesn’t appear at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s very distinctive — most people who try it say they haven’t had anything else quite like it — and it’s one of those rare recipes that seems really elegant and like it would be really complicated, but in fact is insanely simple. The pie crust is 9/10th of the work.

The recipe came from my mother, but I don’t know where she got it from. I’ve been making it for many years now, and have refined the recipe a bit over the years, mostly in the direction of using better ingredients. I did an experimental version for my birthday this year (in addition to a classic version), which was a big hit, so I’m including that variation here as well.

CLASSIC CHOCOLATE PIE

INGREDIENTS

1 single pie crust (this is an open-faced pie). More on pie crust in a tic.
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
2 squares/ ounces baking chocolate (unsweetened)
Whipped cream (optional in theory, mandatory in my opinion)

ScharffenBerger A quick note on the baking chocolate: For the sweet love of Loki and all the gods in Valhalla, use Scharffen Berger’s if you possibly can, or some other seriously good baking chocolate. I made this pie for years using just regular baking chocolate from the supermarket, and it was perfectly yummy… but once I started using Scharffen Berger’s, it amped up from delicious to transcendent. I frankly don’t much care for Scharffen Berger’s eating chocolate, I think the mouth- feel is insufficiently creamy… but for cooking, their baking chocolate is beyond compare.

Bake the unfilled pie shell for 5-10 minutes, until it’s starting to firm up a little but isn’t cooked through. Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Add the other ingredients (minus the whipped cream) and mix; you can do this in the saucepan. (I add the eggs last, so the melted butter and chocolate have a chance to cool and the eggs don’t scramble.) Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the filling is set. (I usually test it at 30 minutes, but it usually still needs another 5-10 minutes. When it’s no longer jiggling in the middle, it’s done.)

That’s it.

No, really.

I told you. Ridiculously easy. Not counting the pie crust, the actual work you put into this pie takes about five minutes.

I always serve this with whipped cream, as the pie is intensely rich and dense, and I think the whipped cream gives it balance. But many people prefer it with the richness and denseness unadulterated, and scoff at the whipped cream as an unnecessary frill for lightweights. My advice: Make whipped cream available, and let your guests decide. (Don’t add too much sugar to the whipped cream; this pie is plenty sweet.)

EXPERIMENTAL CHOCOLATE PIE

Make the exact same recipe above, but when mixing the filling, add:

White pepper1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

This year was the first time I tried this experiment, and I think it was a big success. It gives the pie a nice, exotic, spicy bite that I think enhances the chocolate and gives it complexity and depth. But it also makes it less purely chocolatey. A lot of what makes this pie so yummy is its “pure essence of chocolate straight to the hindbrain” quality, and you do lose that with the spices. You be the judge. You can always make two — one classic, one experimental — and switch back and forth between the two until you explode.

BTW, if you wind up making this pie and come up with your own experimental variations — let me know! I’m toying with the idea of adding liquor, like rum or Kahlua or madeira. Cayenne might also be good — I love me some chocolate with cayenne — or maybe rosemary and almond. And I’m considering using vanilla vodka for the crust instead of regular vodka.

Speaking of which:

NOTES ON PIE CRUST

For years, I made this pie with store-bought pie crusts, mostly because one of the things I liked best about it was how easy and fast it was, and making my own pie crust would defeat that purpose. Also, pie crust was one of those cooking tasks that for some reason I found scary and daunting. And it’s true that if you get a decent quality store-bought pie crust made with butter, it will make a perfectly fine pie.

Rolling_pin_and_dough But I was recently taught how to make pie crust by my upstairs neighbor, Laura the Pie Queen… and it is one of the refinements that has elevated this pie from Perfectly Good to Ambrosially Exquisite. I have now become a complete convert — a snob, one might even say — and will have no further truck with store- bought pie crust. And while homemade pie crust is definitely both more time- consuming and more difficult (it reduced me to near- hysterics the first couple of times), like most things it gets easier and faster with practice.

Here’s the recipe Laura gave me. Some of the reasoning behind it: Crisco makes pie crust flakier, butter makes it more flavorful… which is why I like this recipe, which uses both. And using vodka to moisten the dough makes for a flakier crust, as it evaporates during baking. (You want to use as little liquid as you can to make the dough hold together, since more liquid makes the crust tougher: the vodka facilitates this.) This is a recipe for an entire two-crusted pie; since the chocolate pie is open-faced, halve this recipe if you’re making just one pie, or make it all if you’re making two pies. Which I usually do. We will never get leftovers if I don’t make two pies.

2 – 1/2 cups (12 – 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tsp. table salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 – 1/2 sticks) cold butter (frozen is good)
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening (Crisco or equivalent)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cold vodka

Pie-crust_in_dish Sift dry ingredients together. Cut butter and shortening into smallish pieces, add to flour. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, break butter and shortening into smaller and smaller pieces covered with flour, until the little floury fat-balls are roughly pea-sized. Sprinkle in the water and vodka, enough to make the dough hold together and roll out, without making it too sticky. (You may wind up using slightly more or less liquid than the recipe calls for, depending. Don’t ask me “depending on what.” Just depending.) Sprinkle more flour on your rolling surface and your rolling pin, and roll the dough out. Place it gently in the pie plate, flatten the edges over the lip of the pie plate, and prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Proceed.

In general, you want to work the pie dough as little as humanly possible while still making it a coherent whole. Don’t overwork the dough while breaking up the butter and shortening; use as few strokes as possible to roll it out. And everything that can be cold, should be cold.

Like I said: The pie crust is 9/10th of the work. It’s totally worth it, though. If you can’t bear it, go ahead and buy a crust from the store. Better yet, get your upstairs neighbor to make it for you. (Thanks again, Laura!)

If you make this pie, let me know how it turns out. If you make an experimental variation that you like, let me know what it is. And yes, I realize I am a bad, bad person for running this recipe in January, right when lots of people are making New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier or lose weight. What can I say. I’m an atheist, and therefore have no moral foundation and no reason to have compassion for others. Happy eating, and happy New Year!

Comments

  1. says

    Sounds fabulous, and I will try this soon!
    A little cinnamon and coffee goes a long way in a chocolate pie, in my experience. If you get experimental again, you might want to try one or both of those.

  2. DarkEmeralds says

    This does sound wonderful!
    For what it’s worth (and because I’m reducing my weight through simple calorie counting, inspired by YOU!), I did a quick tally.
    Assuming no whipped cream, 1/8 of this pie has 322 calories. Which seems like a pretty reasonable caloric price for so much yum.

  3. Nurse Ingrid says

    Hey DarkEmeralds,
    Does that include the crust? Greta and I have been meaning to do the math on this, but didn’t get a chance yet this holiday season. If you have done it for us, we owe you one! Thanks!

  4. says

    I’m definitely going to make this. While cayenne does sound good, I also think well-ground chipotle peppers could be a nice addition. Another idea, I don’t know how much flavor would come through, but maybe instead of flavored vodka, some bourbon in the crust could be nice.

  5. says

    Go ahead and make the double crust recipe–you do know how to make Pie Crust Cookies, don’t you? ;-)) (Roll out the left over dough, spread it thinly with butter or margarine, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, roll up and cut so it looks like tiny cinnamon buns, and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes–keep an eye so they don’t burn :-)) My grandma calls those Hoosier Cookies, being from Indiana…
    And Greta is correct–touch the pie dough as little as possible with your hands (use a fork to mix it), and everything that can be should be *cold* (use ice water if you’re using water–though I’m going to have to try Greta’s vodka crust! Greta–does the alcohol flavor remain?)

  6. Drew McCormick says

    An alternative pie crust is to use 15 pulverized Trader Joe’s graham crackers and 4 Tablespoons of butter.

  7. Nora says

    My dad taught me a very similar Chocolate Pecan Pie – the big difference, of course, is about a cup (I think? I don’t have the recipe on me) of coarsely chopped, toasted pecans. You mix them in with the filling, although they mostly float to the top of the pie before it cooks. I second the Scharffen Berger’s recommendation – quality chocolate really makes a difference. Also, if you have a food processor it makes pie dough a lot easier; you just have to keep an eye that you don’t over-chop it. I will have to try the vodka trick – clever!

  8. Kalia says

    There’s a chocolate cookie recipe that I use a lot, and over the years I’ve come up with a couple of variations. They seem like they’d work for this pie as well. One is to add the finely shredded zest of one orange. I use one of those microplane zesters, which makes lovely thin shreds. Variation two, which I just baked last week, involves a 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and cayenne. Very nice. And any chocolate recipe is enhanced by the addition of a couple of teaspoons of Medaglia D’Oro powdered instant espresso. Almond extract, used in moderation, is also lovely with chocolate. I look forward to giving this recipe a whirl!
    Greta, when you use 3 tablespoons of evaporated milk, what do you do with the rest of the can? Or do you just make enough pies to use up the whole can at one go?

  9. says

    Greta, when you use 3 tablespoons of evaporated milk, what do you do with the rest of the can?

    I pitch it. I used to save it and pretend that I was going to put it in coffee or something, but I never did, and I always just threw it out when it went bad. I now just pitch it when the pie is done. It’s wasteful, but whaddya gonna do. You gotta have chocolate pie, right?

  10. Azkyroth says

    It’s still not clear to me what the point of mixing tiny flecks of butter into flour is, for pie crust. I’ve taken to melting an appropriate amount of butter and blending with flour, then chilling for an hour before rolling it and there’s nothing really obviously different in quality between my crusts and those I’ve encountered elsewhere. >.>

  11. vel says

    At the moment, I have a chocolate spread/sauce made with rose water in my fridge. It is amazing and quite exotic. Might be a thing to try. I do love chocolate with spices, like the Lindt bar they used to make around the holidays. I also think crushed pretzel crust could be tasty, being the salt fiend that I am.

  12. says

    No Chambord, Loser roommates drank it like pop. I did one with Grand Marnier and the other with cinnamon and coffee. Both taste lovely, but need something else; perhaps a beating of the egg whites, then fold.
    The reason that butter or any other fat stay cold is that it explodes (yet covered in flour) to make the pastry flaky. Don’t put a pie-crust or any pasty in a less than pre-heated oven.

  13. says

    …that would be, if you have less than half the amount you need of evaporated milk to make half milk half water… oh bother.
    If you mix half water and half evaporated milk and still don’t have as much “milk” as the recipe calls for, add (actual) milk until you have enough.
    there. Hopefully it is less confusing now. Sorry about that!

  14. DarkEmeralds says

    Nurse Ingrid:
    Yes! I used Livestrong’s really rather excellent database of foods and calories, and input the filling ingredients plus the count for a commercially-available pie shell (probably very similar in cals to the home-made), and indicated that the finished pie would contain eight servings.

  15. Nurse Ingrid says

    Excellent, DarkEmeralds. Now we can create a “chocolate pie” entry in our LoseIt database. (the iphone app that Greta and I use to count calories.)
    Many thanks for doing the math and sharing it with the class!

  16. says

    I just remembered Allrecipes.com this morning–but Tracy Walker beat me to it :-)) I will add, though, that the cool thing about that site is the search function. Click on “Ingredients” up top by the search box, and you can search specifically for recipes that use those leftover ingredients you have hanging around your fridge. Useful.

  17. David Harmon says

    I like the idea of cardamom — I’ve been making oatmeal cookies and replacing half the nutmeg with cardamom, and that turned out great!

  18. malta says

    I have now made this pie and I am pleased to report that it is quite delicious and the recipe is very forgiving in terms of altering amounts. I happened to have 3 oz of leftover baker’s chocolates, so I used all of them and then added an extra tbsp of evaporated milk to even out the ingredients.
    Once I got to the baking stage, I realized that I didn’t know what oven temperature to use. I put it at 350 F, but I think this was a little high because it baked in 20 minutes. I think I may have cooked it too long, but again, the pie seems to be very forgiving of my inability to follow directions :)
    I agree that a bit of whipped cream is essential. I think next time I will try cutting the recipe in half, and then after the chocolate layer is completely cool, I will add a top layer of whipped cream mixed with cream cheese. I’ve made pies with this sort of mixture before: you take a softened 8 oz block of cream cheese and mix with a 12 oz tub of whipped cream. It creates a smooth and creamy layer. The cream cheese is nice because whipped cream doesn’t hold its shape at room-temperature.
    Thanks for the recipe, Greta!

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