Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie


This is an old post from my archives, which I’m reprinting today for obvious reasons. Happy Thanksgiving!

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)

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 at 450 degrees, 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 at 325 degrees, 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:

1/8 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.

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

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. Azkyroth says

    Hmm. I’m not sure I get the pie crust thing. After damaging a few forks trying to stir in solid butter as I was originally instructed, I’ve taken to melting butter, mixing it with flour and about 3-4 tbsp of cold water, and then chilling it for an hour or two before rolling. I’ve generally found the crusts quite satisfactory (and they certainly flake apart), but am intermittently reassured that the way that’s vastly more work and damages my utensils is superior somehow. I wonder how much of that is purely psychogenic.

  2. Azkyroth says

    (Also, for that matter, is there anything about “flaky” crust that makes it more appealing other than the quasi-status thing of it being more work to make and resulting mantra-fication? Granted, I couldn’t stand non-graham-cracker pie crust until I was a teenager, so I may be missing something…)

  3. Aquaria says

    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.

    Nah. The secret to pie crust is to hand off the ingredients to your most obsessive and/or anal-retentive friend, or, even better a female Asperger’s, and tell her to make sure everything is mixed perfectly.

    I was the Aspie who always got pie crust duty. I was insane about getting everything mixed together right.

    Seriously, the pie sounds yummy. Will have to try.

  4. LadyBlack says

    And for us low carbers – just leave off the pastry :-)

    Actually, I could probably make this, just adapt it slightly and cook without a pie crust. That should be interesting. I would add sweetner instead of sugar (obviously), and use heavy cream instead of evaporated milk, and the best chcolate I can get here (Green and Blacks or one of the speciaiised brands) and this might work for a type 2 diabetic.

    Excellent, a new project to work on. I’m still perfecting pumpkin pie, trying for more of a custard than the solid pie mix, but this will add variety.

  5. says

    Vodka! What an awesome idea. I went a little too far yesterday in minimizing the water I added to my crust, and the second crust was overworked and gluteny. I love the idea of using alcohol so it’s wet enough to roll out and then dries out before baking. Better living through chemistry!

  6. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    I’d never considered using vodka in pie crust. I’ll try it the next time I make a pie.

  7. Lauren Ipsum says

    How would this be in a graham-cracker crust? I am slowly overcoming 30-odd years of baking impairment, and a graham-cracker crust is one I’m not afraid of.

  8. Ganner says

    Awesome that you posted this. Tuesday night I remembered this recipe, and looked it up to bake one for Thanksgiving dinner tonight! I was in a rush to get it done before driving two states away so I used a store-bought graham cracker crust, so hopefully that will be alright. I used Ghirardelli baking chocolate and realized after it was done that I’d used 50% more chocolate than I’d needed, so it should be SUPER chocolaty. I spiced it with Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and a healthy dose of Cayenne. I’ll report back with reactions after dinner tonight.

  9. Azkyroth says

    That’s another thing. So many otherwise perfectly good foods are already ruined by being made to taste like burning. Why would you want to apply that to chocolate too? :/

  10. Ganner says

    Turned out great! My accidental chocolate overdose (5 oz of 60% dark baking chocolate is equivalent to 3 oz of unsweetened – and I reduced sugar to 3/4 cup) just made it super rich and dark-chocolaty. The cinnamon and nutmeg were at good levels, but I may have overdone it just a bit on cayenne, I wanted a burn (it doesn’t ruin it, spiciness is ambrosia!) but for people less inclined to spice, mine could be a bit overwhelming. Great pie Greta, even if I didn’t quite stick to your recipe. I’ll be making it many times, I’m sure, in plenty of variations. At some point I need to try the pure chocolate only one, and I need to try some other spice combos (like the one you offered as suggestion).

  11. julielada says

    Rum is a really good addition to chocolate. So is whiskey. Both give the chocolate depth and character and that hindbrain goodness you talked about.

    Also, Trader Joe’s has a really great premade pie crust if you’re in a hurry or just feeling lazy and don’t want to make your own. The moment you open the package it smells like pure, buttery heaven.

  12. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Azkyroth #9

    So many otherwise perfectly good foods are already ruined by being made to taste like burning. Why would you want to apply that to chocolate too? :/

    Masochism is a necessary ingredient for those who like cayenne.

  13. Ainuvande says

    A thought on what else to do with that second pie crust (if you’re making this for a sufficiently small number of people that leftovers are more likely). They freeze nearly indefinitely. Divide the dough in half, stick the half you’re going to use in the fridge, and wrap the other half thoroughly in wax paper and plastic wrap, label it before sticking in the freezer, and pull it out to the fridge about half a day before you intend to use it. I am the resident baker in my family, and relatives have legit stored my pie crusts for later use for a year like this.

  14. Ana says

    Yummi! I think I’ll try it this Christmas, maybe add some Port and use our marvelous Pantagruel cooking chocolate (do you have that in the states?)…Just one thing, I don’t have access to evaporated milk, do you think condensed milk would also work if I reduced the sugar?

  15. says

    I’ve been meaning to try this recipee for a year now, so with this repost I figured I might as well try it out. I’m making my third pie right now.

    With the first one I faithfully followed the recipe, and it does indeed taste incredibly yummy (even with a bad pie crust). The second I shared with family and they seemed to like it as well. This third one I am making with the suggested spices, but I have replaced the evaporated milk with actual milk.

    Main reason I am posting right now is for the European readers who wish to do this recipe. No sense converting all the measurements and not sharing it here :)

    For the crust (for 2):
    350 grams of plain flower
    1 tsp. table salt
    2 Tbsp. sugar
    170 grams cold butter (frozen is good)
    125 grams cold vegetable shortening (I’m using margerine cause I can’t find shortening anywhere)
    60 ml cold water
    60 ml cold vodka

    For the filling:
    1 single pie crust
    110 grams butter
    110 grams of sugar
    2 eggs
    3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
    50 grams baking chocolate (unsweetened)

  16. RealityEnforcer, Roaming Bear, terror of the Boy Scouts says

    I just made this for a holiday party. It was a potluck dessert table, and the pie was the thing that went the fastest.

  17. rhymeswithlibrarian says

    Sounds great – I’m going to try the classic version for Canadian Thanksgiving. Do you find it’s best to eat cold, at room temperature, or still warm?

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