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!

Child Rape, Penn State and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad?

The child rape scandal at Penn State raises inevitable comparisons with the Catholic Church. Does religion make these kinds of abuses worse?

I can’t be the only person who heard about the Penn State child rape scandal and thought, “Holy crap — it’s just like the Catholic Church.” The abuse of power by a trusted authority figure; the coverup by people in authority; the unwillingness of witnesses to speak out; the grotesque, morally bankrupt defenses of a beloved institution by its followers… all of it is depressingly familiar.

And I can’t be the only critic of religion who’s been wondering, “Hmm. If Penn State has been acting like the Catholic Church… then did the Catholic Church child rape scandal actually have anything to do with religion?”

I still think it does. But it’s a complicated question. Let’s take a closer look.

Apologists for the Catholic Church and its role in the extensive child rape scandal often use the “But everyone else does it!” defense. “Priests aren’t the only people in positions of trust and power over children who abuse that power,” they say. “Parents, relatives, teachers, babysitters, coaches — they rape children as well. It’s all terrible… but it’s unfair to single out the Catholic Church as if it were special.”

Atheists and other critics of the Church typically respond to this defense — after tearing their hair out and screaming — by pointing out: The rapes aren’t the scandal. The coverup is the scandal. The rapes of children are a horrible tragedy. The scandal is the fact that the Catholic Church hid the rapes, and protected the child-raping priests from discovery and prosecution: lying to law enforcement, concealing evidence, paying off witnesses, moving child-raping priests from diocese to diocese so they could rape a whole new batch of children in a place where they wouldn’t be suspected. The scandal is the fact that it wasn’t just a few individuals in the ranks who protected and enabled the child-raping priests: it was large numbers of Church officials, including high-ranking officials, acting as a cold-blooded matter of Church policy. The scandal is the fact that the Church treated their own stability and reputation as a higher priority than, for fuck’s sake, children not being raped.

And many critics of religion have concluded that the nature of religion itself is largely to blame for this scandal. They have argued that religion’s lack of any sort of reality check, and its belief in a perfect supernatural moral authority that transcends mere human concerns, makes religious institutions like the Catholic Church far more vulnerable to abuses of this kind.

I’ve made this argument myself. And in my own writings on this subject, I’ve asked what I thought was a rhetorical question: “If these scandals had taken place in any organization other than a religious one — would you still be part of it? If it were your political party, your softball league, your university, your children’s school, your employer? Would you still be part of it? Would you still pay your league dues and show up for softball night? Would you still pay your tuition and send your kids off to the school every day? Or would you be walking out in moral outrage?”

But it seems that this question wasn’t so rhetorical. It seems that, at least sometimes, the answer to that question is, “Yup — we’d be defending our school.”

At least sometimes, the answer is, “If we see our coach raping a child — we won’t alert the police. If we’re in positions of authority in a school and we hear reports about our coach raping a child — we won’t alert the police, and we won’t investigate. And if we hear that a coach at our school raped children, and that the authorities at the school knew about it and didn’t alert the police or investigate, we will become outraged — not at the fact that the rapes occurred, not at the fact that the witnesses and school authorities did nothing, but at what we see as unfair treatment of the perpetrators, and at the very fact that the media is covering it.”

Clearly, defending the indefensible is not unique to religion.

Clearly, institutions centered on something other than a belief in the supernatural are perfectly capable of inspiring this grotesquely contorted form of loyalty. This unwillingness to believe that the people and institutions we admire could do anything that vile; this ability to rationalize actions we would normally find thoroughly despicable when we’ve made a commitment to the people who perpetrated them… this clearly isn’t just about religion. This is about the more fucked-up directions that the human brain can go in.

So I want to take a step back. I want to be rigorous, and ask: Is there anything special about the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church? Does the fact that the Catholic Church is a religious organization have any effect on how the child rape scandal has been playing out for them? Is there any real difference between the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church, and the child rape scandal at Penn State?

I’ve been looking at this hard. And I’ll acknowledge that I don’t think the difference is as great as I’d originally thought. The degree to which many students and supporters of Penn State have behaved like blind religious zealots has, quite frankly, shocked me.

But I still think there is a difference. There are non-trivial differences between these two scandals: differences of degree, and differences of kind. I want to look carefully at those differences and at whether religion has any part in how the Catholic Church has behaved, and continues to behave, when it comes to the rape of children.

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Child Rape, Penn State and the Catholic Church: Is Religion Especially Bad? To find out why, exactly, I think that, as horrific as the Penn State child rape scandal is, it is far eclipsed by the Catholic Church child rape scandal — and why I think religion is responsible for how much worse it is in the Catholic Church — read the rest of the piece. (Normally I’d say “Enjoy!” at this point, but that seems ghoulish in this case, so I’m going to skip it. I hope you find the piece edifying and thought-provoking.)

From the Archives: Why Are You Still Catholic?

Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.

Today’s archive treasure: Why Are You Still Catholic? The tl;dr: Given the widespread, institution-wide horrors of the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church, why would any sane, moral person continue to be associated with it? I look at the arguments and defenses most commonly given by Catholics for staying in the Church in the face of the scandal — and shoot them down like rabid dogs.

A nifty pull quote:

Let’s say I was making up a story about grotesque, nauseating, inexcusable- on- the- face- of- it evil; evil that would make all non-sociopathic people turn away in revolted horror at the very mention of it. And let’s say that, to illustrate that evil, I made up an example of a powerful, global institution that concealed and protected child rapists, shuttled them from town to town, failed to inform law enforcement officers and in many cases actually stonewalled them, deliberately dumped the child rapists in remote, impoverished villages… and then, when the horror finally came to light, responded with defensive entrenchment and equated the accusations with either anti-Semitic bigotry or petty gossip.

If I wrote that story, people would think it was over the top. “That’s ridiculous,” they’d say. “You have to make your evil more believable, more human. Nobody really does that.”

Well, people really do that.

The Church you belong to really does that.

Why on Earth are you still a part of it?

Hope you like it.

Fashion Friday: The Shellac Report

I am 100% sold.

Okay, more accurately and a little less gushingly: I’m about 95% sold. There are a few drawbacks, but they’re pretty minor, and the advantages outweigh the drawbacks… in much the same way that the Brooklyn Bridge outweighs a potato chip.

I’m talking about shellacs, the new long-lasting manicure technique.

I got my first shellac job — I know, it sounds really filthy, like it’s slang for some obscurely perverse sexual act — about 3-4 weeks ago. I got my second one a few days ago… because that’s the time when it was just starting to chip. I am not kidding.

I’m not gentle with my hands, either. During those weeks, I was washing dishes, digging through my purse, scraping off stickers, picking at jewelry clasps, typing and typing and typing and typing and typing. The manicure survived. It did more than survive — it flourished. It looked every bit as awesome two weeks after I got it done as it did when I walked out of the salon. It was visibly growing out at the base long before it started to chip at the tips. When they say it’s long-lasting, they are not fucking kidding.

Which, for me, is a huge, HUGE plus. Time is the demon dog constantly yapping at my heels: I have six ten twelve hours of work to do for every hour of time that I have, my email inbox is a Lovecraftian hellscape that makes me weep blood every time I open it, and I barely have time to eat and sleep and watch Project Runway. If I can hit the nail salon every few weeks instead of every few days, that’s an extra few hours that I can spend dismantling misogyny or demolishing religion. (And no, not getting my nails done at all is not an option. That’s crazy talk.)

And I love, love, LOVE the fact that you don’t have to wait for your nails to dry. Once a shellac job is done, it’s done. You don’t have to spend any time at all trying to get on with your life without using your hands… and you don’t have to be on that annoying, constantly vigilant “Are my nails dry yet?” watch. You can write, eat, dig through your purse, give a handjob, whatever… the second you leave the salon.

And, of course, very importantly: It looks awesome. The color is rich, and deep, and super-shiny. And the fact that it lasts for days, indeed weeks, means the awesomeness lasts and lasts and lasts. Having a perfect manicure without ever having to worry about it; never having to go out for a special evening with an annoying chip that probably nobody else notices but that’s making me fixate on it like I have obsessive- compulsive disorder… that’s a pretty gosh-darned exciting prospect.

So what are the drawbacks? [Read more...]

Off to Skepticon – Brief Blog Semi-Break

I’m off to Skepticon today, I’ll be gone through Monday — and I don’t know how my time or my Internet connectivity will be when I’m away. (Hotels usually have wireless, but they sometimes make you pay for it, and I’m cheap.) So I may or may not be blogging much, or indeed at all, for the next few days. (I’ll do a Fashion Friday piece if I can — I know you’re all waiting breathlessly to hear my verdict on the new shellac manicures — but I’m making no promises.) See y’all soon!

Freethought Bloggers Meetup at Skepticon!

Y’all know about Skepticon, right! The totally awesome, totally free atheist/ skeptical conference happening this weekend in Springfield, MO? (Registration is still available, btw, as is room sharing and ride sharing.)

It turns out that five — count ‘em, five — bloggers from the Freethought Blogs network are going to be speaking there: PZ Myers, Jen McCreight, JT Eberhard, Richard Carrier (who’s joining the FtB network soon!), and yours truly. And Ed Brayton is joining us for the festivities as well: he’s not speaking, so he gets to just sit back, relax, and throw peanuts at the rest of us. (Other Skepticon speakers, btw, include Rebecca Watson, David Silverman, Dan Barker, Julia Galef, Hemant Mehta, Sam Singleton, David Fitzgerald, and more.)

So we’ve decided to have a meetup! Saturday night at 9:30pm at the Farmers Gastropub, 431 S. Jefferson, suite 160. If you’re coming to Skepticon, come by and hang out! (And if you’re a reader/ commenter, tell me your freaking handle already when you introduce yourself. I don’t want to find out later that I met one of my favorite commenters and didn’t even know it.) I’ll be done with all my talks by then — I’m giving my notorious “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?” rant at Skepticon, and I’m on a panel on “How Should Rationalists Approach Death?”, but that’s all going to be on Saturday afternoon — so by Saturday night I’ll be done with my responsibilities and ready for a drink or three. Maybe I’ll even tell you the real story about that whole polar bear thing. Be there!

“That thing with the polar bears”: Greta Interviewed at WWJTD?

Who is your arch nemesis?

There’s this accountant at an auto parts chain in Wichita. He doesn’t know. He’s never even heard of me. He’ll rue the day he finds out…

Seriously, though: I don’t have one. There are certainly people whose work and views I’m passionately opposed to… but there’s no one person who I’d call an arch nemesis. And I don’t want one. I don’t want my life defined by who I hate.

*

Over at What Would JT Do?, JT Eberhard is doing a series of interviews with the other Freethought Blogs bloggers — and his interview with me went up today. We discuss religion, heroes, fears, weird talents, pillow forts, arch-nemeses, being wrong, that thing with the polar bears, and more. Go check it out!

Welcome John Loftus’s Debunking Christianity to Freethought Blogs!

We are honored to have a new blogger in the Freethought Blogs network: John Loftus, at Debunking Christianity.

John W. Loftus is a former Christian minister and apologist with M.A., M.Div., and Th.M. degrees in Philosophy, Theology, and the Philosophy of Religion from Lincoln Christian Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. While in school John majored under Drs. James D. Strauss and William Lane Craig, then studied in a Ph.D. program at Marquette University for a year and a half in the area of Theology and Ethics. John is the founder of the Debunking Christianity blog. He is the author of the book, “Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.” He also edited “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails,” and “The End of Christianity.” He is co-authoring a book to be released in 2012 titled, “God or Godless” (with Dr. Randal Rauser).

Go say hi! One of us, one of us, one of us…

“Be Wildly, Passionately Pursued”: Women and Passivity

“Just once in life, every woman should…”

How would you finish that sentence?

In the December 2011 issue of Glamour Magazine, the editors asked three women writers to finish that sentence. And Caitlin Flanagan (To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife) finished it this way: “Just once in life, every woman should be wildly, passionately pursued.” She went on to recount a story from her college days, when she was courted to near-obsession by a young man she had no interest in. She gushes breathlessly about how wonderful it all was and how special and desirable it made her feel, and she pities the poor sad modern girls brazenly asking guys for their phone numbers. “I know I should have been marveling at how far girls have come,” she writes. “But instead I thought, Wow, those girls will never be pursued.”

There were so many things in this article that were so very wrong, I could probably devote my entire blog for a month to picking it apart. The courtship that Flanagan describes as “wild, passionate pursuit” looks an awful lot like what I would call “stalking.” And, of course, the very idea that there’s anything at all that “every” woman should do — other than metabolize food and breathe in and out — is just flatly stupid on the face of it. But here’s the thing that really jumped out at me about this, the thing that made me facepalm so hard it made my brain spill out the back of my head:

“Being wildly, passionately pursued” is not a goal you can work towards.

This is not a goal you can make happen. This is not a goal you can apply thought and imagination and hard work to in order to bring yourself closer to it.

This is a goal you have to sit back and hope happens to you. [Read more...]

Chocolate Chip Cookies and Cute Kittens: Compare and Contrast

I’m currently working on a piece comparing the child rape scandal at Penn State with the child rape scandal in the Catholic Church. It’s making me sick and sad. Over on Facebook, I pleaded, “Can’t I write a piece comparing chocolate chip cookies with cute kittens?”

And it was pointed out, by more than one person, that there’s no reason I can’t do both.

So. Chocolate chip cookies and cute kittens. How are they similar? How are they different? Is one superior to the other; are they equal/ are they simply not comparable with one another? Let’s discuss!

Similarities: Chocolate chip cookies and cute kittens are both wonderful. They make you smile. You can curl up with both of them on a rainy day, and it’s comforting and homey. They both have a tendency to leave detritus on the sofa — either in the form of cat hair or crumbs. They’re both soft and warm (not always the case with chocolate chip cookies, but often).

Differences: Chocolate chip cookies are delicious. They’re extra-delicious with coffee. They smell good. They have chocolate in them. You can bring them to work and leave them in your kitchen for your co-workers to enjoy. (I suppose you could do that with cute kittens, but it’s probably inadvisable.) You can make them yourself at home, which makes your house smell wonderful, or you can buy them at your favorite cafe or bakery.

Cute kittens, on the other hand, are fluffy. They’re alive and conscious, and you can interact with them and have a relationship with them. They love you (sort of, in their self-absorbed cat way). They scamper. You can dangle toys in front of them, and they’ll bat them around in an entertaining way. The bounce around the house going “boing, boing, boing,” and then suddenly fall asleep. They have big adorable eyes.

Conclusion: I am in favor of both chocolate chip cookies and cute kittens. They have some important similarities — mostly in the area of wonderfulness. They do, however, have some important differences, and are difficult to compare, since they serve such different functions in our lives.

Thoughts? How have these important issues played out in your own life?