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Dec 22 2012

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

This is an old post from my archives, which I’m reprinting now so people can make it in time for for Santamas. Enjoy!

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. (UPDATE: I’ve now served both the straight-up chocolate version and the spiced version several times, and opinions are deeply divided as to which is better. My suggestion: Make one of each. Why the hell not?)

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. (UPDATE: I tried adding alcohol last year, and it didn’t work that great: if you add enough to get significant flavor, the texture gets goopy. I’m going to stick with dry spices from now on.) 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. Happy eating!

18 comments

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  1. 1
    Mattir, Another One With Boltcutters

    Thank you for posting this again – DaughterSpawn has made FOUR of these pies in the last 2 days to bring to potlucks. Yum.

  2. 2
    Matt Penfold

    Try adding a small teaspoon of sea-salt to the filling. You will not notice a salty flavour, but it enhances the flavour of the chocolate.

  3. 3
    TGAP Dad

    Just curious: have you ever tried making the crust from lard instead of Crisco? I’m curious as to which would yield a flakier crust.

  4. 4
    Kevin

    Next up…add espresso.

  5. 5
    maxhannan

    Ooh I’m a keen pie maker but have NEVER heard of vodka as a replacement for water in the pastry mix? What is the reasoning for this? Does it yield a better quality crust or a better flavour? I’m really not gonna fight it, I think vodka should be in more things. Just curious!

  6. 6
    Nathaniel Frein

    I love working on stone countertops when I make pie dough. I get a bunch of ziplocs filled with icewater and lay them out for about thirty minutes before I start to work the dough to chill the countertop.

    The reason you’re never sure how much water to use is because, since you’re using so little water to begin with, simple variations in the humidity of the kitchen (for example) can change how the dough acts. It’s never a sure thing.

    One thing you can do after adding the vodka and water is to roll the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the fridge. I like to chill mine overnight, but even doing so for an hour really helps the moisture slowly distribute equally through the dough.

  7. 7
    Greta Christina

    Ooh I’m a keen pie maker but have NEVER heard of vodka as a replacement for water in the pastry mix? What is the reasoning for this?

    maxhannan @ #5: The vodka evaporates during baking (some of it, anyway), which makes for a flakier, less tough crust. You know how you’re always supposed to use as little water as you can get away with and still have your dough stick together? Using half vodka is a way to do that.

    Nathaniel: Good tips! Thanks! And that makes sense about the water quantity.

  8. 8
    Ganner

    I just made this for thanksgiving. My spice mix was 1/2 tsp each nutmeg, cinnamon, and ground cayenne. Turned out AWESOME.

  9. 9
    Nathaniel Frein

    Oh, no worries :3

    I love finding out about other pie crust converts like me.

    One of these days, when I have the time to do stuff like pies more than once or twice a year, I want to try something I read about. I want to get a nice slab of polished stone sized to fit perfectly on a shelf in my fridge. That way I can just pull it out to work the pie dough on and put it back in when I’m done.

    When you pre-bake the pie crust you might want to use pie weights. If you don’t want to buy pie weights, just use beans. You can even save them afterwards, just put a label on them so you don’t try to eat them (and don’t put them back with the eating beans. Unless you don’t own the beans and you hate the person that does…)

  10. 10
    Max Hannan

    @Nathanial I always put the dough in the fridge but never knew why – thanks! And yes, would second the need for baking beans. So useful!

    I will be making pie over the festive period so will try out the vodka tip. Cheers! :)

  11. 11
    johnmarley

    Wow, that looks amazing. Hell of a week to be diagnosed with diabetes. Dammit.

  12. 12
    SallyStrange

    Helpful hint for getting the butter right in the pie crust: freeze it, then grate it with a cheese grater.

  13. 13
    Brian Wibecan

    We made two chocolate pies at Thanksgiving, and the whole family loved it, so we’re making two chocolate pies again today. I picked up Scharffen-Berger chocolate this time; we’ll see if that makes a noticeable difference (compared to month-old memories of utter delight, anyway).

  14. 14
    brianl

    All the pie crust tips are valuable, but if you’re in a hurry and have a stand mixer, just put the dry ingredients into the bowl with the paddle attachment, drop the butter/shortening in, run on low for about 60-90 seconds (do keep an eye on it–it is possible to over-mix). When the butter is cut to the correct size, drop the water in while beating very low. Do this is pulses of about 2 rotations of the paddle. Stop when it’s a crumbly pile, take the bowl off, and finish bringing together by hand. Do let it rest before rolling out.
    Pie crust takes practice, but once you get it, it’s actually very easy to do consistently and quickly.

  15. 15
    Steve Langer

    The vodka pie crust recipe is identical to the one from Cook’s Illustrated, except that they call for refrigerating the dough before rolling it out. Refrigerating it for an hour or two lets the gluten react with the water, which cross-links the gluten molecules and makes the crust flaky. The point of the vodka is to moisten the dough and make it easier to roll without providing too much water and cross-linking, which would make the crust tough. You can mix the flour and butter and shortening in a food processor as long as you don’t overdo it. I then dump it in a bowl and use a large flexible spatula to mix in the water and vodka. If you use your hands you might warm the dough, which will again make it less flaky.

  16. 16
    lindak

    Made three of these with Ghiradelli chocolate and they were wonderful. I don’t like to bake but Greta’s right: the crust is where the effort is. I had to smile as my family raved over the pie, because I had already renamed it simply as Atheist Pie.

  17. 17
    ospalh

    Sounds yummy.
    But unfortunately it needs translations for non-Americans.
    So, precise conversions:
    INGREDIENTS
    1 single pie crust
    113g butter
    200g sugar
    2 eggs
    44ml evaporated milk
    57g baking chocolate
    Whipped cream

    Bake crust for 5–10 minutes at 232 °C
    Bake pie for 30–40 minutes at 163 °C

    Spices:
    1/4 tsp. = 1.2 ml
    1/8 tsp. = 0.6 ml
    (admittedly this conversion isn’t that useful)

    Pie crust ingredients:
    354 g (or 590 ml) flour
    6g (or 5ml) table salt
    24 g (or 30 ml) sugar
    170 g (or 177 ml) butter
    109g (or 118 ml) shortening
    59ml cold water
    59ml cold vodka

  18. 18
    Another Matt

    I made the pie this week. You’re right, it’s amazing! I agree with the sea salt option, but instead I sprinkled some on the top of the pie after it cooled a little. It imparts a wonderful little crunch, and it does enhance the flavor of the chocolate.

    Thanks!

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