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In Honor of Pi Day — Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie!

pi plateIn honor of today being Pi Day (3.14), here is a recap of my renowned chocolate pie 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 a couple of years ago (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)

chocolateA 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:

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

This experiment has been 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. 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! 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. (I’ve tried adding alcohol, 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.)

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.

pie crustBut 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 2Sift 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!

Comments

  1. says

    Remember: the Great British Version, 22nd of July (22/7) is more accurate!!!

    … and has been since 1592

    …and will continue to be for another 12,319 years!!!

    (actually I didn’t bother to think about the years bit so….)

  2. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    To REALLY enhance the chocolatey goodness, add a tiny bit of powdered chipotle chilis. Maybe 1/16th teaspoonful.

    It makes it slightly mouth-warming and righer, but no one will be able to tell what you did.

  3. says

    Mmm… chocolate.

    If I were to make this, I would consider adding chopped hazelnuts, and having more on hands for sprinkles. Nutella pie, anyone? Chopped dried fruit would be fun, with cherries and apricots high on my list. Or some instant coffee crystals, maybe just half a teaspoon. A slice of mochaccino pie with lots of foam does sound good right about now….

  4. robyn slinger says

    Yay, I made it (Greta’s experimental version). So far I have only eaten one piece without cream: it was delicious indeed. All I have to do is whip some cream now, as the pie just calls for it — I suspect upcoming magnificence!

    The pie crust is also homemade (despite much tears being shed trying to translate “cups” and “sticks” into proper, location-independent, units :-P). I found it a bit bland when tasted it on its own, but with the chocolate filling it turns out to be exactly the right choice: it is inconspicuously light, while simultaneously underscoring the chocolateness of the filling without overwhelming it.

    In short, I would bake it for my friends.

  5. crookedmongoose says

    This is one of my favorite things to make for family holidays. A little bit of orange zest makes for an amazing chocolate orange pie (my father loves the chocolate oranges that you break open on tables). Cayenne is also fantastic! I usually make a plain one and an extra-flavor one. If you like chocolate with cayenne in it, I have a chocolate spice cookie recipe that I am very fond of, as are all the people who’ve tried the resulting cookies.

    And for those of us who are poor college or grad students and prefer to drink our vodka, pie crust recipes that use vinegar are a solid and cheap substitute!

  6. John Horstman says

    It gives the pie a nice, exotic, spicy bite that I think enhances the chocolate and gives it complexity and depth.

    Perhaps this is a nit-picky linguistic point, but “exotic” is pretty much always racist/ethnocentrist language, even in this context – the entire point of the word (in contemporary English usage, considering both denotation and connotation) is to convey a fetishization of the Other (sexy-different, as opposed to bad-different). You lose nothing except possible harm to others by omitting the word entirely from that sentence:

    It gives the pie a nice, spicy bite that I think enhances the chocolate and gives it complexity and depth.

    The recipe sounds delicious! I’m generally much worse at baking than at various other kinds of cooking, but I may well give this a shot.

  7. Neth H says

    I made some of this using white chocolate and it was WONDERFUL! I substituted about 1/4 cup of Kool Whip (TM) for the sweetened condensed milk, and no whipped cream.

    The alcohol to moisten the pie crust makes for the BEST pie crust I’ve ever had! Very flaky.

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