Greta’s Perfect Cup of Decaf Coffee

coffee beansI only ever drink decaf coffee. I’ve been off the hard stuff for many years now — it gives me bad mood swings — and with the meds I’m on now, I definitely can’t drink the hard stuff at all. But I still like the taste of coffee, and the aroma, and the ritual. And since I don’t ever drink the hard stuff, the small amount of caffeine that’s left in decaf does have a gentle stimulating effect that I enjoy and am attached to.

Alas, being a decaf-only drinker means that coffee in cafes is very hit-or-miss. Some cafes do decaf very well indeed (a shout-out to the decaf French roast at Philz); others either don’t know how to do it or don’t care. (Do not get me started on cafe snobbery about decaf.) So since I drink decaf coffee every day, I’ve learned to make it myself.

I’ve been refining my technique over the years, to get it exactly how I like it. And on the off-chance that there are other decaf drinkers out there, I thought I’d share with the rest of the class.

Note that this is made to my taste (obviously). I like my coffee quite strong, and I like it with cream and sugar. So this might not be your perfect cup of decaf coffee. But if you’re a decaf drinker and haven’t been happy about it, it’s probably worth a try.

INGREDIENTS

12 fluid ounces filtered water. (If you have good tap water, filtered isn’t necessary — but if you have a water filter, there’s no reason not to use it.)
3 Tbsp. whole decaf coffee beans, French roast. (French roast is very important — possibly the most important feature of this process, except maybe the heavy cream. The most common way for decaf coffee to suck is for it to be sour. French roast is rarely sour. I use the fair-trade organic French roast beans they have at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, but other decaf French roasts are good, too.)
1 Tbsp whipping cream. (NOT half-and-half!!! Whipping cream! Heavy whipping cream. Strauss if I can get it, another brand if I can’t. In a pinch, when I’m out of cream, I have been known to use vanilla ice cream. In fact, I keep vanilla ice cream in the house just for this purpose.)
1 tsp. (packed) brown sugar.

French press coffee makerEQUIPMENT

Tea kettle.
French press coffee maker. (This is not absolutely 100% necessary: if you don’t have one, you don’t have to run out and buy one. At times when French press isn’t an option, I make drip coffee that I’m reasonably happy with. But I do prefer French press: it makes the coffee stronger and somehow more substantial.)
Coffee grinder.
Coffee cup (12 oz.).
Timer that will let you time in both minutes and seconds (I use the one on the microwave oven).

INSTRUCTIONS

Grind beans for French press. With our coffee grinder, this means grinding for ten seconds. Yes, I time it — ten seconds is both longer and shorter than I think. If you don’t have French press instructions for your coffee grinder (what? you threw away the instructions for your coffee grinder?): A French press grind is coarser than a drip grind. (For drip coffee, we grind for twenty seconds.)

Put grounds into French press coffee maker.

Boil water. If possible, I actually try to heat the water to just below boiling, and take it off the stove right before the tea kettle starts to whistle. Coffee is supposed to be made with just-under-boiling water: boiling water will sour it. If I don’t successfully do this, though, it doesn’t matter hugely, because my next step is to:

Decant the water into the coffee cup, and THEN pour it into the French press coffee maker. This accomplishes two things: it brings the water temperature slightly down, and it warms the coffee cup.

Stir grounds into water, put top on French press coffee maker, and let steep for eight minutes. (Yes, eight minutes. I know most French press instructions say three to five minutes, but that doesn’t make it strong enough for me. And again: Yes, I time this.)

While coffee is steeping: Mix cream and sugar into a slurry in the coffee cup, and let sit. (The reasoning behind this: I find that if I stir the sugar into the coffee after I pour it, it tends to settle into the bottom of the cup. If I mix the cream and sugar ahead of time and give the sugar time to dilute into the cream, it mixes into the coffee better.) Stash cup in pantry so Comet can’t get at the cream.

While coffee is steeping, make breakfast (usually toasted bread and cheese, and a piece of fruit).

After eight minutes, press the French press filter. Re-stir cream-and-sugar slurry, as some sugar may have settled out. Pour coffee slowly into cup with cream-and-sugar, stirring briskly. (A brisk stir thoroughly mixes the cream-and-sugar into the coffee, and also aerates it slightly.) Do not pour all of the coffee — the French press method leaves a bit of sludge in the bottom of the coffee maker.

Yield: About 10 ounces of coffee. (You lose a little water in the process, mostly in the sludge.) That’s just about right for a 12-ounce coffee cup, with room for cream and room for the cup to not be full to the absolute brim.

IF I WERE GOING TO GET SERIOUSLY OBSESSIVE ABOUT THIS, I WOULD:

Get a burr-style coffee grinder: apparently these grind the beans more evenly, thus creating less sludge.

Get one of those electric kettles that you can set to heat water to exactly the temperature you want. Or, alternately: Use an instant-read meat thermometer to measure the temperature of the water before pouring into the coffee grounds.

Aerate the coffee, by pouring it back and forth between two cups a few times after it’s brewed. They used to do this at Philz before they got so busy, and it does seem to make a difference — but not enough to be worth dirtying two cups every time I want coffee.

***

So if you have a coffee ritual — what is it? Decaf drinkers are especially encouraged to share.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

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

pi plateIn honor of today being Pi Day (3.14.15 — do you have something special planned for 9:26?), 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 absurdly 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 moment.
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 [Read more…]

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters

New Year’s Eve is coming up, so I thought I’d reprint this recipe for Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Proceed with caution.

hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxyWhen I was about to turn 42, I of course wanted to serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters for my birthday. Not the real thing, of course — they can’t be mixed in Earth’s atmosphere — but a reasonable approximation.

So we went online, and found approximately 894,589,760 recipes for it. Trouble was, most of them involved gin, to approximate the Arcturan Mega-gin. Trouble was, I don’t like gin.

But we found this one, and loved it. It has just about everything a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster should have. It looks really alien, like something they’d drink on Star Trek. It’s entertaining and dramatic to put together. And its effects are, in fact, very similar to having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. It’s one of those sneaky drinks that’s waaaaaay more intoxicating than it tastes: it goes down sweet and easy, you keep tossing them back… and soon you’re putting plastic cocktail monkeys in your hair, and trying on other people’s pants, and telling total strangers how awesome they are and how much you love them. [Read more…]

My Half-Century Cocktail Recipe

cardamomNew Year’s Eve is coming up, so I thought I’d reprint this cocktail recipe. If you want to make it for New Year’s Eve, start making the cardamom simple syrup now-ish.

We invented this cocktail recipe for my 50th birthday (a few years ago — I turn 53 on December 31), and I like it so much I’ve made it several times since. I’m calling it a Half Century. It’s not wildly freaky or anything — it’s roughly a whiskey sour made with lime juice and cardamom simple syrup — but it’s awfully damn delicious. And it has qualities both of a classic cocktail and a weird modern spicy cocktail, which seems appropriate for the occasion it was named after. Plus it has cardamom! Nature’s perfect food. [Read more…]

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

With the winter holidays imminent, I thought I’d bring out my famous recipe for chocolate pie. 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 absurdly 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 moment.
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 [Read more…]

Susie Bright’s Ridiculously Easy, Amazingly Delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce

tomatoes and peppers

It’s tomato season, which means I’m making big batches of Susie Bright’s roasted tomato sauce. This recipe is amazingly delicious and ridiculously easy (about 10-15 minutes of prep depending on how much you’re making, plus blending at the end). And it freezes really well, so whenever it’s tomato season, we make giant batches of it and freeze it in Tupperwares for the winter. You know that children’s book, Frederic, about the mouse who sits around in the summer gathering words and colors and sun rays to store up for the winter? That’s what making this sauce feels like. When winter comes, and it’s been gray and cold and wet and dark for days on end, we stick some of this sauce in the microwave and put it on pasta, and it feels like pulling a bit of stored summer out of the freezer. And when we’re making it, it fills the house with this ambrosial tomato perfume. We mostly make this to freeze for the winter, but we can never resist eating some of it right away, warm out of the oven.

I want Susie to get the traffic, so I’m not going to repeat the basic recipe here — you have to go to her blog to get it. But I have a few modifications and finer points, and those I’ll tell you about. [Read more…]

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!

My Half-Century Cocktail Recipe

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

We invented this cocktail recipe for my 50th birthday (a couple of years ago — I turn 52 on December 31), and I like it so much I’ve made it several times since. I’m calling it a Half Century. It’s not wildly freaky or anything — it’s roughly a whiskey sour made with lime juice and cardamom simple syrup — but it’s awfully damn delicious. And it has qualities both of a classic cocktail and a weird modern spicy cocktail, which seems appropriate for the occasion it was named after. Plus it has cardamom! Nature’s perfect food. [Read more…]

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

New Year’s Eve is coming up, so I thought I’d reprint this recipe for Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Proceed with caution.

hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxyWhen I was about to turn 42, I of course wanted to serve Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters for my birthday. Not the real thing, of course — they can’t be mixed in Earth’s atmosphere — but a reasonable approximation.

So we went online, and found approximately 894,589,760 recipes for it. Trouble was, most of them involved gin, to approximate the Arcturan Mega-gin. Trouble was, I don’t like gin.

But we found this one, and loved it. It has just about everything a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster should have. It looks really alien, like something they’d drink on Star Trek. It’s entertaining and dramatic to put together. And its effects are, in fact, very similar to having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. It’s one of those sneaky drinks that’s waaaaaay more intoxicating than it tastes: it goes down sweet and easy, you keep tossing them back… and soon you’re putting plastic cocktail monkeys in your hair, and trying on other people’s pants, and telling total strangers how awesome they are and how much you love them.

Ingredients:
Champagne
Vodka
Blue curacao
Sugar cubes
Bitters (we used Angostura)

Ahead of time (you can do this a day or two ahead of time, or whenever you like, really), pre-mix a mixture of:
1/2 blue curacao
1/2 vodka

Also ahead of time (shortly before the party):
Prepare a plate of sugar cubes with one drop of bitters on each cube (this approximates the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger).

As guests arrive:

Fill a champagne flute mostly full of champagne, about one shot short.
Add one shot of the curacao/vodka mixture.
Drop in one embittered sugar cube.

Do these one at a time for each guest: it’s pretty to watch, and the embittered sugar cube goes “fizz fizz fizz” in a very dramatic way when it’s dropped into the champagne/ vodka/ curacao mix.

Drink only with people you trust. And beware the plastic cocktail monkeys.

Greta’s Amazing Chocolate Pie

I’m doing a full court press in December to finish my new book, “Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why.” Deadline for going to the typesetter is January 2. So for most of December, I’ll be posting retreads traditional holiday posts, as well as a few cat pictures. Enjoy!

pi plateJust in time for Santamas! 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!