There are pies and then there is my grandma’s chocolate pie.
It’s a luscious chocolate custard resting on a flaky, almost salty crust, topped with a springy meringue. For me, it’s la pièce de résistance and whether times are good or times are bad, it’s always welcome and appropriate.
I can’t remember a period in my life when it wasn’t my favorite dessert. My family has always been pie eaters, but we fall into several camps: there are the peach enthusiasts, the pecan lovers and then there are those of us who prefer the chocolate. My mom loves the chocolate best so that’s probably why it’s my (and my brother’s) favorite as well. But that doesn’t explain why Mom doesn’t make it. Nope, only one person can make my grandma’s chocolate pie and that’s my grandma.
When I went to visit her in August, I told her I wanted a chocolate pie. That was no surprise—I always insist that she bake me a chocolate pie when I visit. But this time I was determined to document her making it so I could try and recreate it back here in NY.
She had all the ingredients spread out on the counter and then I saw it: her recipe card. I hadn’t noticed before that she uses a recipe—I always assumed she baked chocolate pie from memory. The old card was yellowing and splattered with spots. And it called for Oleo as one of the ingredients. What a treasure! Before we started baking, I decided to take a photo of the card and as the light was waning in the kitchen, I took the card out to the front porch to shoot it before she started cooking.
I ended up spending more time than I meant to photographing the card. And as I saw the sun setting, I realized I should probably go back inside to watch her make the pie. Unfortunately, as I walked into the kitchen Grandma was sliding the chocolate pie into the oven. Curses! My original assumption was correct: she did not need a recipe card to make chocolate pie. And I had spent so much time shooting the dang card, I had missed my opportunity observe her crafting a chocolate pie.
Of course, being a brat, I whined: “Why didn’t you wait?” She replied that she didn’t know how long I’d be taking photos of the card and she had other important things to do, such as baking another pie—this one apple. “You’re welcome to photograph me making that,” she said. She had, however, left me a consolation prize: I could lick the bowl.
I’m disappointed that I missed the chance to photograph her making a chocolate pie but at least I have a photo of her recipe card. I know that it’s not quite the same, but it’ll just have to do, until next time.
Ingredients for the pie:
4 tablespoons cocoa or 1 1/2 squares baking chocolate
3/4 cups sugar
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks, beaten slightly
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon of butter
1 unbaked 9-inch piecrust
Ingredients for the meringue:
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of sugar
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
In a saucepot, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, flour, salt, egg yolks, and milk.
On medium heat, cook while stirring until it bubbles and thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. If it becomes lumpy, just beat out the lumps. (It will not get any thicker in the oven so cook until it’s as thick as you want it.)
Remove the chocolate filling from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.
Meanwhile, as you make the custard, poke holes in the piecrust with a fork and bake it until it’s brown, about 20 minutes.
To make the meringue, beat the egg whites with salt and when they start to get fluffy add the sugar.
Pour the chocolate custard into the baked pie shell and top with the beaten egg whites. Bake it until it the peaks on the meringue are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Serve warm.
Grandma says: “It’s real good hot, wonderful cold and you can even eat it frozen—then it’s like a popsicle!”
All that’s happening in the oven is the browning of the meringue. So be sure and keep cooking the custard in the pan until it’s your desired consistency.