Monday, October 11, 2010
The Greatest Pie on Earth
Well, I've done it. Reached the pinnacle. Crossed the finish line. I have done what few even attempt and I survived to tell the tale. I made my mother's famous Black Bottom Pie. Four stages of instructions, two pages typed, thirteen ingredients, and two hours of my life I'll never get back. Worth every single minute.
This pie is one of those pies that you could quite easily sit down and eat the entire thing in one sitting...just you, a 13x9 pyrex baking dish, a fork, and bite after bite of dreamy creamy chocolately goodness. I think my sister has actually done this, which is why she vows never to make it herself. She had to move to the East Coast just to be 3,000 miles away from the one woman who makes it. And when she comes to visit, it's really the only required menu item. We think it's best for breakfast.
As my father says, it's like walking into a cold breeze with your mouth open. Or I prefer describing it as being like heaven and angels and all things beautiful. It's deceptively light and fluffy, with a dark chocolate cookie crust in the perfect thickness to give it just the right amount of decadence. It's an elegant dessert...the layers are straight and symmetrical, the colors remind you of a tuxedo and ivory satin, and it floats in your mouth.
I've always been intimidated by this recipe and now I know why...it's pretty complicated, or at least doing it the first time was incredibly daunting. What if it didn't turn out right? A failed Black Bottom Pie would cause me to rethink this whole project. At several points in the process, I didn't think what was supposed to happen was happening so had to call my mom for some reassurance. Even when it was all said and done, I just wasn't sure I had pulled it off. After the first bite, though, there was no question. I had made a Black Bottom Pie and it was perfect.
Black Bottom Pie
Makes 16 slices when using a 13 x 9 pyrex
1 box Nabisco Chocolate Icebox cookies
5 Tbsp melted butter
1 packet Knox gelatin (about 1 Tbsp)
2 cups whole milk
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar + 3 Tbsp, divided
1 Tbsp flour
Dash of salt
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tsp vanilla, separated
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 pint whipping cream
1/2 square unsweetened chocolate, grated
Crust: Crush one box of Nabisco Chocolate Icebox cookies in a food processor to a fine texture. Mix with melted butter. Press into the 13 x 9 pan. Heat in 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until very hot so the crust will hold together.
Filling: Stir the Knox gelatin with 4 Tbsp of cold water. Set aside. Pour milk into a double boiler to heat. Meanwhile beat egg yolks well and add to them 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp of flour mixed well. Add a dash of salt. Gradually blend this mixture into the hot milk and whisk to make smooth. Cook until the custard mixture coats a spoon, about 20 minutes.
Chocolate Layer: Take out 1 cup of the custard and mix it with 1 1/2 squares of unsweetened chocolate that has been thoroughly melted. Blend this until smooth and add 1 tsp vanilla. Spread this mixture over crust. This will make a very thin layer so be careful not to pull the crust apart as you spread.
Cream Layer: Remove pan with the filling mixture from the double boiler. Dissolve the congealed gelatin mixture to a liquid and add it to the filling mixture. In a separate bowl, make a stiff meringue by beating 4 egg whites, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 tsp vanilla. Fold meringue into the filling mixture. Pour on top of chocolate layer. Let stand in the refrigerator until firm, preferably overnight.
Topping: Beat whipping cream and 3 Tbsp of sugar. Spoon on top of chocolate layer. Use remaining 1/2 square of unsweetened chocolate and grate it on top of the whipped cream. Return to refrigerator. This will make 16 servings and will keep several days...or about 15 minutes.
This is the scariest moment in the life of a Black Bottom Pie. After serving it at a family dinner, I'm left with just enough to do some serious damage to that pregnancy weight gain limit. Do I take one more bite, which could lead to another and another until the whole thing is gone (a sad moment in itself)? Or do I show restraint, be conservative in my approach, and save the last corner to savor another day? What did I do? I'll never tell...