Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mastering Chocolate Pie

(Note: This is a very picture heavy post).

Throughout my baking career, one of the things I've had the toughest time mastering is the custard pie. Whether it be lemon, coconut, or chocolate, custard pies are an exact--and very fragile--science.

My grandmother has a great chocolate pie recipe, and my dad and brother absolutely love it. They request one for every holiday, so it was pretty imperative that I get a handle on it.

As I've practiced making custard pies over the years, I've had several successes--but I've also had several failures. I think baking can be a really intimidating concept for someone who isn't familiar with it, but trust me--even though I worked in a bakery for several months and have been cooking for as long as I can remember, I still make lots and lots of mistakes.

Some of my favorite "big fails" have included:
1. While making a custard pie, I was supposed to pre-bake the crust. I only remembered that fact after pouring the cooked custard into the crust, and topping it perfectly with meringue. There was no going back.

2. While attempting to 'lightly toast' the meringue, I turned the broiler on and left it for just a tidge too long--and it caught on fire. This has actually happened twice...maybe even three times.

3. Similarly, while baking a pumpkin pie with walnut streusal topping (I blogged about the recipe a few months ago), I forgot to turn the oven down midway through the baking process. This resulted in blackened walnuts, and a pretty dark crust. Oops!

I feel like it's absolutely important to be honest about my failures as a baker, because it happens to everyone. I think baking can be extremely intimidating, and it's important to own up to the fact that even 'good bakers' screw up. That said, screwing up is no fun, and I've decided once and for all that I will master the chocolate pie.

So, I started out with a recipe of my grandmother's. Here's what you'll need:

First, bake up the crust (don't forget to do this). I used a store bought crust for this pie. Ohhh, scandalous.

When baking a one crust pie, you can either use pie weights (my favorite method) or poke a bunch of holes in the crust to avoid major puffiness while baking. It looks kind of like constellations, yes?

While the crust is baking, mix the sugar, cocoa, and flour in a large saucepan.

Add the milk and stir constantly over low heat until the mixture thickens. Stirring constantly is extremely important, as milk scorches very easily (yes I have scorched milk, many, many times).

I have always found this part of custard pie making the hardest. What is thick? How long will it take? Is it taking too long? Did I ruin it? Will anyone want to eat my pies again? I'm telling you, it can get trying. I timed this pie, and it took around 16 minutes to get to satisfactory thickness (cooked over low-medium heat). So hopefully that will help you avoid the emotional roller coaster mentioned above.

Meanwhile, separate three egg yolks and set them aside in a medium bowl.

After the mixture is sufficiently thickened (see picture just below), add the egg yolks.

Instead of adding the yolks directly to the hot mixture (which would most likely result in scrambled eggs floating around in your chocolate pie), beat the egg yolks in a small bowl, then pour a few tablespoons of the hot filling into the yolks, beating constantly to avoid scrambling.

This process is called tempering.

Once you've mixed the yolks and chocolate substantially, pour the yolks into the rest of the chocolate mixture.

Cook the mixture for a few more minutes--say 2 to 5--stirring constantly. Then, remove it from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Stir until the butter is melted.

Finally, pour the chocolate filling into the baked crust.

I know it seems weird, but you'll want to immediately cover the filling with plastic wrap. This will keep that disgusting custard pie slime from forming (if you've made a custard pie before, or even eaten one, you probably know what I'm talking about) as the pie cools.

I broke away from what I normally do with this pie by topping it with whipped cream instead of meringue. I'm not a huge fan of meringue, so I decided to give whipped cream a chance.

After I finished beating up the cream, I took the pie out of the fridge and peeled away the saran wrap. I was quite pleased to see NO film!

Then, I piled the whipped cream on top, and spread it all out. I'll admit, I may have made a bit too much whipped cream.

A few mini-chocolate chips for garnish, and wahlah!

Chocolate Pie
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. cocoa
4 Tablespoons flour
2 c. milk
3 egg yolks
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whipped cream

Bake the crust, following the directions for a one crust pie. Then, mix the sugar, cocoa, and flour in a large sauce pan. Add the milk and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened (about 16 minutes). Temper the egg yolks, then add them to the mixture and cook 2-5 more minutes. Remove the filling from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Stir until the butter is melted. Pour the filling into the crust, then cover it with saran wrap and allow it to cool completely. Refrigerate for a few hours, then top with whipped cream or meringue.




  1. Looks great and it's a recipe I think even I can follow! Good job.

  2. The best pie I think I've ever had!