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Black Bottom Pie

 Old man winter split rather early this year in the Pacific Northwest. We've been bathing in sunshine and rolling around in flower petals since mid-February. I know. It's pretty sickening.

I'm not inclined to complain about great weather, although I keep feeling as though the other shoe is going to drop. When I told my yoga teacher that the good weather made me nervous, she asked if I grew up Catholic. I replied, "No, Baptist." Then we both chorused, "Same thing." I guess it would go against my nature to just enjoy something without analyzing it to death.

But I do realize that most of the country hasn't been feeling the springtime vibes. Every time I talk to my parents in North Carolina, they regale me with tales of ice and snow, and I try not to sound too giddy when I tell them we hit 70 degrees.

I'm showing a lot of restraint with this post. I could be hitting you over the head with rhubarb, but I've chosen to pretend we're still in the depths of winter, eating chocolate and dreaming of strawberries.

Black bottom pie is new to me. It falls somewhere on the chiffon pie spectrum but doesn't have that odd, bouncy gelatin quality, which I appreciate. The gingersnap crust is a welcome addition--I call for salted butter here because the salt is really nice in this instance. If you don't have salted butter, just add 1/4 teaspoon salt to the crust. I'm tempted to say that Ritz or Saltine crackers would make a good crust for this pie, so if you feel brave enough to try that, let me know how it goes.

There are several steps to making this pie. This is one of those occasions where mise en place is a good thing. Have all your ingredients measured out and ready to go. Read the recipe through a few times. In case you're wondering, I topped my pie with Valrhona crisp pearls, which is absolutely optional. Shaved or grated chocolate will do just fine.

Other pie recipes you might enjoy: Rhubarb Chess Pie, Limoncello Lemon Meringue Pie, Chocolate Ganache Tart

Black Bottom Pie
Serves 8

Note: You really do need a 10-inch pie pan here. There is just too much filling for a 9-inch pan. You could also use a springform pan if you don't have a 10-inch pie pan.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Put in the bottom of a 10-inch pie dish:
           1 1/2 cups fine gingersnap crumbs
Melt and add to the crumbs:
           6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) salted butter
Stir together until the crumbs are moistened, then press the crumbs together to make an even crust. I like to use my flat-bottomed metal measuring cup for this.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Allow to cool.
Pour into a small cup:
            1/4 cup cold water
Sprinkle over the top and let stand for 5 minutes:
            1 1/2 teaspoons powdered unflavored gelatin
Place in a small bowl:
            6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Whisk together thoroughly in a medium heavy saucepan:
            1/3 cup sugar
            4 teaspoons cornstarch
Gradually whisk in:
            2 cups half-and-half or 1 cup milk plus 1 cup heavy cream
Vigorously whisk in until no yellow streaks remain:
            4 large egg yolks
Stirring constantly, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 30 seconds or until the custard starts to thicken. Remove from the heat. Immediately stir 1 cup of the mixture into the chocolate.
Add the softened gelatin to the custard remaining in the pan and stir for 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin.
Stir the chocolate mixture until smooth. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the bottom of the piecrust and refrigerate.
Stir into the custard in the pan:
           2 tablespoons dark rum or bourbon
           2 teaspoons vanilla
Set the custard aside.
Beat in a large bowl until foamy:
            3  large egg whites
Add:
            1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Continue to beat until soft peaks form, then gradually beat in:
            1/3 cup sugar
Increase the speed to high and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Gently fold the egg whites into the custard mixture. Spoon the filling over the chocolate mixture in the piecrust. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or up to 1 day. Top with whipped cream made with:
           1 cup heavy cream
           1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
           1/2 teaspoon vanilla
If you wish, sprinkle with:
            1 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, grated or shaved 

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Heat in a heavy skillet over medium heat:
     1 tablespoon neutral oil such as safflower
Add and brown well on all sides, about 2 minutes per side:
     8...