It took years of searching to get to a chocolate pie we deserve

Allison Robicelli

THE WASHINGTON POST – It shouldn’t be hard to find a decent chocolate cream pie. It’s chocolate pudding, set in pie crust, topped with whipped cream. That’s it. You could use pudding from a box, a store-bought graham cracker crust and cover the whole thing with Reddi-wip from a can, and it would be a good pie.

And yet, for the first eight years of my marriage, the ultimate chocolate cream pie was my husband’s personal white whale; this is the story about how I drove a harpoon straight through that whale’s creamy, chocolatey heart.

When I first met Matt in 2005, we were both working as pastry chefs, so we implicitly knew that a potential relationship could, if we desired, contain a substantial amount of outstanding chocolate cream pie.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Matt was actively engaged in a years-long feud that was not based on pudding, but principle. On an early date, he told me the tale of a night when he was stricken with a craving for chocolate cream pie. He walked to a nearby bakery and bought an entire pie for the suspiciously low price of USD4.95.

He went back home, cut himself a slice, and the pie was horrible. “Horrible!” he shouted to me wide-eyed in the middle of a romantic restaurant, slamming his hand on the table with the ferocious passion of a man who took pie extremely seriously.

He recounted its shortcomings: The insipid crust was neither tender nor flaky.

Chocolate Cream Pie. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

The chocolate pudding’s primary note was of spare change with an undercurrent of vanilla body spray, telltale signs that the pudding had been mass-produced in a factory.

On top, a chalky halo of “whipped cream”, which he said using air quotes.

The pie represented the sort of cost-cutting chicanery he expected from a big-box store, not a neighbourhood bakery.

So, a few months later, when the craving struck again, he went to another bakery and was served the same pie.

Crust from a mix. Pudding from a can. ‘Whipped cream’.

He became obsessed with finding respectable chocolate cream pie in our little corner of the city, which, at the time, was not yet sophisticated enough to have a Starbucks.

As he rambled on about all the subsequent pies that had disappointed him, I realised that he was not searching merely for a pie that tasted good, but a pie that respected him.

That’s what all of us want from pie, isn’t it? We want a pie that sees us as someone who is worthy of excellence.

Eight years later, Matt and I opened a bakery a few blocks from our apartment, and I realised we had inadvertently created a loophole that allowed me to at last make the chocolate cream pie of his dreams.

I spent several days fussing with every element to get it just right, and used the finest ingredients I could find. It was a pie specifically designed to meet ridiculously high standards; the pie I knew I’d make for him the night he first told me of his quest. He told me it was perfect; I told him, “I told you so.” There has never been a sweeter pie.

Two years later, Matt developed a serious dairy allergy and never had the pie again; we closed the bakery and moved away. No one has seen this pie of legend since, but today it arises, just as humanity seems to need it the most.

CHOCOLATE CREAM PIE

Active: 30 minutes

Total: Four hours, 40 minutes

Eight to 10 servings

This pie is only as good the chocolate you use. And if you’re going to treat yourself to a chocolate cream pie, why hold back? Buy the kind you most enjoy savouring, be it semisweet or dark. Similarly, if you’re not making your own pie crust, spend a few extra dollars on a premade one that’s all-butter. This pie is meant to be indulgent.

You may have leftover pudding and/or whipped cream once you have assembled the pie.

Make Ahead: The pie crust can be made and kept at room temperature up to one day in advance. The pudding can be made ahead and refrigerated up to four days. If making the pudding in advance, place a piece of plastic wrap on top of the pudding to prevent skin from forming.

Storage Notes: Leftover pie may be covered and refrigerated for up to three days. The crust may get soggy after one day.

Ingredients

For the pie

Two large egg yolks

150 grammes granulated sugar

946 millilitres) half-and-half

65 grammes cornstarch

25 grammes Dutch process unsifted cocoa powder

285 grammes chopped chocolate, preferably semisweet

30 grammes unsalted butter

One-and-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

One teaspoon vanilla extract

One blind-baked pie crust, store-bought or homemade, cooled

For the whipped cream

480 millilitres heavy cream

65 grammes unsifted confectioners’ sugar

115 grammes mascarpone

Two teaspoons vanilla extract

One good-quality chocolate bar, for shaving

Steps

Make the pie: In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 50 grammes sugar until combined (the mixture should be thick and pale in colour as you whisk the ingredients together). Set aside.

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat, whisk together the half-and-half, the remaining 100 grammes sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder and cook, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to steam, about five minutes.

Add the chopped chocolate and continue to whisk until the pudding comes to a boil. The mixture will start to thicken fairly fast.

Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, for one minute, then remove from the heat; the mixture should be thick, like pudding.

Add the egg yolk mixture and butter and whisk vigorously to combine, for one minute. Whisk in the salt and vanilla until combined.

Pour the pudding into the blind-baked pie shell (you do not have to wait for it to cool if you’re pressed for time), cover with a piece of plastic wrap and gently press it to the surface of the pudding. Refrigerate the pie for about four hours, until fully.

Make the whipped cream: At least 15 minutes before you’re ready to serve the pie, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer and a free-standing large bowl), combine the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar, mascarpone and vanilla. Beat the ingredients on medium-low until fully mixed, then increase the speed to high and whip the mixture until stiff peaks form, about two minutes. Pile the whipped cream on top of the pie, then use a vegetable peeler to shower it with chocolate shavings. Refrigerate until set, about 10 minutes. Serve cold.

Note: To blind-bake a pie crust, position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees. Gently line your deep-dish pie crust (already fitted into the pie plate, crimped as per your preference, and chilled in the freezer for at least 30 minutes) with foil and weigh it down with pie weights, beans, rice or pennies. Place the pie dish on top of a large, rimmed baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil with the weights and continue to bake for five to seven minutes, until the pie crust is light golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool before filling.

Nutrition

Calories: 737; Total Fat: 51g; Saturated Fat: 29g; Cholesterol: 158mg; Sodium: 459mg; Carbohydrates: 61g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugars: 37g; Protein: 8g.