Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Quest for Black Bottom Pie

I grew up in the South so was fed a steady diet of meringue-topped pies, usually custard of some type with lightly browned meringue on top. I loved them all, lemon, chocolate, banana cream of course. But one day in a cafeteria in Oklahoma City I had a pie that became my picture of the ideal pie - a black bottom pie. It had an intensely chocolate layer topped by a light creamy layer and I thought it was the best thing I ever had. Trouble was, we didn't have the recipe.

About a year ago I thought again of this mirage and went on a quest to find the real black bottom pie. I read that this is a Southern specialty that has its own myths around it, though it is thought to have originated with a hotel in Louisiana. Many stories and recipes exist. I liked the one about the math professor in a conservative Christian college whose secret recipe for the pie he always brought was never divulged until after his death, because of the rum used in the recipe. Marjorie Rawlings, in Cross Creek Cookery (a bible of authentic Southern cooking from 1942), declared, "I hope to be propped up on my dying bed and fed a generous portion. Then I think that I should refuse outright to die, because life would be too good to relinquish."

I combined what I considered to be the most authentic and also the most tasty aspects of several recipes, including one from a restaurant in Oklahoma City that was probably the progenitor of my Eureka pie. A couple of notes: I consider the ginger snap crust to be essential. There are recipes out there using baked pie crusts, graham cracker crusts, chocolate cookie or even (horrors) Oreo crusts, and from Martha Stewart one using French pastry (pâté brisée) crust. Trust me. Use ginger snaps. Also, the darker and denser the chocolate you use for the bottom layer, the better. Also, this contains raw egg whites, so use precautions and skip this recipe if that concerns you.

Black Bottom Pie

Crust: Roll 8 oz of ginger snaps until crushed. Should make 1 ½ cups of crumbs. Mix with 5 T melted butter. Pat into a 9 inch pie pan. Bake 10 min at 300° F. Cool.


Separate 4 eggs. Beat the yolks.
Scald 2 cups milk in a double boiler. Stir in egg yolks slowly. Add ½ cup sugar and 1 ½ t cornstarch. Cook with stirring till thick. Remove from heat. Remove 1 cup and keep separate.

Chocolate layer: Melt 2 squares of good unsweetened chocolate (the denser the better) and mix with the 1 cup of reserved custard. Add 1 t vanilla to the cooled custard and pour carefully into the gingersnap crust.

Meringue layer: Blend 1 envelope (or 1 T) gelatin with 4 T cold water. Mix with remaining hot custard.

Beat 4 egg whites until nearly stiff, then gradually beat in ½ c sugar mixed with ¼ t cream of tartar. Add 2 T rum. Mix carefully into cooled custard/gelatin mixture. Tip into crust over chocolate layer. Chill.

Top: Shortly before serving, Beat 1 cup heavy cream until it stands up in peaks. Add 1 T confectioner’s sugar. Cover custard with cream and use a spoon to coax it into peaks. Grate semisweet chocolate over the top, but not to cover, only to ornament.

And yes, I did make this and it was delicious. I can't do it again without 7 people to share it with, though. Did it satisfy my fantasy? Since I no longer have 15-year-old tastebuds, I'm afraid my response was more analytical than paradisical. But it did seem to match my memory.


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I'm always impressed when someone can make a recipe that re-creates the taste of childhood. I'm still searching for the perfect blueberry pie of my childhood.

Anonymous said...

Now, my father always called it "Michigan black bottom pie". I can't imagine why southerners would be able to lay claim to this obviously northern delicacy. That said, it is to die for. For a true taste treat substitute cointreau for the rum.

Anonymous said...

We make an almost identical recipe for xmas every year. It's my grandma's recipe, she was from Kansas. Although we put bourbon in hers. Very delish!