It's funny how I can feel so alone in a crowded room these days. This little place here in cyberspace, though—I never feel alone here. The sincere comments, emails and well-wishes over the last week have only reaffirmed what I've always believed—there are more good people in this world than we sometimes realize.
When I wrote a post asking friends to make a peanut butter pie to celebrate Mikey's life and the love for everyone in their own lives, I never expected the amazing domino effect that would follow. One woman wrote to tell me she has a peanut butter chocolate cupcake on the menu at her cafe in Buenos Aires in honor of Mikey, with the proceedings going to a charity that helps kids in need.
It reminded me of Eric Carle's story the The Tiny Seed, the way the love Mikey and I shared made it's way through the borders of Argentina into the heart of a woman neither of us knew. There are many more stories like this, and they make my heart swell with hope.
Today I have another pie to share with you. I made this pie for Thanksgiving last week, and for most of you this is a new recipe too. I created it about four months ago for Betty Crocker, and Mikey passed away before it was published. I thought about it last Tuesday night as I was planning my Thanksgiving menu. I knew that brown butter apple pie was a definite on my dessert list. Being Italian, though, we're never satisfied with just one dessert. In fact, there's usually a dozen to choose from on Christmas Eve.
I had planned on making a pumpkin pie, but Mikey and I were the only ones who liked it. While I wouldn't get the hairy eye for eating a whole pie by myself, I just didn't want to eat that one without my partner in pie-eating crime. So my mind wandered to that chocolate chess pie.
I first made chess pie for Olga's birthday back in May. It was a more traditional lemon one, and I was in awe of how darn easy it was to make. When Betty Crocker called asking for some new recipe ideas, I decided to try my hand at a chocolate chess pie. I didn't invent the wheel on this one, I just tweaked it really since chocolate chess pie is a common Southern treat.
Last week, I took that tweak one step further. Instead of simply melting the butter, I decided to brown it—I may need a support group for people who brown butter obsessively. I wasn't quite sure if it would make a difference, as the recipe only needs four tablespoons of melted butter anyway, but I decided it was worth a try. I'm happy to report the extra few minutes imparted a subtle toffee undertone to the chocolate filling.
You know what else I love about this pie? It gets better with age. I know this because I served it as dessert four day later. I also had a tiny sliver every night in between, and as the days passed the velvety chocolate filling transformed into a thick, fudgy one. It was seriously like a slice of deep chocolate fudge on a buttery crust.
Oh, and the crust. This is the easiest pie crust you will ever make. I know people say that all the time, but this time it's really true. It's a vinegar-based pie crust, which at first thought, I know you're wondering if it tastes like vinegar. Not a chance. I liberally adapted the recipe from Mollie Cox Bryan, so much so that really it's a new recipe in itself. For starters, I ran out of white vinegar, so I opted for apple cider vinegar. I also swapped in butter for the shortening—big surprise, I know.
A little bit of sugar is essential in any pie crust too, so I added a teaspoon. My last change was adding some cornmeal to the crust for a crumbly, textured quality. This pie crust has character people. You also don't need to chill it before rolling it out. Just make it, roll it out, fit it into the pie plate, then let it chill ever so briefly as you prepare the filling. The recipe is enough for two piecrusts, so I wrapped the leftover piece and used it for the apple pie the next day.
I don't see a need to make any other crust—ever.again.
I know some of you may be feeling anxious about the holidays. Whether you're traveling a similar road as myself, just get blue around this time of year or feel under pressure by all the baking happening around you—it's an easy time of year to want to check out. I love Christmas-time, though, and this year, more than ever, I need it to feel happy and special.
Yes, my heart aches at the sight of his stocking hanging next to mine—at the thought of tomorrow's tree lighting in Rockefeller Center, knowing we won't take the kids together this year, but I do still think it is the most wonderful time of the year. It's a time when dreams come true, and hearts grow ten times in size. I may be too old to sit on Santa's lap, and heaven knows he can't make my only wish come true this year, but this chocolate chess pie? Well, for a small moment in time on day 108 it had the power to heal.
Brown Butter Chocolate Chess Pie
makes one 9-inch pie
There are so many things to love about this pie—ease of preparation, ranking high on my list. It also is best when it has a day to rest, so I tend to make it the night before I plan on serving it. If you want to serve it the same day, make sure you leave as least 4 hours for it to cool completely, so the filling has time to set. Whatever you do, don't refrigerate it—chess pie is meant to be served at room temperature.
One Cornmeal Vinegar Pie Crust (recipe below)
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter (directions to brown it)
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) natural cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) fleur de sel
1/4 cup (23 grams) dark cocoa, like Guittard or Valrhona
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (12 grams) yellow cornmeal
Fresh whipped cream, to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Cook until it begins to brown, but not burn; it will smell nutty and fragrant. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Gently press pie crust into an ungreased 9-inch glass pie plate. Trim any overhang and crimp edges, using the back tines of a fork. Place pie plate in refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
Pour the melted butter, scraping any browned bits into, a deep bowl. Add the sugar and cocoa and stir with a fork until well blended. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat, using whisk, until well mixed and it forms a thick batter. Stir in the cornmeal just until combined; pour into the prepared pie crust.
Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until the pie is set and the top puffs up and forms hard crust. Cool completely. Serve at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream.
Cornmeal Vinegar Crust
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts
inspired by this recipe by Mollie Cox Bryan
1/3 cup (50 grams) yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out
1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) salt
1 teaspoon (6 grams) natural cane sugar
1 cup (8 ounces) very cold butter, cut into 16 pieces
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons ice cold water
Add the flours, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 1-2 times to mix well. Add the bits of butter and pulse a few times until it forms a sandy-looking mixture. Add the egg, vinegar and water. Pulse until it forms a solid ball of dough, about 8 to 10 one-second pulses.
Dump the ball of dough out onto a well-floured counter or smooth surface. Divide the dough in two equal pieces, wrapping one of them if you're only make a single-crust pie. Roll out in a circle large enough to fit your pie plate. Proceed with directions for whichever pie recipe you are using.