Friday, April 6, 2012

Chocolate Cream Pie

by Sheila Connolly

As I think I've mentioned, when I was young my mother used to make pies.  Not the fruit pies that required tedious peeling and slicing or picking over, but pies that were filled with something creamy and then chilled.  And topped with lots of whipped cream. 

This is Easter weekend, and I'm thinking about chocolate.  One reason is that we always had Easter lilies blooming in the house at this time of year, and we always had plenty of chocolate, and the combination was truly seductive.  My mother was a chocolate lover, a gene she failed to pass down to me, but even I make an exception on Easter.

My mother's cookbook

The go-to cookbook was The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, and I have my mother's copy, a bit the worse for wear.  Therein, on page 648, lie the cream pies of my youth (and a few I never saw.  Frangipane cream pie?  Ooh! Must add that to my list of things to try.).  The Chocolate Cream Pie leads off the list.

Of course I had to do some research to see how the recipe has mutated over the years.  The original recipe called for chocolate—with no further details.  Semisweet/bittersweet/unsweetened? No idea.  The modern recipes, on the other hand, tell you exactly which chocolates to use (and often more than one kind), even going as far as specifiying the cacao content.  Who knew?

Old recipe:  butter.  New recipes specify salted or unsalted.

Old recipe:  egg yolks.  Now you have to figure out which size egg (and yes, it does make a difference)

How did our parents and grandparents survive with such vague instructions?  Quite well, apparently, since I'm still talking about the pie that I remember so fondly.  But I'll do just a bit of tweaking, because even modern recipes aren't all alike.

Crust:  in the Old Days, Fanny said, "make a Crumb Pie Shell."  The crumbs could be graham cracker, gingersnap, rusk or zweibach.  Uh, what's a rusk?  I remember my sister teething on zweibach.  Modern recipes allow us to use cookies—chocolate or vanilla, your choice. 

So, to make a 9" crumb crust:

1½ cup crumbs of your choice (Note: I used about 2/3 of a box of Nabisco's chocolate wafers)
½ cup sugar (the modern recipes use less)
½ cup melted butter

Combine ingredients, pat into a pie plate (and press down, with another pie plate or a flat-bottomed glass), and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Let cool.

Chocolate cream filling:

2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
½ tsp salt
4 large egg yolks
3 cups whole milk

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
2 Tblsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt and egg yolks in a heavy saucepan until well mixed, then add the milk in a stream, whisking (just keep whisking all the time throughout the recipe and you can't go wrong).  Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking, then lower the heat and simmer, whisking, for one minute (the mixture will be thick).

Custard base (and whisk!)

Melt the chocolate (very carefully, in a double boiler if you have one, a metal bowl set over steaming water, or in the microwave).

Strain the sugar-egg mixture into a bowl (to get rid of those odd eggy bits), then whisk in the melted chocolate, butter and vanilla. Cover it with plastic wrap (so a skin doesn't form) and cool completely, about two hours.

Spoon the filling into the baked pie crust and chill, loosely covered, for at least 6 hours (overnight is fine—so you can make the pie ahead).

When you are ready to serve your pie, beat 1 cup of heavy cream until it forms soft peaks, then add 1½ Tblsp sugar and continue beating until the mixture forms stiff peaks.  Spoon or pipe over the pie.  You can decorate it with shaved chocolate or sprinkles—I used flowers and butterflies.

And enjoy! Happy Easter!

Antique candy molds


  1. It's so unfair that you can't share a slice through the computer! I'm drooling.

    I have a cookbook that compares old versions of recipes to new versions. It's fascinating to see how we've changed.

    This sounds and looks delicious. Yum! Don't tell anyone, but I'd rather eat a piece of your chocolate pie than bunny ears.

    ~ Krista

  2. What is nice about it is that it's less heavy than it looks (of course, I didn't try the 6-yolk version). It could be fun to vary the mix of chocolate, until you found the perfect one--although that would involve a lot of testing!

  3. sheila, I looooooove chocolate cream pie, though usually make it with a graham cracker crust--for Christmas. But yours looks delish and why not more chocolate for Easter??