Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings gave this pie her highest praiseSpeed isn’t always the top kitchen priority. Taste is always first for me and sometimes I’m willing to take extra time to get it.
Black bottom pie has a dense chocolate layer topped with a thicker airy layer flavored with dark rum, then whipped cream and grated chocolate.
It was a favorite of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of the young adult novel “The Yearling” and her memoir “Cross Creek.” It was in her “Cross Creek Cookery” that I first came across black bottom pie.
Rawlings extolled this pie as the best she’d ever eaten and should she be served a piece on her death bed, she probably would refuse to die because “life would be too good to relinquish.”
Of course I had to taste a pie so highly praised.
No part of making this pie is very difficult, but it takes a lot of steps and uses a lot of bowls. Measuring out all your ingredients before beginning to cook is always a good idea but it is particularly important here when you’ll be doing some things in rapid sequence.
This version varies from Rawlings’ recipe in a few ways (she uses a gingersnap crust, I use a chocolate one) and in the heating of the egg whites to a food-safe temperature.
The crust will work with any crispy not-too-sweet cookie such as Rawlings’ gingersnaps or graham crackers, chocolate or plain, instead of chocolate wafers.
When cooking the custard, a flat bottomed heatproof silicone spatula works the best. Don’t rush the cooking by raising the heat. The custard cooks best at a low temperature and slow stirring that constantly scrapes the entire surface of the bottom of the pan.
To check when the custard is done, lift the spatula or cooking spoon and run your finger through the custard that clings to it. The custard should remain in distinct halves and not flow into the empty space.
Back in her day (Rawlings lived 1896 to 1953), no one thought anything about eating raw eggs. These days, I’m more comfortable not serving raw eggs. If you can find them at your grocery store, you could use pasteurized liquid egg whites rather than cooking the egg whites with sugar to 160 degrees to make them safe for eating.
The pie needs to be refrigerated for at least two hours before serving to set. Cover the pie with either a bowl turned upside down or a cake cover rather than using plastic wrap or aluminum foil that can grab onto the filling.
It’s better to wait until the filling has chilled and become firm before adding the whipped cream layer.
For the final chocolate garnish, use your favorite eating semi- or bittersweet chocolate. If the chocolate is at warm room temperature and you use a very sharp vegetable peeler, you can slowly cut across the width of the bar making curls, if you’re lucky, or flakey shards. Let them fall directly onto the whipped cream. Be as generous with the chocolate as you like.
Black Bottom Pie
- 1½ cups fine chocolate-cookie crumbs (about half a package)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1¾ cups milk, divided
- 1 packet unflavored gelatin (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup sugar, separated
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon plus ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Semi- to bitter-sweet chocolate bar, for garnish Preheat oven 375 degrees.
Mix cookie crumbs, sugar, and butter together in a 9-inch glass pie plate. Evenly press across the bottom and up the sides of the pan, compacting the crumbs and pressing together any holes. Bake 15 minutes. Set aside on a rack to cool.
Pour ¼ cup of milk into a medium bowl. Add gelatin and allow to soften as you continue with the recipe. Finely chop the chocolate and transfer to a medium bowl. Whisk
together ½ cup of sugar, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, whisk the egg yolks well, then whisk in the sugar mixture. Gradually whisk in milk. With heat on medium-low, cook, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat back of spoon. Do not let it come to a simmer or it will break and become grainy.
Remove custard from heat.
Pour about ¾ cup of the custard (about 1/3 of the mixture) on top of the chocolate and let it sit as you continue with the recipe.
Pour the rest of the custard on top of the softened gelatin. Add rum and stir until the gelatin has dissolved. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap touching the surface of the custard.
Refrigerate until cool but not set, about 10 to 15 minutes.
As soon as you put the rum mixture into the refrigerator, add the 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the chocolate mixture and stir until smooth. Scoop it into the prepared crust, smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap that touches the surface, and refrigerate.
Put the egg whites and remaining ½ cup of sugar into a large metal bowl or your standing mixer bowl. Whisk until foamy.
Set the bowl over a saucepan half full of simmering water.
Whisk (or beat with a hand mixer) until the
mixture reaches 160 degrees. It should be very foamy and greatly increased in volume. Remove from heat and whip on medium until the mixture is fluffy and has cooled to lukewarm.
Raise speed to high and whip to medium firm glossy peaks.
Stir about ¼ of the mixture into the cooled rum custard to lighten it. Fold in the rest of the meringue. Cover and refrigerate until cold and beginning to set, about 10 minutes. Spread rum chiffon over the chocolate custard, cover and refrigerate the pie for at least 2 hours.
When ready to serve, whip cream, sugar and ½ teaspoon vanilla until soft peaks form.
Spread whipped cream on top of the pie and shave chocolate with a vegetable peeler on top of the whipped cream.
Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Variations:
- Substitute ginger snaps, graham crackers or chocolate graham crackers for the chocolate wafers.
- Replace egg whites with ¾ cup pasteurized egg whites. Beat until foamy. Gradually beat in ½ cup sugar. Beat to medium firm peaks. Beat in vanilla. Proceed with recipe.