by Kat Robinson
I really love the new Cook's Country Blue Ribbon Collection. It's a collection of all sorts of recipes — including some that I get a lot for here on the blog, like Millionaire Pie and different icebox pies. It talks about bread pudding — something I make whenever I have old milk and eggs and bread — and shares lots of regional recipes I have never heard of before, such as Blueberry Boy Bait and Jefferson Davis Pie.
It's not a thick book; on the other hand, it's not all the expensive, either. It's listed at $29.95 but the cookbook website has it at $22.50 right now. An example from the cookbook, one of the more often requested recipes here on the blog, is on the jump — Black Bottom Pie.
We dirtied lots of dishes attempting to re-create this Duncan Hines favorite.
But the flavor was worth the mess.
Black-bottom pie is simply a chocolate cream pie—chocolate custard and sweetened whipped cream—with two added bonuses: an airy rum chiffon layer situated between the chocolate and whipped cream layers and a chocolate cookie crust. Recipes for this pie first appeared in the early 20th century, but the pie’s popularity didn’t take off until the late 1930s, when restaurant reviewer Duncan Hines (yes, that Duncan Hines) wrote about experiencing its “unbelievably light texture” at the Dolores Restaurant and Drive-In in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Eager to try a piece of this fabled pie, I headed straight to the test kitchen. But after preparing a handful of recipes, I realized why black-bottom pie is so rarely made these days. Between making the cookie crumb crust, chocolate custard, rum layer (which must be stabilized with gelatin, chilled over an ice bath to set, and lightened with beaten raw egg whites to create a chiffon texture), and whipped cream, I dirtied three saucepans, seven bowls, and four whisks during three hours in the kitchen. But I had to admit, the contrast in texture and flavor between the chocolate custard, fluffy rum chiffon, and whipped cream was worth the mess.
I started my kitchen work at the bottom, with the crust. Although the pie was originally made with a gingersnap crust, by the 1940s, recipes began to shift to pastry or chocolate cookie crusts. We compared all three, and tasters agreed that the chocolate crust provided superior flavor—and actually lived up to the name “black-bottom.” I crushed chocolate cookies, bound them with melted butter, pressed the mixture into a pie plate, and then baked the crust for 10 minutes to assure a crisp foundation for my pie.
A few recipes saved time by requiring me to make one large batch of custard, which is used as a base for both the chocolate and the rum layers. This sounded promising, so I made a basic custard with sugar, half-and-half, egg yolks, and cornstarch. I removed half of the custard and stirred in chopped chocolate until it was melted, and then I poured this portion into the crust to chill and set.
For the rum chiffon layer, my plan was to flavor the remaining custard with rum, stabilize it with a little gelatin, and then add whipped raw egg whites for the signature light and airy texture. I was disappointed to find that the whipped whites weren’t quite sturdy enough to support the sweetened whipped cream on top. One way to make egg whites sturdier is to cook them, so I put together a seven-minute frosting (made by beating egg whites, sugar, water, and cream of tartar over a double boiler) and added it to the rum-enhanced custard. This worked like a charm, producing a voluminous, sturdy, and flavorful chiffon that was well worth the effort. With a piping of whipped cream on top, it was easy to see why Duncan Hines was so impressed with black-bottom pie all those years ago.
Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers are our cookie brand for making this crust. This recipe makes a generous amount of filling; to prevent it from overflowing the crust, add the final ½ cup of the rum layer after the filling has set for 20 minutes.
32 chocolate cookies, broken into rough pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 cups half-and-half
4 large egg yolks plus 1 egg white
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
3 tablespoons golden or light rum
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 cups sweetened whipped cream
1. For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grind cookies in food processor to fine crumbs. Add butter and pulse until combined. Press crumbs into bottom and sides of 9-inch pie plate and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Cool completely.
2. For the pie: Whisk 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, half-and-half, and egg yolks in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to boil, about 8 minutes.
3. Divide hot custard evenly between 2 bowls. Whisk chocolate into 1 bowl until smooth, then pour into cooled pie crust; refrigerate. Whisk rum, 1 tablespoon water, and gelatin into third bowl and let sit 5 minutes; stir into bowl with plain custard and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until mixture is wobbly but not set, about 20 minutes.
4. Combine remaining sugar, egg white, remaining water, and cream of tartar in large heatproof bowl set over medium saucepan filled with 1/2 inch barely simmering water (don’t let bowl touch water). With electric mixer on medium-high, beat egg white mixture to soft peaks, about 2 minutes; remove bowl from heat and beat egg white mixture until very thick and glossy and cooled to room temperature, about 3 minutes.
5. Whisk cooled egg white mixture into chilled rum custard until smooth. Pour all but 1/2 cup rum custard into chocolate custard—filled pie crust. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, then top with remaining rum custard. Refrigerate until completely set, 3 hours or up to 24 hours. Top with whipped cream. Serve.