That’s what Andy said when he tried a bite of the inaugural Chocolate Chess Pie we baked on Friday: Maybe the best pie ever. Before I get into the details, let me just remind the readership at large here that Andy loves nothing more than a superlative. (<- Which is itself, of course, a superlative.) About the tomato sandwich he eats during the tomato’s super-short season, he says: I could seriously eat one of these every day of my life. At Blue Hill last year, when he tried Dan Barber’s reimagined hot dog – made mostly from salvaged beet scraps — he was like, How is this kind of thing even POSsible? On the lower-brow end of the spectrum: A bite of a Ruffles Cheddar-Sour Cream chip elicits a I’ve literally never tasted anything as good as this. Seriously. Oh my God.
His talent for exaggerating…I mean, his enthusiasm goes well beyond food. When listening to Jason Isbell’s newest: If you don’t like this song, you don’t have a heart in your chest. To the girls delight, a few years ago, he famously anointed a certain best friend the bae-est bae of all baes. On Sunday, as we were binge-watching the latest round of Planet Earth II episodes, ten years in the making, he said There will never be any documentary anywhere CLOSE to as good as this in our lifetime. Watching Julia Louis Dreyfus in Veep or Jeffrey Tambor in Larry Sanders or Idris Elba in The Wire …well, you get the idea. Andy’s so famous for these declarations in our house that for his birthday this year, Phoebe drew an annotated cartoon of him, which included a fill-in-the-blank thought bubble saying: “This is the greatest______I’ve ever ______ in my life.” (The sketch also replaced his head with a photo of Jason Bourne, star of, naturally, the spy movies that have ruined all other spy movies forevermore.)
Nonetheless, I’m going to just come out and say it: This Chocolate Chess Pie was maybe the best pie ever. The astute DALS reader might remember that the girls and I — without Andy — had tried our very first slice down south at Charleston’s Hominy Grill a few weeks ago. The pie is a Southern specialty and for those of you who have never tried one, it’s like eating a slightly underbaked brownie inside a buttery pie shell. A subtle splash of coffee flavoring is mixed into the filling which otherwise requires probably everything you have in your pantry right now — chocolate, sugar, eggs (lots of eggs) and cornmeal. I’m told it’s the cornmeal that makes it officially Chess Pie. Here’s a close-up shot so you really get a feel for the fudginess.
So while the rest of the food world is pushing rhubarb and strawberry and other spring-like fruit pies, I am taking the opportunity to counter-program with this lovely looking slice of heaven. The best thing? (Or maybe I mean the best thing ever?) The recipe below is from Christina Hagen, the pastry chef at Hominy Grill and it yields not one pie, but two of them. This worked out very well last weekend when we were charged with bringing a baked good to the cello recital. One for them, one for us.
Chocolate Chess Pie
The pie filling part of this recipe is from Christina Hagen of Hominy Grill. Since it did not specify a pie crust recipe, I used my go-to, the pate brisee from Martha Stewart. This recipe makes two deep pies. (If you decide to halve the recipe, please report back; I haven’t tried that yet.)
Makes 2 single-crusts for 9-inch pies. (Related: Here’s a fun #2MinuteCookingSchool on pie crust.)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.
With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disk and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Thaw at room temperature for about an hour before rolling out and placing into two 9-inch pie dishes. (There should be dough overhang; and I trust you’ll make the edge look a little prettier than I did.)
2 prepared pie doughs in 9-inch pie dishes (above)
12 ounces unsalted butter
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ¾ cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons corn meal
¾ teaspoon salt
9 whole eggs (18 ounces)
3 egg yolks (1.8 ounces)
¾ cup whole milk
4 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coffee extract (I used McCormick brand; Hominy prefers Trablit brand coffee flavor, but says you can substitute instant espresso or good quality instant coffee granules to achieve similar result; the brands they recommend if you go that route are Bustelo or Pilon, easily found in most grocery stores)
Par-bake pie shells with parchment and pie weights in convection oven set at 315°F for 13 minutes. (Or 375°F for a regular oven.) Melt chocolate and butter together in a double boiler, set aside to cool. Sift sugar, cornmeal and salt together in a separate bowl. Whisk eggs, yolks, milk, vanilla and coffee extract/flavor into sugar, cornmeal and salt mixture. Add melted chocolate/butter whisking gently just to incorporate.
Pour batter into prepared pie shells until about ¾ full. Bake with dial set at 315°F in the convection oven (or 350°F for regular oven) for about 50 minutes. Pie will puff up like a soufflé and then settle down while cooling.
The girls ate the pie almost as soon as it came out of the oven, which was probably not the best approach. (But really, can you blame them?) Better to let it set and chill overnight in the fridge if you can wait that long. Top with whipped cream, of course.