Calories be damned

August 18, 2006

Chocolate chess pie

Under that giant blob of home-churned vanilla ice cream lies a chocolate-y, pecan-y delight. My husband said it’s pecan chocolate chess pie, and the resident expert on things chocolate chess pie — Tessie — did not dispute him. To me, though, it tasted like a pecan pie that had gotten it on with chocolate pudding. Yes, a pecan-pie-chocolate-pudding love child (aka, apparently, pecan chocolate chess pie). And it was delicious. Velvety chocolate with a sweet crunch of pecans, all dripping with homemade vanilla ice cream. It’s enough to make me wish I went to the gym more often and deserved to eat this. (Fear not: I ate it anyway. Who could push that plate away?)

For those who aren’t tempted by things chocolate (there are so few of you), don’t despair that there’s nothing in this post for you. My husband also unravels the mystery of homemade pie crust in his explainer. See that thick, golden and flaky crust that the pecan-pie-chocolate-pudding love child is sitting on? It’s also magical. Read on for his secrets.
Pecan Chocolate Chess Pie

About the pie crust…

Back to my original kitchen foray… baking! I know there are many people out there who are much more gifted at this then I am. My Aunt Rosemary, for example, was famed for her pies and baking prowess. She’s likely to be rolling her eyes in heaven when I walk you through this recipe, my basic pie crust. Nevertheless, I’m sharing what I know. And for the faint of heart, you can just skip this pie-crust challenge altogether by whipping out that frozen crust in your freezer. It’s OK. I’m told that even my Aunt Rosemary was not opposed to using store bought. Neither am I.

Pie crust is notoriously finicky. At its essence, it’s a pastry dough — and there is a reason people go to school and major in “pastry.” (I was an econ major.) The dough’s combination of flour, butter and water can create an unholy trinity that requires almost as much feel as recipe. I’ve tried a dozen versions over the past few years. It comes down to one fact above all others: None of them is right.

Depressing, yes. But pie crust is mastered through practice and a general sense of the dough. You have to walk that line between water and flour so that it still has that crust feel, but doesn’t get chewy and hard. If you’ve ever seen Good Eats with Alton Brown, those famous, playful boxing puppets “Flaky” and “Tender” are actually more like two NFL linemen bumping into each other.

My secret after making several dozen crusts over the years: When in doubt, add water. The dough is useful only if it can be, um, made into pie crust. I’d rather that it be a bit wetter than crumble when I try to roll it out or crack when I press it into the corners of the pie tin.

So, below is my recipe for pie crust. It’s designed to be slightly too much dough, because you might need some extra to fill holes or seal cracks. But it should make only the bottom crust. Double the recipe if you want a top crust for a closed pie.

Chocolate chess pie

About the pie filling…

Now, we can discuss the more encouraging part of this endeavor — the interior. What you are making is a custard pie. The eggs will create a suspension for the chocolate liquid and give it structural integrity and a smooth texture. This technique is used repeatedly with pies. It’s easy — and the results are delicious.

The custard is formed when the egg proteins denature and hold the other liquids in place. The liquids then cook off, resulting in a thick richness — akin to a cheesecake’s texture (another custard pie) with a crisp, toasty pecan top. If you wanted to get fancy, you could decorate the top with caramel and chocolate sauces a la Jackson Pollack. I’m not that good.

Oh, and the photos have ice cream. That recipe is coming soon!

Printable recipe page 


Pie Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

One stick butter (cubed and chilled)

¼ cup vegetable shortening (chilled)

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

6 tbsp. chilled water

½ tsp. cider vinegar

Pie dough1. Take a stick of butter. Cut it into little cubes. (Run your blade over the length, cutting it in two, the turn the stick a quarter-turn and cut again. Then cut the several slices across the width so you get four cubes with each cut.) Put the cubes in a bowl along with the shortening, and refrigerate for 10 to 20 min.

2. You can do this next step by hand, but I tend to use a food processor. I add all of my dry ingredients and my butter and vegetable shortening mixture to the bowl, and pulse several times until I see a loose, grainy consistency to the flour. It should come together when I squeeze the dough in my hand, but it should easily fall apart back into the bowl. I move the mixture to a large work bowl and refrigerate for 10 min.

(If I do this step by hand, I use my fingers and squeeze together all the ingredients over and over again until I get that same grainy texture to the flour. Then I move the bowl to the fridge for at least 10 min.)

Remember, the goal is to keep the dough cool enough so the butter still has patches and is slow to melt when cooking.

Forkin' the dough (or 3. Next, I add the vinegar and a tablespoon of ice water. I take the tip of a fork and mix the liquid into the bowl, working it into the flour mixture with the fork tip. I repeat this, adding the water a tablespoon at a time. I stop adding liquid when the flour is malleable and sticks to itself, but is not wet. This is really the only difficult part about making dough. You have to find that stopping point. That said, you do need it moist enough. The experts on TV and books don’t emphasize that enough. If you do not have enough water in the dough, it will fall apart and be impossible to work with. You’ll be frustrated as you try to roll it out.

4. So, once you have it to that malleable but still chunky consistency, shape the dough into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 min. If you have it in the fridge longer than that, take the dough out and let it warm up until you can work with it.

5. On a floured surface, roll the dough one way, then lift and turn it about 1/5 of the way. Continue rolling it out until you have a circle about 12 inches in diameter.

6. This is the tricky part for me. Fold the dough in half and then lift it over your 9’’ pie tin. Drape it over the one half of the tin, then unfold it to the other side. The folding in half is done so you can move it relatively easily.

Pie crust dough7. Now, you should have excess dough over the sides in places. Trim around the edges. You can use this excess to cover any missed spots or toss it out. This recipe is meant to have a bit of waste because it’s hard to work with pie dough.

8. OK. You can stop here. Alternatively, you can crimp the sides and make it look pretty. I usually do this one of two ways. First, I simple use my thumb and index finger and pinch the sides, creating little crests. Or, second, I take a fork and press down on the pie tin’s rim with the tines. There are pretty ways to do this, but I’m not that talented or patient. Whether you’ve let it alone or found a cute way of your own to decorate the crust, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge until you’re done with the filling.

Pie filling:

1½ cups sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 large eggs

1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)

6 oz. evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup pecan halves

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Chocolate Chess Pie2. In a large bowl or mixer, whisk the eggs until they change combine. Then add the salt, butter and sugar and continue to whisk until integrated. After this is smooth, add the evaporated milk and stir to combine. Add the cocoa powder slowly and continue to whisk. If you add it all at once, it tends to clump and get a bit grainy. (I don’t tend to sift ingredients. But if were going this to take to a party — and not just feed it to voracious family members — I’d take the time to do so here.) Once the cocoa powder is integrated, add the vanilla.

3. Spread the pecans on the bottom of the pie shell. Pour the chocolate mixture over top. Wait for the pecans to rise to the top. (They float!)
4. Bake for 45-60 min. At the 45-minute mark, you should begin checking the pie for doneness. The simplest way is to shake the rack slightly. If the pie undulates in a wave-like manner, you likely need more time. What you are looking for is sort of a slow move to the pie — a little give but not much.

Let the pie cool for at least 30 minutes (or longer) so that it sets up before serving. I served mine with ice cream (to cut the sweetness!) Enjoy.


  1. I must make this! I love both pecan pie and chess pie, not to mention chocolate. Yum!

  2. One question? Why the cider vinegar? Is this the secret ingredient that will make my pie crust flaky at last?

    Love your recipes, love your pictures. Always enjoyable, always enlightening.

  3. Best pie EVER.

  4. Kendle,

    Your pie crust recipe is very, very close to Mom’s; but she always used a pastry cloth and a cover on her rolling pin to roll out the pie crust. It holds the flour without having too much build up on the dough itself. It also eliminates having to rotate the dough while rolling. Mom also taught me to roll the dough around the pin and then unroll it over the pie pan. PS: Dad used to buy us new rolling pin covers at the medical supplie store – I think there are compression stockings in cotton??

    YOur site is fun and the photography is great!

  5. This was very good! For the filling My husband used 1/2 tsp. salt, and it turned out just fine. He used a Mrs. Smith pie crust as a short cut. Yum!!

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