Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Warning: This pie is not for sissies.

If you’re counting calories, don’t go here. If you’re afraid of eggs and cream, walk away from your computer screen RIGHT NOW.

This pie is for you devil-may-care types, those of you who throw dietary caution to the winds with regularity; or at least occasionally, but with aplomb. (Like that mixing of metaphors?)

I mean, nearly a pint of cream. Half a pound of chocolate. Five eggs. But wait—there’s more! Over a cup of sugar. Vanilla, espresso, and a buttery crust.

Still reading? Good. Because I have a message for you: life is short. Enjoy it. Which DOESN’T mean eating this pie every day. But once a year, maybe, at Mardi Gras? Savor every bite, and forget the side dish of guilt—the very occasional indulgence won’t cash out your chips. (Yes, it’s Celebrate Metaphors Month—didn’t you get the memo?)

That said, this pie has one tricky little turn that’s a royal pain in the you-know-what. To whit: In order to not overbake the filling, the meringue topping has to be applied while the center of the filling is still sloshing around in the crust. Imagine trying to spread shaving cream in a bowl of water; the darned stuff just won’t sit still.

My advice is, do the best you can, and so what if you make some divots. No one will notice, they’ll be too busy rolling their eyes up into their heads in ecstasy.

Mardi Gras is Feb. 24 this year. I’ve never been to the celebration itself, but have visited New Orleans several times, and this pie—with its abundance of rich ingredients, its deep-dark coffee/chocolate flavor, its over-the-top, in-your-face EXCESS—is a fitting tribute to that good-time city.

May the Big Easy continue to regain its footing; and may the good times ever roll.

Feeling brave? Read the recipe for Café au Lait Pie, and follow along with these pictures.

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Let’s begin with a 9” pie crust. Since this pie is rather towering, and the filling rather liquid to begin with (i.e., danger of sloshing), it helps to use a pie pan that’s deeper rather than shallower. Don’t think you can get away with one of those so-called 9” tinfoil pie pans from the dollar store; it’s not 9” (inside diameter, which is how you measure baking pans); and it’ll only be about 1” deep.

Roll out your favorite pie crust, place it in the pan, and make a tall crimp. For MY favorite pie crust recipe with complete directions, read our pie crust post; you can link to the recipe from there.

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Next, the chocolate filling, a.k.a. chocolate ganache. It’s the usual suspects: chocolate and heavy (or whipping) cream. Heat till the cream is very hot and starting to bubble; a microwave does the job very nicely.

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Stir, and keep stirring, and stirring…

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…till the chocolate and cream come together.

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Pour the chocolate into the pie crust.

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Spread it evenly across the bottom of the crust, then refrigerate while you make the vanilla filling.

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Whisk together sugar, salt, cornmeal, and cornstarch. This is the basis for a classic “chess pie,” a traditional custard-type pie with a sturdy filling—lemon, or chocolate, or vanilla—perfect for storing in a chest (or so the legend goes). Some people think chess is a variation of “cheese,” whose consistency this pie filling is supposed to resemble. Frankly, I don’t see it, unless you’re talking softened cream cheese; but, whatever.

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Add the cream and vanilla…

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…and stir till smooth.

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Add the beaten eggs and yolks…

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…again stirring till smooth.

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Carefully pour the vanilla filling over the chocolate filling; you don’t want to put a big dent in the chocolate.

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There! Put the pie in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Add a crust shield (one of my favorite kitchen toys; Susan forgot to mention it in her toys post), and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until the edges are fairly set, but the center is still liquid. The center will register at least 175°F on an instant-read thermometer.

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While the pie is baking, make the espresso meringue. First, combine espresso powder and water…

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…stirring to dissolve the espresso. Set it aside.

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Whisk egg whites till foamy, then sprinkle in cream of tartar and continue to whisk. I’m using the whisk attachment on my stand mixer here.

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Sprinkle in sugar gradually, whisking all the while. The mixture will thicken.

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Whisk until it’s stiff enough to hold its shape.

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Add the dissolved espresso…

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…and stir to combine.

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See the browned edges on this crust? That’s because I forgot to put the crust shield on. DUH.

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Very gently apply the meringue. Since the center is still liquid, this is a bit tricky. All I can say is, easy does it. Once you’ve covered the surface of the pie, use your spatula to make decorative peaks.

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Continue to bake for 15 to 20 minutes, till the meringue is nicely browned.

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Like this. The middle may still seem awfully soft. Don’t panic; it’ll firm up as  it cools.

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Serve with extra-strong coffee and a helping of New Orleans jazz. Perfect!

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Café au Lait Pie.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Dangerously Delicious Pies, Baltimore, MD: Chocolate Chess Pie, $25

Bake at home: Café au Lait Pie, $10.11

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Bridgett

    You had me at the chocolate ganache filling – you could have stopped there and I would have eaten it! Thanks for another great recipe and detailed instructions. And, yes, this will be perfect for Fat Tuesday!

    Reply
  2. Plume

    May I suggest a trick I’ve used before?
    Use a piping bag to pipe the meringue on top of the liquid pie, so you won’t even have to touch the pie.
    The only problem is, this method uses more meringue than that of spreading, but while we are at it…

    GREAT idea. Thanks, next time I’ll try that. PJH

    Reply
  3. Mike T.

    :-) I was going to suggest the piping bag as well…

    Got a question tho… As I am a non-coffee person, if I wanted to add, say hazelnut liquor (Frangelico) or hazelnut flavoring, when would I add it to the meringue?

    Ditto Mike, I’m a no coffee girl myself. You can add flavoring to the topping just before it is fully whipped, basically in the same place as the espresso. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. colleen

    Wow, your warning was right! I have never worked with meringue before but with your tips and photos I might be able to do it!

    You go for it Colleen! I’m sure it will be just great! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  5. Rosa

    That pie looks terrific! A comforting and luscious treat! I’m not afraid of calories, eggs nor cream…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    Alleluia! Elisabeth @ KAF

    Reply
  6. Gretchen

    OK, I have to ask. Why are you putting espresso in a cafe au lait pie? Cafe au lait means coffee with cream.

    Or is it a matter of coffee not being strong enough for the pie?

    Hi Gretchen, I’ll have to let PJ answer for herself on this one, I don’t drink coffee or espresso! We’ll get back to you. ~ MaryJane

    Hi Gretchen – the espresso topping looks like café au lait – creamy, tan. The meringue topping lends mild coffee flavor, like café au lait, not strong/bitter flavor. PJH

    Reply
  7. jennie garcia

    This looks delicious –I would really like to try it. Thank you again for this great information and with all the step shown in full color–very motivating !

    Reply
  8. Mary Ann

    Oh, this looks seriously delicious! I will certainly make it for a special occasion. I have one question: do you leave it out on a cooling rack to firm up for those 5-6 hours, per the recipe, or do you refrigerate it, and if so, when?

    Remove the pie from the oven, and cool completely (at least 5 to 6 hours) before serving at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers. Elisabeth @ KAF

    Let it cool for an hour or so at room temperature; then you can refrigerate to speed things along, if you like. PJH

    Reply
  9. Marylouise

    Hi PJ,

    I love this site, the recipes, and your products–just the best. I especially like that y’all come back and answer questions.

    What purpose does the cornmeal serve–is it a thickener?

    I make a black bottom pie which is basically the same principal except you pre-bake the crust, which means I can do that before hand. I then do the chocolate layer, and cook the vanilla part like you would when making a coconut, vanilla, or banana pie, or pudding then let it cool for a while. You can get it cool quicker using an ice bath. Then you would make the meringue, put the cooled vanilla layer over the chocolate, spread the meringue, and I always sprinkle the meringue with a bit of sugar, and bake it at 325 degrees until it is a light golden color. The extra sugar on the meringue gives it a little crunch which we all like. Probably on this pie, I would shave a bit of chocolate on top once it is cool.

    Happy baking,
    MaryLouise

    Reply
  10. Beth

    P.J. You do know how to ruin someone’s diet, don’t you?!! I will have to make this, but I’ll give it away to my skinny neighbors. And on the origin of “chess” pie, I have also read that the word chess is a variation of the word “just” (jes) as in “Oh, it’s nothing, it’s jes’ pie.” (Did that come out right?? – Don’t worry, I’m keeping my day job.)

    Yes, Beth – I’d heard that too… forgot that one. Chest, cheese, “jes….” one of those “We’ll never know” moments! PJH

    Reply
  11. Cindy Grob

    I’m thinking that this will be a great recipe for bite-size tartlets – is there a formula for scaling down or predicting how many tartlets (about 1.5 inch size) that I can plan for from this recipe? I’m thinking that if I have an extra supply of ganache or vanilla filling – or meringue – leftover that it just might end up as a cook’s snack… you know how these things go!
    Many thanks for your help —-

    Best bet, Cindy – Shape a single tartlet the size you want, weighing the amount of each ingredient you use. Then divide the weight of that single tartlet crust into the total weight of the crust, the ganache into the total weight of the ganache, etc. The crust is where to start; as you say, leftovers of the rest are easy to deal with! Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  12. Gina

    It may well be that I am an idiot…I freely admit that. But I am confused. In the descriptive text, you say that this pie involves three cups of cream. But I can only find 1 1/2 cups in the recipe (1/2 cup for the ganache bottom, and a cup for the custard filling). Have I missed some elsewhere? Please advise. I may have to try this one soon, and I want to make sure I’m clear on the recipe before I attempt it.

    Thanks!

    Go by the recipe, Gina – I must have been converting the ounces into cups wrong in my mental machinations! Thanks, I’ll fix it… PJH

    Reply
  13. Gina

    Hey, I’m just saying, if it’s only a cup and a half of cream in all, that’s practically DIET food, right?! So then we can all feel good about making this luscious-looking and obviously low-cal pie! (Tee hee.)

    Well, we’ll definitely feel good eating it, at any rate… :) PJH

    Reply
  14. non

    this looks fantastic. how long does the pie keep? do you have to make it just enough time to cool and then serve, or does it keep a few days or what? other meringue pies i’ve tried seem to need to be served fresh
    its just gorgeous tho
    Just like other baked goods, the pie will be best when fresh, but you can refridgerate leftovers for 1-2 days. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  15. non

    also do you think a cookie crumb crust would work? how about a pie crust that uses only oil – is that too crisp for this recipe? the only part that looks hard to me is the pie crust, which i have not yet succeeded with

    Hi non,
    While you can certainly experiment with different crusts for the pie, do check out PJ’s blog on pie crust. It will help you get over any crust anxiety. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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