Blackstrap Molasses Chocolate Chess Pie

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I'll try to use this space to add color to some of the topics that I cannot dive into on Instagram.  Consider this my thank you for reading further into the excessively deep-dive I take into every single topic and dish featured here (and in truth so much more than I can reasonably share). Onward!

First, onto the recipe:

Blackstrap Molasses Chocolate Chess Pie

Chess pies are cooked custards, which would increase the relatively short shelf life of dairy products (and were very popular in the deep south where iceboxes would be rare). More to the point, this custard is a blackstrap molasses, chocolate, and *malt* chess pie. Blackstrap molasses has an almost burnt, bitter flavor due to the removal of most of the sugar from regular molasses. The "burnt" flavors of the molasses and the "burnt" flavor of the malted and canned dairy give this pie its primary depth of flavor. Together with the crust, the flavor foundation is actually slightly bitter (which plays with chocolate well) and malty, which plays with the buttery crust. And what follows shall serve to highlight this crust. Why?
My pie manifesto: The central flavor and feature of any pie is the crust. Pie crust has become an afterthought, which makes me sad. Like pizza, the crust is the star. Good pizza features the toppings. Great pizza features the crust. Pie is no different. Be a good pie partner and support your crust.

The brain, when faced with things it has experienced prior, can either perform"bottom-up" or "top-down" processing to try to make sense of it all (Bottom-up is experiential - seeing one thing, like this word, and trying to make sense of it by forming a pattern. Top-down is memory-dependent - reading this paragraph and understanding all the words in context to each each other and your past experiences). Really good portrait art and abstract paintings play on these sensory pathways by making your brain try to make sense of common stuff like color, lines, and shapes. And I am definitely playing with your top-down processing here: Familiar or common patterns of flavors are expected: Pie. Chocolate pie. Desserts. PIE. These previous associations are mixed into a dish that are uncommon, forcing your mind to make new associations between common things, which aids in many things tasting really good when you first try them.

Sciencey Tips to Mind

Here I'll outline things that recipes don't touch and should. Skip ahead if you want just the 'how.' But you’re missing out. If you understand the whole process and the science that supports it, your reliance upon a recipe should decrease over time (I hope!).
  • Emulsify the eggs completely. A custard is a highly flavored emulsion, and the better you do this at the beginning, the better the final result tastes (and lessens any potential grittiness).
  • Brownies were the natural outgrowth of this dish. Adding just enough flour and cornmeal interrupts the custard structure and provides the fork-gooeyness (the flour gels a touch in the oven).
  • The ganache adds a further layer of chocolate flavor to the custard, helps emulsify the other ingredients, and provides even more thermal protection to the eggs.
  • Baking time matters much less than food temperature. Bake until the center 'inner circle' (explained later) is at least 160F. Done is 170F. Overcooked is 190 and above. Or just give it a jiggle. Eggs won't set until 170F, so you should see an alluring wobble in the pie center.
  • Crust Notes: Think of the crust as a fried, unleavened biscuit. It should taste intensely of fat and salt, and should not be something that simply 'contains the filling.' The crust is *more* important than the filling. For a crumblier crust, use more butter. For flaky, less butter and more "full fats" like crisco, beef tallow, or lard. A newsletter on crusts will be forthcoming.
  • Keep everything very, very cold until it goes into the oven. Crust, filling, and bakeware. We want the butter to melt and turn to steam all at once, uniformly, and late in the baking game so that custard and crust finish at roughly the same time.
  • Use glass (pyrex) to bake this pie. The insulating properties of glass will give you some thermal cushioning and save you the hassle (and myth) of using a water bath when cooking custards that outweigh the Maillard reaction-browning you would get with a metal pan.

Mise-en-place (ingredients and prep)

  • Custard Filling

1.5 cups dark brown sugar (Turbinado is fine is you lack granular stuff - just be sure to cream longer)
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk (Save the white. The freeze really well.)
0.25 cup cocoa powder (alkalized)
1 tsp kosker salt
2.5 ounces evaporated milk
2.5 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 ounce corn syrup
1 tbls blackstrap molasses
(this stuff is strong. Think of it like truffles: A little is more than enough)
2 ounces chocolate ganache: 4 oz dark chocolate (60% cacao or greater) melted into 1 tbls butter and 1 ounce of half & half
1 tbls chocolate ovaltine
1 tbls malt powder (optional)
3 tbls corn meal
1 tbls AP flour

1 tsp vanilla extract (the cheap clear stuff is perfect)
1 tsp neutral, refined oil (canola or vegetable)

Filling Preparation

  1. Beat all the eggs on high until homogenous and light (2-3 minutes).
  2. Add all the sugar and beat until light and fluffy and relatively smooth (3-7 minutes).
  3. Add remaining wet ingredients and beat at medium speed to emulsify (this includes the ganache - just make it's cool-ish).
  4. Add all dry ingredients and gently stir.
  5. De-gas batter by gently rapping the bowl on a towel on the counter (no air bubbles makes for a dense custard).
  6. Place in fridge until ready to fill crust.
  • Crust

175 grams AP flour
4-6 tbls cold water
10 tbls nearly frozen butter, cut into half inch cubes
1/2 tsp MSG-ribonucleotide salt (or 1/2 tsp kosher salt plus 1/4 tsp MSG)
1 tbls sugar

Crust Preparation

  1. Heat oven to 375F.
  2. Weigh 175 grams of AP flour (King Arthur works best) and place into a food processor.
  3. Add all remaining dry ingredients, pop lid on, and pulse until well mixed.
  4. Add all butter, pop lid on, pulse until pea sized pieces remain and mixture looks sandy.
  5. Add 2-4 tbls of water to mixture (or vodka or bourbon if you'd like - they work even better due to alcohol interfering with gluten formation), lid, and pulse a few times. Add more water, pulsing as little as possible until the sand is still pebble-y and the dough begins to glob and up and pull together. It can look messy. You should see globs of butter. That's good. Those globs will melt into flaky, fried mini-hot pockets of buttery goodness.
  6. Pour mixture onto floured-plastic wrap and wrap into ball. Flatten into thick disc and pop into the fridge for a minimum of 60 minutes. Better would be 3-4 hours. You want the gluten to form, hydrate, and relax. This takes time. Skip this and your dough could become brittle or very elastic.
  7. Unwrap and roll out on floured surface until 1/4 in thick (very thick for pie standards). Place into buttered glassware pie dish, and flute edges.
  8. Place into freezer for 10 minutes to firm up butter. You need that butter to be solid when it goes into the oven.
  9. 'Blind bake' (bake empty) the shell. Dock the bottom with a fork or knife. To prevent crust puffing from the water in the butter turning to steam, place a piece of parchment down into the crust and add pie weights, dry beans, or rock salt. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Pull crust, remove weights, and place back into oven for another 5 minutes to fry and set bottom.
  10. Cool for ten minutes.

Fill, Bake, and Consume

  1. Reduce heat of oven to 325F. We want a gentle heat to cook the eggs and firms the crust.
  2. Gently pour filling into crust and smooth over, ensuring you pop any air bubbles.
  3. Bake cold, center rack, for 45-55 minutes. It's done when the center is 160F, or the 3-inch circle in the center still gently jiggles when bumped (See below). Pull and let completely - I mean completely - cool to room temperature. Chill in fridge overnight before slicing. The custard needs to fully set and the flavors develop (By that I mean fat-soluble flavors take time to 'seep' through. Same idea as why soups and casseroles take better the next day).
  4. Pull from fridge and let rise to room temperature, cut and serve.

Enjoy! I spend a metric ton of time researching, learning, developing, and testing each recipe and scientific concept. If you like this sort of weird thing, please feel freeto share (or sign up) a friend for this newsletter. If you have requests, questions, or pretty images of your pies, please feel free to send along! I'll feature what I am able!

Yours in culinary nerdery,

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