As Homely as Pie

Poor pie.  It can get a bad rap.  Like, “homely as pie”.

‘I could say that you’re homely
Just as homely as pie
But this is Washington’s Birthday
And I’ve got to say you’re beautiful
‘Cause I can’t tell a lie’

-Irving Berlin

But then, maybe it’s the second meaning of homely.

home·ly/ˈhōmlē/ Adjective:

  • (of a person) Unattractive in appearance.
  • (of a place or surroundings) Simple but cozy and comfortable, as in one’s own home.

Well,  maybe pie isn’t always the most glam of desserts.  Sure it can be ‘tarted up’ as in these Arty Tarts I sometimes create.

But let’s face it.  Pie is pie, easy as pie, satisfying and usually nothing to write home about.  However, I’ve been making pastry for 40 years, and my pies are pretty special.  The more so, as they look relatively unassuming.

Steve and I were invited to a Sunday roast lamb dinner and asked to bring dessert.  I decided to make a Black Bottom Pie.

BTW, Black Bottom refers to a dance. which became popular in the 1920s.  The dance originated in New Orleans in the 1900s. The theatrical show Dinah brought the Black Bottom dance to New York in 1924, and the George White’s Scandals featured it at the Apollo Theater in Harlem 1926 through 1927 where it was introduced by dancer Ann Pennington.  The dance became a sensation and ended up overtaking the popularity of the Charleston, eventually becoming the number one social dance.

I think I ate it once before.  Sort of a creamy custard with a layer of rich chocolate underneath.  I skimmed the recipe in my favourite pie cookbook, ‘As Easy as Pie’ by Suzanne Purdy, made a shopping list and had a chiffon pie adventure. NB:  It was a great biceps workout!

Chiffon pie is a light, airy pie made with gelatin and beaten egg whites. As Ms. Purdy describes,

‘This traditional pie has something for everybody:  a creamy chocolate layer on the bottom and a vanilla-rum-scented Bavarian cream on top.  Neither layer is excessively rich, and the total effect is very agreeable.’

Here follows –

Black Bottom Pie

  • Completely pre-baked 9″ pie shell


  • ¾ granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 6 oz. chocolate chips, (I used Bloc Dark Cooking Chocolate Chips)
  • 2 teaspoons unflavoured gelatin
  • ¼ water
  • 2½ tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • ½ cup heavy (double) cream
  • 1 tablespoon icing (confectioner’s) sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum


  • Grated chocolate or chocolate curls

This first part was easy.  We all know how to make custard from scratch, right?

In a saucepan, combine and stir ½ of the sugar with the cornstarch.  Separate the eggs, putting the yolks in the pan and the whites in a mixing bowl.  Add the milk to the yolks and whisk well.  Set the pan over medium heat and stir or whisk constantly about 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens and comes to a full rolling boil.  Stir and boil one full minute.  Remove from heat.

Measure the chocolate into a small bowl and stir in 1 generous cup of the hot custard.  Stir until the chocolate melts.  Pour into the prebaked pastry shell and set it in the fridge to chill.

The famous ‘Black Bottom’

Soften the gelatin according to the package directions.  Add it to the remaining custard in the saucepan.  Set the pan over medium heat and stir constantly until the gelatin dissolves completely.  Remove from the heat and stir in the rum and vanilla extract.

This is where it turned into an adventure, for me.

Turn the custard into a mixing bowl and set into a large bowl of ice water.

Bain-marie chaud

Whisk 10 to 15 minutes, until the mixture feels thick, mounds when dropped from a spoon and is beginning to set – about the consistency of raw egg whites.

A little mound of custard

Remove it from the ice water.

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Gradually add the remaining ¼ of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Then fold it into the gelatin-thickened custard.  Spoon over the chocolate layer in the pastry shell.  Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Shortly before serving, whip the cream with the sugar and rum until stiff.  This is where I want to try out a pastry bag.  Either pipe or spoon the whipped cream over the pie.  Garnish with chocolate curls or grated chocolate.

It’s no oil painting, but tastes swell!


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