Getting Real With Belinda Hulin

My husband and I have widely divergent tastes when it comes to sweets. His idea of heaven on earth is a chocolate layer cake made from a mix (with an extra egg added to the batter), filled with vanilla or coconut filling from a can and thickly frosted with one or two cans of prepared chocolate frosting.  I, on the other hand, long for my mother’s scratch cakes, made by beating a rich batter until thick and fluffy and baking it into four thin layers that can be filled with a homemade fruit filling and frosted with deftly-beaten buttercream. Lacking a homemade layer cake, then I’m fine with homemade ice cream or sorbet, a nice dense poundcake, sweet-tart lemon squares or good pralines.

Now, I’m not a snob when it comes to cake mixes. (I’m a mother, and that means I’ve turned to the relatively cheap, quick deus ex machina of cake mix cupcakes more often than I care to admit). But it isn’t what I crave. So, I’ve done what many other women do in the kitchen. I make what everybody else likes—and the kids are more than happy to eat mix cakes—am grateful that they’re happy and call it a day.  After all, I don’t need to be eating sweets and I really don’t have the time or money to make food that only I will eat. The homemade tiramisu topped with billowing coffee-scented whipped cream, for which I was once renowned, will have to wait.

That said, the other day I was pulled up short. My husband and 11-year-old daughter went to the grocery. They assured me that not only would they snag everything on the grocery list, but they also would bring home dessert. And so, they walked into the house with groceries including, yes, a store-made chocolate cream pie. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a commercially-prepared chocolate cream pie, but the thing that caught me off guard was my daughter’s reaction to it. Not only was she enchanted that such a thing existed, but once served a slice, she was totally crazy about it.

It was a mediocre chocolate pie. Absolutely nothing special about it. I make a much better chocolate cream pie, I thought.

And then it occurred to me that I’d never made one for my daughter.  I tested my standard recipe for a cookbook a few years ago, but took the end result to an office party. How was Sophie going to learn the family chocolate cream pie recipe if I didn’t make it? At that moment, I was horrified to think that my child would grow up with cravings for mediocre, supermarket chocolate cream pie because that’s what she “always ate” as a child. I was allowing the culinary bond between generations to fray!

Needless to say, I quickly gathered together the ingredients for chocolate cream pie and I’ll be preparing one, from scratch, shortly. Sophie is looking forward to helping me whip the cream.

If you don’t have a favorite chocolate cream pie recipe of your own, I’ve included mine. Enjoy.

Chocolate Cream Pie

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 one-ounce squares unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 9-inch baked pie crust or prepared chocolate cookie or graham cracker crust
4 cups lightly sweetened whipped cream
Sweet chocolate shavings or mini chocolate chips for garnish

Place sugar, cornstarch, chocolate and salt in the top insert of a double boiler. Fill the bottom of the double boiler with water to reach just below the insert. Secure the insert and place over medium-high heat. Stir in the half and half. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Keep cooking for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a heat-safe bowl, beat the egg yolks until fluffy. Continue beating while slowly adding two ladles full of the hot chocolate mixture. When blended, pour the tempered egg mixture into the double boiler. Continue cooking and stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the butter and the vanilla and stir until butter is blended. Pour chocolate mixture into the prepared pie crust.

Refrigerate until completely chilled—at least 5 hours. Before serving, pile high with whipped cream and garnish with chocolate shavings or chocolate chips.

Makes 6 to 8 servings