Other people’s recipes: Black bottom lemon pie by Emily & Melissa Elsen

As previously promised, this weekend’s baking project is black bottom lemon pie by Emily and Melissa Elsen (The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, p. 199). It’s in the “winter” section of the book, since citrus fruits (Meyer lemons and oranges in this recipe) are readily available year-round whereas most other fruits are unavailable, are transported from far away, or have been in cold storage for months. Like the Elsens’ other “black bottom” recipes, the pie consists of a pastry crust, covered with a solid layer of ganache, and then a custard filling. (Compare their black bottom oatmeal pie, which I wrote up last October.) In this case, the main filling is a Meyer lemon-flavored egg custard, although the recipe notes that it can be made with proper lemons, or Mandarin oranges (i.e., tangerines) as well — all of which are readily available in supermarket produce sections even in the dead of winter. (Meyers are probably the hardest to find, and those preferring to bake with only organic produce may not be able to find organic Meyer lemons — which aren’t actually lemons, anyway!)

Crust after blind baking
We start with a single partially blind-baked crust in a nine-inch pie plate. (See my “basic pie crust in a food processor” tutorial for the full scoop on this crust.)

Chopped chocolate for ganache
While the crust was cooling, I chopped the chocolate for the ganache layer. The recipe calls for four ounces (120 g) of chocolate melted in a quarter cup (60 ml) of heavy cream. While the Elsens recommend a 70% chocolate, I used Valrhona Noir 68% “Rond et chaleureux” for this recipe, because of all the chocolate I had, it was closest to the desired quantity. A cleaver makes quick work of chopping the chocolate into small bits, which are then added to the boiling-hot cream to make ganache in the usual way. This is spread evenly across the bottom of the pie shell, as well as halfway up the sides, to form an impervious chocolate layer which should keep the crust from getting soggy even if you don’t use an egg-white glaze as I described in the tutorial. The chocolate-coated shell is refrigerated to set the ganache, and meanwhile we proceed to make the custard.

About to mix eggs and sugar
The base of the custard is eggs and sugar, which are beaten together until foamy. This particular custard calls for one extra egg yolk — which is why I used the egg-white glaze, since that extra albumin would otherwise simply get thrown away.

Eggs and sugar beaten together
Beating the eggs and sugar together into a thick foam, as seen here, helps to keep the egg from coagulating when the highly acidic lemon juice is added in the next step. In addition to three Meyer lemons’ worth of juice, a quarter-cup of orange juice — I ended up using Cara Cara navel orange juice, because those were the oranges I had — is added. Note well: because the citrus juice is the principal flavor in this custard, make sure to use glass, plastic, or ceramic bowls to hold the juice as you extract it — a steel bowl, even stainless, will leach metal ions into the juice, giving it an off flavor. The recipe also calls for both orange and lemon zest, which you can just mix in with the juice as a part of your mise en place — the juice will help extract some of the flavors from the zest. Finally, additional fat is added in the form of more heavy cream.

Final custard (with cream and juice)
After mixing the custard, it looks like this — but we’re not quite done yet.

Straining the custard
It’s common practice to strain custards through a fine-mesh sieve. This ensures that any unwanted stringy or coagulated bits don’t interrupt the creamy texture of the cooked custard.

Orange peel left over after straining the custard
Most of what was strained out in this case turned out to be orange zest. The strained custard is then poured into the pie for final baking, on a sheet pan on the middle rack of a 325°F (160°C) oven. The recipe says it should bake for 25–30 minutes, but I found that it took 40 minutes for the custard to be sufficiently set around the edges. Because the custard will continue to cook after the pie is taken out of the oven, it should not be completely set, but if the custard forms tall waves when the pan is jiggled, it’s definitely not done yet.

Finished pie
The browning on top is unintentional, and not part of the recipe — the surface of the custard should have been uniformly golden yellow. Perhaps there’s an issue with my oven temperature. (Well, there almost certainly is, my stove is a piece of junk and needs to be replaced!)

Pie minus one slice
Whatever the surface defects, however, the interior of the pie is absolutely perfect: creamy custard, solid ganache, and buttery pastry crust.

A slice of pie, ready to eat
Who can resist that? (Well, I could have used a bit more of the chocolate, actually, as the custard is quite tart, but it’s still a yummy pie. Or was, anyway.)


The values below were computed using Valrhona Guanaja 70% rather than the 68% chocolate I used. I do not expect a significant difference.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/8 pie
Servings per recipe: 8
Amount per serving Whole recipe
Calories 520 from fat 261 4160 from fat 2089
% DV % DV
Total Fat 29g 44% 232g 357%
 Saturated Fat 16.6g 83% 133g 665%
Trans Fat 0g 0g
Cholesterol 175mg 58% 1402mg 467%
Sodium 400mg 17% 3200mg 133%
Potassium 343mg 10% 2746mg 78%
Total Carbohydrate 60g 20% 476g 159%
 Dietary fiber 2g 9% 18g 70%
 Sugars 44g 355g
Proteins 7g 13% 53g 106%
Vitamin A 121% 966%
Vitamin C 13% 103%
Calcium 26% 205%
Iron 16% 127%
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