Easy as pie, or so the saying goes: Pie dough can be a tricky substance, but, luckily, most recipes for chocolate pies do not include a top crust. Chocolate pies are as classic as the lemon meringue pie and can be made completely from cocoa powder instead of solid chocolate. Cocoa powder is a versatile substance as it does not need to be melted, and it still provides all of the satisfaction and health benefits of solid chocolate.
Pies, Tarts and Tortes
What is the difference between a pie, tart and torte? Pies are generally thicker than tarts and tortes and are covered top and bottom with a pie crust. Tarts are hollow, generally one-half to three-fourths of an inch thick. A torte is a very dense cake made with little to no flour and topped with cream. The term "chocolate pie" usually refers to none of these, but rather to a hybrid combination of all three. A chocolate pie has the height of a pie, the no-crust top of a tart and, more often than not, a creamy (yet crisp) meringue on the top to give it a torte characteristic.
Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
The health benefits of chocolate have been at the center of nutritional debate for years, once thought to be fatty and unhealthy, particularly as a cause for acne and weight gain. Myth busted: Natural (dark) chocolate is good for your heart in that it can reduce cholesterol. Cocoa contains high levels of antioxidant flavonoids, which are also found in fruit, tea and wine.
The dessert menu nearly always poses a dilemma for the gluten-intolerant, as most cakes, pies and tarts are made from wheat flour or contain a wheat flour thickener. You can make gluten-free pie-crusts at home, using alternative flours such as tapioca, rice, amaranth flour, sorghum flour and potato starch. Though many gluten-free flours have a distinct taste, the use of cocoa powder in the crust helps to mask the flavor, producing a crust that even wheat-eaters would have trouble resisting.
The filling of a chocolate pie usually contains both cocoa powder and melted chocolate, though it can contain only cocoa powder. Other ingredients may or may not include egg yolks (for thickness), flour (for substance), butter, sugar and milk. The crust can either be a pre-made frozen pie crust or a homemade crust. If making a homemade crust, adding cocoa powder to the dough is an added bonus.
For the simplest of chocolate pie recipes, bring two cups of sugar, one-fourth of a cup of flour and five tablespoons of cocoa powder to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add one can (12 ounces) of evaporated milk, three egg yolks (beaten) and one teaspoon of vanilla. Heat, stirring constantly, and add one-fourth of a cup (half of a stick) of butter until everything is melted. Pour into a pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. (Cover crust edges in foil to prevent burning.) In a mixing bowl, whip the four egg whites and one-fourth of a cup of sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread this meringue over chocolate and return to oven just until golden brown on top.
For a more complex chocolate filling and a gluten-free chocolate crust, refer to "Gluten Free" in the resources listed below.
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