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I’m not ashamed to admit that my earliest pastry attempts all came out of a box. Most of the recipes required only a mixing bowl and no parental supervision, leaving an eight-year-old me free to explore independence through Jell-O and Cool Whip. I’d layer Nabisco chocolate wafers liberally with whipped topping for towering icebox cakes and lavishly stud gelatin molds with canned fruit cocktail. My favorite of these forays into culinary autonomy was the grasshopper pie, a dish that let me recklessly smash cookies into oblivion and use the “high power” button on the microwave.
The grasshopper pie was inspired by the grasshopper cocktail of the 1920s, a saccharine combo of crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and cream. That trio goes one step further in this pie, where it’s folded into melted marshmallows and poured into a chocolate-cookie crust. It fit right in with the quick-and-easy recipes of the 1950s, a time marked by chiffon pie and pudding mix in all forms.
Even though I’m allowed to use the stove now, I still feel a lot of love for the grasshopper pie, a powerful reminder of the magic of transforming a hodgepodge of raw ingredients into something new—and especially the glory of turning cookies into pie crust. For my frozen version, I keep the Oreos but skip the melted marshmallows, swapping them out for the fluff of whipped whole eggs. My recipe still includes a healthy pour of booze, but I opt for the bitter edge of amaro over the cloying sweetness of chocolate and mint liqueurs. And it’s all topped with a rich cocoa nib fudge, filled with crunchy shards and deep chocolate flavor. The finished product still looks like the minty-green pie of my youth, but it tastes all grown-up.
I start by crushing Oreos into fine crumbs in a food processor and combining them with melted butter and cream. The addition of cream gives the crust a chewy bite, ideal for a frozen pie. I press the crumb mixture into a deep-dish pie plate, evenly covering the bottom and sides.
Over a water bath, I gently warm a mixture of eggs, sugar, salt, and Fernet Branca until it reaches 165°F (74°C). Fernet Branca is a bitter and aromatic spirit that’s often associated with hipsters and mustachioed bartenders, but don’t let that discourage you from trying it in dessert. Its herbaceous qualities are reminiscent of menthol, making it a perfect match for chocolate, while the bitterness balances the sweetness of the pie.
Heating the eggs not only pasteurizes them, but also primes them for whipping into a thick, dense foam by uncoiling their proteins. Once the egg mixture is gently heated, I whip it on high in a stand mixer until it’s pale, thick, and doubled in volume.
To this egg fluff, I add a speck of mint extract and green food coloring, both of which can be touchy ingredients, depending on whom you’re talking to. One of our former editors, Max Falkowitz, is firmly anti-extract. His ultimate mint chip ice cream steeps cream with fresh mint instead, for subtler flavor and color. Meanwhile, I’m stubbornly convinced that green foods taste mintier and I strongly prefer the direct punch of extract—I like my mint desserts to be felt in my nostrils before they touch my taste buds. Plus, much of the fresh mint available at grocery stores is spearmint, while the extract used in desserts is usually from peppermint, which contains much more menthol. Mint extract reminds me of Thin Mints, Andes, and candy canes, but if the only memories it awakens in you are of toothpaste, then take a cue from Max and steep fresh mint leaves in hot cream for two hours (and strain and chill overnight) before making this pie.
I transfer the egg fluff into a large, wide mixing bowl and fold in softly whipped cream. Next, I drizzle thin threads of melted chocolate across the surface and set it in the refrigerator. Once the chocolate has hardened, I crack and fold the threads into the mousse, repeating until it’s completely streaked, before pouring it into the cookie crust. These wisps of chocolate add crunch to the mousse and quickly melt in your mouth, unlike chips or chunks, which can feel chalky when frozen.
While the pie freezes, I prepare the cocoa nib fudge. Most fudge sauces are made with an invert sugar syrup, such as corn syrup, which retains moisture and prevents crystallization for a sticky and smooth sauce. Unfortunately, invert sugars are also much sweeter than regular granulated sugar, so chocolate flavor can get buried beneath them. Instead, I start with a caramel. Adding heat to sucrose (granulated sugar) breaks it down into glucose and fructose (invert sugar), giving you the texture you’re looking for while also cutting the sweetness through browning, for the deepest-tasting fudge sauce.
To make the caramel, I start by heating sugar and water in a small covered saucepot until the sugar has dissolved into a syrup. Keeping the lid on allows condensation to wash the sides of the pot, preventing crystallization. I’ve also found that sticking to tall, narrow pots, and thus reducing the sugar’s surface area, helps inhibit crystallization during these fussy early stages of thermal decomposition. Once the sugar is dissolved, I uncover the pot, cook until the syrup becomes a dark brown caramel, and stir in the cocoa nibs. I pour the cocoa nib brittle onto a Silpat and set it aside to harden and fully cool. Next, I process the brittle in a food processor until it’s mostly ground—leaving some chunks behind adds a fun texture—and blend it with molasses, oil, vanilla, and salt before slowly drizzling in heavy cream. The resulting fudge will need to chill for about an hour to thicken into a pipeable consistency.
I finish the pie by piping cocoa nib fudge in a crisscrossed pattern along the surface with a plain #17 pastry tip (a smaller tip will become clogged by the chunks of cocoa nib). Alternatively, you can serve slices with dollops of the fudge on the side. A whipped cream border and an extra drizzle of melted chocolate add a finishing touch, but you can leave it completely unadorned as well. It’s the perfect nostalgic treat to remind myself how far I’ve come, so the next time I’m stressing over not perfectly tempering chocolate, at least I can say, “Look, Ma—no Jell-O!”