Why It Works
- Dutch cocoa and dark chocolate create a filling that's rich, thick, and intense.
- Holding the custard at a boil denatures a starch-dissolving enzyme found in egg yolks for a no-weep filling.
- Topping the custard while warm streamlines the cooling process while also making it easier to raise the core temperature of the meringue, but the exact timing is rather flexible.
- Browning at relatively low heat allows the meringue to dry instead of simply crusting over, making it fluffy, not gooey, inside.
The best desserts are a study in contrast. This recipe delivers at every turn, with a crisp, flaky crust encasing a rich and creamy dark-chocolate custard, topped off with a light and fluffy vanilla meringue. Since there are a lot of moving parts to coordinate, I like to break the process into more manageable chunks by making the crust a day in advance, but it can certainly be tackled all in one go if you've got a nice stretch of time to spare.
- Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Dough, prepared as for a Blind Baked Pie
- For the Filling:
- 4 ounces 72% dark chocolate (3/4 cup; 115g), roughly chopped
- 1/4 ounces vanilla extract (1 1/2 teaspoons; 7g)
- 9 1/2 ounces sugar (1 1/3 cups; 270g)
- 3/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; use half as much if iodized
- 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
- 1 1/2 ounces Dutch cocoa powder (1/2 cup; 45g)
- 1 1/4 ounces cornstarch (1/3 cup; 35g)
- 5 ounces egg yolk (shy 1/2 cup; 140g), from about 8 large eggs
- 24 ounces milk (3 cups; 680g), any percentage will do
- For the Topping:
- Swiss Meringue
For the Filling: Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl, add vanilla, and suspend a large, single-mesh sieve over the top. Whisk sugar, salt, espresso powder, cocoa powder, and cornstarch together in a 3-quart stainless steel saucier. Add egg yolks and roughly 1/2 cup of the milk and whisk until smooth before adding the rest of the milk. Cook over medium-low, stirring gently with a whisk until hot to the touch; about 6 minutes.
Increase heat to medium and continue whisking gently until thick and bubbly, about 5 minutes (if it's not bubbling by then, feel free to crank up the heat). When you see that first bubble, set a timer and continue whisking exactly 90 seconds. Immediately pour into the sieve, pressing with a flexible spatula until custard passes through. Fold until chocolate has melted into the custard, and cover with a heavy towel.
For the Topping: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 375°F. Prepare Swiss Meringue as directed. Pour custard into the prepared crust, and dollop meringue over top. Gently spread it edge to edge with the back of a fork, using the tines to sculpt it into a pretty design. Place on a wire rack set inside a 13- by 18-inch rimmed baking sheet and bake until well browned, about 15 minutes (this set-up minimizes heat transfer to the custard).
To Serve: Cool 1 hour at room temperature, then cover loosely in plastic and refrigerate to an internal temperature of 60°F, about 3 1/2 hours. Cut with a wet chef's knife, rinsing the blade clean with cold water between each slice. Wrapped in plastic, leftovers can be refrigerated up to a week.
The flavor of this pie hinges on Dutch cocoa powder—natural and raw cocoas are simply too acidic. Look for brands like Droste in grocery stores or Cacao Barry Extra Brute online (ounce for ounce it's more affordable than any supermarket brand).