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.
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.
- Yield:serves 12 to 16
- Active time: 45 minutes with a prebaked crust
- Total time:5 hours with a prebaked crust
- 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.