Thursday, December 18, 2014


The Brown Derby was the name of a chain of restaurants in LA. The first and most famous branch opened in 1926 at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard and was shaped like a man's derby hat. In 1937 the building moved a block away to 3377 Wilshire Blvd. The Derby had an astounding 60 year run before it finally closed it's doors in 1985. The menu was famous for a number of items including signature cocktails, the Cobb Salad, and Black Bottom Pie. 

If you're wondering what a black bottom pie is, it's a pie with a bottom layer of dark chocolate custard, usually topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. In the 1940's and 50's, home cooks demonstrated frugality by creating basic recipes that could be minimally altered to achieve a variety of different results. In this case a simple vanilla cream pie is transformed into a black bottom pie with the addition of chocolate. The following recipe was lifted from The Brown Derby Cookbook, published in 1949 by Doubleday. 

via Life Magazine, Dec 7, 1953
Brown Derby's Black Bottom Pie
2 tsp (one envelope) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup milk
1 oz sugar (2 tablespoons sugar)
pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
3 ounces sweet or semisweet chocolate
1 pint cream, whipped (2 cups whipping cream)
1 (9-inch) baked pie shell
  1. Soften gelatin in small amount of cold water for 15 minutes. Bring milk to boil in top of double boiler. 
  2. Beat together sugar, salt, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and egg yolk until light and creamy. Add small amount of milk to egg mixture, blending well. 
  3. Return to remaining milk in pan. Cook, stirring, over hot water until mixture barely comes to boil. Remove from heat before boiling point is reached. 
  4. Press soaked gelatin free of any excess water and dissolve in hot mixture. Strain through a very fine sieve.
  5. Grate 2 ounces chocolate. Add to custard and stir over hot water until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and beat with rotary beater until custard is smooth. 
  6. Chill until custard reaches cream-like consistency. Whip 1 cup cream until stiff and fold into custard with remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Fill pre-baked pie shell. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.  
  7. Top with remaining whipped cream 1 inch thick (whipped from remaining 1 cup cream). 
  8. Remaining chocolate is now shaved into curled spears and stuck in top. Dust with grated chocolate. Makes 1 pie. 
Shell Pastry Dough for Open-Faced Pies, 2 10-inch shells
3/8 c (1/4 cup & 2 tbsp) sugar
1 egg
1/4 tsp lemon rind, grated
small pinch salt
1/2 tsp vanilla (bean or extract)
2/3 c butter
2-1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
  1. Using an electric mixer to combine egg, lemon rind, salt, vanilla, until creamy. 
  2. Knead butter till smooth, and add to egg mixture. Then combine all in the mixer at slow speed until a paste is formed. Beat at high speed for only a moment or two. 
  3. Allow the paste to relax, and roll out thin on a lightly floured board, baking the shell at 400 º F for 10-12 minutes. 

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