Black Bottom Pie

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

With a layer of chocolate topped by a layer of custard, and crowned with whipped cream, this pie has dazzled Southerners for almost one hundred years. It takes some time to stir up its various components, but the result of your efforts will be a spectacular dessert. None of the steps is particularly difficult, but there are lots of details that need your attention (see Notes), so make this when you’re ready to invest some time in return for dazzling results. The top layer of custard gets a lift from stiffly beaten egg whites, which go into the custard uncooked. You can use powdered egg whites (see Notes) for this step. Whipped cream finishes the confection, making it a triple decker, cool sensation of a pie, hearkening back to the 1920s. The signature crust for this pie is gingersnap, which can be made like a graham cracker crust using gingersnap cookie crumbs instead. You’ll also find black bottom pies with chocolate wafer crusts, zwieback crusts, and standard graham cracker crusts, which is my favorite. This pie calls for a good long session of chilling in the refrigerator before you can cut and serve it. For the classic finishing flourish, grate some chocolate and sprinkle it on top of the whipped cream, right before you cut and serve this fabulous pie.

NotesThis recipe not only demands more time and careful attention to detail, it also conspires to put many of your utensils to work at one time. To prepare, set out a heavy medium saucepan for the custard; a small saucepan for melting the chocolate (or a microwave-safe bowl); several mixing bowls, medium and large ones for the custard in all its incarnations and small ones for stirring sugar with cornstarch and gelatin with water, etc. You’ll also need a whisk or big wooden spoons, measuring spoons, measuring cups, an electric mixer for whipping the cream, and spatulas for scraping bowls and pans. You’ll have some dishes to wash, but that helps you pass time while the pie chills, and it is an extremely delicious pie. If possible, recruit a friend or family member to share the tasks (and pie!) with you.

To use powdered egg whites in the custard layer, measure out 3 tablespoons of egg white powder into a small bowl. Add ½ cup warm water, and stir well using a fork or a whisk to combine them evenly and well into a smooth, thick liquid. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes, so that the powder can absorb the liquid. Continue according to recipe directions for using egg whites.



Total Timehalf-day

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationhalal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentelectric mixer


Taste and Texturechocolatey, creamy, sweet

Type of Dishdessert, pie


  • One 9-inch graham cracker crust (or store-bought)
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten well
  • 2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 egg whites (to substitute egg white powder, see Notes)
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons almond flavoring or rum flavoring 
  • 1 cup heavy cream, very cold
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated dark chocolate (optional)


  1. Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust and then bake the crust as directed in the recipe.

  2. To prepare the filling:

  3. In a small bowl, combine the gelatin and ¼ cup cold water. Stir well to dissolve the powder, and set aside. Scald the milk by warming it up in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan, and steam rises off the milk; do not let it boil. Set aside.

  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add the egg yolks and stir to combine everything well. While stirring, carefully pour in about ¼ cup of the hot milk, and keep stirring to warm the yolks without cooking them into scrambled eggs. Add another ¼ cup of milk, stir well, and then stir the warmed egg yolk mixture into the saucepan of scalded milk.

  5. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture thickens, releases steam, and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 5 to 10 minutes. Avoid letting the filling come to a boil, and stir well to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat, and stir the gelatin mixture into the filling, stirring well to dissolve it. Set aside.

  6. To prepare the chocolate layer:

  7. Melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, or in a medium heatproof bowl in a microwave. Scoop out half the warm filling mixture, and add it to the pan of melted chocolate, along with the vanilla. (Set the remaining custard aside for the second layer.) Stir the chocolate and custard together, mixing them evenly and well. Pour this mixture into the piecrust and spread it out into an even layer. Refrigerate the piecrust while you prepare the second layer of filling.

  8. To prepare the custard layer:

  9. In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar, and beat on medium speed until they are foamy and frothy, about 1 minute. Increase the, speed to high, and when they turn white and begin to swell up, add the sugar gradually, beating all the while, until the egg whites are thick, white, shiny, and will hold firm peaks. Scoop the beaten egg whites into the remaining filling, and add the flavoring as well. Gently fold the egg whites into the custard, mixing evenly and well. Pour the custard over the chocolate filling in the crust, spreading and smoothing it to cover the chocolate completely and evenly. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate the pie for 3 hours and as long as 1 day.

  10. Shortly before serving, make the topping:

  11. Beat the cream in a medium bowl on high speed until it holds soft peaks. Add the sugar and continue beating JUST until it holds firm peaks. Quickly spread the whipped cream on the pie and use the back of a spoon to form pretty swirls. Sprinkle the grated chocolate on top if you like, and serve cold.


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