My culinary career could be said to have started with the familiar mud pies of childhood. Up to my elbows in the most luxurious mud ever made, I created all different shapes and sizes, and then left them in the sun to dry. But a restaurateur in San Francisco had a much better idea and started what became a national craze. Joanna Droeger created a dessert made with an Oreo cookie crust, filled with softened coffee ice cream, and then slathered on top with a fudge syrup.
One day in 1957 as she was assembling her pies by pressing the ice cream into the crusts with her hands, Joanna was asked what she was doing and replied, “just making mud pies.” The name stuck. In a 1962 article wrote, “… (your meal is) topped off with her unbelievable hand-crafted desserts — usually a rhapsodic coffee ice cream and fudge delicacy misleadingly titled ‘Mud Pie.’” The Brighton Express restaurant hosted a multitude of up and coming artists, writers, and performers in San Francisco’s North Beach. Such notables as William Saroyan, Janis Joplin, Lenny Bruce, the Smothers Brothers, Imogene Cunningham, and Woody Allen enjoyed Joanna’s jolly personality and the accepting nature of the restaurant.
The chain of “Chart House” restaurants took this dessert national. Modestly started as a steak house in Aspen, CO in July 1961, the chain grew to over 65 restaurants at its zenith in the 1980’s. Over expansion and a lack of managerial focus is blamed on its slide to mediocrity in the 1990’s, but renewed vigor and a return to its roots has turned it around once again. You can still enjoy their signature dessert at Chart House restaurants across the country.
Mud pies run rampant on restaurant dessert menus. There are a few variations, but they are all pretty similar, mediocre most of the time, with occasional moments of inspiration. Today’s recipe is a vast improvement. It has the same crust but this time it is filled with a double layer of chocolate mousse. The bottom layer is dark and thick and is topped by a lighter version. The pie is finished with a mound of whipped cream and if you want, drizzled with a chocolate sauce. Rich and decadent, yet smooth and satisfying at the same time.
If the world “pie” makes you quiver in fear, don’t worry. There is no pie dough to worry about. This is made with a cookie crust, the easiest one to make. If you have a food processor it will be done in less than a minute. If you don’t, you can put the cookies in a plastic bag and run your rolling pin over them until crumbled. Break up any large pieces by hand. Combine the crumbs with a little butter to hold them together and using your hands, gently press them into your pie plate. Now, that wasn’t so hard was it? It is a perfect way for kids to be involved too.
In French, the word mousse means “foam” and thus a chocolate mousse is literally foamy chocolate. Made from egg whites whipped to soft peaks which are then combined with melted chocolate, it is one of the world’s best-loved desserts. First introduced in the 18th century, French chefs became known for their mousse. The first written record of chocolate mousse in the United States is from an exposition held in New York’s Madison Square Garden arena in 1892. In 1897 a newspaper article published one of the first recipes for chocolate mousse, American style. It was more of a pudding than what we know of today as mousse. Whisks were not found in most home kitchens and once electric mixers became common, whipped desserts became much more popular.
To the French, mousse au chocolat is made with dark chocolate and whipped egg whites with no cream. American’s tend to add the whipped cream creating more of a milk chocolate taste and texture. Today’s recipe uses a layer of each to create this more sophisticated version of Mud Pie. It does take some time to create the layers, with chilling time between each, but the end result is more than worth the effort. Even those who say they don’t like chocolate desserts will surrender when presented with a slice of this pie. The blending of a dense mousse topped with a fluffy chocolate layer encased in a crunchy chocolate crust is too much to withstand. And chocoholics will reach new heights of happiness with every bite!
- For the Crust
- 2 cups finely ground chocolate water cookies, such as homemade Oreos
- 1/2 cup chopped cashew nuts
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- For the Dense Chocolate Mousse
- 12 oz semisweet chocolate
- 8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 2/3 cup malt powder
- 2-1/2 tbsp sugar
- For the Light Chocolate Mousse
- 4 oz semisweet chocolate
- 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
- 1/2 cup egg whites (from about 3 large eggs)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Make the Crust: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss until thoroughly combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan and refrigerate.
- Make the Dense Mousse: Melt the semisweet chocolate and butter together in the top of a double boiler over medium-low heat. Let cool slightly, then whisk in the 5 egg yolks. Whisk in the malt powder. Keep warm.
- In the bowl of a mixer, whip the 5 egg whites until they form soft, droopy peaks. Still whipping, add the sugar in a thin stream and whip until the whites are stiff and glossy (the tip of the peaks will still droop). Gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined.
- Pour into the crust in the springform pan and smooth top with an offset spatula. Refrigerate.
- Make the Light Mousse: Melt the chocolates together in the top half of a double boiler over medium-low heat. Let cool slightly.
- In the bowl of a mixer, whip the egg whites until they form soft, droopy peaks. Still whipping, add the sugar in a thin stream and whip until the whites are thick and glossy. Working with 1/3 at a time, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. (You may need to whisk, not fold the first third of if the mixture is very thick.)
- With the mixer, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold it into the light mousse. Pour the light mousse over the dense mousse in the springform pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Chill until set, at least 3 hours or up to 1 day.
- Run a hot damp cloth around the outside of the springform pan and remove. Slice with a knife dipped in very hot water and serve with warm chocolate sauce if desired.