It might not be our birthday, but today is the “birthday” of Erin McDowell’s gorgeous and joy-sparking new cookbook, The Book on Pie. In honor of the occasion, we’re making her genius mashup of celebratory desserts, birthday-cake pie.
On the origins of this particularly delightful dessert, McDowell shares it was a joint effort with her assistant, Katie. “I’ve long believed the best ideas come through collaboration,” she writes, “and this recipe is a shining example of what happens when sweet-minded brains collide (and have access to an entire cabinet of sprinkles). We dreamt up a cake batter–like custard filling, speckled with sprinkles and topped with chocolate meringue, inside a flaky crust.”
Without the meringue topping, this pie can be made up to 24 hours ahead and stored at room temperature, and the unbaked pie dough will keep in the fridge for up to three days. It’s our experience that preparing as much in advance as possible will make final assembly a breeze.
You probably shouldn’t wait for a birthday to make this, just saying.
Excerpted from The Book on Pie © 2020 by Erin Jeanne McDowell. Photography © 2020 by Mark Weinberg. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Chocolate All-Buttah Pie Dough
1 cup (120g) all-purpose flour
⅓ cup (28g) unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon (1g) fine sea salt
8 tablespoons (113g) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup (60g) ice water, plus more as needed
1 cup (198g) granulated sugar, divided
⅓ cup (40g) all-purpose flour
2 large (113g) eggs, separated
1 cup (235g) heavy cream
4 teaspoons (15g) pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon (scant 1g) pure almond extract
½ teaspoon (2g) fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon (scant 1g) cream of tartar
⅓ cup (51g) round confetti sprinkles (see note), plus more for finishing
2 large (71g) egg whites
¼ teaspoon (1g) cream of tartar
½ cup (99g) granulated sugar
Small pinch of fine sea salt
2 tablespoons (11g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon (5g) pure vanilla extract (optional)
1. Make the Crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add the butter cubes, tossing them in the flour until coated. Cut the butter into the flour by pressing the pieces between your fingers and thumbs, flattening the cubes into big shards.
2. Continue to toss the butter with the flour as you work, re-coating the pieces. Mix until the butter is about the size of walnut halves.
3. Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the water. (Have more at the ready.) Toss the mixture gently to moisten it. Add more water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough comes together. When it starts to come together, you can mix by gently kneading the dough to make it more homogenous. The dough should hold together easily without feeling dry and crumbly or wet and sticky. Form the dough into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to 3 days) before using.
4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough about 1 inch wider than a 9-inch pie plate (it should be about ¼ inch thick). Transfer to the pie plate, gently pushing it into the base. Trim the overhang to about ½ inch around the edge of the plate. Tuck and crimp as desired. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before baking.
5. Par-Bake the Crust: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Using a fork, dock the bottom of the crust all over. Cut a square of parchment slightly larger than the pie plate, then place it on top of the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Transfer to the oven and bake until the edges just start to brown, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and use the parchment to lift the pie weights from the crust. Return to the oven and bake until set (look for a dry, matte appearance), about 3 minutes more. Cool completely. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F.
6. Make the Filling: In a medium bowl, whisk ½ cup (99g) of the sugar and the flour to combine. In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks. Add the egg yolks, cream, vanilla extract, almond extract and salt to the sugar mixture and whisk until well combined.
7. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip on medium-high speed until foamy, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the remaining ½ cup (99g) sugar in a slow, steady stream and then continue to whip to medium peaks, about 5 minutes.
8. Add about one-quarter of the meringue to the egg yolk mixture and gently whisk to incorporate (this will help to lighten the mixture and make it easier to incorporate the rest of the meringue). Whisk in the remaining meringue in two or three additions. Gently fold in the sprinkles.
9. Place the parbaked crust on a baking sheet. Pour the custard into the pie crust and gently sprinkle more sprinkles over the top. Bake until the pie appears set, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
10. Make the Meringue: While the pie is cooling, bring a medium pot filled with about 2 inches of water to a simmer over medium-low heat. Set a medium bowl over the pot, add the egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar, salt and vanilla (if using) and whisk to combine. Heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 160°F on a thermometer.
11. Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to whisk (or transfer the heated mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment). Whip the mixture on medium-high speed until it reaches medium peaks, about 5 minutes. Gently fold in the cocoa powder until combined.
12. Before serving, spoon, spread, or pipe the chocolate meringue around the edge of the pie. Garnish with sprinkles.
Note: Traditional sprinkles (jimmies) or nonpareils don’t work as well in this recipe—they bleed into the mixture more quickly (which can tint it sort of a gray color) and won’t stay suspended in the custard.