Black Bottom Lemon Pie

I went to cuddle with Michael last night in bed and grabbed him too tightly around the stomach. “Oh baby!” he groaned. “Be careful. I’m all filled up with pizza and pie!”

That was no lie. Earlier in the day as I was rolling out the butter crust and simmering the chocolate ganache, a jauntier (and lighter) Michael held up a shiny sheet of coupons from an Italian joint we’d never heard of called “Pepe’s.”

“Maybe we should use one of these coupons and order a pizza tonight!” he suggested brightly. When I didn’t answer immediately, he turned sheepish and added, “…or tomorrow night.”

I didn’t know my delay in responding while I patched a crack in the dough would throw the whole scenario into jeopardy. “No!” I quickly threw in. “Let’s do it tonight! We haven’t ordered a pizza since…”

I stopped. I had to think about it. When was the last time we had ordered a pizza?

“…two nights ago.”

I keep hearing the way I eat is gonna catch up to me someday. People continue warning that I’ll end up weighing a thousand pounds. “It’ll happen before you know it,” adds my mother, “and it’s not like when you’re twenty. Once it gets on, it’s impossible to get it the hell off.”

As I was breaking down the empty “Pepe’s” pizza box later that night, piling it into the recycle bin on top the empty “Big Papa’s” pizza box from earlier in the week, I thought all this over. Maybe I’ll wake up one morning and my waistline will have gone from a 32 to a 47 overnight. And maybe someday my fat cells will expand like an army of over-filled waterbeds. Maybe they’ll have to bury me in a Union Pacific boxcar.

But here and now… it’s just not happening.

In fact, at my last doctor’s visit, he said I was in phenomenal shape for a man my age! True, it was the optometrist, but he has terrific instincts about these things.

So if you ever come over to the GreenBerry TreeHouse and you see me eating a sliced red apple on a piece of melba toast, or a big spinach salad with raisins, or a bowl of non-fat yogurt covered in blueberries and wheat germ, don’t be fooled. It only means one of two things: either the pie isn’t out of the oven yet, or Michael’s all out of coupons.

Now for the mother-fucking pie!
Black Bottom Lemon Pie from The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

This is an insanely rich pie.  I added some additional cream to the filling.  It wasn’t necessary, but it sure shit didn’t hurt.  I’ve indicated where I fiddled with the recipe a bit.  The pie crust is a winner as well, but its time-consuming to make.  So if you have your own recipe, by all means use it and skip straight down to the section for Filling.

All-Butter Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup ice
  • Butter for buttering your pie pan
  • 1 egg white for egg wash (to be mixed with about a teaspoon of water)
  • Tin foil and pie weights (or dry beans) to pre-bake your crust

Stir the flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain.

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut in with a bench scraper or spatula until it’s fully incorporated.

Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using a bench scraper (or, as I did, human hands) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball. Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (Four and Twenty prefers overnight to give the crust more time to mellow, but an hour worked just fine for me).

When ready, roll the dough out until it’s 2 to 3 inches larger than the pan you’re using and about 1/8 of an inch in thickness. Fold the dough in half and lay it across one side of a well-buttered pie pan, positioning the seam in the center. Unfold the dough and gently slide and fit the dough into the pan. Try not to pull. Make sure there are no gaps between the dough and the pan. If there are air bubbles, burst them with a fork.

Trim the dough overhang to allow 1 to 1 1/2 inches of excess, measuring from the inner rim of the pan. Crimp the crust and then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a half-hour, preferably up to an hour or more.

Pre-bake the crust: One chilled, remove crust from refrigeration and use a fork to prick the bottom and sides of the crust (“docking” – helps eliminate air bubbles when the crust is exposed to heat).  Place the crust in the freezer for about 10 minutes while pre-heating the oven to 425˚ F.

Position your oven racks in the bottom and center positions, and place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack.  After removing the crust from the freezer, line completely with one or two pieces of aluminum foil and make sure there are no gaps between the foil and the crust.  Pour your pie weights or beans into the covered shell and spread them so they are concentrated more around the edge of the shell than the center.  Place the pan on the pre-heated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are set but not browned.

Whisk together one egg white and a teaspoon of water.  Set aside.

Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the foil and the pie weights (or beans), and let the crust cool for just about one minute.  Using a pastry brush, coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of the egg wash to moisture-proof the crust.  Return the pan, on the oven sheet, but this time to the center rack.  Continue to bake for 3 more minutes.  Then remove and cool, and start on the filling.


  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Four and Twenty recommends 70% cocoa), chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cut fresh Meyer lemon juice (from 3 to 4 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • Finely grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon
  • Finely grated zest of 1/4 orange

Start by making the ganache. Bring 1/4 cup of the heavy cream just to a boil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan (I used about 1/2 cup and that may have been why, ultimately my bake time was longer than what I have indicated below). Remove it from the heat and pour in the chocolate pieces. Swirl the cream around to distribute and cover the chocolate. Let it set for about 5 minutes, then whisk gently to combine. Scrape the ganache into your cooled pie shell and spread it evenly over the bottom and halfway up the sides. Refrigerate the shell to set the ganache while making the filling. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325˚ F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, combine the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and salt, and mix on medium speed until thick and well combined. Stir in the lemon and the orange juices and zests and the remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Blend well.

Place the ganache-lined pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet. Strain the filling through a fine-mesh sieve directly into the pie shell, or strain it into a separate bowl and then pour it into the shell. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, 15 to 20 minutes through baking.

The pie is finished when the edges are set and the center is no longer liquid but still quite wobbly. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cool.

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