Dark, Rich Secrets

Twice in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, I featured chocolate pie. The first time was in December of 1925 when John and his Aunt Prudence discussed the painful details surrounding his father’s death. Prudence kept trying to turn the conversation away from the truth of the situation even going so far as to use the pie as a diversion. The delicious dessert popped up again in a scene between John and his best friend’s wife, Babby, in June of 1964, as they worked through the awkwardness of not seeing each other for sixteen years.

As many of my followers already know, my food choices actually play a peripheral roll in my writing. In this case, chocolate pie is dark, not unlike the secrets about to be revealed in the above-mentioned scenes. In both cases, John’s past was dredged up for him to face yet again, and someone would try to smooth over the situation. Keep in mind that chocolate pie is exceptionally smooth. It is also rich and sweet which matched the outcome for John in his conversation with his Aunt Prudence as a young man and again with Babby as an adult.

The recipe I had in mind for the chocolate pie is simple yet elegant. It is a favorite at church bakeoffs and picnics as well as a top off to any family dinner. I hope you will enjoy it as much as my characters did.

Lucia’s Chocolate Pie

Single Crust:

1 c flour

¼ t salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and diced into ¼-inch pieces

½ c cold water with an ice cube

To make a bottom crust, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Work with your hands until the flour and butter combine to make pea-sized pieces. Add the water a tablespoon at a time and work through until you can form a ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for twenty minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425°. Roll the dough on a floured surface to fit a nine-inch pie plate. Crimp the edges and prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or baking beans. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, remove the baking weights and continue cooking for 10 minute in 5 minute increments or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Pie Filling:

½ c cocoa

¼ c cornstarch

3 egg yolks, beaten

1½ c sugar (I used raw)

¼ t salt

2 c half and half

1 t vanilla

3 T unsalted butter

Sift the cocoa, cornstarch, and salt directly into a saucepan. Add the sugar** and half and half, and stir carefully to mix. Bring to a boil over a medium high heat, stirring constantly. Boil for one minute. Remove from the heat and spoon a small amount of the mixture into the egg yolks to warm them. Pour the warmed yolks in a thin stream into the saucepan taking care to stir them in thoroughly.

Return the pan to the heat and boil for two more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the baked pie shell and allow it to cool for a few minutes before topping with a piece of waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming. Bring the pie to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator to cool completely. Whipped cream is the perfect topping for a chilled pie.

**If using granulated white sugar, sift it as well. The large crystals of raw sugar will not pass through a sifter. Simply break up any lumps before adding to the mixture.

~OR~

You can top it with meringue using the following recipe. Make the meringue while the pie is cooling on the countertop. Once topped with meringue set in the oven, you can continue cooling in the refrigerator.

Meringue:

4 egg whites

6 T sugar (I used granulated white as the raw is too coarse for this step)

Pinch of cream of tartar

Whip the egg whites on a high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the pie and seal at the edges of the crust. Set the meringue in a 425° oven for eight minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool the pie on a wire rack until you can handle the edges of the pie plate and serve warm, or chill the pie in the refrigerator for a couple hours and serve cold.

Tips for success:

Chill the beaters and bowl in which you will beat the egg whites for meringue

That pinch of cream of tartar is what will keep your egg whites from breaking down and becoming watery.

Enjoy!

Undercutting the Competition

June of 1925 was an exciting time in the life of John Welles. He had graduated from high school with honors and been accepted to the University of Maryland for his pre-med studies. With his Aunt Prudence’s help, John was one step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a doctor.

undercutting-the-competition-3For the occasion of his graduation party, Prudence guided her nephew on the decision of clothing and haircut. She had her reasons for showing off John to his peers, their parents, and most importantly, John’s own family. While the lanky teen bore the new look well, his appearance and success drove home Prudence’s self-serving point better than she could have predicted, and the results were disastrous.

undercutting-the-competition-2I always pictured John with undercut hair for this scene. The style, popular in Edwardian times, the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, resurfaced in the 2010s. Soccer star David Beckham sports the style as do actors Brad Pitt, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Pitt when he portrayed Jimmy Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Unfortunately, the style was also favored by the Nazis, but don’t allow that to deter you from considering it.

undercutting-the-competitionThe haircut is defined by long hair on top, parted on either side or down the center, with the back and sides buzzed quite short. Originally, undercut hair was considered a sign of poverty because one could not afford a barber capable of blending the back and sides with the top. The style, popular with working-class men and especially street gangs, was held in place with paraffin wax.

undercutting-the-competition-5Throughout the years, the style enjoyed slight variations. One such disaster was the result of combining undercut hair with a centrally-parted bowl cut, which was favored by fans of new wave, synthpop, and electronic music in the 1980s, and curtained hair, an atrocity worn in the 1990s. In England, some schools banned undercut hair because it was reminiscent of the cut worn by the Hitler Youth.

undercutting-the-competition-4Today, a myriad of products, including wax, pomade, gel, and mousse, exist to keep one’s undercut hair looking slick. There are also tutorials on YouTube for everything from how to cut the style yourself, what to tell a stylist when requesting the undercut, and how to achieve the look you desire for the long top portion. I do have to wonder, though, what the men and boys who originally wore the style, and wouldn’t use anything other than a comb and wax, would think of the inclusion of hair straighteners, hair dryers, and curling irons to the routine of maintaining an undercut.

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