Baked Sunday Mornings: Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie

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I finally did it. In 6+ years of baking and blogging, I had never lost photos… until now. In the madness leading up to my move to Israel in June, I frantically rushed to finish a number of recipes for various blog projects, and because I had a bunch of dough in the freezer that I didn’t want to waste. So May 2018 was filled with last-minute baking (that I probably shouldn’t have been doing), and my camera was filled with photos. Baked Sunday Mornings made Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie from BAKED: New Frontiers in Baking in early June, and I managed to squeeze it in as my last bake before packing up and selling my stand mixer. (BUT DON’T WORRY, I bought a glorious, shiny 7-quart one upon my return.) Unfortunately, in the craziness of moving, I never got it together to finish the blog post, so the photos sat untouched… or so I thought. Fast-forward to now: The group’s assigned recipe this week is Espresso Martini. I don’t generally make the beverage recipes because the focus of this blog is baked goods, so I thought this would be a good week to circle back to the pie. The Photos app on my laptop contains upwards of 20,000 photos at any given time, and I constantly have to offload them by the hundreds just to keep enough available space on the computer to download new recipe photos. (And yes, I know this is ill-advised and needs urgent attention…) So I scrolled back through the holidays, the Fall, the summer, and all the way back to… April?? Not a wisp of my pie anywhere; I checked forwards and backwards numerous times. And for that matter, all of my last-minute baking projects were nowhere to be found, including the big project I worked on all spring that I was going to post this coming March. I couldn’t believe it– as I said, this had never happened to me before. All that work down the drain, all that hustle in May to finish so many recipes in vain. I suspect that what happened is, since my laptop was likely full and I didn’t have time before packing up my life to optimize my electronics, I probably never downloaded all those photos in the first place, but didn’t realize it and eventually erased them from the memory card. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.) But hey, this was a GREAT reason to remake this pie, and it came out waaaay better this time around!

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Pie is not my strength as a baker, and I generally don’t look forward to pies where I have to contend with pie pastry. (Crumb crusts are a different story– I’m all about a good graham or cookie crust!) Fortunately, this is a pretty easy pie to pull together, making it quite likely that I’ll return to it regularly. The pie dough is made by combining 1½ cups all-purpose flour, ½ tablespoon sugar, and ½ teaspoon fine salt in a food processor, then pulsing in ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter cubes until they’re the size of hazelnuts, and finally drizzling in about ⅜ cup of ice water just until the mixture comes together in a cohesive ball. You’ll then finish bringing it together into a smooth mass with your hands. (This is a half-recipe– in the book these quantities are doubled and you’ll get two portions of dough.) However, when I made Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie in Israel a couple of months ago, I didn’t have a food processor, so I rubbed the butter in by hand, which produced some of the best pie pastry I’d ever made! (Not that the bar was set that high, but that batch of dough was easy to roll out, didn’t shrink, and baked up pretty flaky, so I’ll call it successful.) As pie pastry is easily susceptible to over-working, I think the more gentle handling helped the dough to be lighter and more tender, and I decided that going forward I would continue to combine my ingredients by hand.

I did so this time again, though I briefly thought I’d ruined it because I accidentally added too much water, but a bit of extra flour fixed it. (In the future, I would start with ⅓ cup water and add more if needed.) The dough rolled out very well, and there were plenty of visible butter pockets, so I was optimistic. In the pie dish it went, then into the freezer for a nap…

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Meanwhile, the filling is prepared by whisking the eggs in a stand mixer, then paddling in the dry ingredients (flour, granulated sugar, dark brown sugar) to make a creamy, somewhat ribbony mixture. Then you’ll add in softened butter, producing a fluffy batter that resembles soft brown-sugar cookie dough. The last mixer addition is a healthy tablespoon of whiskey, which imparts to the batter a heavenly aroma. Finally, you’ll fold in the chocolate chips and chopped, toasted walnuts by hand, then scrape this very thick “pie filling” into the frozen crust– it is literally like filling the pie with chocolate chip cookie dough! Oh, and don’t forget to sprinkle more chocolate chips on top.

This promising concoction goes into the oven for 25 minutes, at which point you’re supposed cover the crust edges with foil to prevent burning, then bake for another 25. The notes that I took from the first pie indicated that I had baked the pie 60 for minutes, but it was still underdone and I was sad. The flavor of the pie was good– indeed, like underbaked chocolate chip cookie dough, so it’s not like it was disastrous. However, it was a touch too gooey, so I’d written that next time I would bake it for an additional 5 minutes, for a total of 65 minutes. In fact, it was the filling that needed to be covered, not the crust pastry. The top of the pie took on a beautiful burnished golden color about halfway through, so I covered the whole thing loosely with foil to prevent it from over-browning. (Also, I had used chopped chocolate instead of chocolate chips the first time, which likely made the pie even more gooey, so I used chocolate chips as written this time.)

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The top was slightly uneven because it puffed way up and cracked around the edges of the filling, then the middle sank to where it should be relative to the crust, but the very edge of the filling did not sink back down, so there was a bit of a “lip” all the way around. Not the end of the world fortunately. But the inside! Let me tell you about the inside– most of the chocolate and walnuts sank towards the bottom, and the top layer was like a soft cookie under a crispy cookie lid. It was chewy, caramelized, chocolaty, nutty, and all kinds of wonderful. The extra 5 minutes made the difference that I’d been hoping for, so I’ll plan on about 65 minutes in the future. The pie was solid enough to come out of the dish in one piece (that’s a first for me), and the filling was firm, yet just the right amount of gooey. The only thing I would change is that I’d toss the chocolate chips and walnuts in flour before adding them in order to help them stay suspended in the batter, but really this was so minor, and not at all a hindrance as I shoveled this pie into my face by the heaping spoonful. P.S. This was one of my best-ever pie crusts– flaky all the way through to the bottom and golden brown; in fact, I think after seeing this one, I’ve been underbaking my pies pretty much forever?

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And if you heed the recommendation in the book, you will be very happy you did. We are told specifically to microwave day-old pie for 15 seconds, then serve with a scoop of ice cream. (I preferred the slightly-less-gooey consistency of 10 seconds personally.) I bought Ben & Jerry’s Milk & Cookies, which I felt was a very “meta” flavor choice for this pie. 😉 The pie becomes even gooier when warmed, a perfect foil to the cold scoop, even in January!

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I enjoyed this pie so much more this time (also perhaps because I wasn’t stressed out of my mind about an international move?!), and my tasters greatly approved. I meeeean, what’s not to like here, anyway? I would go so far as to say that this is one of the best pies I’ve ever made, and I’ll happily make it (and eat it) over and over again with zero remorse. The recipe for Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie lives over at Baked Sunday Mornings, and I highly recommend you give this gooey, chocolaty situation a whirl! The recipe intro says this pie is exclusively found in the South, so I, for one, am super glad it’s in the book so I can eat it in California! If, on the other hand, you’re more interested in this week’s Espresso Martini, you can also find that recipe at BSM as well. Happy January baking, friends!

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2019.

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