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Holiday Nostalgia and a Retro Dessert

By Cheryl Forberg
Image of chocolate chip pie
As a chef, there’s nothing more nostalgic about holidays than the food (and drink) associated with them. Sometimes our choices relate to our ancestry, culture, and religion regarding which foods are indigenous or popular. In any case, holiday meals evoke powerful memories for many of us.

In terms of birthdays, our choices can be very subjective, our favorite meal, our favorite cake, our favorite restaurant. In the U.S., our national holidays tend to follow a particular theme, as in barbecue or picnic menus for Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day celebrations. Thanksgiving, of course, is usually a turkey-centric feast. And religious holiday menus are all over the board, from Ramadan to Rosh Hashanah to Easter.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, as well as my favorite holiday meal. Growing up in the Midwest, our Christmas Eve menus varied, dependent on which relative was hosting the meal. We typically spent our Christmases with either of my grandparents, who all lived in Wisconsin. We had roast turkey or duck and all the trimmings of potatoes and gravy, stuffing, lots of side dishes, including at least one Jell-O mold and a variety of pies for dessert.

As my two sisters and I grew up with my mother, there were some holidays we didn’t travel, and the four of us celebrated together in Minnesota. We didn’t have much money, but Mom made sure our Christmas Eve dinner was extra special. We always had lobster tail with drawn butter, wild rice (native to Minnesota), a green vegetable, and for dessert, chocolate chip pie.

This was not a "Toll House" pie, made with a batter similar to Toll House cookies and a texture similar to gooey chocolate chip cookies (and served warm). The chocolate pie my mother made came from my grandmother’s local homemaker cookbook. I do not know if the recipe was original or originated in a newspaper column in the 1950s. The star ingredients of this refrigerator pie recipe were melted marshmallows, grated bitter chocolate and heavy whipped cream that filled a crunchy graham cracker crust. One of the great rewards of the recipe is that you can prepare it a full day ahead of time, so you have more time to enjoy the holiday.

I have adapted the recipe a bit over the years as I like to mix ground nuts into my graham cracker crust, and I also like to add pure vanilla extract to both the filling and the crust. But my favorite tweak is substituting cocoa nibs for the grated bitter chocolate which used to be the most time-consuming part of the preparation. Mom did not have a food processor back then and had to grate the bitter chocolate squares by hand with a box grater.

Back in the day, we used a regular 9-inch pie pan. Over the years, I have made it in a spring form pan as well as individual tart pans. Since we are preparing to move and most of my bakeware is already packed, I made individual “pies” using a non-stick muffin pan this year.

Whether hosting an entire holiday meal or preparing a dish to take and share elsewhere, don’t feel compelled to try something new. Sometimes the familiarity of an old-fashioned recipe can create an unforgettable conversation or memory to share with your loved ones. I hope you will enjoy this recipe as much as we always do. Happy holidays!

Chocolate Chip Pie
Serves: 8

This recipe is for eight individual pies or tarts. The recipe can also be prepared in a 9” springform or pie pan and served by cutting into eight wedges. The recipe can be prepared up to a day in advance for a less stressful holiday meal. Just to be clear, the whipped cream in the filling is unsweetened. Between the melted marshmallow filling and the brown sugar-sweetened graham cracker crust, this recipe is plenty sweet, even though the chocolate is bitter and the cream is unsweetened.
Image of ingredients for pie

For the crust:
1 cup regular graham cracker crumbs (not cinnamon flavor etc.)
½ cup very finely chopped pecans (untoasted)
3 tablespoons white or brown sugar
Pinch salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the filling:
½ cup milk
34 marshmallows (8 ounces)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3-ounce package cocoa nibs

Fresh raspberries
Fresh mint
Melissa’s Raspberry Dessert Sauce

Image of chocolate chip pie crumbled crust
For the crust: combine the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and stir well. Add the butter and vanilla and stir until combined. There will be about 4 cups of crumb mixture.
Image of crust on baking molds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a ½ cup measure, transfer the crumb mixture into 8 nonstick muffin cups. Tamp down well with the bottom of a cup and about halfway up the sides.

Bake the individual crusts for 5 to 7 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.

For the filling: in a double boiler, heat the marshmallows with the milk over simmering heat, stirring regularly, until just melted. Set aside to cool.
Image of mixing filling for pies
Whip the cream with the vanilla until almost stiff. Fold into chilled marshmallow mixture with cocoa nibs and stir just until combined. There will be about 4 cups of filling.
Image of chocolate chip pies ready to be baked
Add ½ cup of filling to each crust. Chill completely.
Image of chocolate chip pies
Serve pie garnished with fresh raspberries, mint, and extra cocoa nibs.
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