Baked Sunday Mornings: Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie

I'm not really a pie person -- I hardly ever make pies unless they're on the Baked Sunday Mornings schedule. The primary reason I avoid pies is that I've often had problems with soggy and undercooked crusts. I have a lot of respect for the gentlemen bakers from Baked, but after making five pies with their pie crust recipe and ending up with a soggy bottom each time, I've given up on their crust recipe. Instead, I use Stella Parks' "No-Stress All-Butter Pastry Crust" from Bravetart, which is the only pie crust recipe that has given me consistently good results. Stella's crust worked out great for the Classic Apple Pie from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, and I didn't hesitate to use her recipe again for this week's Baked Sunday Mornings recipe, the Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie. The recipe headnote describes this as a uniquely Southern dessert that is "a cross between a pecan pie and a chocolate chip cookie—a very good, gooey chocolate chip cookie."

Stella's crust recipe yields two 9-inch crusts, so I made the crust dough and used it to line two 9-inch pie pans that I put in the fridge the day before I planned to bake the pie; I was planning to use the second crust to make a different pie from Bravetart. The following day I parbaked the crust I was going to use for the Tollhouse pie; even though the recipe suggests baking the filled pie with a raw frozen crust, I wasn't going to take any chances. I lined the crust with foil, put in some pie weights, and baked it for about 40 minutes, until it was lightly colored but not completely cooked. I let the crust cool completely before proceeding with the pie recipe.

To make the pie filling, you whisk eggs until foamy; gradually add in the dry ingredients (flour, granulated sugar, and dark brown sugar); mix in softened butter; add whiskey; and fold in toasted chopped walnuts and chocolate chips. I poured the mixture into the parbaked pie crust, sprinkled on more chocolate chips, and was about the put the pie in the oven when I realized I had committed a major error. I looked at the remnants of my mis en place on the kitchen counter and saw a small plate holding six ounces of softened butter. I had forgotten to add the butter! At first I thought perhaps I could scoop the filling out of the pie shell, mix in the butter, and then pour it back in -- but I gave up after making a huge mess. Fortunately, I had the extra pie crust chilling in the fridge, so I tossed out the first pie and started over.
The second time I made sure to add the butter and it made a huge difference in the consistency of the filling. With the butter, the filling was very thick and stiff, like American buttercream. My first butter-less filling was thick but easily pourable. My pie crust was very full and I think there was enough filling that I could have filled a 10-inch pie. Because I had partially baked the crust before adding the filling, I fashioned a pie shield out of aluminum foil to cover the edges of the pie crust for the entire baking time.

I checked the pie after 50 minutes and when I stuck a thin knife into the pie it came out with some wet batter attached, so I put the pie back in the oven. I generally find that my baking times with Baked cookbooks are longer than the times specified in the recipes, so I wasn't surprised when my pie didn't test done until 70 minutes. The filling had puffed quite a bit during baking, so center of the pie was taller than the rim of the crust. I let the pie cool to room temperature and then put it in the fridge overnight. (This pie doesn't seem like it should require refrigeration, but the recipe says to store it in the fridge.)

The next day I was able to lift the entire pie out of the pan in one piece, which made slicing much easier. The crust was beautifully golden brown and flaky throughout. I wasn't sure what to expect with this pie, but when I took my first bite I was floored by how delicious it was. There was nothing gooey or pecan pie-like about it (perhaps my pie would have had a different texture if I had taken it out of the oven earlier), but it had the texture and flavor of a fantastic caramel-y blondie in a pie. All of the chocolate chips and walnuts mixed into the filling had sunk to the bottom of the pie, but this just created an extra-flavorful and candy-like layer at the bottom. And honestly, the crust was an important as the filling to the success of this dessert. It was crisp, flaky, and deeply flavorful.

This pie was more than the sum of its parts. Normally I wouldn't get that excited about a blondie or a pie crust, but somehow putting a chocolate chip-walnut blondie in a pie crust produced something sensational. We gave most of the pie to a friend and Tom and I nibbled on the remainder for a few days. By day three the pie began losing flavor and the texture of the filling started to soften. But while it lasted, I can say this was one of my favorite pies of all time. Even if it was supposed to be gooey, I loved it just the way it was.

Recipes: "Tuscaloosa Tollhouse Pie" from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at Baked Sunday Mornings; "Old-Fashioned Flaky Pie Crust" by Stella Parks (aka "No-Stress All-Butter Pastry Crust" in Bravetart).

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