Beyoncé delivered a killer Super Bowl halftime show Sunday night. I made a killer dessert. We’re simpatico that way. I’ll venture a guess, though, that one can’t wear 18-square-inches of leather and lace and dine on Possum Pie very often. Or not to great effect, anyway.
Possum Pie is about to enjoy a renaissance. It rates a whole chapter in Arkansas Pie, an immensely readable dissertation on restaurant pies in Arkansas written by Kat Robinson (tiedyetravels.com), published recently by American Palate. My friend S asked me if I’d ever tried it, but I didn’t recognize it by that name. Possum Pie is known by a lot of other monikers in Arkansas, three alone in my mother’s wooden recipe box: Four-Layer Pie, Striped Delight, and Chocolate Layer Pie. I remember loving it when my mother made it, but when I found the recipe for Ashley’s Four-Layered Dessert in Naomi’s Home Companion, by Naomi Judd, that was it, and not just because Ashley Judd is one of my favorite actors. Naomi’s became the go-to version, primarily because the chocolate pudding in the center is made from scratch. Believe me, the richness of genuine chocolate flavor simply puts pudding mix to shame. You’ll never miss the disodium phosphate, I promise. (Besides, I add somewhat sheepishly, the recipe has gobs of Cool Whip in it. Go ahead, make fun. It’s delicious.)
First born took some to her office this week. Her text to me after co-workers sampled some pieces: “Your rodent pie is a hit!”
Why, thank you.
Possum Pie (adapted from Ashley’s Four-Layered Dessert in Naomi’s Home Companion by Naomi Judd, published by GT Publishing Corporation, © 1997 by Naomi Judd, Inc.) You can substitute equal amounts of whipped heavy cream for the Cool Whip, if you want to, but I never have.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped pecans (Toast pecans first by baking whole nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet for about 8 minutes at 350°. Stir once or twice while they bake, and keep a careful watch; nuts burn easily. I toast a bunch of nuts at one time and store them in the fridge until I need them.)
Pinch of salt
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup Cool Whip
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I prefer Dutch processed cocoa here, but regular cocoa also works.)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
3 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups Cool Whip
1/3 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch-square pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, then coat lightly with non-stick spray.
2. Make the first layer. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then stir in the flour and a pinch of salt until well-blended. Stir in the pecans, then scrape the mixture into the foil-lined pan. Using a fork, press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake until lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.
3. While the first layer bakes, make chocolate pudding (the third layer). In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, flour, cornstarch, and salt. Combine the egg yolks and milk, breaking up the yolks with a fork, and then pour the mixture over the dry ingredients in the saucepan. Whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the pudding thickens and boils, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in the butter and vanilla. Scrape into a shallow bowl, smoothing the top of the pudding, and press a piece of waxed paper over the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool for 30 minutes.
4. Make the second layer. In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar with a hand mixer until smooth. Add 1/2 cup Cool Whip, and blend at low speed until completely combined. Spread over the cooked and cooled first layer in the baking pan.
5. Remove the waxed paper cover from the pudding, then carefully spoon the pudding over the second layer in the pan. Smooth, then cover the surface with another piece of waxed paper, and put the pan in the fridge for at least 3 hours, until the layers are chilled and firm.
6. Make the fourth layer. Remove the waxed paper cover from the pudding, and spread 2 cups of Cool Whip over the top. Sprinkle with chopped, toasted pecans. Lift out of the pan by the foil edges and transfer to a larger serving plate or platter. Slice to serve.