My glorious members of TFD Nation – Happy Holidays to you all in this festive season, and it is in the spirit of the Season that I must now humbly eat crow as opposed to Christmas Goose – you’ll rarely hear me say these words…I was wrong. For decades, I have assiduously avoided the delectable treat known as Mississippi mud pie under the mistaken impression it had a strong coffee flavor (and I despise coffee). Imagine my chagrin to learn from My wife that while some of these pies of chocolate decadence do include a huge shot of coffee – most do not, I simply was haunted by a bad recipe for it!
THIS OVERSIGHT MUST BE IMMEDIATELY CORRECTED ON MY PART!
At the heart of it all – Mississippi mud pie is a chocolate-based dessert pie that is likely to have originated in the U.S. state of Mississippi, hence the name. It combines a whipped cream topping with a brownie and chocolate custard on top of a crumbly chocolate crust and served with some form of ice cream. While Mississippi mud pie was originally associated with Southern cuisine, the dish is today enjoyed throughout the USA and beyond. The name “Mississippi mud pie” is derived from the dense cake that resembles the banks of the Mississippi River. Its earliest known reference in print is 1975.
The history of this particular cake is murky, as noted in this excerpted article from eater.com:
Like many infamous and beloved dishes, the when and where of Mississippi mud pie’s origins are unclear. Some think Mississippi mud pie is a 1970s reincarnation of Mississippi mud cake, which appeared in the World War II era. Thrifty women on the homefront might have developed the mud cake recipe in their search for ways to make desserts with cheap ingredients already available in their scanty wartime pantries.
However, in 1988, John Chapman, chef of Chappy’s Seafood Restaurant at the time, told Newsday mud pie was invented in the Vicksburg-Natchez area near Jackson, Mississippi, much longer ago:
“When the [Mississippi] river was low and it was around a hundred degrees people would go out on the levee — there usually was a dock to sit on — put their feet down in the mud, the coolest place in Mississippi, and eat some watermelon. Then came the mud pie.”
But Craig Claiborne, acclaimed food editor, wrote in his book Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking:
“Although I was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, I never heard of a Mississippi mud pie or a Mississippi mud cake until I moved North and became food editor of The New York Times. It is conceivable that they existed, but no amount of research has revealed to me whether they did or if these are recent creations that came about during my adulthood. Nevertheless, they are both rich as Croesus and many people find them delectable.”
According to Claiborne, he sought to learn more about the elusive dessert. He published a question in The Times: “Is there such a thing as a mud pie?” Later in 1981, he wrote that he had received “scores of recipes from all over the nation,” which soundly proved its existence.
Perhaps we’ll never know the story behind the pie, but everyone at least agrees it is named for the dark, goopy mud found along the Mississippi River.
Elaborating on another established theory of the origin of the Mississippi mud pie and its rather murky name seems to have some historical authenticity. It’s said Mississippi mud pie came to be in a small town near Jackson back in the late 1920s. Jenny Meyer, who tragically lost her home when the Mississippi River flooded in the spring of 1927 tried to make ends meet after the disaster working as a waitress in Vicksburg. During one of her shifts, she noticed a melting frozen chocolate pie and joked that it resembled the river’s excessively muddy banks. Those around her agreed, and the name stuck.
There is ANOTHER theory about the recipe’s origins and they come from…wait for it…San Francisco and a petite Japanese-American woman! Southerners may scoff, but there seems to be a strong case to be argued here that the origins of this dessert are as San Franciscan as they come!
As further noted in this obituary from sfgate.com:
Part of San Francisco’s bohemian artists community, Ms. Droeger and her husband, John Droeger, were married in 1957 and the same year opened the Brighton Express restaurant adjacent to the Old Spaghetti Factory. The restaurant soon relocated on Pacific Street and became a hangout for writers and performers, both famous and soon-to-be-famous. Among the regulars were authors Christopher Isherwood and Herbert Gold and budding impresario Bill Graham “at a time when all he owned was a motorcycle,” said John Droeger, now of Patagonia, Ariz.
Semiregulars and guests included William Saroyan, Janis Joplin, Lenny Bruce, the Smothers Brothers, Imogene Cunningham, Gus Hall and Woody Allen in company with Herb Caen. Joanna Droeger was “jolly, laughing, funny, accepting,” recalled Gold. “Where she walked, she dragged good vibes along with her.” A Chronicle “Night Life” column by Grover Sales paid tribute in 1962:
“Among North Beach restaurateurs, Joanna is regarded as a gifted and highly creative cook; in ready agreement are the inhabitants of the Brighton Express, an eatery in the old International Settlement on Pacific near Kearny that is truly beyond category.
“Owned and most feverishly operated by egg-shaped Joanna and her 6-foot-6 husband John Droeger, the Brighton Express serves as dining room, orphanage and social clinic for a strictly non-tourist clientele of entertainers, artists, writers and unclassifiables who subsist on Joanna’s Daily Special, topped off with one of her unbelievable hand-crafted desserts — usually a rhapsodic coffee ice cream and fudge delicacy misleadingly titled ‘Mud Pie.’ “
Her son Michael traced the origin of the dessert in a biographical sketch:
“Perhaps my mother’s biggest claim to fame is as the inventor of the dessert Mud Pie in 1957,” he wrote. “Her original concoction of an Oreo cookie crust, coffee ice cream and homemade fudge topping has been often imitated.”
She got the idea from “an article my mother read about the then-newly married Barbra Streisand and Elliot Gould,” he said. “They apparently kept a freezer under their bed so they could eat coffee ice cream without leaving the bedroom. My mother thought that that was such a decadent and wonderful thing that she went about looking to create a coffee ice cream dessert.
“The name came quite innocently enough when someone saw her making the pies (pressing the ice cream into the crust by hand) and asked what she was doing. ‘Oh, just making mud pies,’ she replied. The name stuck.”
Born in Los Angeles as a sansei, or third-generation Japanese American, Ms. Droeger spent her early years with her older sister living in a convent. She was interned with other Japanese Americans during World War II at four detention camps: Tanforan, Tule Lake, Topaz and Amache. She began her final year of high school in a camp and graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco.
So – the simple truth is that we may never know the true origins of this dessert (it’s obvious that my tastebuds in the distant past were the victim of a coffee ice cream drive-by murder attempt by the San Francisco version of this recipe, leaving me viscerally scarred mentally and spiritually for decades after). The true irony is this: My gourmet version of Mud Pie includes…coffee! As I’ve matured, I realized that a TINY amount of espresso powder mixed with chocolate can add an even more intense CHOCOLATE flavor due to the bitterness of the espresso. My favorite chocolate cake recipe uses this trick!
Another trick I’ve discovered over the years…is to use soy sauce in chocolate desserts instead of salt! Don’t scoff, it not only darkens the brownie further, it also adds a hint of umami, helping to offset the sweetness of the cake and making it more nuanced and flavorful. One of My preferred brands of artisanal soy sauce – oddly enough – comes from Kentucky, and is a micro-batched version of soy sauce that is double-fermented and slightly smoky in flavor. It is sublime and can be easily purchased from here. It’s also my respectful bow to the Asian-American possible origins of this delicious dessert!
I also call for a blend of 3 kinds of sugars to balance out the sweet flavor profile to My liking. I further add a decent hit of My favorite Kentucky bourbon (if you’re seeing a Kentucky theme here, it’s because I am an elected Kentucky Colonel by the Governor and I hold great loyalty to My adopted State!) – Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is My go-to. It is My respectful head inclination to the possible Southern origins of the dessert – don’t worry, I call for burning off the alcohol from the bourbon before using it. All that remains is that amazing flavor!
A touch of natural Hazelnut extract in the Brownie as well as My choice of vanilla bean paste instead of the weaker vanilla extract really makes all the difference in the brownie portion of the recipe, My Citizens! Please, for the love of God and Man alike, DON’T use fake hazelnut extract in this like they do at Starbucks – stick to My preferred natural brand, please. You’ll thank Me!
The cocoa powder I call for is – of course – the best on the market, and it’s from King Arthur baking supplies – buy it from here. Lastly, I chose to dust the whipped cream topping not only with a dusting of black cocoa, but also a highly-optional bit of freshly-ground nutmeg as well – unorthodox, but delicious!
My Citizens, this may be a slightly-eccentric version of Mississippi mud pie, but trust in Me – it WILL be the most delicious you’ve ever tasted, I promise! Even if you choose to ignore My optional changes to the classic recipe, you’ll still enjoy a damned fine version of this delicious dessert. Note that TFD prefers Haagen-Dasz vanilla bean ice cream as an adjunct to the mud pie.
As such and being a loyal member of TFD Nation, please do note that if you use COFFEE ice cream in an attempt at culinary orthodoxy, I will be…displeased. Tread the revolutionary path with Me, your Indomitable Leader of Indefatigable Insouciance and you will know the true GLORY that it is to bask in in the blinding nimbus that ALONE is My culinary genius!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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