A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from May 02, 2009
Black Bottom Cake (Black Bottom Pie)

Entry in progress—B.P.

wiseGEEK
What is a Black Bottom Pie?
A black bottom pie is any pie with a crust made of crushed chocolate wafers or cookies. Fillings for black bottomed pies are usually either custard-based or ice cream-based. Many different flavorings can be used when making a black bottom pie.

Vanilla, coffee and even alcohol such as rum or brandy can flavor the creamy custard or the ice cream filling of a black bottom pie. If using ice cream, you can add a layer of ice cream inside the pie crust and then spoon on the flavoring in a drizzling motion before adding another ice cream layer. Keep the pie frozen and let it sit out for ten minutes at room temperature before serving so that the pie is soft enough to slice. Toppings such as caramel, whipped cream and/or nuts can be added to the ice cream black bottom pie.

Practically any flavor of filling can be used in a black bottom pie. Lemon, raspberry and mint are just some of the possibilities, but the list is limited only by your imagination. You can also use deliciously decadent fillings such as caramel and chocolate.

Chocolate is probably the most popular flavor for a black bottom pie and you can add chocolate curls to the top for a triple chocolate effect. Some chocolate black bottom pies are made with gelatin to thicken the creamy custard filling, while others use corn starch alone for thickening. Bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate is usually used to make the filling.

Epicurious.com: Food Dictionary
black bottom pie
A rich pie with a layer of dark chocolate CUSTARD, topped with a layer of rum custard. The top is garnished with sweetened whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Dictionary.com
black bottom pie
–noun a rich pie with a rum- or whiskey-flavored chocolate filling, often with a crust of crushed gingersnaps, and topped with whipped cream.

Dictionary of American Regional English
black bottom pie n chiefly Sth
A pie which has chocolate custard as the bottom layer of the filling.
1951 Brown Southern Cook Book 308, Black Bottom Pie.
1952 Tracy Coast Cookery 122 MS, Black Bottom Pie...Bittersweet chocolate, 4 egg whites,..1 cup whipped cream....Pour the chocolate custard into the piecrust, then cover with plain custard.
1968 DARE (Qu. H63, Kinds of desserts especially favored by people around here) Inf LA40, Black-bottom pie.

Wikipedia: Black Bottom (dance)
Black Bottom refers to a dance which became popular in the 1920s, during the period known as the Flapper era.

The dance originated in New Orleans in the 1900s. The theatrical show Dinah brought the Black Bottom dance to New York in 1924, and the George White’s Scandals featured it at the Apollo Theater in Harlem 1926 through 1927 where it was introduced by dancer Ann Pennington. Jelly Roll Morton, jazz player and composer, wrote the tune “Black Bottom Stomp” with its name referring to Detroit’s Black Bottom area. The dance became a sensation and ended up overtaking the popularity of the Charleston, eventually becoming the number one social dance.

“The Original Black Bottom Dance” was printed in 1919. It came from an earlier dance called “Jacksonville Rounders’ Dance” printed in 1907. The word “Rounder” was a synonym for “pimp”. Both “dance-songs” were written by black pianist/composer/dancer Perry Bradford and were based on a dance done in Jacksonville, Florida “way back”. One professional dancer stated, “That dance is as old as the hills” The dance was well known among semi-rural blacks across the South. A similar dance with many variations had been commonly used in tent show performances, and “Bradford and Jeanette” had used it as a finale. The dance was featured in the Harlem show Dinah in 1924, and then “The Scandals of 1926”, whereupon it became a national craze.

Bradford’s version printed along with the sheet music

. Hop down front then Doodle back, (Doodle means slide)
. Mooch to your left then Mooch to the right
. Hands on your hips and do the Mess Around,
. Break a Leg until you’re near the ground (Break a Leg is a hobbling step)
. Now that’s the Old Black Bottom Dance

Instructions for the Mooch are “Shuffle forward with both feet. Hips go first, then feet.”

(Oxford English Dictionary)
black bottom
The name of a dance, esp. popular in and for a time after 1926. Also as v. orig. U.S.
1926 N.Y. Times 19 Dec. VII. 4/6 It occurred to the producer that if you could dance before the beat you would have a new rhythm… The result is the Black Bottom.
1927 Observer 6 Feb. 15/7 The accounts of the new dances are discouraging. There is the Black Bottom, the very name of which spoils a spring morning.
1927 Daily Express 25 May, Miss Bradhurst had black bottomed nineteen miles..before she collapsed.
1928 ‘SAPPER’ Female of Species v. 76 ‘What matter that his Black Bottom is the best in London.’ ‘My Gawd! sir,’ gasped the other. ‘His ‘ow much?’
1968 D. BRAITHWAITE Fairground Archit. viii. 137 The mock elegance and good taste of the Victorian soirée gave place to the rumbustious ‘Charleston’ and the ‘Black Bottom’.

13 May 1927, Salt Lake Tribune,/i> (Salt Lake City, UT), pg. 6, col. 7 ad:
Mrs. Walden’s Black Bottom Cake 98c
(United Grocery—ed.)

8 February 1929, Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman, pg. 14, col. 3:
A buffet luncheon was served, the center piece being a large black bottom cake lighted by six candles.

22 November 1931, Brownsville (TX) Herald, pg. 3, col. 3:
Mammy’s Black Bottom Pie
With Graham Cracker Crust
1.—Dark Filling
3 egg yolks.
3-4 cup sugar.
4 tablespoons cocoa.
1 3-4 cup Valley Sanitary milk.
4 tablespoons Pillsbury’s flour.
1 teaspoon vanilla.
Scald milk, mix sugar, cocoa and flour together. Add to milk and cook in double boiler until thick. THen add egg yolks and cook 5 minutes longer. Cool and pour into Graham Cracker crust.
2.—Lemon Filling
3 eggs.
1 cup sugar.
1-3 cup water.
1 tablespoon gelatin.
Beat egg yolks and sugar. Add lemon juice and cook in double boiler until thick. Then add gelatin which has been dissolved in the 1-3 cup water. Beat whites of egg until stiff. Add the half cup sugar and fold into the egg yolk mixture. Pour on the dark filling and set in refrigerator until ready to serve. May be topped with whipped cream.

Graham Cracker Crust
1 1-2 cups Graham Cracker crumbs.
1-2 cup sugar.
1-2 cup melted Snowdrift.
Mix sugar and cracekr crumbs. Then pour melted Snowdrift over. Place in pastry pan and pat in shape. Bake in oven 425 degrees until brown.

A Treatise on Cake Making
New York, NY: Standard Brands, Inc.
1932
Pg. 178:
Black Bottom Layer Cake.

27 October 1932, Van Nuys (CA) News, “Katherine Parsons’ Cooking Column, pg. 4, cols. 1-2:
Black Bottom Pie
(Part 1)
1 c. milk
4 tblsp. cocoa or ground chocolate
1 1/4 tblsp. cornstarch
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. gelatine dissolved in 1 tsp. cold water
Method for part 1: Scald milk, mix dry ingredients, add to milk, cook in top of double boiler 15 minutes, or until smooth. Remove, add gelatine and vanilla. When cold, fold in beaten whites of 2 eggs.

(Part 2)
1 tblsp. gelatine
1/4 c. cold water
2 eggs
1 v. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 pt. cream, whipped
Vanilla or rum flavoring
Method for part 2: Soak gelatine, beat sugar with egg yolk, add milk, cook until cream. Remove from fire and add soaked gelatine and stir until cool. When cold, fold in egg whites, beaten stiff. Cover top with whipped cream sprinkled with grated chocolate or chocolate shot.

3 November 1933, Fresno (CA) Bee, pg. 3B, col. 1 ad:
Black Bottom Cake 35c
Made with two layers—1 chocolate, 1 white-topped with chocolate icing and covered with nuts—a delightful dessert.
(Steinhauer’s—ed.)

June/July 1935-May 1936, American Cookery magazine index:
Pie, Black Bottom...244, 438.

15 May 1939, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, pg. 8, col. 6:
Its Inventor Tells How to Make a Chiffon Pie
Reveals Secrets of Crust
and Filling and Offers 6
Recipes for Home Bakers

By Clementine Paddleford
It was a red-headed, modest boy named Monroe Boston Strause, of Los Angeles, who originated America’s chiffon pies back in 1921. It was purely a crazy idea at that time, yet today chiffon pie is known to people in every walk of life and is the most talked of and highly published of all pies. Monroe Boston Strause is now America’s No. 1 pie doctor, retained as a consultant by forty-eight bakeries in every part of the United States.

He travels by air, dropping into client plants for observation—tasting, testing and demonstrating periodically. The “pie doctor” also supplies 108 bakeries with consultations by mail. Pie ailments are his specialties. He lectures, too, before groups of housewives and at schools of home economics, revealing baker’s secrets practical for home use. He writes regular columns for four trade publications and has just published a book called “Pie Marches On.”

OVERDOES—His spectacular pie career amuses and amazes this friendly young man in his late thirties. He was the son of a farmer, reared on a California sugar beet ranch. He had no knack or interest then for cooking, but he had a good appetite. The dish he liked best was served at a neighbor’s table on the next farm. This neighbor family from Texas liked hot cornstarch pudding over hot biscuits. Monroe couldn’t get enough of it until one day he got too much. That overeating proved a trifle which changed his destiny.

PIE TINKERER—At sixteen, with a little money saved, Monroe went into a partnership with his uncle Mike, a Los Angeles baker. It wasn’t much of a bakery—not yet! Cream pies were the stock in trade—butterscotch, chocolate, banana cream. Monroe hated the very looks of these pies, for they reminded him of cornstarch pudding and they tasted much the same.

Every spare moment the lad tinkered with pie fillings, set on their improvement. One day he got hold of a cookbook with a recipe for French cream, typical of the filling French chefs used in eclairs. Not a new idea, but new commercially.  In this the egg whites were beaten, then a boiled sugar syrup added as for meringues and the cornstarch filling folded in. Monroe tried using the recipe for pie, by adding more egg whites, but the hot syrup toughened them.  Next he beat up the whites and left the sugar out. A light spongy filling this time, but soft.  By increasing the egg whites to four times the number used in the original French cream formula, a light filling resulted that stood up like a soldier on parade.

“Like chiffon,” Monroe’s mother said, surveying his creation—and that became its name. In a pie shell the chiffon filling was peaked high. e baker rounded it off dome fashion, making a pie high in the middle, a change in pie design.

CRUMB CRUST—His mother was called into consultation again. The (Col. 7—ed.) crust seemed thick for such a dainty substance. She suggested graham cracker crumbs for a pastry shell. Crumb crusts were then unknown. The first crumb mixture had too much shortening. It could not be rolled. When baked, it stuck to the pan. He had better luck next time, when he added corn syrup to the crumb and butter combination—about one tablespoon to a pie. He worked the mixture into a dough, then patted it over the pan, covering only the bottom, a pip shell without sides. Onto this, baked and cooled, the chiffon filling was poured then whipped cream added over all.

Here was something brand new in pie technique, a sideless pie shell, of crumbs, a filling firm yet light as air, standing high in the middle and low at the sides. Proud of his masterpiece, he packed it up to show the chef of a leading Los Angeles restaurant.

WONDER PIE—The chef had French hysterics with excitement. It was a “tarte merveilleuse”—if only two flavors could be put in layers on one crust! Why not combine a chiffon French eggnog with chocolate chiffon? The chocolate made the bottom layer, the golden eggnog the next, whipped cream in a deep drift the top. One more touch the Frenchman demanded--curls of shaved chocolate over the cream.

BLACK BOTTOM—Now for a name. Cutting the pie revealed a black bottom, the new dance of the season.  Thus it was that blackbottom pie took Los Angeles by storm.  The chef ordered the creation as a novelty to sell at 35 cents a slice.  Within three weeks forty pies were served a day.  Within three years Monroe boasted the second largest pie business on the west coast.

18 October 1953, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, “Clementine’s Kitchen” by Clementine Paddleford, This Week magazine, pg. 53, col. 1:
FOR HALLOWEEN…
BLACK-BOTTOM PIE
PULLED from a hat--this black and orange pie to work its little magic on the palates of your Halloween guests.  Other days it’s a black-bottom pie wearing a white topper of cream with fat chocolate curls.  A dream to eat, airy and delicate as chocolate souffle.

Here is a pie pulled from four hats--the four Brown Derbies of Hollywood-Beverly Hills fame. Black-bottom pie is claimed this restaurant chain’s most popular pie of the 150 kinds they menu daily. But it’s not a Brown Derby original, having been created by Monroe Boston Strause--the first of his chiffons. The name came from the black bottom layer, it came from the Black Bottom Dance which was the rage in the early ‘20’s.

Strause kept his formula a closely guarded secret for nearly a decade. Then he had the idea to turn pie engineer and travel the country teaching bakers everywhere his trick of making chiffons. Soon thousands of bakers were making these pies, using every type of material and adding little tricks of their own.

Here is black-bottom pie as the Brown Derby has served it since the first Derby tipped its hat 24 years ago.  Here we take a few liberties adapting the recipe for easy home use.

Brown Derby Black-Bottom Pie
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup milk
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup evaporated milk, whipped*
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 9-inch baked pie shell
1 cup whipping cream

Mix gelatin, sugar, salt, egg yolk and milk in top of double boiler; add three squares of the chocolate. Cook over hot water until chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally; removed from heat. If necessary, beat with egg beater until smooth. Chill. Fold in whipped evaporated milk and vanilla. Pile into cooled pie shell. Chill.

Whip cream, sweetened to taste, and spread over top of pie. For Halloween, blend in 1/4 cup grated orange rind. Shave remaining chocolate into curls. Sprinkle over topping. Yield: 1 9-inch pie.
* To whip evaporated milk pour one cup into freezer tray. Chill in freezing compartment until tiny ice crystals form at edges (about 1/2 hour). Pour into cold bowl; whip rapidly with cold beater until stiff.

The Brown Derby Cookbook
by Leonard Louis Levinson
Dolphin Books
Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
1949
Dolphin Books edition, 1962
Pg. 321:
BLACK BOTTOM PIE, 1 10-inch pie SERVES 8
2 tsp. unflavored gelatine
1/2 cup milk
1 oz. sugar
1 pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg yolk
3 oz. sweet chocolate
1 pt. cream, whipped
1 prebaked pie shell

Soak gelatine in small amount of cold water for 15 minutes. Bring milk to boiling point. Beat together sugar, salt, half of vanilla, and egg yolks until light, thick, and creamy. Add 1/2 of the boiling milk over egg mixture. Blend well, then add to remaining hot milk. Return to heat, stirring constantly, for a few seconds. Remove from fire before boiling point is reached. Press soaked gelatine free of any excess water and dissolve in hot mixture.  Strain through a very fine sieve.  Add 2 ounces of the chocolate, which has (Pg. 322—ed.) been shaved, beat until smooth. Cool until it reaches creamlike consistency. Fold in half of whipped cream and remaining half of vanilla. Fill prebaked pie shell. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Top with remaining whipped cream 1 inch thick. Remaining chocolate is now shaved into curled spears and stuck in top. Dust with grated chocolate.

PastryScoop.com
FEBRUARY 2004
PASTRY PANTHEON:
A COLLECTION OF ESSENTIAL CLASSICS
All-American Chocolate Pies & Cakes
By Meryle Evans
“I think this is the most delicious pie I have ever eaten… a pie so delicate, so luscious, that I hope to be propped up on my dying bed and fed a generous portion. Then I think I should refuse outright to die, for life would be too good to relinquish.” That was how novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings described Black Bottom Pie in Cross Creek Cookery, a book of her favorite recipes published in 1942. Well, this scrumptious chocolate and rum custard concoction has always been a favorite of mine too, and it is one of a trio of American chocolaty desserts that are ideal for a voluptuous Valentine indulgence.

Like so many other culinary classics, the origin of Black Bottom is an unsolved mystery. Rawlings, a Floridian, wrote that her recipe came from an old hotel in Louisiana. Duncan Hines, the peripatetic restaurant sleuth of the 1930’s, raved about the Black Bottom pie he relished over the years at the Dolores Drive-In in Oklahoma City. And a very immodest baker named Monroe Boston Strause, the self-proclaimed creator of the chiffon pie, devoted a whole chapter of his 1939 book Pie Marches On to Black Bottom: “This is without doubt the most sensational pie that has ever been introduced and is one of the outstanding originals of the writer. Aside from being a sensation, I believe it brought the highest price that any pie ever sold at commercially; $1.90 for a nine-inch pie, retail.” It has been hard to substantiate Strause’s claim, and John Edgerton in his charming description of foodways in Southern Sideboards concludes that “we may never know the true source of Black Bottom Pie.” Recipes for the pie are as varied as theories about its origin. Some are made with crumb crusts—graham cracker or gingersnap—others with a pie shell. My family has always been partial to the Duncan Hines version with a gingersnap crust and a layer of dark chocolate custard topped with a rum-chiffon filling, whipped cream, and chocolate shavings. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Saturday, May 02, 2009 • Permalink