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Chocolate ganache under a layer of mint julep chess and fresh whipped cream, inspired by The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.

For me (and probably for many others as well) Faulkner is an extremely difficult writer to grapple with. He’s thoughtful, dramatic, and his prose is gloriously tangled. He’s also verbose as hell. Man’s got paragraphs for days; they just go on for pages and pages at a time. Reading Faulkner, to me, feels like swimming at the height of summer, when the water is thick and salty and warm; you dive in and when you finally resurface you feel like you haven’t had a clear, clean breath in years. It’s heavy stuff, which is also what makes it extremely rewarding to read.

 

Spoiler-Free Summary:

The Sound and the Fury follows the Compson siblings, one generation in a fading line of old money and Southern gentility, at different points in their lives. The story is told from four perspectives: the three Compson brothers, Benjy, Quentin, and Jason, and one of the of the family’s servants, Dilsey. It revolves primarily around the disgrace of the only Compson daughter, Candace “Caddy” Compson. The progression through each of the narrators – from the mentally disabled Benjy, through anxious, helpless Quentin and frustrated Jason, all the way down to the clear-headed Dilsey – is a slow unveiling of plot and circumstance, like the clearing of muddy water.

 

Notes from the Piebrary:

Faulkner based The Sound and the Fury around the image of Caddy Compson’s “muddy drawers.” During one of Benjy’s flashbacks to their childhood, all four Compson siblings are playing outside, forced out by some adult occasion inside the house. When Caddy climbs a tree to get a glimpse of the goings on, her three brothers look up and see her underwear dirtied from playing in the mud. This visual sets the tone for Caddy’s eventual disgrace and puts each of her brothers in a position to provide their own perspective on her downfall.

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Parsing this Pie:

It seemed only natural for a book centered around a muddy butt that I make a black bottom pie. Beyond the obvious connection in the pie’s name, black bottom pie is a traditional Southern dessert and Faulkner is arguably the most famous Southern writer (both geographically and in terms of subject matter). While most black bottom pie recipes use rum as a primary flavor, I used bourbon and muddled mint in honor of Faulkner’s favorite drink; the mint julep. Because Faulkner. Loved. Whiskey.

This pie gave me a bit of trouble. The first draft was a chilled custard pie. This second draft I was more satisfied with and was well-received by test subjects (roommates and party-goers), but – while I feel the ability to eat it hot or cold gives it a kind of multifaceted feeling not unlike the varying perspectives of the book – I missed something of the original draft. That thing I missed was the bitter, uncompromised flavor of uncooked bourbon. Were I to do it again, I would add it not only to the chess layer, but to the whipped cream as well. Since that’s not going to get cooked down it would still maintain that alcoholic bite. Obviously you don’t want to be serving that at the kiddie table, but if you’re a booze hound like ol’ Bill I think it will give it that extra kick you might be looking for.

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Recipe:

Crust:
-1 cup flour
-1/3 cup unsalted butter, (cold, cubed)
-2-3 tbs water
-1/2 tbs apple cider vinegar

Ganache:
-3/4 cup heavy cream
-8 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chess:
-1 cup sugar
-6 tbs butter, melted
-2 large eggs
-1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
-1-2 tbs bourbon
-Approx. 1 tbs muddled fresh mint

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the crust, per usual, combine all the ingredients in a bowl using a pastry cutter or clean hands until they come together in a shaggy ball. It should all adhere together, but there should still be streaks of unincorporated butter throughout. Roll the dough out and line a 9-inch pie pan, roll and crimp the edges, and use a fork to poke a few holes in the bottom. Put a layer of parchment paper over the crust and some form of weight (pie weights if you have them, uncooked rice or beans also work well) and blind bake for approximately 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the ganache, heat the cream in a saucepan over low until it begins to simmer lightly around the edges. Add the chocolate and stir until fully combined. Make sure the shell you blind baked is completely cool before you proceed. Seriously, this is not a pie you can rush, I tried and the results were very sad. Pour the ganache into the pie crust, smooth it along the bottom and up the sides a bit if that suits your fancy. Place the whole shebang in the refrigerator until chilled or until the ganache sets fully.

While you’re waiting, prepare the chess custard. Combine the sugar, butter, eggs, cider vinegar, vanilla extract, and bourbon in a bowl and whisk vigorously. Using a mortar and pestle (or some other rounded, blunt object like the back of a spoon and a bowl) mash the fresh mint up until it’s just a mess of shredded leaves and green goo. Mmm-mmm. Dump that into the custard, making sure all the lovely mint juices make their way in as well. Stir it around so that the mint has time to diffuse, and then pour it through a fine mesh sieve to remove the large chunks of leaves, leaving only the delicious taste behind.

Now, very slowly pour it the custard into the ganache-lined pie crust. This is one of the reasons the ganache needs to be fully set, if it is not pouring the chess custard over top will kick it up and cause them to mix (like silt in a riverbed, if you like). A little mixing isn’t bad, but you still want that chocolate layer on the bottom. Bake that bad boy for about 50 min, or until the custard is golden brown and set in the center.

As I mentioned before, you can eat this pie while it’s still slightly warmed for a nice, swampy, chocolaty taste, or you can chill it in the refrigerator and let it fully set and eat it cold. Either way, I highly recommend some fresh whipped cream to garnish. Perfect after an afternoon of golfing, tree climbing, or creek-stomping. And if you’re looking for a special occasion to celebrate, the 117th anniversary of Faulkner’s birth is later this month, September 25th! Best start stockpiling whiskey now.

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