Aunt Hen's Chocolate Angel Pie

Parenthetical Notes

Aunt Hen was my guardian. I always felt that was an interesting title. As a child I sometimes turned that word over in my mind thinking about what it meant. I knew it was official because it was something she would write down on paper and my Aunt Hen wouldn’t write down anything if it wasn’t true.

My Dad was out of town at least one night every week on business and when he was gone my aunt would sometimes have to sign papers for school or a note for the bus driver. When she signed those notes she sat down at the head of her dining room table and carefully wrote out her whole name. At the end, in parentheses, she would add the word guardian.

In some ways I was troubled by that parenthetical note. The formality of that designation seemed to add an unnecessary weight to the process of gaining permission. It suggested someone might question my aunt’s authority on it’s own. What’s more those parentheses seemed to point me out as being different. No one else I knew of had anyone to sign papers with parentheses at the end of their name. All I really wanted in those days was to blend in and be like everyone else.

On the other hand, having a guardian was always a comfort. While I wasn’t really sure what all of the legal implications of having a guardian might be, if nothing else, having a guardian meant I had someone to go to in times of need. It meant someone had my back.

Angels in the Kitchen

Throughout the years Aunt Hen continued to have my back. Even after I passed the age of needing a legal guardian she was there for me. When I was scared or lonely or just needed advice she was only a short walk or, later, a phone call away. Whenever I had a nagging question about what or how something should be done she was usually the one I would turn to, especially when it came to matters of the kitchen.

Angel Pie is a recipe Aunt Hen sent to me in one of her frequent letters a few years after I moved away from home. She recommended it highly and knew I would like it. With only some slight variation, it combines two of my all-time favorite recipes: Aunt Hen’s Chocolate Bar Pie nestled into a crust of my mother’s crunchy sweet Meringue Cookies. The result is a pie that strikes an elegant balance between light and satisfying.

Today would have been Aunt Hen’s 102nd birthday. It has been nearly two decades since she passed on to dwell with the angels. That doesn’t mean I don’t still take those matters of the kitchen to her for advice. When I wonder what to make for dessert and need a recipe that is classic, dependable and not too complicated I know where to turn. Usually the answer is right there in Aunt Hen’s own handwriting.

Chocolate (Guardian) Angel Pie

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
½ cup sliced almonds
½ teaspoon vanilla

4 ounces chocolate (I used dark chocolate)
3 Tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cream

Preheat oven to 300F.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs whites with an electric mixer until foamy. Add salt and cream of tartar. Continue beating until soft peaks form.

Add sugar, 1 Tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in sliced almonds and ½ teaspoon vanilla.

Turn meringue mixture into a lightly greased 8-inch pie plate. With a spoon, make a sort of nest of the meringue, building up the sides to the rim of the pie plate, forming a thick pie shell. Bake in a slow oven, 300F, for 55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

In a small saucepan or the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate, stirring over moderate heat until the chocolate is soft. Add 3 Tablespoons hot water and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Blend until smooth. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream with an electric mixer until stiff. Fold the cooled chocolate into the whipped cream. Spoon mixture into the meringue pie shell.

Garnish with chocolate curls, if desired.

Serve and enjoy!

Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookies

A Demanding Recipe

I don’t cook as much as I used to. In the past year or so I have posted about it even less. Times change, as do circumstances. I have fewer mouths to feed these days and my kitchen remains in transition. Yet sometimes I still happen across a new recipe that demands to be shared. Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookies is one of those recipes.

I found this recipe in Parade Magazine as I looked through the pages of the AJC one Sunday morning. A photo of beautiful dark chocolate cookies drew me into the text. Like many of the best recipes, on first read it struck me as both familiar and totally new.

Taking It to a New Level

On the one hand, this recipe is not all that different than the Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies I have been making most of my life. That was my mother’s recipe and a family favorite made from just a few ingredients that could be found in even a sparsely stocked kitchen most of the time.

On the other hand, this recipe takes those ingredients to a new level of intensity and relevance, producing a cookie that is denser, chewier, more flavorful and that satisfies on a whole different level. Besides that, it is gluten free adding to its general appeal. All told, it has become a personal favorite and is an excellent cookie to share with someone special this Valentine’s Day!

Chewy Chocolate Meringue Cookies
Slightly adapted from a recipe in Parade Magazine

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

4 egg whites, at room temperature
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon espresso powder
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
pinch of salt
¾ cup sugar
12 oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled
½ cup toasted chopped walnuts

walnut halves for garnish

Preheat oven to 325F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Beat together egg whites, lemon juice and vanilla until foamy. Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks form.

Stir espresso powder and chipotle pepper into cooled chocolate. Fold chocolate mixture and chopped walnuts into the beaten egg whites.

Scoop the batter into a gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bag. Seal it, then cut a ¾-inch opening across a lower corner of the bag. Use it as a pastry bag to pipe 2-inch cookies onto the parchment lined cookie sheets. Top each cookie with a walnut half.

Bake at 325F for 15 minutes, or until outside is set and dry. Cool on pans. Remove from parchment sheets and store in an airtight container.


Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Cold Conditions

I think there are times when we could all use a little more sweetness in our lives. I have found this winter to be one of those times. Everywhere I turn there are hurtful words, false assumptions, and wild accusations. For those already burdened by personal challenges such harsh conditions can really take their toll.

My personal antidote comes from the kitchen. That’s where I retreat when life turns cold or unkind. This week it comes in the form of a sweet new recipe for a coffee cake. This cake has a crumb softened by sour cream and a streusel warmed by a healthy measure of cinnamon.

Sweet Antidotes

Cloistered in my kitchen I turned from the front page conflicts and drama to the Food section of the local paper. There I saw a story about a Sour Cream Coffee Cake that had been passed down from generation to generation. Remembering that I had some left over sour cream in the refrigerator after making Cornflake Casserole for my son, I took note.

While the recipe in the paper was tempting I took a page from my own family’s traditions and looked to Taste of Home, a magazine Aunt Hen subscribed to and often cooked from, for a recipe that better fit the ingredients I had on hand. While I didn’t have quite as much sour cream as it called for, I filled out the measure with a little milk. Otherwise I didn’t change a thing in baking this sweet conclusion to a cold winter day.

Sour Cream Cinnamon Coffee Cake


¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans (or walnuts)

Cake Batter:

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325F.

Grease a 9-inch square pan. Set aside. (If you don’t have this size try a 10-inch springform pan or a 9 x 13 inch rectangular pan. The baking time may vary slightly so watch carefully.)

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the topping. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.

Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle half of the topping over the batter. Spoon the remaining batter over the topping layer in dollops. Spread lightly. Sprinkle the remaining topping over all.

Bake at 325F for 40 – 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.