Just outside Austin, Texas in the town of Marble Falls, sits the famous Blue Bonnet Café.
With its homestyle menu and delicious pies, this 80-plus-year-old eatery made me feel like I was visiting my grandma's house, where the food was always plentiful and something was always in the oven. On a visit last year I lunched on a simple BLT with chips and a slice of German chocolate pie. Oh, the pie.
Opened in 1929 and operated by John and Belinda Kemper since 1981, the Blue Bonnet Café serves breakfast all day long, but has become most famous for its pies. Framed covers of Southern Living, Travel & Leisure and Gourmet magazines hang in the wood-paneled hallway that leads to the cafe's piece de resistance: glass cases filled with 14 varieties of fruit and custard pies topped with mounds of meringue and whipped cream.
Gazing at all these tempting types made selecting just one a very difficult decision. Those who live nearby don't know such angst -- from 3 to 5 p.m. daily day the cafe offers a slice and a beverage for only $3 during Pie Happy Hour. How I wished I lived closer, so I could sneak back before dinner to try another slice.
I decided on German chocolate pie. It began with a crisp crust filled with a thick, chocolate puddinglike mixture, studded with crunchy pecans and chewy coconut and topped with slightly sweet and very smooth freshly whipped cream.
Months later I was still thinking about that pie. I did a little research and discovered German chocolate is typically sweeter than its semisweet cousin and isn't from Germany at all. Rather, it was the creation of Samuel German -- hence the name "German's Chocolate" on the package.
I needed to know more and emailed the cafe and asked if they would share their German chocolate pie secrets. I was thrilled when John Kemper himself emailed me the recipe which, ironically, doesn't include German chocolate at all, but does include cocoa powder and a generous dose of sugar.
Recipe in hand, I gathered the ingredients and set out to recreate the chocolate masterpiece. Sugar, cocoa, milk, cornstarch and a little salt cook on the stove until thick then egg yolks get beaten in to create rich chocolate custard. As if it wasn't already good enough, butter and vanilla, along with chopped pecans and coconut are added to complete the signature German chocolate combination. The mixture goes into a baked crust and chills before getting topped with loads of fresh whipped cream plus more pecans and coconut.
The entire process took less than and hour, and thanks to some decorative swirling of the whipped cream, looked like it had come from the cafe itself more than a thousand miles away, instead of my kitchen.
I'm sharing the recipe here but it's also included (along with other house specials) in the "What's Cooking at the Blue Bonnet Cafe" cookbook.
If you have the good fortune to be in the Austin area, consider a drive down Highway 281 and stop in for a slice.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.