Great Bites

A Holiday Adventure For The Palate

By Sean-Patrick M. Hillman

My favorite time of year has always been the holiday season. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are so many opportunities to entertain, celebrate, and spend time with the people you love. Now, you are going to have to pardon me while I fanboy for a moment.

One of the reasons why I love food so much is attributed to a legend in the kitchen, The Godfather of American Cuisine, Chef Larry Forgione. My mother handled Larry’s publicity for most of my formative years, helping him to achieve the notoriety he deserved. As such, I spent a lot of time at Larry’s An American Place, often watching him and his team in the kitchen. I was always enamored by the way Larry combined flavors and ingredients to create an adventure for the palate and in what I can only describe as a symphony in the kitchen.

Every Christmas, Mom would make Larry’s incredible chocolate pudding. And I have continued that tradition throughout my life. I also find myself using Larry’s pudding in other recipes that I have made. This holiday season, I wanted to share one of my new favorites that uses this recipe. When I called Larry to ask him for permission to use his pudding recipe in this new dessert, he could not have been more gracious. He even gave me some tips, just like when I was a kid, to make my new recipe work well! Thank you, Larry, for the culinary adventures throughout my upbringing and the inspiration to keep cooking throughout my life!

Have a Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate during this incredibly delicious season! Here’s to a Happy and COVID-free 2021! Bon appetit!


Peanut Butter and chocolate are two ingredients that just scream to be together. Throw in some graham crackers and you get close to a S’mores-type dessert. However, the warm flavor from the graham cracker combined with the depth of the chocolate along the airiness of the peanut butter buttercream in this recipe makes it a great way to end a holiday meal. Enjoy!

Graham Cracker Crust
1 ½ cups of graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
Combine graham cracker crumbs and sugar in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, continuing to mix well. You want the graham cracker crumbs to appear moist. Press mix into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake until browned, 25 – 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes.

Chef Larry Forgione’s Double Chocolate Pudding (bottom layer)
2 ¼ cups milk
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
3 ½ ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 ½ teaspoons dark rum
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Combine 2 cups of the milk and ¼ cup of the sugar in a large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until scalded. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place the egg and egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk until blended. Add the remaining ¼ cup milk, ¼ cup sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt, and whisk until well blended. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the scalded milk. Set over low heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture thickens and comes to a low boil, causing large bubbles to form. Immediately remove from the heat, add the chopped chocolate, butter, rum, and vanilla, and stir until the butter and chocolate are completely melted (the pudding will continue to thicken as it cools). Let pudding sit in pan for 15 minutes to cool.

(Reprinted with permission from An American Place cookbook by author)

Peanut Butter Buttercream Layer (top layer)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter (best to use Peanut Butter & Co. Old Fashioned Smooth or Smooth Operator)
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
I use a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer for this recipe, but you can also use a hand mixer. In a large bowl, vigorously beat butter, peanut butter, and confectioner’s sugar until light and fluffy. Then add milk and vanilla and mix until smooth.

Building The PieAfter Double Chocolate Pudding mixture has cooled, pour into pie crust (about ½ to 2/3 high). Place pie pan in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. Using a spatula, spread Peanut Butter Buttercream across the top of the pie, careful to not apply too much pressure to avoid mixing the chocolate and buttercream. Top with whipped cream and a dusting of espresso or chocolate powder.