This Nesselrode Pie Recipe Will Take You Back to the 1940s
Here's how to make Nesselrode pie, an old-fashioned creamy dessert with chestnut custard and rum-soaked candied fruit.
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Made with roasted chestnuts and cherries macerated in rum, Nesselrode pie is a cozy, nostalgic holiday treat you may remember from childhood.
Popular beginning around the 1940s at many New York City restaurants and diners, it all but disappeared in the 1960s. But it may be making a comeback. Petra “Petee” Paredez, owner of the popular New York City bakery Petee’s Pie Company, developed a Nesselrode pie recipe that’s featured in her recent cookbook, Pie for Everyone (one of our must-have cookbooks for 2020). Here’s how to whip up your own version of this classic, seasonal dessert.
What Is Nesselrode Pie?
Nesselrode pie is a chilled, creamy pie traditionally made with roasted chestnuts, candied fruit, and rum or brandy. But this vintage dessert has taken many forms throughout its history.
As Petra writes in her cookbook, the flavor combination first emerged as an iced pudding named for Karl von Nesselrode, a Russian count whose chef prepared the decadent dessert for him in the era before refrigeration. For decades, it was popular across Europe and eventually, in New York City.
New York City baker Hortense Spier is credited with first turning Nesselrode pudding into a pie, and it took off after a 1945 New York Times feature. With its ubiquity came variations. By the 1960s, many versions were rum-flavored chiffon pies topped with whipped cream, maraschino cherries and chocolate shavings—no chestnuts to be found.
In creating her version of Nesselrode pie, Petra says she tried to preserve the original flavors of Nesselrode pudding while also appealing to customers who fondly remember the versions they savored as kids in New York City diners.
How to Make Nesselrode Pie
This recipe comes from Paredez’s cookbook, Pie for Everyone. Made with gelatin and meringue, it has a light, airy filling inside of a flaky, buttery pie crust. “It’s really a vintage texture as well as a vintage flavor,” Petra says.
This recipe makes two pies because as Petra says, “It is such a labor of love, so if you’re doing one, you might as well do two.”
For the chestnut puree:
- 1/2 cup shelled, peeled chestnuts
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon rum
For the filling:
- 1/2 cup plus 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons gelatin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2-1/2 cups whole milk
- 3 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the assembly:
- 2 bottom pie crusts, blind-baked
- 1/2 cup of macerated or maraschino cherries
- 1/2 cup chocolate shavings or chocolate ganache
- Vanilla whipped cream
Editor’s note: Pie for Everyone includes Paredez’s recipes for homemade pie crusts, macerated cherries, chocolate ganache and vanilla whipped cream. In the interest of space, we’ve linked to our versions of these recipes. You can also use store-bought products in many cases.
What You’ll Need to Make Nesselrode Pie
- Petra’s cookbook: Nesselrode pie is just one of many amazing pie recipes from Petee’s Pie Company. Snag the book to get full details on Nesselrode pie and plenty of other delicious treats.
- Luxardo Maraschino cherries: Trust us on this one: You want to go for this luscious brand if you don’t make your own macerated cherries.
- Hand mixer: To get airy meringue and whipped cream, you’ll want an electric mixer to do the job.
Step 1: Make the chestnut puree
Pulse the chestnuts and sugar in a food processor to combine. While the machine is running, add the rum and process for about two minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to scrape the sides of the bowl. The puree should be smooth, not grainy.
Editor’s tip: To skip the time-intensive process of shelling and peeling, use store-bought roasted and peeled chestnuts. If you want to use fresh ones, here’s how to roast and peel chestnuts yourself.
Step 2: Prepare the chestnut custard
Place a medium mixing bowl in the freezer to chill. In the meantime, combine the gelatin, salt and 1/2 cup of sugar in a large saucepan. Whisk in the egg yolks and then the chestnut puree. Slowly whisk in the cream and then the milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula.
When the mixture reaches 180°F on a candy thermometer, remove it from the heat and immediately pour it into the chilled mixing bowl. Stir in the rum. Refrigerate for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until chilled and thickened.
Step 3: Whip up the meringue
Start this step by making a simple syrup. In a saucepan, combine the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup starts to bubble. Turn off the heat.
Next, use a stand mixer or hand-held mixer with the whisk attachment to beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. While the mixer is still running, pour in the hot sugar syrup and vanilla. Stop mixing when the meringue holds medium-stiff peaks but is still silky, not foamy.
Editor’s tip: Petra emphasizes that it’s important to avoid over-whipping the meringue. “You want it to be somewhat pliable still,” she says. This silky consistency will allow you to fold the meringue into the custard without the egg whites separating.
Step 4: Combine the filling
Transfer about 3/4 of the meringue into a separate bowl, leaving the rest in the mixer bowl or on the whisk attachment. Pour the chestnut custard into the mixer bowl and beat it with the remaining meringue until smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the rest of the meringue.
Step 5: Assemble and chill the pies
Pour a heaping cup of filling into each of the pie crusts and use a spatula to spread it around the bottom of the pie shell. (Here’s how to make perfect flaky pie crusts.) Fold the cherries into the remaining filling and use the mixture to finish filling the pies. Spread the filling to the edge of each pie crust and mound it slightly in the center. Refrigerate for four hours or until the filling sets.
Editor’s tip: Paredez uses macerated cherries that she makes with rum and fresh sour cherries, but you can use store-bought maraschino cherries. Paredez recommends using high-quality ones like Luxardo maraschino cherries but adds that the more affordable, neon ones that are readily available at grocery stores may add to this recipe’s 1960s nostalgia.
Step 6: Add toppings
Once the filling is set, it’s time to add toppings. The recipe in Paredez’s book uses chocolate ganache, but many Nesselrode pies were topped with chocolate shavings.
- If topping with chocolate ganache: Transfer the warm ganache (here’s how to make chocolate ganache) into a pastry bag with a narrow tip and pipe it over the pies in a crisscross pattern. Transfer the whipped cream into another pastry bag fitted with a round tip and pipe it around the edges of each pie. Top with additional cherries.
- If topping with chocolate shavings: Sprinkle the shavings over the pies, then top with whipped cream and additional cherries.
Step 7: Serve
To preserve the pie’s height and fluffiness, slice it with a sharp knife dipped in hot water. Because of its delicate texture, Nesselrode pie is best enjoyed immediately, Petra says. However, it will keep in the refrigerator (covered) for up to two days.