No one seems sure how the Nesselrode pie landed in New York City, but by all accounts it was on every dessert menu and Christmas table in town in the mid-1900s. Its labor-intensive was recipe splayed open on kitchen countertops, the pages flecked with chocolate and splotches of cherry juice.
The pie is named after Count Karl Robert Nesselrode, a German diplomat who served as Russia’s foreign minister and also happened to love chestnuts. He played various political roles across Europe during the reign of Napoleon, fighting his power at every turn, and died in St. Petersburg in 1862. Allegedly, his personal chef, Monsieur Mouy, created this pie for his boss after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, in 1856, which was not necessarily a victory for Nesselrode’s political aims but marked the beginning of his retirement. As his eponymous pie soon would, Count Nesselrode faded into history.
About a hundred years later, however, in the 1940s and ’50s, the pie was mysteriously resurrected in a brownstone restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Hortense Spier delivered her Nesselrode pie to high-end restaurants across the city, particularly around Christmastime. Bakeries—including Mrs. Maxwell’s, in East New York—attempted to re-create it, and newspapers and magazines printed variations on the recipe, with and without a crust, for ambitious home cooks. The signature ingredients were chestnut puree, rum or brandy, whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and candied red-and-green fruits for Yuletide. After the Spier family stopped baking it, the pie faded into oblivion—until Petra and Robert Paredez decided to try their hands at a Nesselrode at their shop, Petee’s Pie Company, on the Lower East Side and in Clinton Hill.