chocolate

Buttery Pecan Pie + Announcements

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William and I have been away from the blog for several months now- but for good reason!

We have moved back to Alabama and into a new home. Going from a tiny, city apartment to a house with a yard is a wonderful lesson in time management! As anyone with a home of their own can attest to, there is always always always something that needs to be cleaned or fixed or mowed or paid for… this is what I get for wanting the ‘charm’ of an older home! While we absolutely love having our own home, we are perhaps missing our California maintenance man, Mario, a little too much! 🙂

We are also just finishing a kitchen renovation (yay!). We spend so much time in our kitchen, we knew it would need a little makeover! For now, my vanity has been assuaged with the transition from dark oak cabinetry and yellow speckled counters to light greys and whites and a gorgeous, gigantic– errr, I mean functional– farmhouse sink!  Doesn’t the room look ten times larger??

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And last, but certainly not least, we recently welcomed our first child, a baby girl. Ava Marie is the most beautiful baby, the reason for many sleepless nights, and she is already brightening our days with her precious smile. She is the light of our lives, and we are so excited to one day share our joy of cooking with her!

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With so many changes it has been difficult to keep up with the blog. However, we are  cooking up a storm and have several new recipes to post.

Since moving back, for the first time in several years William and I had the pleasure of spending the Thanksgiving holiday with my family here in Alabama. We knew we had to bake something for the event, and because we have discovered a couple of prolific pecan trees in our backyard, we decided to gather, shell, toast them for a nice pecan pie.

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I found a recipe from one of my favorite cooking bloggers, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. This pie is amazing, but not the easiest dessert to put together. However, it was so much fun and, despite being time consuming, so delicious that we will definitely be making it again–perhaps for the upcoming winter holidays!

My biggest pet peeve about pecan pies is how cloyingly sweet they can be. It’s too much and often overwhelms the delicate, buttery flavor of the pecans themselves. There are several things about this recipe that I think make it better than the standard, toothache-inducing pecan pie.

First, the homemade crust. I always use salted butter and actually add a bit of extra salt in my homemade pie crusts. Perhaps this stems from my obsession with the play off of salty and sweet flavors. Perhaps it comes from my surefire belief that in the battle of salty vs sweet, salty always wins. Who knows! Regardless, the homemade crust provides the perfect salty and buttery complement to the sweetness of the filling, while also highlighting the buttery nuttiness of freshly toasted pecans!

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Second, the filling itself has two components: the typical gooey pecan pie filling as well as a layer of semisweet chocolate ganache. The filling is made with a British cane sugar syrup instead of super processed Caro syrup, and it develops a wonderful, burnt caramel flavor. The bitterness of the chocolate provides an additional foil, allowing relief from the sugar!

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Chocolate Pecan Pie
makes one 9″ pie

Ingredients

for the crust
1 1/4 cups AP flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick salted butter
1/4 cup cold water

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for the filling
2 cups pecans
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup golden syrup [can be found on Amazon, if not at Whole Foods]
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon bourbon
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs

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First, make the crust. Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into chunks. Use a pastry blender or food processor to combine the flour mixture with the butter until a mealy consistency is achieved. Add the water [about 60mL] and work the dough to form a smooth ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours.

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After the dough is done refrigerating, roll it out into a 13″ circle. Place it in a 9″ pie pan. Trim the edges and shape to your liking, or use the extra dough to decorate it! [I’m still getting the hang of making pretty, homemade pie crusts, but it’s a creative experience, so don’t expect Martha Stewart results the first time and just have fun with it!] Freeze the raw pie crust for 20 minutes.

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While the crust is freezing, toast your pecans. Spread them out on a pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake them for 12 minutes, stirring often. When the pecans are done being toasted, place them in a large bowl to cool off and increase the oven temperature to 400°F in preparation to par-bake your pie crust!

Take the crust out of the freezer and cover it with buttered tin foil (butter side down! 😉 ). Place rice or pie weights on top of the tin foil to keep the crust from shrinking and losing its shape. Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes. Turn off the oven.

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Freeze the partially baked crust for 15 minutes. While the par-baked crust is freezing again, prep the chocolate ganache. In a small pot, over medium heat, combine the chocolate and heavy whipping cream until a smooth texture is achieved. Pour the chocolate mixture onto the crust and freeze for another 20 minutes.

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Now it is time to prepare the filling. Melt together the butter, dark brown sugar, golden syrup, and salt in a small pot (you’re welcome to re-use the one from the ganache). Let this mixture simmer for several minutes until it thins out and darkens in color. Next, add in the bourbon, vinegar, and vanilla extract. Pour this mixture over the toasted pecans and stir it all together! Let it rest for 10 minutes before stirring in the eggs. [You need the eggs to hold the filling together, but you don’t want them to curdle by stirring them into a mixture that’s too hot.] Once your filling is completed, remove the crust from the freezer and pour it over the chocolate layer of the pie.

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Bake the pie at 350°F for 45-50 minutes. The center of the pie should still look gooey, but it will set during cooling time.

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Pecan pie can be served at any temperature really, but this one is best served warmed or at room temperature so the chocolate is easy to eat. We were also able to refrigerate it and it was still delicious a week later! It needs no accompaniments, so you can skip the ice cream or whipped cream, if you like!

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Enjoy!

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Miniature Chocolate Lava Cakes

lava cakesThis amazing recipe is adapted from the Junior League cookbook from my hometown, Birmingham, AL. It’s called Tables of Content and it is full of great local recipes. Birmingham has a foodie culture that started thriving a few years back when local chefs like Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings began gaining national recognition. Anyways, this recipe is the bomb!

A quick note on chocolate types: this recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate. After several trips to the grocery store, I confirmed that I was extremely confused when it comes to different types of chocolate and cocoa percentages. According to most of what I have read, the term “bittersweet” seems to refer to a massive range of cocoa percentages (from about 30-90%). What most of us have in our pantries is milk chocolate for snacking or unsweetened chocolate for baking.

Both of those are big no-nos for this recipe! If milk or white chocolate is used (cocoa percentages below 30) the fat and high sugar content in the chocolate will not melt properly and not only will the resulting cakes be way too sweet, but they may not even have that delicious, liquid lava center! The ubiquitous semi-sweet chips, while confusingly named, are within the range of good cocoa percentages.

To sum up: Do use chocolate labelled bittersweet, semi-sweet, or dark, and anything with a cocoa percentage above 35. Don’t use unsweetened chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate.

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Mini Chocolate Lava Cakes
Serves about 8, in mini ramekins

Ingredients
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks salted butter
3 eggs
3 egg yolks (save the whites, they’ll make a super healthy omelette!)
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 tablespoons AP flour
extra butter and cocoa powder for greasing ramekins

Ingredients

Ingredients

Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. Stir it with a rubber spatula to keep the chocolate from burning.

lava cakesIt helps to let the butter melt a bit first before putting the chocolate in, that way the chocolate does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring it over low heat until all is melted and you basically have a giant amazing pot of liquid chocolate. Then, set this pot aside to cool.

lava cakesIn a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar thoroughly with a whisk or fork. This will take a while (it took me a little under 5 minutes to do it manually), but keep stirring until they get whiter in color and foamy on top. Add in the vanilla and salt and stir it up again.

lava cakesAdd in the flour and then the chocolate mixture, as long as it is cool enough not to cook the eggs. Fold it all slowly together with the rubber spatula until it gets thick and glossy.

Coat six small ramekins with butter and cocoa powder. If you don’t have ramekins, you can definitely use any other oven-proof dish. I like the small ramekins because they are perfect for individually sized servings and I use them all the time for serving fruit and for sauces (hint hint if you don’t have them you want them).

lava cakesPlace the ramekins on a baking sheet, and fill them with the batter about 3/4 of the way full.

lava cakesBake them in the oven for 10-15 minutes. You want to take them out while the centers are still jiggly but the edges are cooked and seem to have detached from the side of the ramekins. It will seem like they are not all the way cooked, but if you leave them in longer, they won’t have any ‘lava’ inside!

Garnish them with whipped cream, raspberries, or mint and enjoy!

What happens if you let it cook too much! (still delicious)

What happens if you let it cook too much! (still delicious)

P.S. I know it is super annoying to let 3 egg whites go to waste, so put them in an air-tight container and save them for a delicious egg white omelette or scramble! If you’re in the mood for a good, 1-serving scramble, try this!

 

Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes

Red wine cupcakeFor all of you who have known in your life the joy of red velvet cake, these cupcakes are like individually portioned alcoholic red velvet cakes! They are incredibly moist and delicious (even two weeks later).  Be warned though, the wine does not cook out. These cupcakes really do have the flavor of red wine, and it is wonderful!

If you enjoy wine, but can never manage to finish a bottle, this the perfect way to avoid letting the rest of it go to waste. I love using a sweet red wine (like a merlot) but I have used pinots as well and the end result is still delicious!

The wine that has resulted in my favorite cupcakes is the J. Lohr Paso Robles Merlot from 2011. It is relatively inexpensive, but if you don’t like merlots you are by no means stuck with this! Any red wine is worth a shot, and although it results in some awkward measurements, I usually cut this recipe in half and make only 5 or 6 cupcakes at a time. If you do this, just use 1 large egg, and google to calculate all of the other ridiculously tiny measurements. If you just want to make a small batch to try, or this is just for a small group, the halved recipe won’t even make a dent in your pantry stock and you get delicious desserts out of it!

Red Wine Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Smitten.

Ingredients
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons salted butter, melted in a large (at least 2 cups) measuring cup
3/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

Red wine cupcakePreheat the oven to 325°F. Insert cupcake liners into a regular sized cupcake pan. This recipe will make twelve cupcakes, so you might have to bake them in two batches.

In a large bowl, mix the sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Red wine cupcakeTo the container of melted butter add the red wine and vanilla. Mix them thoroughly and make sure the mixture isn’t too warm before you add the eggs (you definitely don’t want to cook the eggs). Whisk or stir in the eggs.

Red wine cupcakeMake a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir well with a spoon or a rubber spatula.

Red wine cupcakeFill the cupcake pan with the batter (I used around 1/3 a cup of batter for each cupcake, but just make sure that the pan is 3/4 full).

Red wine cupcakeBake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. These cupcakes are shiny even when they’re ready to come out of the oven so watch it closely!!

Enjoy!

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