Saturday, November 19, 2011

Perfect Pecan Pie!

Artist’s conception - real pic below!

In a rare instance of Amy Boland posting a holiday recipe in advance of a holiday, here’s the pecan pie I made last Thanksgiving and plan to make again!

There are two reasons to like this pie. One, it is full of deep, dark, sugary-buttery-caramely-toasty flavors. Two, it calls for bourbon and I don’t know anything about the stuff. I get to learn! Yay!

Last year I blindly got a pint of Wild Turkey. This elicited reactions ranging from indifference to dismay in the bourbon drinkers of my acquaintance.

This year I went to South Lyndale Liquors—where they will, upon request, pour you tiny tastes of booze from sample bottles lined up on the barrelheads of actual casks conditioned specially for them to sell. The guy who poured for me also explained what I was tasting and why the flavors were there. I chose Buffalo Trace.

So now I feel I have picked a winner, and I’m going to have plenty of bourbon left over afterwards. Um. Pie-making party at my house?

Oh, wait, yeah, the PIE! This IS supposed to be a post about pie.

Perfect Pecan Pie
Post-Thanksgiving pie pic update

I copied this recipe out of a column in the Star Tribune in 1997. Usually I don’t post recipes I didn’t create or significantly modify, because I think the person who wrote the recipe should get the credit (and should get stuck doing the typing). But since I don’t think we can go back in time and purchase a copy of the newspaper from an unknown day in late fall 1997, I’m prepared to make an exception.

Also I recall from my glamorous youth, when I worked on food books at a children’s publishing company, that the Copyright Guardians consider recipes to be formulae. So I’m not running afoul of the law, either. Potential haters, please make a note.

1 c dark brown sugar
⅔ c cane syrup OR ⅓ c light corn syrup and ⅓ c dark molasses
¼ c unsalted butter
3 T bourbon
½ t vanilla
½ t salt
4 eggs
2-3 T half & half
2 heaping c pecan pieces
1 unbaked single 9” pie crust
A big handful of pecan halves

Heat oven to 350°. Melt the sugar, syrup, butter, bourbon, vanilla, and salt together. Heat to boiling and boil one minute, stirring constantly. Let cool.

Beat the eggs with the half & half until frothy. Add this to the syrup, beating until well mixed. Stir in the pecan pieces.

Pour into the pie shell and top with a layer of pecan halves. (Make it look pretty.) Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Best Chocolate Cake

“It’s your second-best cake,” Beth corrected.

“It is NOT! You don’t know,” I argued. “You’ve never even tried this one before.”

“I don’t need to try it to know. I know the other one is the best,” Beth snipped back.

It is NOT. She doesn’t KNOW. This one is the richest and fudgiest. I modified the old Walker Museum Gallery 8 cookbook recipe for Wellesley Fudge Cake.

Wellesley Fudge Cake

Cake part:
½ c butter, softened
2 c minus 2 T sugar
4 egg yolks
1 c flour
1 c cocoa
4 t baking powder
½ t salt
1 c milk
2 t vanilla
4 egg whites

Frosting part:
12 oz chocolate chips
¾ c sour cream
1 t vanilla
1 pinch salt

First, do your mise en place for the cake:
  • Preheat the oven to 325°.
  • It is easiest to use an electric mixer for this recipe. Haul yours out.
  • Grease, line with parchment paper, and flour three 9-inch layer pans.
  • Separate your eggs. Be careful not to get any yolk in the whites. Put the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a medium to large bowl.
  • Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt together into a bowl.
  • Put the milk and vanilla together in a measuring cup or some other vessel. I dunno, maybe a bowl.
Now you’re ready to roll.

In yet another large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks.

Mix in ⅓ of the dry ingredients. Then stir in ½ the milk mixture, followed by more dry stuff, more milk, and the last of the dry stuff.

Wash the beaters; any trace of fat will prevent the next step from coming true. With clean beaters, beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage. (Fat prevents egg whites from whipping up. I don’t know why. It’s probably just hatefulness.)

Fold ⅓ of the egg whites into the batter, then the next ⅓, then the final part. This helps the egg whites stay fluffy and gives your cake batter the best shot at high volume.

Spread the batter into the three pans and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out mostly clean. Cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes, then invert and peel off the parchment. Cool some more.

While the cake bakes, make the frosting:

Melt the chocolate chips in a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. Stir in the sour cream. Stir in the salt and vanilla.

Frost your cake with the warm frosting. The frosting will firm up as it cools, producing a cake that resembles a fudge-walled fortress.