Saturday, May 25, 2013

It's May in NYC, So Let's Make a Pecan Pie

I received an expected message from one of my cousins down in Kentucky.  In it, he offered his Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie Recipe.  I was excited to try it.  He was open to suggestions - could he improve upon it?  

Original Recipe

My version

I made his recipe as is.  Well, with the exception of the pie shell.  His called for one from the frozen section of the supermarket and you all know I'm too snobby for that!  It was very good - although too chocolately and a tad too sweet for me.  Also, aesthetically, it was over caramelized and sunken.  I know, I know, all pecan pies are very sweet and look like that, but it's something that has always irked me.  So I made a few changes...

What's great about this pie is that you can change it up as you please.  I will offer a few variations.

Original Recipe

My version

9" Pie Crust

You can use a frozen one from the supermarket or you can make your own!  Here's a recipe in case you don't have one...

4 tablespoons Butter
1 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3 eggs
2/3 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup*
2 tablespoons Bourbon**
Seeds from 1 Vanilla Bean
2 cups Pecan
Chocolate Chips, for garnish (up to 4 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350.  

Toast the pecans until they become fragrant.  About 10 minutes.  Allow to cool and then coarsley chop.  

If you are making your own pie shell:  Once you've made, rolled and lined your pie pan, let the shell refrigerate for a half hour.  Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with dry beans, rice or pie weights.  Cook for 12 minutes.  Remove the parchment and filling and cook for an additional 5 - 7 minutes or until the shell begins to brown but is not fully cooked.  

If you are using a pre-bought supermarket shell: Remove the shell from the packaging, straight from the freezer.  Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with dry beans, rice or pie weights.  Cook for 15 minutes.  Remove the parchment and filling and cook for an additional 5 - 7 minutes or until the shell begins to brown but is not fully cooked. 

When you remove the parchment from the shell, begin working on the filling.  Start by melting the butter in a double boiler over gently simmering water.  When melted, remove from the heat.

Stir in the sugar and salt and combine.  Add the eggs, followed by the golden syrup, bourbon and vanilla seeds (if using.)  Stir until all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Return the mixture to the double boiler and stir until the mixture is very warm to the touch, but not hot enough for you to be unable to stick your finger into it.

Remove from the heat and stir in the pecans.

By now, the pie shell should be finished or almost finished.  Remove the shell from the oven and reduce the temperature to 275.

Pour the filling into the still warm pie shell and sprinkle the top with high quality chocolate chips, pressing them into the filling if you'd like.

Bake for 55-65 minutes or until the center of the pie springs back slightly when you gently press on it.

Allow to cool completely - at least 4 hours.  

*You can find Lyle's Golden Syrup with either the honey or maple syrup in most supermarkets.  If you can't find it, you can substitute it with corn syrup.
**What is Bourbon?  Bourbon is whiskey that was produced in the United States with a grain mix of at least 51% corn.  It cannot have any additives other than water (to keep the proof under 160) The high percentage of corn makes it sweeter than other whiskeys.  You can substitute with plain old whiskey if need be.

If you'd like to change it up:

Maple Pecan Pie
Omit the Lyle's or Corn Syrup, Bourbon and vanilla.
Use a 1/2 cup granulated sugar as opposed to 1 cup of brown sugar
Add 1 cup maple syrup
Reduce the pecans to 1 1/2 cups.  (Or use toasted walnuts instead!)

Honey Walnut Pie
Replace the Lyle's with a boldly flavored honey
Replace the pecans with walnuts

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Feeling Spicy?

I've wanted to do a post on spices for a while now but, for some reason, every time I begin one I am at a loss for words and just give up.  Not this time.

I think part of the problem is that there's so much I want to cover that I do not know how to say everything I want to all while writing a post that flows well.  So, here's my disclaimer:  This blog may not flow or make sense.  

I have shared my pumpkin loaf recipe with a handful of people and every time I do so, the person tells me that it doesn't taste the same.  No, I did not alter the recipe before I gave it to you.  The only two things I can think of are:

1.  You may think it sounds crazy, but baking is as mental as the motions you make while baking are physical.  If you think about what you're doing too much, it just doesn't come out good.  I swear by this mantra.  

2.  I hand grind EVERY spice that goes into the loaf.  It makes a difference. 

Now that I've got that out of the way, let's discuss the dos and don'ts of working with spices.

1.  Whenever possible, use freshly ground spices.  Invest in a microplane and a mortar and pestle.  Both are relatively inexpensive and extremely useful.  

2.  If you are using a recipe, unless it says otherwise, the spice measurements listed refer to pre-ground spices you find in a glass jar at the supermarket.  Beware, some spices are not as potent when freshly ground - like nutmeg - so you have to double the quantity!

3.  Vice versa.  It works both ways...

3.  Do not overdose on spices!  When trying a recipe, always make it exactly as printed.  (Unless you're experienced and can tell is something is off.)  If you do not get the desired spice flavor after trying it, bump it by 25% and keep testing the recipe (bumping it up by 25% each time) until you're happy with the outcome.  Adding too much of a spice can give the finished product a chalky texture and can mute the other flavors.

4.  Don't under do it, either.  Usually a spice is added to enhance the flavor of something else.  If there isn't enough you'll know something's there, however you won't know exactly what it is.

5. I know most of you are not going to grind your own spices.  I'm not stupid.  So, all I ask is that you buy quality spices.  I order the majority of my spices from 

6. Spices do not last a lifetime.  They don't go bad, but they do lose strength.  Generally, ground spices last up to a year and whole spices last up to two years.  I try to order all my spices once a year so that I can easily keep track of how long I've had them.  I usually order them in October so that they are nice and fresh through the fall and winter, when I use them the most.

7.  Store your spices in an airtight container in a cool, dark place in your kitchen.  NOT in a spice rack on your counter or next to the oven.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Last Dessert

Everyone always asks, "What would your last meal be?"  Well, I decided to ask around and see what people would want as their last dessert.  The answers have ranged from cake to fruit (FRUIT?? Really, you're dying!)  What I found most interesting is that people aren't as specific when they answer this question.  They say something like cookies or ice cream instead of committing to an exact item like chocolate chip cookies or rocky road.

One of my friends was very specific.  Lemon Bars.  Although I'm not convinced it qualifies as the last thing I'd shove into my mouth, I was intrigued nonetheless.

The last time I made a lemon bar was when I was working at Sweet Sally's Bakeshop.  It wasn't one of her most popular items and I rarely made them.  I was too lazy to dig through my recipe archive and decided to develop my own...

Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa

Note: If you aren't going to juice your own lemons, don't waste your time making these.


1/2 pound butter
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
generous pinch of kosher salt

Lemon Curd

6 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup lemon juice
zest of 6 lemons (small to medium size) or approximately half the lemons used for the juice)
2 cups flour


confectioners sugar

Preheat your oven to 350.

Coat a 9x13 pan with baking spray and then it line with foil so that the edges exceed the height of the pan.  (This will help you remove the bars later!)

To make the shortbread, cream the butter until fluffy and then add the vanilla sugar.  (To make vanilla sugar, simply add used vanilla beans to a container of sugar and let sit a few weeks.  The moisture of the bean may cause the sugar to clump. You can break up the sugar by hand or pulse in a food processor.  As a substitute, you can just use plain sugar and add half a vanilla bean!)  Allow to mix for a few minutes.  

Add the salt and flour in one addition.  Mix on low just until the dough comes together.  Press the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan until you have an even layer of crust. Chill for 15 minutes.  Bake the shortbread just until it begins to color, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk and sugar.  Add the lemon juice and zest and mix until fully incorporated.  Add the flour in 3 to 4 additions, gently whisking until incorporated.

When the shortbread is done, pour the curd on top, carefully return to the oven and bake an additional 32-37 minutes.  The top should be set and not jiggle.

Allow the bars to cool at room temperature before attempting to remove them from the pan.  Use the foil tabs to pull the bars out of the pan.  Trim off the edges and then cut the bars into squares, rectangles or triangles.  Dust generously with confectioners sugar and serve.  

These will keep nicely in the fridge for up to 5 days if sealed in an airtight container.  Allow to come to room temperature before serving and sprinkle a fresh layer of confections sugar on top.