Contemporary Pecan Pie

Here is what you need to know about this pie:

A mixture of brown sugar and honey takes the place of corn syrup.
Brown butter makes it toasty and rich like a dark cup of coffee.
One tablespoon of lemon juice cuts through the sweetness like a knife.
A subtle 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon adds depth and warmth.
It tastes 100% traditional.

When I set out to make a classic pecan pie without corn syrup, I had to pause to ask myself why. Was it because corn syrup is inherently evil? Had I just been brain washed into thinking that it was that bad? I had avoided corn syrup in the past largely because it seemed a more processed product than raw honey and organic maple syrup, but to completely denounce the sweetener without any research hardly seemed fair.

What I discovered was that due to the unknown effect of consuming large amounts of fructose, high-fructose corn syrup is generally considered to be a consume-at-your-own-risk kind of ingredient. On the other hand, pure glucose syrup is a simple sugar that has several interesting applications in the kitchen. The problem is that most commercial corn syrup actually contains an unspecified amount of high-fructose syrup as an ingredient, unless the brand advertises otherwise. Eventually, after sifting through multiple conflicting articles, I decided that regardless of the possible pitfalls of corn syrup, honey and maple syrup are always going to be superior options for me. Not only do they impart so much more flavour, but it is incredibly easy to find people who produce these products locally and organically.

With that settled, I turned to crafting a recipe that was both free of corn syrup and ‘traditional’ – that is one without bourbon, chocolate, or any other third party ingredient attempting to offset the sweetness. Rather, I relied on the subtle aroma of darkly browned butter, a whisper of cinnamon, and soft notes of floral honey to add dimension without compromising the classic flavour of molasses and nuts. Use this as an opportunity to see how far you can brown your butter without burning it, and you will be rewarded with unparalleled flavour.

Contemporary Pecan Pie
Adapted from: Carole Walter. ‘Southern Pecan Pie.’ Great Pies and Tarts.

Ingredients:

1 disc prepared pie pastry*

7 tablespoons unsalted butter (3.5 oz)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons mild honey
8 oz pecans

*an additional disc of pastry is required for a braided edge

Method:

Roll the disc of pastry into a 12 inch circle. Carefully fit the pastry into a 9 inch pie plate, then crimp or decorate the edge as desired. Freeze the shell for at least 30 minutes.

Darkly brown the butter, then let it cool while you prepare the other ingredients. Click here to learn how to make brown butter.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the oven racks so that you can place the pie plate on a rack in the lower middle of the oven, and a baking tray underneath it on the bottom rack.

When the oven has finished preheating, toast the nuts on a baking sheet for 6-8 minutes or until they are aromatic and slightly oily.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, white sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt.

In a large measuring cup, combine the cooled brown butter, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Pour the liquid over the sugar mixture and stir until the ingredients are moistened. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, just until they are well combined. Wisk gently – you do not want to incorporate too much air into the mixture or it will puff up during baking. Whisk in the honey.

Remove the prepared pastry from the freezer. Spread the cooled nuts across the bottom of the pie shell. Give the filling a final stir then pour it over the nuts. Fill the pie to a scant 1/4 inch below the top of the crust, to allow room for the filling to expand during baking.

Place a large metal baking sheet on the bottom rack of the preheated oven. Place the pie on the middle rack and bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour, rotating carefully after 30 minutes. Use a pie shield if necessary to prevent overbrowning in the last 20 minutes. The pie is finished baking when the crust is completely golden brown and the filling has puffed up through to the centre. The filling should still wobble slightly when the tray is jiggled, and it should only begin to crack in the last few minutes of baking – if at all.

Let the pie cool completely before serving. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Making Chocolate-Hazelnut Rugelach

Rugelach is one of those transcendent desserts, not unlike madelines, that one has a hard time calling “cookies” and leaving it at that. These bite-sized pastries consist of a rich cream cheese laden dough, much akin to pie pastry, rolled with a filling of your choosing. Dried fruit, preserves, nuts and chocolate are all common additions, making rugelach the ideal vehicle for our dark chocolate-hazelnut paste.

Below you will find my recipe for the chocolate-nut filling, as well some hints on preparing the dough and assembling the cookies. The delicious and surprisingly simple cream cheese pastry recipe comes from leitesculinaria.com, and was written by Tracey Zabar for her book One Sweet Cookie.

I modeled my chocolate-hazelnut paste after a Taste of Home Magazine recipe for DIY chocolate-hazelnut spread, and after some experimentation I settled on several alterations.

The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar, but I prefer to use granulated sugar over ready-made icing sugar whenever possible because the latter contains a fair amount of cornstarch. To ensure that the sugar dissolved, I cooked the milk/sugar mixture on very low heat while stirring with a heat proof spatula until I could rub some of the liquid between my fingers without feeling any granules. I also substituted half (3 oz) of the milk chocolate for dark chocolate, and swapped the cows milk for fruity coconut milk.

giandujaspread

Recipe: Dark Chocolate-Hazelnut Paste

Adapted from: Taste of Home Magazine, DIY Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

Ingredients

Baker’s Note:

Most likely when you purchase hazelnuts, they will come with their thin, papery skin still attached. While some people do not bother to remove it, I find that I can sometimes detect the skin’s slight bitter taste and I prefer to rub as much off as possible before chopping or grinding the nuts. The quickest and most effective way of doing this is to preheat the oven to 350° F, and line a heatproof bowl with a clean dish cloth. Toast the hazelnuts on a tray for 5-8 minutes, or until the skin begins to crack and peel, then quickly toss them into the bowl and cover with the towel. Let the hazelnuts steam for 15 minutes, then briskly rub the towel together to remove the skin.

3/4 cup whole hazelnuts (filberts), lightly toasted and skin removed
3 oz dark chocolate
3 oz good quality milk chocolate
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon mild honey
1/4 cup well stirred coconut milk
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon flavorless oil

Method

Finely chop both chocolates and place in a large microwave safe bowl.

Combine the coconut milk, sugar, honey, and salt in a small saucepan and heat on low until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture just up to a simmer, then remove the pot from the heat.

Immediately poor the milk mixture over the chopped chocolate and let sit 5 minutes. Stir gently until smooth.
Note: If not all of the chocolate completely melts, microwave the bowl for 15 seconds and stir again until smooth.

Place the hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until the nuts begin to form a paste. Add the oil and process until a paste forms.

Scrape the chocolate mixture into the bowl with the nuts, and process briefly, just until the paste clings together and forms a ball.

Store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Bring to room temperature before use.

Note: If your food processor is like mine, and not quite capable of producing a smooth nut paste, do not fret. Simply process the hazelnuts as much as possible and continue on with the recipe. The result will be a rich chocolate and nut paste rather then a smooth spread, and it will be excellent when paired with pastry, sandwiched between cookies, or layered in tarts or pies.

Dough & Assembly: Cream Cheese Rugelach

Source: Tracey Zabar, One Sweet Cookie
Link: http://leitesculinaria.com/78021/recipes-cream-cheese-rugelach.html

Baker’s Notes:

  1. I followed the recipe for the pastry as written, but found that after my processor had cut in the cream cheese, I had a damp but sandy bowl of tiny crumbs rather than a cohesive dough. To adjust, I dumped the mixture into a large mixing bowl and used my hands to form the crumbs into 4 equal balls, which was quite easy considering the cold dough quickly clung together.
  2. After rolling the dough and trimming the edges, I chilled the rectangles in the fridge until they were firm so that the filling would spread more easily across the pastry. I also discovered that the best way to evenly distribute the filling was to use my fingertips to quickly and gently smooth it over the dough. When had I finished rolling the logs, I placed them in the freezer for about an hour to chill them, then I cut the logs into 1 ½ inch pieces as directed, and froze the fully assembled cookies overnight.
  3. In the morning, I made an egg wash by whisking together 1 egg yolk and 1 teaspoon of water, and brushed each cookie lightly but thoroughly with the wash before pressing them into some vanilla sugar.
  4. I baked the rugelach at 375° for 30-35 minutes on a large metal tray lined with a silicone mat. The silicone barrier helped to ensure that the bottom of the pastries did not burn before the center of the roll had cooked through.
  5. After removing them from the oven, I quickly transferred the cookies to a cooling rack so they did not sit in the moisture that had formed on the tray during baking (I suspect this was mostly oil from the chocolate filling).

The rugelach are best eaten on the first or second day, but they will keep for several days more refrigerated in an airtight container.

Dark & Bold Gianduja Spread (Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread)

Gianduja: a sweet chocolate spread containing about 30% hazelnut paste, invented in Italy during the reign of Napoléon.

February thus far has brought a whirlwind of activity to the Dough House, beginning with preparations for a romantic Valentine’s Day wedding cake and ending this past weekend with its unveiling. As much as we love making silky smooth lemon curd and eating cake scraps, it is exciting to refocus on baking, well, whatever we feel like.

Keeping in tune with this months featured ingredients, I chose to begin a project that I had been itching to work on since the fall: homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread. The condiment itself is quite simple to put together, but once made it can be used in a myriad of other dessert recipes, some of which Taste of Home has already compiled for me. I was drawn to this version of “DIY Nutella” in particular because it includes honey as well as nuts and chocolate, all of which I would consider end-of-winter pantry staples.

I was after a deeper, darker chocolate experience than the grocery store variety has to offer, so I substituted the milk chocolate for dark chocolate and added an extra tablespoon of both honey and sugar. Instead of cows milk, I used sweet, creamy coconut milk for its richness and flavour. The result was a bold and earthy chocolate spread with subtle fruity hints, and plenty of toasted and ground hazelnuts visible throughout. My first instinct is to make gianduja-filled pastries, perhaps using the opportunity to try a new recipe, and also to use the spread within a sweet yeast bun.

So bust out the pastry blender, because we’re making dough and getting our gianduja on.

Just for Fun: Sparkling Apple Snacking Cake

Remove chocolate from a basic brownie recipe, and you get a blondie. But what happens when you take the caramel, or the brown sugar, out of a blondie recipe?

This apple cinnamon snacking cake was inspired by yet another winning Dorie Greenspan recipe, this time from Baking: From My Home to Yours. Her books are full of jumping off points, and we love her for that. The ratio of ingredients and the method are what makes this cake unique, as they result in an ultra dense and moist vanilla cake with a thin crackly top reminiscent of a tray of brownies.

Always a sucker for baked apple treats, we chose to adapt the original recipe to create a no-fuss cake filled with the flavours of honey, cinnamon, and one tart Ida Red. Simple, comforting, and so quick to put together that you can pull dessert from the oven just as your friends arrive, this cake makes it easy to impress.

Tips for Success:
• Wait until the last minute to shred the apple, as it will quickly turn brown in the open air.
• Take the time to drain any excess water out of the shredded apple to avoid a soggy cake.
• Keep in mind that just like brownies, the center of the cake may appear slightly under baked when you remove it from the oven.

Sparkling Apple Cake 

Yield: 9 inch round cake
Prep: 30 minutes
Baking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients: 

Cake
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup minus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (175g)
2 tablespoons liquid honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour (125g)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 oz unsalted butter
1 medium tart apple

Topping
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly grease a 9 inch springform pan.

Melt the butter and let it cool.

Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, and baking powder.

Put the sugar in a medium bowl and whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Whisk in the honey, salt and vanilla extract.

Peel and shred the apple, and use your hands or a fine mesh strainer to gently squeeze out the excess water. Set aside briefly.

With a rubber spatula, stir the flour into the egg/sugar mixture until there are no longer any streaks remaining in the batter. Gently fold in the melted butter until smooth, then fold in the shredded apple, making sure it is evenly dispersed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Make the topping by combining the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle it evenly over top of the cake.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 – 28 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the middle has a crackly, paper thin crust.

The cake may be served slightly warm, but it will also keep very well for several days in an airtight container at room temperature.

 Inspired by: Dorie Greenspan’s “Swedish Visiting Cake”, from Baking: From my Home to Yours

Honey-Rye Flapjacks

Flapjacks are a sweet, sticky, almost-candy bar tray bake that serves as an understandably popular breakfast treat over in the UK. Rolled oats are combined with butter, sugar, and golden syrup, scraped into a pan, and baked in a low oven until the edges are wonderfully caramelized and the center is soft and gooey. A flapjack is certainly not a granola bar, and they are much richer than your standard oatmeal cookie, which places them squarely in the same category as sticky buns and coffee cakes: dessert for breakfast.

Traditionally prepared with large flake oats and golden syrup, this recipe kicks up the flavour with the use of rolled rye flakes and a mild honey. While oatmeal is fairly bland, rye flakes have a slight sharpness and tang to them, which pairs nicely with honey, a pinch of cinnamon, and some vanilla to round out the flavour. Dried fruits and nuts are common additions to the basic recipe, and we chose black currants because these small dried berries pack a unique fruity punch. The result is a rustic, indulgent and satisfying snack that goes well with a hot drink on a cold Saturday morning.

Honey-Rye Flapjacks

Inspired by: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/flapjacks_86993  and http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/honeyflapjacks_73203

Yields: 16 squares
Prep: 15 minutes
Baking Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

175g unsalted butter
175g dark brown sugar
175g mild honey
1 large pinch table salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
350g rolled rye flakes
1/4 cup dried currants
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Method:

Preheat oven to 300° F. Grease an 8×8 inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan on lowest heat.

Meanwhile, place the rye flakes in a large bowl, add the cinnamon and toss with hands to combine.

Once the butter has melted, stir in the brown sugar, honey, and salt. Cook over low heat, stirring with a heatproof spatula, for several minutes or until the sugar has dissolved (do not boil).

Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Add the rye flakes and currants to the pot and stir well to combine. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and use the spatula or your fingertips to squish down and smooth it evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until the edges are a deep caramel colour. Cool completely in pan and use parchment to lift out. Cut into 16 squares.