Erika’s Chocolate Chocolate Shortbread Pecan Pie

2-DSC_6408I love pecan pie. I hate corn syrup.  Most pecan pie recipes use the loathsome ingredient, an unholy union for sure, and that is a situation that we can no longer in good conscience tolerate.

What is corn syrup?  It’s a tacky, syrupy substance made from corn starch and contains maltose and  higher oligosaccharides, depending on the grade.  Maltose (malt sugar), also found in beer, is the sugar that converts to fat more easily than any other sugar.  In technical terms, corn syrup is super yucky.

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Now a word about pie crust.  Pies are delicious, so much better than cakes.  But pie crust, well, it’s more boring than delicious. We have relegated it to vehicle status, the humble servant that offers up the pie filling.  We can do better.  And by better, I mean shortbread — buttery, sweet and full of vanilla flavor.  After all, if we are going to indulge, shouldn’t the flavor be worth it?

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention, and I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say that the world needs a corn syrup-free pecan pie.  And of course the world needs more chocolate.  The logical conclusion that you can (and should) draw, is that I am helping the needy. Je vous présente Erika’s Chocolate Chocolate Shortbread Pecan Pie.

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Ingredients

Shortbread Crust

1 c Flour
Dash Salt
1/2 c butter, softened
1 and 1/2 c confectioner’s sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Pecan Pie Filling

3 T butter
2 c chocolate, chopped and divided (you can use semisweet or milk chocolate, if you live with sissies)
1/3 c sugar
1 c light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 c organic raw sugar
2 c chopped pecans, divided
1/2 c melted butter
2 T milk
1 and 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 T flour

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Make the shortbread crust:

Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolk, vanilla, salt and flour and mix until it forms a ball. Roll the shortbread out between sheets of waxed paper and then transfer to a deep dish pie plate. Flute or press edges and place uncooked pie shell in the refrigerator to chill while finishing the filling.

Make the filling:

In a small saucepan, melt together 1 cup of the chopped chocolate, 3 T butter and 1/3 c. sugar over low heat until thoroughly melted. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together brown sugar, eggs, 1/2 c organic sugar until well blended. Add 1/2 c melted butter, 1 c. chopped pecans, milk, vanilla, and flour. Mix until blended and then add chocolate mixture.

Sprinkle remaining pecans and chocolate chunks into the bottom of shortbread crust. Pour filling mixture over it.

Place on center rack in oven and bake for 55-65 minutes.

 

Spumoni Drop Cookies

1-DSC_0881Spumoni (from spuma, meaning foam), is an Italian flavor of ice cream containing chocolate, fruits (usually cherries) and nuts (typically pistachio).  Like Neapolitan ice cream, it is created in layers, and it is very popular in countries with large Italian populations such as the US and Argentina.  (I am a US citizen of Argentine descent, so naturally I love spumoni!)  National Spumoni Day is August 21st in the US.  I love spumoni ice cream, and what’s not to love?  Chocolate, pistachios and cherries…naturally this combination also belongs in a chewy, delicious cookie.

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Spumoni Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 packages instant pistachio pudding mix (I think they are 3.4 oz each)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (12 ounce) bag semi-sweet chocolate chips  (you can use milk chocolate chips in the alternative)
1/2 generous cup chopped maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift flour and baking soda; set aside.

Cream butter and sugars in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the instant pudding and mix well. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Fold in chips, cherries, and pistachios. Drop by large spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven until light brown, about 10 minutes.  Take them out when they are a still a bit blonde and let them firm on the pan a few seconds before transferring to baking racks to cool.

 

Honey Orange Cake with Honey Cream Mascarpone Frosting with Orange Essence

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Honey is a magical, sweet and healthy food made by bees using the nectar of flowers.   Humans have been collecting honey for at least 8,000 years, as depicted in ancient cave drawings in Valencia, Spain.  The ancient Egyptians, Eurasians, Indians, Chinese, Romans and Mayans all cooked with honey.  The Hindus believed it to be one of the five elixirs of immortality.  For Jews, it symbolizes the new year.  It is mentioned multiple times in the Old and the New Testaments.  It plays a role in Buddhism.  The Qur’an has an entire chapter called the Bee, wherein the prophet Mohammed recommended honey for healing purposes.

2-DSC_0747Most importantly, it is delicious.  Really, truly delicious.

I developed this cake recipe because I had a large jar of raw honey that had begun to crystallize and I wanted to use it it.  I recommend that you purchase and use local, raw honey in your home.

This cake is very sweet with a lot of orange flavor and a subtle hint of spice from the cinnamon.  I topped it with a mascarpone cream icing that is infused with orange essence and more honey (of course) that I put together on the fly.  There is a rough approximation of the frosting that I used at the end of the cake recipe.  It may need a tiny bit of tweaking because I did not really measure…

If you are not familiar with mascarpone, it is a delicious and mild Italian soft cheese, somewhat akin to American cream cheese.  It acts like Viagra for whipped cream in that it will help it to maintain stiffness when time or other conditions will cause ordinary whipped cream to deflate.  If you haven’t got mascarpone, you can use cream cheese in a pinch. However, the flavor is not identical.  Cream cheese has more tang and lacks the subtle, nuanced sweetness of mascarpone.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 cup raw, locally produced honey
  • 1/2 cup avocado oil
  • 4 organic eggs
  • The grated zest of two oranges
  • 1 cup of fresh squeezed, organic orange juice
  • 2 and 1/2 cups organic flour
  • 3 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 baking pan, or spray it liberally with coconut oil cooking spray.

Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon together.

In a large bowl, mix sugar, honey, oil, eggs and orange zest.  Add the flour mixture alternating with the orange juice until just mixed.  Don’t beat it to death.  Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes.

Honey Cream Mascarpone Frosting with Orange Essence

In a KitchenAid mixer, beat together 2 cups organic heavy whipping cream, 8 oz mascarpone, 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 teaspoon pure orange extract until stiff peaks form.  Frost the cake generously and then refrigerate.

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Chocolate Walnut Bars with Sultry Caramel Sauce

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The word caramel was first recorded in English in 1725. It came via French from the Spanish “caramelo.”  Whatever its origin, caramel is decadently rich, sweet and sultry with its buttery finish and soothing texture.  I wrote this recipe on a chilly, windy, midwestern day with damp air and blowing leaves, the kind of day that makes you happy to be indoors with a warm and fragrant kitchen and a personable dog near by.  It is fabulously sugary and fatty and spares no calories.

1-DSC_0592Chocolate Walnut Bars

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup chopped walnuts, divided into two 1/2 cup portions
2 cups unbleached, organic flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
3 large organic eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups high quality, dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce

1 and 1/2 cups organic sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil and spray foil with a coconut cooking spray or butter.  In your food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of walnuts until coarsely ground then whisk them together with flour, baking powder and baking soda.

Beat the butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl.  Add vanilla.  Gradually beat in the dry ingredients and then the chocolate and then the remaining 1/2 cup of walnuts.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake until just done, about 30 minutes.  Place pan on a rack to cool.

While the bars are cooling, make your caramel sauce.  Place sugar and water into a heavy saucepan and heat until boiling over medium heat, swirling constantly.  Once the syrup is just boiling, reduce the heat enough to keep it boiling but not so hot to burn the sugar.  Continue to swirl and heat the syrup until it turns a rich brown color.  Be very careful because it is easy to burn caramelized sugar.  Once the color is sufficiently rich and brown, turn off the heat.  Carefully add the heavy cream, butter and vanilla.  It will bubble up furiously at first.  Turn heat back to low and stir and heat the caramel mixture until all of the caramelized sugar has dissolved and the sauce is finished.  Allow sauce to cool.  It will thicken as it cools.

Serve Chocolate Walnut bars warm with warm Caramel Sauce spooned over them.

White Chocolate Cheesecake with Glazed Strawberry Topping

Cheesecake is one of my favorite things to bake and my recipe file contains some 180+ variants of it.  It is a dessert with a history and may have dated as far back as ancient Greece.  The earliest literary reference to a cheesecake is by the Greek physician Aegimus, who wrote a book on the art of making cheesecakes (πλακουντοποιικόν σύγγραμμα—plakountopoiikon suggramma). In Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura there are two recipes for cakes for religious uses: libum and placenta, although these cakes were very different from the cheesecakes we have today.  (And, to be sure, none of us wants to see a recipe for anything called placenta cake!)

The cheesecake that we all know and love was developed in 1872 by William Lawrence of Chester, New York. James Kraft developed a form of pasteurized cream cheese in 1912 upon which he acquired the Philadelphia trademark in 1928, thereby creating the celebrated Philadelphia cream cheese.

In the U.S., there are many different styles of cheesecake.

Chicago Style cheesecake is firm on the outside with a creamy center.

Country-style cheesecake uses buttermilk.

New York-style cheesecake contains sour cream or heavy cream (or both). It is rich and has a dense, smooth and creamy consistency.

Pennsylvania Dutch-style cheesecake uses farmer’s cheese.

Philadelphia-style cheesecake has a lighter texture and sometimes a richer flavor than New York cheesecake.

I developed the recipe below in honor of the 40th birthday of a dear and long time friend of mine who specifically requested a fruity cheesecake on the sweeter side.  This recipe is a New York style cheesecake with a slightly dense and very creamy texture, full of the flavor of white chocolate.  Not for the faint of heart, this recipes has all the fat, calories and carbohydrates one should demand in a truly decadent dessert.  It should be served with a generous dollop of freshly whipped crème Chantilly.

Ingredients

Crust:

9 oz. butter cookies
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

16 oz. high quality white chocolate, finely chopped
4 8-oz packages of cream cheese at room temperature
1 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 large eggs
1 c. sour cream
1 c. whipping cream, divided into two 1/2 c. portions
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
3 pints strawberries, sliced (fresh only, please!)
1/2 c. fruit preserves (use strawberry or apricot)
2 tablespoons
brandy

Directions

Place rack in the center of oven and preheat to 325°F.  Butter a 10″ springform pan and wrap it with foil.  Grind cookies in food processor until fine and add melted butter. Process until moist.  Press cookie crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan and bake until set (approximately 15 minutes).   Cool pan on a rack and maintain oven temperature.

Melt white chocolate and 1/2 c. cream in the top of a double boiler until smooth and creamy.  Remove from top of boiler and cool to tepid, stirring occasionally.

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl until it is light and fluffy (about three minutes).  Gradually add sugar, then salt and beat until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Then add sour cream, whipping cream and vanilla and beat until well blended.  Add melted chocolate mixture and beat thoroughly.

Pour filling into prepared crust.  Bake until the top begins to brown but the center still jiggles slightly when the pan is shaken gently.  Approximately 75 minutes.  Leave oven door ajar and turn off the oven.  Leave cake in the oven for 30 more minutes before removing to a rack to cool.  Cake must be chilled at least six hours, preferably overnight.

Release cake from springform pan and arrange strawberry slices like rose petals in circles to cover the top of cake completely.  Melt preserves and brandy in a small saucepan until boiling and brush the glaze abundantly over the strawberries, allowing the glaze to trickle down between them and onto the cake top. Chill again until serving.

The Best Chocolate Cake Ever

I am not a great cake baker.  In fact, I am a terrible cake baker, but this cake makes even me look good.  This recipe comes from Gourmet and in fact it is the most reviewed recipe on Epicurious.  It is a perfect, moist, dark chocolate cake that is not too dense.  I made it with vanilla buttercream frosting instead of chocolate ganache.  It is superb!

For cake layers

  • 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
  • 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For ganache frosting

  • 1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Special equipment

  • two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well. Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting:
Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency).

Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.