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Pecan Pie

“The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease.”
Sonnet 97, 6-8

I have always loved pecan pie—the rich, buttery taste of toasted pecans and the sweetness of the gooey center seems to just melt perfectly on the tongue. Generally, I bake pecan pies in the fall (as was the case with this one, though I am only just now posting about it) because the flavors seem to go well with the chilly temperatures, crisp autumn air, and the colorful leaves falling from the trees. I also have a habit of making this pie for Thanksgiving, mostly because I am not fond of pumpkin pie (it’s a texture thing—I love pumpkin in other baked goods, but pumpkin pie is not my thing at all) and my family doesn’t really love apple pie. So, for me at least, pecan pie and Thanksgiving just go together.

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This particular pie was made for a Thanksgiving potluck that my graduate school peers put together. We were all stressed with grading and needed to do something else for a while. What better way to distress than to talk about the things we loved, see people we hadn’t in a while, and eat delicious food. As I always do when a potluck comes around, I volunteered to make the desserts. Pecan pie was the first thing that came to mind, of course; I craved the warm taste of toasted pecans and buttery feel of them in my hands when cracking them.

Piecrust

This recipe is lovely. The pie set beautifully and tasted perfect. The filling is sweet, rich, and the taste of the pecans shines. The original recipe called for chopped pecans, but I did a mix of both. I like to have some smaller pieces so that you get pecans in every bite, but I also love the look of whole pecan halves in the finished pie. Whatever you do is up to you, but you should definitely toast the pecans first. The recipe did not call for it, but toasting the pecans beforehand gives them even more flavor and you won’t be sorry that you took the extra couple of minutes to do it—I promise!

 Pie in the oven

You have a choice with the piecrust in this recipe. I would suggest making your own because the ones you’ll find in your refrigerated section of your grocery store will not be as light or as flakey as one you make yourself, but if you are short on time, patience, or just don’t feel confident in you crust making abilities (which I will touch on in a minute), then a store-bought crust will work. I am personally a little stubborn, so I wanted to make my own piecrust. It’s a good way to add an extra something special to any pie you make and it also tends to impress people (bonus!). The piecrust recipe I have below, which is actually called pâte briseé, is the only piecrust recipe I ever use since I discovered it a few years ago. It’s flakey and buttery and perfect. I also think it’s pretty easy (maybe even foolproof). It is even easier if you have a large food processor, but if you don’t, you can use a fork, pasty cutter, or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour to make the dough. A couple of tips: make sure your butter is very cold and cut up into tiny pieces. I cut up my butter and then stick it back into the fridge for a couple of minutes to get it cold again. Also make sure you have ice water (I put ice cubes into my water and let it sit for a couple of minutes so it’s really cold). These two things will help make your piecrust making adventure easier and go more smoothly. I unfortunately did not take pictures of the piecrust process this time, but I will include that on a later post.

 Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

 Pie Recipe Adapted from Lilacs & Longhorns

Pie Crust recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

For the crust:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter chilled and cut into small pieces

1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:

4 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup dark corn syrup

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup toasted pecan halves (you can chop them, just crack them with your hands like I do, or leave them as they are)

To make the crust:

1) In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. Or, if you don’t have a food processor or don’t have one big enough, you can use a fork or pastry cutter or your hands (try to rinse them in cold water first so they are not too warm) to cut the butter into the dough. Just try to work quickly so your dough does not warm up too much.

 2) With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. Again, if you are not using the food processor, just work quickly the water into the dough with a fork, cutter, or your hands. . To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

3) Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.

To make the pie:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecan halves or chopped pecans onto a baking sheet lined with tinfoil. Toast pecans for 4-6 minutes and then set them aside to cool.

2) Roll out piecrust and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Fold edges and crimp.

3) Whisk together eggs, sugar, dark corn syrup, butter, dark brown sugar, vanilla extract, and salt in a saucepan over low heat until well blended. Pour into unbaked piecrust; sprinkle with toasted pecans.

4) Bake at 350 degrees on lower rack for 30 minutes or until pie is set.

**The key to the rich taste of this pie is the use of dark syrup and dark brown sugar. You can substitute these for light, but you won’t get the same rich taste.

 

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Salted Caramel Brownies

“I will encounter darkness as a bride,
And hug it in mine arms”

Measure for Measure, Act III, scene 1, line 83.

I chose this quote because though it is about death, this is how I feel about dark chocolate. I love dark chocolate, which will most likely become apparent the more I post. Dark chocolate can be bitter, it can be fruity, it can be earthy. I love the complexity of dark chocolate and its ability blend other flavors. My favorite kind of dark chocolate is anything that tastes vaguely fruity. This recipe is not fruity, though it is luscious, dark, and delicious.

These brownies were the result of yet another round of stress baking. I was (again) in the midst of the semester this past spring, buried under piles of grading and reading and what do I decide to do instead? Bake. I usually don’t have an idea in mind when I begin these adventures, just a sort of vague idea or craving. This time I wanted chocolate. I had had this bar of bittersweet Scharfen Berger chocolate for a while, just begging to be used. I knew I wanted to use it in a recipe that would allow the chocolate to shine, so began browsing Pinterest (where I get most of my ideas) for chocolate recipes.

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Once these caramel brownies popped up I was sold. There’s something so wonderful about gooey, melty, chocolately brownies that just so happen to have a beautiful layer of caramel in them.

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I did cheat with these and used store-bought caramels—though I imagine that these would be even more amazing with homemade caramels. However, if you are like me and tend to have spur of the moment baking desires, that may not be feasible (you may not have the patience either!). Store-bought caramels (I used the Kraft caramels that come in little wrapped squares in a bag) tasted just fine in these brownies and melted beautifully like they were supposed to.

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Salted Caramel Brownies

Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats

For the brownies:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used the Scharfen Berger, which I can easily find in my King Soopers and Safeway grocery stores, if you cannot find it, just use whatever bittersweet chocolate you like the best)

1 ½ cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (if you are at a higher altitude like I am, use a high-altitude flour. I usually just have rounded cups of flour instead of level. The extra flour helps at higher altitudes)

½ tsp. salt

For the caramel filling:

14 oz. caramel candies (Like I said, I use Kraft—you have to unwrap them, which is kind of annoying, but at least they are all ready made!)

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 tsp. salt (I used regular salt because it was what I had on hand, but Kosher salt or coarse sea salt would have a better flavor)

1)   Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil and grease the foil well with butter or cooking spray.

2)   Combine the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and smooth. Or, you can do what I did and microwave the butter and chocolate in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until completely melted.

3)   Remove the bowl from the heat.  Whisk in the sugar, eggs and vanilla until incorporated.

4)   Stir in the flour and salt just until combined.

5)   Spread about half of the brownie batter in the bottom of the prepared pan in an even layer.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven, maintaining the oven temperature, and let cool for 20 minutes.

6)   To make the caramel filling, combine the caramel candies and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Heat, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth. You can also melt the caramel candies in the microwave in 30-second intervals. The caramel is easy to burn this way so be watchful! Once the caramel is melted, heat the cream until it is warm and then add to the melted caramel.

7)   Immediately spread the caramel mixture over the bottom brownie layer.  Pour the remaining brownie batter over the caramel layer, taking care to pour and spread it evenly otherwise it will be difficult to spread evenly over the caramel layer.

8)   Bake for 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing and serving.  (To speed cooling, chill in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.)

9)   Lift the brownies from the pan using the edges of the foil.  Remove the foil and cut the brownies into individual squares.  Store in an airtight container.

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S’mores Cookies (for the soul)

“I count myself in nothing else so happy
As in a soul remembering my good friends.”
Richard II 2.3.46-7

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Well, it’s been almost a year since my last post and I don’t exactly have a great explanation for that. I have been in grad school this past year, which did end up taking more of my time than I ever thought it could. I have learned so much over the past few months, and maybe some of that will makes its way into these blog posts here, but for now this is mostly about baking.

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While I haven’t been blogging about my baking, I have been baking! Not as much as I used to, and definitely not as much as I would have liked, but I did bake. I also took pictures with the intention of updating this blog much sooner, but you know what they say about good intentions. Anyway, since it is (again) summer, I will try to post some of the recipes I made during the school year and will try to capture my feelings about each recipe and the surrounding circumstances and the experiences as much as I can.

These cookies were made to be comforting. I have a tendency to bake when I get stressed. Anyone who knows me mostly has heard about and enjoyed the results from my adventures in “stress-baking.” In October last year, when the leaves were turning beautiful shades of golden yellow, fiery orange, and deep crimson, I was in the midst of trying to stay above my workload (teaching, grading, writing papers, researching, and reading—always reading) and missing my friends from undergrad so much it hurt to breathe in the dry, mountain air for once. Autumn in Oregon, while rainy, was incredibly beautiful. While Colorado’s trees turn mostly yellow and orange, with a few reds here and there, Oregon’s trees (especially the ones on my campus) were the most beautiful crimson, scarlet, and burgundy I have ever seen; the maple trees were always my favorite.

When the leaves that have fallen lay on the sidewalk and it rains (as it always does in Oregon in the Fall), the color and shape of the leaf is painted on the sidewalk. I found myself missing these imprints as I was walking to and from campus this past year, and missing the person I used to talk to them about. My best friend from college, my Brainmate, is a poet (among many other wonderful things) and I am sure she could put this better than I ever could. It is her I miss the most from Oregon and it was her that I was thinking of that afternoon as I made these cookies. I am not sure why, I don’t think she is particularly interested in s’mores themed baked goods, nor would she have been able to eat them because they have flour in them, but I’ve never been all that logical anyway. All that aside, I needed some comfort and I needed to stress bake, so I made these.

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These are fun to make (seriously, what’s more fun than making a S’mores cookie?) and delicious. I can tell you that I ate a fair amount of the raw cookie dough while waiting for each batch to bake. I started out just trying the dough—you know, for quality assurance purposes—and couldn’t stop after just one bite. The graham crackers really do add a wonderful flavor to both the dough and the finished cookies. I like to eat the right out of the oven with an icy cold glass of milk, but they taste pretty good the next day, too. I would suggest heating them up in the microwave for about 8-10 seconds or so as these cookies are best when the marshmallow is gooey and the chocolate chips are melted.

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Gooey S’mores Cookies

Recipe adapted from Kevin & Amanda

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (7 full graham cracker sheets)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup Jet Puffed Mallow Bits

 

1)   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

2)   Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for an additional 2 minutes.

3)   Meanwhile, use a food processor or blender to crush 7 graham cracker sheets into 3/4 cup fine crumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt.

4)   Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Add the chocolate and marshmallows and stir to combine.

5)   Place 1.5 tablespoon sized scoops of dough onto the prepared cookie sheet.

6)   Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen cookies (or more depending on how big or small you make your scoops of dough—I made 3 dozen cookies in this batch) 

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Mixed Berry Cobbler

“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

There’s something magical about feeling the sun soak into your skin after what seems like nine months of rain. Having attended a college in Oregon for the past four years, I have developed a complicated relationship with the rain. From about the end of September to the beginning of May the Oregon sky is a downy gray and soaked with heavy rain drops. The grass is perpetually squishy and the puddles which line the sidewalks slowly morph into ponds. Having grown up in Colorado, where it’s sunny more often than not, Oregon weather was a shock. This is not to say that it doesn’t have its upsides–every plant is the most brilliant emerald green and the spring blooms lush and vibrant–but I think I will always prefer Colorado.

When I got back for the summer I not only basked in the warm sunlight, but I also began greedily devouring all of the berries I could get my hands on. I love seeing raspberries and strawberries in the grocery stores with their bright red flesh gleaming. In the summer here the berries get bigger and become more fragrant; the first sniff of perfectly ripe raspberries instantly makes my mouth water. Usually in the summer I always find some way to bake with the fresh berries I cannot help but buy on our weekly trips to the store.

This particular recipe came about from a request I got to bake something with berries and a soft and crumbly bread-like topping. I immediately thought of cobbler, which I hadn’t made in a long time. I love this recipe because the spices and lemon in the filling really make the flavor of the berries explode in your mouth with the perfect mixture of tart and sweet.

Cobbler

 

The topping is fluffy and sweet, and highly addicting in my opinion. I think it’s perfect right out of the oven with vanilla bean ice cream melting over the top of it. If you can manage to keep yourself and any others you make it for out of it long enough to make it to the morning, it’s perfect with a splash of heavy cream and is an easily justifiable breakfast. But again, that’s if it makes it until the next morning, which tougher than it sounds. Another reason I like this recipe is because I didn’t have to adjust it at all for the high altitude that I live at; the topping rose just fine without any of the usual trouble I have.

cobbler 2

Mixed Berry Cobbler 

Recipe adapted from Red Truck Bakery’s Berry Cobbler

Serves 8 to 10 people

Double the recipe if using a larger lasagna-size rectangular baking pan.

Topping

1½ cups all-purpose flour

2½ tablespoons sugar

1¾ teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup heavy cream

 

Fruit Filling

5 cups mixed berries (I used raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries but you can use whatever you like best)

½ cup sugar

18 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

 

For baking

½ tablespoon butter, melted

1 tablespoon sugar

Instructions:

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2) Make the dough: Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium-size bowl. Then, using a pastry blender or two knives, cut butter into flour mixture. Or you can use your hands. For that technique, just gather some of the flour into your hands along with some of the pieces of butter and squeeze. Let it fall back into the bowl and then repeat the process until you have clusters of dough that are slightly larger than pea-sized. Add heavy cream or milk and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture resembles slightly wet biscuit dough. Set aside.

3) Combine the fruit filling ingredients together in a bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon.

4) Lightly spray a 9-inch metal pie pan or oven-safe baking pan with nonstick spray, such as Pam. Spoon in fruit mixture.

5) Using a large spoon or your fingers, drop big chunks of cobbler dough on top, covering evenly. Don’t worry if it looks like there’s not enough dough to completely cover the fruit; the dough expands when baking.

6) Brush the cobbler topping with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar, and bake until the top is golden brown and fruit mix is bubbling, about 45 to 50 minutes.

cobbler 3

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