Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pecan Crunch Pie

 

Can one improve on tradition? Or at least tweak the expected? Yes, we can!

If you're looking for a pecan pie alternate, but still want to give a nod to Thanksgiving tradition, then this Pecan Crunch Pie may be just the ticket. This unusual dessert is a meringue enriched with nuts and graham cracker crumbs, and topped with a layer of whipped cream. It's pretty darn good and contains no butter (if that's your thing). This is a sweet pie (from a vintage Texas family recipe) and quite addicting (even if you've sworn off dessert).

Is this easier than traditional pecan pie? I'd say it's a toss up: It doesn't require making a pie crust, but it does require whipping egg whites.


Start by crushing the graham crackers, which can be done like this, below, or in a food processor.


Chop the nuts. I used pecans but walnuts would also be nice.


Whip the egg whites (use an electric mixer for this), and add in the sugar gradually until the mixture is thick, glossy and holds a peak when the beater is lifted. Be sure your egg whites, the bowl and beaters are completely clean and grease-free; if not, your whites won't whip.


Carefully fold in the graham crackers, nuts and vanilla.


Turn the mixture into a well-greased pie plate. Spread evenly.


Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown. The meringue will be firm.


After the pie is completely cool, whip heavy cream, with or without adding sugar, and cover the pie entirely. It's better to whip the cream until fairly firm for this pie. Whipping cream is easier if the bowl and beaters are very cold -- just pop them in the fridge or freezer for a while.


The original recipe is below, but because it's difficult to read (a recipe for Impossible Pie is on the reverse), I've written out instructions below.


Pecan Crunch Pie

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Grease a nine-inch pie pan.

3 egg whites
1/2 t baking powder
1 c white sugar
11 graham crackers crushed
1 c chopped pecans
1 t vanilla extract
1 pt heavy cream

Beat egg whites with baking powder. Slowly add sugar and beat until the mixture is thick and forms a peak when the beater is lifted.

Fold in the graham crackers, pecans and vanilla. The batter will be quite thick.
Spoon into the prepared pie pan and spread evenly.
Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Cool completely.
Whip cream until firm peaks form. You can add in some confectioners sugar if you want the topping sweeter.
Spread evenly over cooled pie.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Mrs. Griffin's Chocolate Pudding



Remember that chocolate pudding your mother used to make? Yeah, this is it, but better, especially if your mother (like mine) made chocolate pudding from a box. Despite being raised on instant pudding, it is still my weak spot. Even when I swear I'm not getting dessert in a restaurant, if any type of pudding is on the menu, my resolve disappears. It is the ultimate comfort food.


This vintage recipe, from a Texas collection I recently purchased, uses not only milk, but also eggs and butter to enrich the pudding. Mrs. Griffin's children were mighty lucky to have this as an after-school snack. It's smooth and delicious. It is pretty easy to prepare (even though I screwed it up the first time -- details below.)

To do it right, combine the dry ingredients -- flour, sugar and cocoa -- in a saucepan.


Blend them together first (I didn't) and add the milk.


Add in the tempered egg mixture (instructions below), cook until thick and then add in the butter.


If you fail to temper the eggs as I did on my first try, you can still save the pudding by putting it through a sieve.  Those solid bits below are scrambled eggs -- something you definitely don't want in chocolate pudding!


My first attempt, and the subsequent "save the pudding" attempt, albeit successful,left quite a mess.



Production notes: Because the recipe is so vague, and to save you the fate I faced the first time I made it, I've written out more detailed instructions.

Mrs. Griffin's Chocolate Pudding

1 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. cocoa powder
2 c. whole milk
4 Tbs. butter
2 eggs
2 t. vanilla

In a two-quart saucepan, combine sugar, flour and cocoa.  Add 1 1/2 cups milk and cook until slightly thickened, stirring almost continuously.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and add 1/2 cup milk.
When the cooked mixture has thickened, slowly add it to the egg mixture, whisking all the while. (This is tempering, i.e., bringing the eggs to temperature, so as not to have scrambled eggs in your pudding.)
Pour this back into the saucepan and cook until a bit thicker.
Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.
Pour through a sieve (to ensure there are no lumps) and into a bowl, ramekins or whatever and place in the refrigerator for at least four hours. If you don't want a skin on your pudding, place plastic wrap directly on the surface.
Serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream. And enjoy a taste of your childhood.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gold Rush Brownies


I made these the other night for several reasons, chief among them their ease of preparation (one bowl! five ingredients!) and their intriguing name. Gold Rush Brownies conjure images of get rich quick, hidden treasures and the like. But for me, it was also a reminder of a fabulous -- as in get thee there immediately -- exhibition at the New-York Historical Society called Chinese American: Inclusion/Exclusion. For while many people flocked to California after 1848 to search for gold, a large number of Chinese immigrants were among them. (There's a whole lotta intriguing history that followed, but this is a baking blog. I urge everyone to see the exhibit, especially if you like your well-researched history presented with the engaging bells-and-whistles of sophisticated video installations and more.)

The Gold Rush Brownies recipe is from a Texas family's collection, purchased recently on eBay. The recipe itself originally appeared on a can of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk in 1951.  (My local bodega carries Magnolia brand.) It's as easy as it is sweet and the brownies are even better the second day.

Below are all the ingredients required. Notice the lack of butter and eggs.



Place the chocolate, pecans and graham cracker crumbs in a bowl. You can crush the graham crackers in a food processor or sealed plastic bag, using a rolling pin or wine bottle.


Pour in the sweetened condensed milk and combine.


The batter will be sticky!


Spoon into a greased (or parchment-lined) 8 x 8 inch pan. You can use a spatula, spoon or knife to spread the thick batter evenly. I put on non-latex gloves and used my hands.


Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes until the top is golden brown.


Remove from the pan and cut into squares.


Production notes: I followed this exactly, except baked it for closer to 35 minutes.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cranberry Bread




I've had a love affair with cranberry bread -- that enticing contrast between the tart berries and the sweet bread -- ever since I made it decades ago from Recipes for a Small Planet. That healthy cookbook recipe used whole wheat flour, milk powder, etc., to presumably make it more nutritious. I've since given up on baking for health (why bother?).

This wonderful recipe is from a new collection from an estate sale near Dallas, Texas, (via eBay, of course). While I try to refrain from buying even more recipe collections (I have hundreds of recipes at home I've yet to try), in a weak moment I caved and bid on a binder full of recipes divided into three sections: Mom, Jennifre [sic] and Other. The cranberry bread is from Mom.

This bread is quick and simple to assemble -- with delicious results. (It's also easier than another cranberry bread I made a while back, which requires an extra step.)  And with fresh cranberries literally flooding the markets (farmer's and super), now is the perfect time to make this.

Cranberries, pecans and orange zest pack the flavor into this bread.


Mix the dry ingredients, add the liquid and mix just enough to combine. Add in the cranberries, nuts and zest and mix until evenly distributed.


Spoon the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake for about 80 minutes.


Let the bread cool slightly, and turn out from the pan.




I followed this recipe exactly, right down to the baking time. I used fresh cranberries from the farmer's market, but frozen would work fine too. I used butter for the melted shortening. The toughest part was finding frozen OJ in my neighborhood, where residents have an affinity for fresh-squeezed, organic and other manner of modern fancy juices. I also don't believe in refrigerating this bread, as the recipe author suggests.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wet Chocolate Cake and Minute-Boil Fudge Frosting



At 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning I baked a chocolate cake (don't ask) and it wasn't until it was in the oven that I realized, egads, it's vegan! No butter, no milk no eggs! But fear not gentle readers, for Wet Chocolate Cake is a dark, moist delicious beauty that could not be simpler to prepare.

I served it to two people dear to me: My new SIL, who said, as he wolfed down his second slice, "It tastes like regular chocolate cake!" And my friend Jordana, who also enjoyed two slices (and didn't share even a bite with Arno, her sweet and adorable 16-month-old son).

Having failed miserably last Thanksgiving preparing a vegan pumpkin custard dessert for my BIL, I was loathe to try another vegan recipe. I didn't give it a second thought, however, because most vintage recipes are decidedly not vegan.  However, this is from a collection I recently received from Arthur Schwartz, who apparently had an on-air discussion about eggless cakes. Which resulted in devoted listeners sending in dozens of such recipes -- this is by far the best of them.


Geometric cake art.


Start by sifting the dry ingredients into a large bowl.


Mix the liquid ingredients together, pour into the the dry ingredients and blend for about one minute.


Pour the batter into a greased and floured pan.


Bake for about 25 minutes.


When slightly cool, run a butter knife along the edge and turn out. As you can see below, some of the cake remained in the pan. I just patched it up, flipped the cake over, frosted it and no one was the wiser.


Frosted cake.


Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly as written.


Now, for the frosting, which is decidedly non-vegan, and from a fantastic new recipe collection I just got from eBay. Measure (or weigh) two ounces of unsweetened chocolate. (Or use two squares of Baker's unsweetened chocolate.)


Chop and combine with the sugar and other ingredients.


Stir until it comes to a rolling boil and let it rip for one minute. Let cool, add vanilla and beat.


Production notes: I followed this exactly, except I used butter for the Spry and Oleo (6 T in total). Pet milk is any brand of evaporated milk. If you prefer to keep your cake vegan, just top it with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. If you prefer an easier frosting (one that requires only beating, and not cooking and beating, you can use this frosting from the Magnolia Bakery.)


Jordana, with cake.