Holiday granola

Margaux says…

This time of year, when peaches are extra, super delicious at the farmer’s market (and those 4 lb boxes at Trader Joe’s! Yum!) my favorite breakfast is yogurt, granola and peaches. It’s really like a heavenly dessert for breakfast. Juicy, sweet peaches. Creamy, rich (whole milk, of course) yogurt. And crunchy granola, with tons of nuts and a hint of salty-sweet. I also have it for dessert sometimes, too (it’s great on ice cream!) And for a mid-day snack. We walk through one of those 4 lb boxes of peaches in about a half a week!

Holiday Granola - Sweet & Savory Kitchens

The granola is just as an important ingredient as the peaches. It can’t be too sweet, too chewy, or too hard. Supermarket granola, even the best kind, always has a weird aftertaste to me, almost like a coating is left in my mouth. I really don’t like it. Thankfully, making your own granola is really easy. I have two recipes that I use, both from my Aunt Judy. I’ve already posted one, the original “crunchy granola,” that I make on a regular basis. It’s very cheap, quick and easy. I also use this recipe, which Aunt Judy calls “Holiday Granola.” It has a few more ingredients (more nuts!), and uses real maple syrup instead of honey and maple flavoring like the other one. My aunt makes it for friends and family members as Christmas gifts, which is how I first tasted it. It makes a perfect Christmas gift because of the pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) and dried cranberries: it’s red and green. I prefer it to the “Crunchy Granola” recipe, but don’t make it as often because it’s quite a bit more expensive. But it is totally worth it!

Maple Pecan Granola - Sweet & Savory Kitchens

Holiday Granola

4 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup large flake, unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup raw sesame seeds
1/2 cup wheat germ, preferably untoasted*
1 cup maple syrup
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp canola oil
1 cup dried cranberries, or other dried fruit blend (optional)**

* I’ve made this gluten-free by substituting flax meal for the wheat germ and had great results.

**I leave out the dried fruit during the summer because I don’t want it competing with my delicious in-season fruits. Totally your call, though. 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl. Heat maple syrup, oil and salt together, stirring to dissolve salt. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well. Spread in large flat pan (I use a large baking sheet and it fits perfectly).  Bake in oven for 45 minutes or more, until golden brown, stirring every 15 minutes. Sprinkle dried fruit over granola and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in airtight containers.

Note: I have subbed all sorts of nuts for the ones suggested, just sticking to the same measurements. In this last batch I swapped half the pecans for cashews, and in the past I have used chopped walnuts in place of pecans, pistachios in place of pumpkin seeds and an additional 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds in place of sesame seeds. Just make sure all the nuts are raw and unsalted!

Winter Vegetable Minestrone

Aunt Suzy says . . . 

The Wall Street Journal ran this article a few weeks ago on Minestrone, including 3 delicious-looking recipes.  I love making Minestrone and the message and recipes here expanded my thinking as to what this soup is all about.  I love the quote “But minestrone is, ultimately, a hyper-personal and hyper-seasonal chameleon of a dish, tailored to the current harvest and the cravings of the maker. This soup embodies better than any other the enviable Italian virtue known as sprezzatura: an artful effortlessness.”  When Randy and I were talking Sunday morning about what we’d like for dinner, he said he had bought the ingredients for this soup. I had planned to make roasted salmon, potatoes and broccoli, but given I had a cold, the Minestrone sounded way more appealing.  Plus I didn’t have to cook – what’s not to like?! We both had seconds of this! Like many “ugly duckling” soups and stews that we’ve posted before (like this, this this and this), don’t let the bland look turn you away – this is one delicious soup, made even better by the unusual pesto.

Guest chef Randy Tatum says . . . 

This recipe looked like an interesting use of seasonal ingredients, including celery root which I don’t cook with enough. I thought the soup could use even more winter vegetables, so I added rutabaga. I found this easy to make, even if it takes a little chopping. It’s one of those dishes that can really be flexible in terms of ingredients and quantities. Unlike Suzy, who always has flavorful homemade chicken stock in the freezer, I take a rather relaxed approach to creating a stock for my soups. It’s called Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base and is a more than acceptable substitute. I often use their “No-Chicken Base”, which tastes just as good but is vegetarian.  The pesto is indeed unusual and I agree that it really adds to the finished product. 

The Winter Vegetable Minestrone

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium celery root, peeled and cubed

1 large parsnip, peeled and cubed

1 large rutabaga, peeled and cubed

4-5 (or more) cups chicken stock (or Better Than Bouillon per their instructions to equal 4-5 cups)

2 bay leaves

1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained

1½ cups yellow split peas

4 (or more) cups shredded cabbage

1 small apple, peeled and cubed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the yellow split peas in a small saucepan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once oil is warm, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook till fragrant.  Stir in celery root, parsnip and rutabaga, cooking until fragrant, another 5 minutes. Add the stock, bay leaves, beans, split peas, cabbage and apple. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer gently until celery root, parsnips and rutabaga soften, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The Pesto, Pasta and Final Assembly

8 ounces whole wheat pasta, small shapes (we used fusilli/spirals)

1 cup leafy greens – spinach, kale or chard (we used spinach), coarsely chopped

½ cup toasted pecans, chopped (we used roasted/salted)

¼ cup fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped

2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

¼ cup olive oil

Cook the pasta to al dente according to instructions.  Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, make the pesto. In a food processor, purée the greens, pecans, rosemary, whole garlic cloves, oil and a pinch of salt until mixture is reduced almost to a paste. Turn into a serving dish.

To serve, place desired amount of pasta into a soup bowl. Ladle as much soup as you want onto the pasta. Place a dollop of the pesto onto the soup and stir to blend. Enjoy!

Forbidden Rice with Brussels Sprouts, Squash and Pecans

Aunt Suzy says . . .

When I saw this recipe, I knew I had to make it – after all, I had the exact amount of Forbidden Black Rice sitting in my cupboard from a whirl with a so-so recipe this summer.  Even though I didn’t like the previous dish, I was introduced to the unusual floral flavor and wonderful mouth appeal of this new-to-me rice variety.  This blend of favorite ingredients and flavors looked like a can’t-miss.  In addition to the squash and pecans, I added another seasonal favorite, good old Brussels.  It only occurred to me after making it, that it’s perfect for Halloween with it’s black and orange color scheme.  Whether you make this as part of a Halloween spread or for dinner as a side to roast something (we served with roast chicken), I know you’ll enjoy.

Ingredients

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 2 cups)

1 pound small Brussels sprouts, bottoms removed and cut in half (about 3 cups)

Olive oil for roasting

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil or a combo

2 shallots, peeled and minced

1 1/2 cups forbidden black rice

2 1/2 cups water

Zest of 1 orange

1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 2 teaspoons dried)

1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped

Salt and Pepper

Instructions

Roast the vegetables:

Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with foil and drizzle with olive oil. Place the squash cubes on the foil and toss to coat with the oil. Roast for 15 min, stir and roast for another 5-10 min.  Remove from oven and turn out onto a platter.  Do the same for the Brussels sprouts, but roast for 10 min, stir and roast for another 5-10 min.  Turn out onto a platter.

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Cook the rice:

Rinse the rice thoroughly in a mesh sieve and set aside to drain. Set a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter and/or olive oil and heat till bubbling or shimmering if using oil.  Add the shallot and saute for 2 minutes. Add the rice, stir and saute for another 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the water and 1 teaspoon salt,.  Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30-40 minutes until water is completely absorbed.  Let stand for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Assemble the dish:

In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, the roasted vegetables, the orange zest and thyme.  Stir to combine.  Add the pecans and stir again until just combined. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.

NOTES ON INGREDIENTS:  The original recipe did not call for the Brussels sprouts, so if these aren’t a favorite for you, they can be omitted. Black rice is available in both bulk and packaged at our local co-op, so if you have a co-op or health food store locally you can check there. I highly recommend seeking it out. It’s available online directly from Lotus Foods. Short grain brown rice or one of the black or rice blends from Lundberg could be a good substitute.

Hummingbird Cake

June 10, 2012

Margaux says…

I came across this recipe on the Martha Stewart website last year, and have been looking for an excuse to make it.  Last weekend I got the opportunity…my Aunt Annie got married and we had a small outdoor reception for her, and it seemed the perfect venue for this cake.  I’m SO glad that I chose this cake, because I ended up only having a few hours in the morning to throw it together, and it’s one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever made!!  It calls for self-rising flour, which I have never used in my life, but is apparently extremely popular in the South, especially for use in cakes.  I have to say, I’m sold on it.

Hummingbird cake is a very popular cake in the South…one of my aunts told me that she read that it is “Southern Living” magazine’s most requested recipe of all time–not cake recipe, but overall most requested recipe.  It’s said to have originated in Jamaica, where the hummingbird (or, Dr. Bird)  is one of the national symbols.   In 1978, a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, N.C., submitted the recipe to Southern Living magazine, and the cake became renowned.  The true origin of the cake, or the cake name, is not known.  One theory is that it gets its name from being so sweet, that people are drawn to it the way hummingbirds are drawn to sweet sugared water.  On Martha Stewart’s website, it says that it might be so named because each bite “makes you hum with delight.”  It is quite often served at potlucks, or covered dish gatherings, because it’s so sweet that the servings need to be very small, so it serves plenty of people.  Most importantly, we all loved it, and I will definitely be making it again.  It indeed is extremely sweet, but absolutely delicious, and a great alternative for family get-togethers!  Another nice thing about it is that it is an oil cake rather than butter, so it can be refrigerated and not lose it’s original moist texture.  This makes it a great cake for summer, too!

Hummingbird Cake

Paula Deen’s recipe, found on MarthaStewart.com

  • For The Cake

    • Nonstick vegetable spray
    • All-purpose flour, for pans
    • 3 cups self-rising flour
    • 2 cups granulated sugar
    • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
    • 2 very ripe large bananas, mashed
    • 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, with juice
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • For The Frosting

    • 1 pound (1 box) confectioners’ sugar
    • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
    • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon milk, or more if needed
    • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray and flour three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans, tapping out excess flour; set aside.
  2. Prepare the cake; in a large bowl, stir to combine self-rising flour, sugar, oil, pecans, bananas, pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs.
  3. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans, smoothing with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the tops spring back when gently pressed with your fingertips, 26 to 28 minutes.
  4. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto wire rack. Re-invert cakes and let them cool completely, top sides up.
  5. Prepare the frosting; in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk on medium speed until frosting is smooth. If needed, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to achieve the proper spreading consistency.
  6. Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes to make level. Place four strips of parchment paper around perimeter of a serving plate or lazy Susan. Place the first layer on the cake plate. Spread the top of the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting. Place the second layer on top and repeat process with another 1/4 of the frosting. Place the remaining layer on top of the second layer bottom side up. Spread entire cake with remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with pecans. Remove parchment paper strips; refrigerate until ready to serve.

Chocolate-Espresso Snowballs

December 27, 2011

Aunt Suzy says . . . 

I love the pecan shortbread cookies that go by various names, and when I saw this variation with two of my favorite flavors, I knew I had to make them!  I followed the recipe with a couple of minor adaptations.  Instead of using instant espresso powder, I used Starbucks new Via instant coffee, Vienna Roast.  It was perfect – each little packet is one teaspoon and it is plenty flavorful without dominating.  At first I thought the cookies were a little dry, but the next day they were superb!  I made these and the traditional ones, Grandma’s Butter Balls, on the same day and it’s hard to decide which I like better!  Many taste tests have ensued, with inconclusive results, making me think that more taste tests are required :-). One thing we can say is that both are outstanding with a cup of coffee or tea.

Yield:  2 1/2 to 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

2 sticks softened unsalted butter

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups finely chopped pecans (I use the low-tech nut grinder shown in the Grandma’s Butter Ball post)

Confectioners’ sugar, for coating

Preheat the oven to 325°.

In a large bowl, mix the butter, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the flour, cocoa, espresso powder and salt until thoroughly blended. Mix in the pecans – I do this with my hands to make sure they are evenly incorporated.

Working in batches, roll the dough into balls about the size of walnuts and place on 2 cookie sheets – about 2 inches apart.  Bake one batch at a time on the center oven rack for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are dry and the cookies are slightly firm to the touch.  Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack.  Roll in confectioners’ sugar to coat and place on a serving plate.  I recommend rolling in confectioner’s sugar a second time about an hour later to completely coat them.

Sweet-Spicy Nuts

December 18, 2011

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I learned about this delicious holiday nut recipe from my upstairs neighbor, Krisztina, a few years ago.  I have made them a few times for gifts during the winter holiday season, and they are always a hit.  The bonus is that these nuts are easy and fast, so you can make a bunch of batches quickly.  You have lots of options – for example, I always use a variety of nuts; Krisztina tends to use only pecans.  The original recipe didn’t include any dried fruit, but Krisztina’s addition of dried cranberries really ups the tastiness.  The candied ginger is my addition, and this year I tried it with candied Meyer lemon peel, which I had received as a gift.  Yum!!

Yields 3 Cups

Preheat oven to 350°.  Generously oil a baking sheet.  (I place foil on the baking sheet before oiling)

¼ cup water

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional – although not in my book!)

3 cups shelled nuts ( I use a combination of raw pecan halves, raw almonds, raw walnut halves and roasted/unsalted cashews)

½ cup dried cranberries (optional)

¼ cup diced crystallized ginger, candied lemon or candied orange peel (optional)

In a saucepan on medium-high heat, stir together the sugar, water, salt, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and stir constantly for a minute, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has thickened.  Add the nuts and stir to coat.  Turn the coated nuts onto the prepared baking sheet and spread them out in a single layer.

Bake until browned, 10-15 minutes, stirring once after 5 or 6 minutes.   NOTE:  watch carefully!  I baked them for 12 minutes and they burned.  10 minutes was perfect for me, but your oven might be different.

Allow the nuts to cool, break apart any clumps and then mix in the cranberries and ginger.

Thumbprint Cookies

December 15, 2011

Margaux says…

One of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes has always been thumbprints. It’s a family tradition on my mom’s side, and these are one of my aunt Gigi’s specialties. My grandma and my aunt Judy always filled them with jam, but aunt Gigi made them seriously sweet and decadent with the buttercream filling-my favorite! Aunt Gigi’s also always look perfect, unlike mine, because no matter how hard I try I can never get them all to look exactly the same. These look especially sad, too, because they are the survivors of my husband’s work Christmas party (I unfortunately wasn’t able to photo before the party).

There are two ingredients in these that I NEVER use in baking: salted butter and margarine. EEK! But, I promise, it’s much better this way. I tried to make them with all butter once, and they fell into flat little pancakes and didn’t have the little thumbprint in the middle at all. And if you don’t use salted butter, you should increase the salt probably, maybe even double it. The saltiness of these cookies are what makes them so good!!

Thumbprint Cookies

makes about 3 dozen cookies-I double this recipe; they’re small cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup margarine, softened (is it already soft?  I guess I don’t know.)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg white, slightly beaten
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (I use pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment (easier cleanup!).

Mix butter, margarine, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla with mixer until fluffy. In a small bowl, whisk together salt and flour. Add to butter mixture and mix in until just fully incorporated.

Roll 1 tsp dough into balls (I actually use a melon baller, which I think is a little more than a teaspoon). Dip in egg whites, then roll in nuts. Place 1″ apart on cookie sheet. Bake about 5 minutes, then take out of oven and make “thumbprints” (I use the end of a wooden spoon handle to make more perfect divets). Bake another 5 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack and cool completely. You may need to re-“divet” them again when they come out of the oven.

Some helpful tips:
Dealing with the egg whites is messy and sticky. It is highly recommended to first make all your balls and put them in the egg whites. Then roll them in the nuts. I also recommend not dumping all the nuts in a bowl and the rolling the balls in them…just have a little bit of the nuts in a bowl at a time. Otherwise, as you are going, the nuts will get stickier and clumpier from the egg whites. Adding fresh nuts as you go along will alleviate that situation.

Buttercream frosting (for the filling)

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla (or 1/4 tsp almond, depending on your preference)
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4-5 tbsp milk
food dye

Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add vanilla and salt, and beat until fully mixed. Add powdered sugar and mix for about 30 seconds on low, and then another 30 seconds on medium speed. Add 4 tbsp milk and mix on medium-high for about a minute. Add more milk if needed. Divide, if desired, and dye each half a different color. Using a pastry bag fitted with star tip, fill each cookie with frosting. Let sit for a couple hours on rack to allow frosting to set, then set in containers in one layer (I prefer tins because Tupperware is too air tight and will make the cookies go soft, and the frosting will be too gooey. If you use a Tupperware, keep one corner of the lid ajar so that air can get in the container.) After sitting overnight, you should be able to stack up cookies in a container, putting a piece of wax paper or parchment in between each layer. Cookies will keep up to one week.

Spiced Chocolate Torte

January 30, 2011

Margaux says…

It’s my birthday!! My husband asked me if I wanted him to get me a cake, or if I wanted to make it myself. I’m a total cake snob, and have yet to really find a bakery in Chicago that has cake as good as homemade. I’ve found decent ones, but still not good enough, so I usually make my own cake. This year was no exception, and I’ve been really wanting to make the cake that was featured on the December cover of Bon Appetit…it looks heavenly!! Maybe a little labor-intensive, even when not making the white chocolate and milk chocolate ribbons to wrap it up in, but hey, it’s my birthday!  Totally worth the work.

The cake part is actually pretty straightforward and easy.  The batter was a little weird before you put in the egg whites…it was more like cookie dough.  But once you put in the egg whites, it’s much more what I’m used to for cake batter.

The buttercream was another story.  I’ve always wanted to make a real French buttercream, but always put it off because it seems too tedious.  It took me two tries, but the second time around I had the hang of it, and it actually turned out pretty perfectly.  I don’t have any photos of the process because you really have to buckle down and stay focused on the task, but if you follow the instructions carefully, it’s actually not that hard.  I added one note to the recipe…the first time around, I used my stand mixer, and I definitely advise against that.  I was pouring the cooked sugar mixture into the eggs with the mixer running, like you should, but because the syrup hardens immediately as it cools, it was splattering into hard crystals on the sides of the bowl.  It was pretty, and looked like spun sugar, but almost half of the syrup didn’t end up in the eggs like it should have!  So the second time around, I used a hand mixer, which was more labor intensive but did the trick.


The glaze was very easy.  The only thing is that I don’t think I stirred it enough to thicken it, so a lot more than I wanted slid off the cake.  So make sure you follow the instructions, and not get too antsy to eat the cake.  🙂


Spiced Chocolate Torte
(without the chocolate ribbons)
from Bon Appetit, Dec 2010 issue

I made this as a 6″ cake, since I wasn’t serving 12-14 people like the original recipe states.  You can halve any recipe for a 9″ cake to make a 6″ cake.  Some of the division is a little tricky, so you’ll have to use a calculator or conversion chart on the internet.

cake
1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
8 eggs, separated, room temperature
10 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted, lukewarm
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, sifted (measured, then sifted)
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar

buttercream
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
4 jumbo egg yolks
1 1/2 cups butter, cut into small pieces, room temperature
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), melted and cooled (but still pourable)
1/4 cup dark rum
pinch salt

glaze
12 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate(do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
2 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp instant espresso powder or instant coffee powder

cake
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9″ cake pans with 1 1/2″ high sides. Line bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter. Gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks one at a time. Blend in melted chocolate. Slowly mix in pecans, vanilla and spices. Gently fold in flour in 4 batches (batter will be very thick and dense).
Using an electric hand mixer, beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar in another large bowl until medium peaks form. Gently fold 1/4 of the whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining. whites. Divide batter among prepared pans, spreading evenly. Bake until tooth pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Run knife around sides of each cake. Let stand 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks. Cool to room temperature. (Cakes can be made up to 2 weeks ahead. Wrap tightly and freeze.)

buttercream
Stir sugar and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil 1 minute. Meanwhile, using electric mixer, beat egg yolks in medium bowl until pale and thick. Gradually beat in hot sugar syrup; continue beating until mixture is completely cool, about 5 minutes. (I used a hand mixer for this because with a stand mixer, when adding the syrup mixture half of it ended up on the sides of the bowl like spun sugar. I had to scrap a batch and start over.) Beat in butter one piece at a time, incorporating each piece completely before adding next. Blend in melted chocolate, then rum. (If buttercream looks broken or curdled, place bowl with buttercream over medium heat on stove burner and whisk 5 to 10 seconds to warm mixture slightly, then remove from heat and beat mixture again on medium speed. Repeat warming and beating as many times as needed until buttercream is smooth.) Chill buttercream for 30 minutes to firm it up before spreading it on the cake layers.
Reserve 1/2 cup buttercream. Set 1 cake layer, flat side up, on rack; spread top with half the remaining buttercream. Top with second cake layer; spread with remaining buttercream. Top with third cake layer; use reserved 1/2 cup buttercream to fill in seam where cake layers meet. Freeze cake until buttercream is firm, about 2 hours (I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap so that it wouldn’t dry out).

glaze
Place strips of waxed paper under the sides of the cake to catch extra glaze when it runs down the sides.
Stir all ingredients in top of double boiler over gently simmering water until mixture is smooth. Remove from over water. Stir until glaze is thickened, about 5 minutes (do not allow glaze to set). Pour 3/4 of the glaze over the top of cake. Carefully and quickly tilt cake back and forth so glaze coats sides; smooth sides with spatula, adding some of remaining glaze where necessary. Chill cake until glaze is set. Remove pieces of waxed paper.

Cake can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Sweet Potato and Pecan Pie

January 6, 2011

Aunt Suzy says . . .

There is a lot of press about pie lately, especially that it’s the new cupcakes.  Indeed the name of this article (with recipes!) is Pie to Cupcakes:  Time ‘s Up.  I’m not sure about that – cupcakes have a huge fanbase – but I love pie and will choose it always over cake.  (I think my blog partner would say the opposite!)  This is an especially rich and fabulous pie that I first had years ago when a friend of mine served it at a New Year’s Day celebration.  Ever since, I make it for our New Year’s Day meal.  It’s the only time that I make it, and each New Year’s Day I wonder why I don’t make it more often!  The original recipe is from Paul Prudhomme and uses a very rich egg-based crust and a cake pan.  I have always made it with my regular pie dough in a deep dish pie plate – seems simpler.  In any event, I think this is the type of pie that is fancy enough to warrant a special occasion or a holiday!

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line a deep dish 9-inch pie plate with your favorite dough.

Sweet-Potato Filling


2 – 3 sweet potatoes, baked
¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg, vigorously beaten until frothy
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed of electric mixer until the batter is smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not overbeat. Set aside.

Pecan Pie Syrup


¾ cup sugar
¾ cup dark corn syrup
2 small eggs
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
¾ cup pecan pieces or halves

Combine all the ingredients except the pecans in a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly on slow speed of elec

tric mixer until the syrup is opaque, about 1 minute; stir in pecans and set aside.

Assembly

Spoon the sweet-potato filling evenly into the dough-lined pie plate. Pour the pecan syrup on top.

Bake in a 325° oven until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 1/2 to 1¾ hours.  (Note: the pecans will rise to the top of the pie during baking.) Make sure you check after 1 1/2 hours given variability in ovens and pie plate types.  This time I made it, while it tasted great, I wish that I had taken it out of the oven about 10 minutes before I did!

This pie is great plain or with whipped cream.

 

 

Aunt Suzy says . . .

These cookies are a “must bake” for me every holiday season.  This year was no exception, although I made them very late – right before New Year’s Eve.  But then I heard on this radio spot about lucky New Year food traditions that some eat these for good luck on New Year’s Day thinking that the cookies are coin-like to represent money.   Although I heard this after New Year’s Day,  I was glad to have eaten them as part of our lucky New Year’s Day menu!

These cookies are called many different names – Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs, Butter Balls and others.  I’ve made a version of them for years from a recipe that was purportedly the one that Jackie Kennedy used which used powdered sugar as the dough sweetener.  Whenever I would tell my Mom (aka Granny) that I’d made these cookies, she’d ask “Did you make Grandma Teegarden’s (my Dad’s Mom) recipe – the one with honey?”  I would confess each year that I did not, having been enamored at a young age by Jackie Kennedy.  Last Christmas, I made both recipes and conducted taste tests, asking friends to say which they liked best.  The votes, including mine, were in overwhelming favor of Grandma T’s, so I think I have dumped Jackie O in favor of Grandma forever!

Margaux says…

I almost never make these cookies for Christmas because everyone else in my family does!  But this year I had a girls’ cookie baking get-together at my house, and my friend Jen wanted to make the Joy of Cooking version of these (which is exactly like the Jackie Kennedy recipe), and I swayed her to Grandma’s recipe instead.  They turned out perfectly, as usual!  This is definitely my favorite version of this recipe, and the times I have made them, this is the one I use.  It was actually one of the first recipes ever given to me (by my dad), when I was in grade school and first learning to bake!

Grandma’s Butter Balls – makes about 30 cookies

Ingredients

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 tablespoons mild honey

2 cups sifted flour

½ teaspoon salt (omit if using toasted and salted pecans)

2 cups ground toasted pecans*

Powdered sugar for rolling

Instructions

Cream the butter, salt and vanilla with a electric mixer.  Add the honey and the flour and continue to beat on medium until thoroughly blended.  This will be a fairly stiff dough.  Stir in the nuts by hand.  Pinch off small amounts of dough and roll by hand into balls the size of walnuts.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the cookies are just starting to turn golden brown in spots.  Place the cookie sheet on a rack and let sit for a few minutes to set.  Place the powdered sugar in a pie plate or round cake pan.  Roll the cookies in the powdered sugar while cookies are still warm.  (Make sure you let them set or they can fall apart if too hot.)  You can roll them in powdered sugar again after a couple of minutes.

*A note on the pecans:  This year I bought a bag of toasted pecan pieces from Trader Joe’s and used those.  I had never used toasted pecans before in this recipe and they made a delicious cookie even better – toasted pecans are the way to go!  The pecans need to be chopped or ground fairly finely, but be careful not to overdo it or they will become powdery or oily which will not result in a good cookie.  These low-tech vintage nut grinders are perfect for the job and, I just discovered, available on eBay from $3 to $20.  The one I use is on the left.