Mom’s Pecan Pie

pecanpie_1

Back in September, I attempted to make a pecan pie for the American pie challenge on Great British Bake Off. After a miserable failure, I vowed to stick to my mother’s recipe for all future pecan endeavors.

After a few weeks of waiting for mom to finish traveling, I finally had a copy of her recipe arrive in my inbox. So I made myself some pastry and began my second attempt at this troublesome tart. I whisked up the filling and carefully laid in the pecan halves, one by one. Then I held my breath as I anxiously placed it in the oven, gently sliding it into the center and praying that disaster didn’t strike a second time.

Boy had I wished I had done it the right way the first time around! Beautifully dark golden brown and crisp – I’d call this pie a success as well as true American classic!

Ingredients

  • 1 batch of sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup (UK people, you can order this on Amazon!)
  • 1/4 cup (57.5 grams) unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pecan halves

pecanpie_2Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C). Line your pie dish (preferably one with a removable bottom, it’ll make your life easier) with the shortcrust pastry, then gently prick the base and sides with a fork. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil over your pastry, then fill with baking beans and place in the oven to bake for 5 minutes. Carefully remove your baking beans and foil, then return to the oven for another 2 minutes.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and butter. Stir the mixture constantly until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Once everything dissolves, remove the pan from the heat.

3. Once the mixture is slightly cooled, whisk in the eggs, vanilla, and salt. Once everything is mixed together, pour into your blind-baked pie crust.

4. Gently arrange the pecan halves on the top of your mixture, arranging in concentric circles – starting from the outside and working towards the center.

5. Reduce the heat of your oven down to 325°F (160°C). Carefully place your pie in the oven and bake for 55 minutes until set.

For an added touch, try drizzling over some melted chocolate or make a praline whipped cream using 1 cup whipping cream, 2 teaspoons praline liqueur, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 cup icing sugar – mix them all together and beat with an electric mixer until you have your whipped cream.

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Eclairs

Towards the end of Bake Off, one of the challenges included baking with choux pastry, which instantly reminded me of the eclairs my mom used to make when I was little.

There’s seriously something magical about watching these tiny tubes of dough literally explode into crisp, airy pastry. They instantly triple in size due to the rapid heating of the water within the dough.

My mom’s recipe for the pistachio filling involves using Jell-o instant pudding, which I had to order from Amazon. For a few of my recipes there are some ingredients that are difficult to find in stores here in the UK, but Amazon is seriously a life saver in these situations, as many American ingredients and foods are sold there.

On Bake Off, they made choux cakes, but I decided to stick to basics and make mom’s eclairs instead.

Ingredients

For the choux pastry (makes about 12-15 large eclairs):

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 eggs
For the pistachio cream filling:
  • 1 3.5-ounce package of Jell-o pistachio pudding
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups whipping cream
For the chocolate glaze:
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • milk

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).

2. Bring the water to a boil in a medium pan. Once boiling, add in the butter and gently stir until it melts. Add in the flour and salt and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a doughy ball. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

3. Add the eggs to the dough mixture, one at a time, and stir until smooth in between each addition. Place the pastry dough into a large piping bag with a 3/4-inch tip. Pipe the dough into 4-inch long tubes onto greased baking sheets.

4. Bake the eclairs for 15 minutes at 450°F (230°C), then reduce the heat to 325°F (160°C) and continue to bake for another 25 minutes.

5. Once they are baked, remove from the oven and split the eclairs in half lengthwise (like a sandwich), turn the oven off and place the sliced pastries back in the oven to dry for about 20 minutes as the oven cools. Finally, place onto a wire rack to cool completely.

6. To make the pistachio filling, first whip the whipping cream until it is nice and frothy. Next, mix together the milk and instant pudding in a separate bowl, then gently fold in the whipped cream. Spoon or pipe the filling into the cooled eclair shells.

7. Finally, make the chocolate glaze by mixing melted chocolate, powdered sugar and enough milk to thin glaze.  Coat the tops of the eclairs with the chocolate mixture.

Apple Strudel

The other week on Bake Off, the contestants were challenged to make a strudel – making strudel dough from scratch. Even Mary Berry admitted to buying premade dough because it’s such a pain in the butt! Well, if Mary Berry caved in, I certainly couldn’t; therefore I had no choice but to make a strudel.

It was surprisingly difficult to even find a recipe for strudel dough. So big thanks to Linda at A Tender Crumb for posting a recipe that had both a filling and a dough.

There are two keys to making this strudel work:

  1. Take your time when stretching the dough. Seriously. Don’t rush it.
  2. Don’t use store-bought breadcrumbs to make the filling. I made that mistake and my strudel was a bit mushy in the middle. Definitely make breadcrumbs fresh at home!

This, I will admit, was a challenge, not to mention I made a huge mess in the kitchen because the flour just goes everywhere.  Anywho… here goes!

Ingredients

For the strudel dough:

  • 1 1/3 cup flour (unbleached)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 7 Tablespoons water
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

You will also need a clean bedsheet or tablecloth!

For the filling:
  • 2 Tablespoons golden rum
  • 3 Tablespoons raisins
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs – key word: fresh
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 pounds (900 grams) cooking apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces

Directions

1. First make your strudel dough: Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. In a glass measuring cup, mix together the oil, vinegar, and water. Add this mixture to the flour while slowly mixing to bring everything together into a soft dough. Then knead it on an unfloured work surface for a few minutes to help activate the gluten – this will allow the dough to stretch more easily. Take the dough and throw it hard down onto your work surface every now and then, which is great for getting out a bit of pent-up aggression.

2. Once you’ve needed for awhile, shape the dough into a ball and place it on a plate to rest. Oil the top of the dough slightly, then cover it tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30-90 minutes (the longer the better, I did mine for about 40, and it didn’t want to stretch as much). While your dough is resting, you can make part of the apple filling.

3. In two small bowls, mix together the rum and raisins in one and the cinnamon and sugar in the other. Then heat 3 Tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add in the breadcrumbs and cook them for about 3 minutes, until they are golden brown and toasted. Set them aside to cool.

4. To make the strudel, you will need to stretch your dough out so thin that you can pretty much read through it.  To do this, first cover your work surface with your clean bedsheet or tablecloth. Dust and rub some flour into the fabric, then place your dough onto the surface and roll it out as much as possible.

5. Once you’ve rolled it out quite a bit, pick up the dough and let gravity do a bit of the work.  Use your hands and forearms to support the dough as you stretch it, and try to keep it in as rectangular a shape as possible. Once the dough gets too large to hold, gently lay it back onto the sheet to begin stretching. Reach your hands underneath the dough and gently pull it (coercing, really, more than pulling) by small bits at a time using the back of your hands. You need to be super careful that you don’t poke or tear any holes in it.

6. Stretch the dough until it is super thin, like tissue paper. In the photo above, you can start to see the words on the page through the dough – but it’s not thin enough yet! Once you get it thin enough, trim off the thicker sides of the dough into a straight-edged rectangle.

7. Now, back to the filling. Brush the top of your dough with about 3 Tablespoons of the melted butter, being careful not to tear the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the toasted breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs will act as an absorbant when your filling cooks so that it won’t get mushy. Then sprinkle the walnuts in a strip running parallel to the short edge of the dough, about 2-3 inches away from the edge.

8. Finally, mix the apples with the rum raisin mixture and the cinnamon sugar. Spread this mixture over the walnuts.

9. Now here’s the tricky part, and you may want to get a friend to help. Fold the short end of the dough over the filling. Then lift the edge of the fabric up, basically to create an incline that the roll will tumble down on its own. It’s really nerve-wracking, but once you’ve done it it’s actually quite cool. Then tuck the ends of the strudel underneath and brush the top of the strudel with the last of the melted butter.

10. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with some baking paper, then transfer your rolled strudel to the sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

Sweet Pastry

This week on GBBO, the showstopper challenge was to make an American Pie. Surely this challenge was made for me! I’m an American, it should be my topic of expertise. I was so excited when Catherine made a chocolate peanut butter pie – the perfect combination and one of my all-time favorite pies but it didn’t go over well with the judges. I don’t know what Paul Hollywood was talking about when he said he didn’t like it! I mean, how could you NOT?! Catherine was robbed.

For my challenge I wanted to make a pecan pie, one of my mother’s classics and a surefire hit. Unfortunately for me, my mother was travelling for work so I scoured the internet to find another recipe. Turns out that was a huge mistake. First I made my pastry using a slightly different recipe than before, and it worked sooooo well. I felt like everything was going to plan. Pastry was good. Filling looked good. Pecans were arranged beautifully.  But then I stuck it in the oven and it all came crashing down from there. The pie completely bubbled up into a huge dome and had terrible cracks and flakes of filling everywhere. I can’t even describe the carnage. It was devastating – I failed at a challenge based on my own heritage.  I’m sorry, American pie, I failed you.

 

However, all is not lost! The sweet pastry was really good, so I felt I should at least post this one because it’s been the only pastry recipe I’ve been happy with so far. So for now, here’s the recipe. Pecan pie – we shall meet again.

Ingredients

  • 500 grams flour, sifted
  • 100 grams icing sugar, sifted
  • 250 grams butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 2 eggs
  • milk

Directions

1. Sift together the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. Then, using your hands, rub the cubes of cold butter into the flour mixture, incorporating it as much as you can. It should have a slightly crumbly texture.

2. Pour out your mixture onto your work surface and bring it together into a little pile with a hole in the middle – like a volcano. Put both of your eggs into the hole and bring together the pastry mixture until it starts to form a dough.

3. As you bring everything together, add a bit of milk, about a teaspoon at a time until you have all of the dry ingredients evenly incorporated. Once it becomes a smooth dough, wrap your pastry in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

The trick is to bring everything together as quickly as possible so that your don’t heat the butter up too much or overwork the dough. When it’s chilled and ready to go, then just roll out as needed over a surface dusted with flour. And that’s it! Easy peasy.

 

Lemon Griestorte

 

Today has been a very long day. Ben left to go to a conference in Poland until Wednesday, so he was out the door before 6 a.m. to catch his flight. Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people that once I’m awake, I’m awake. So I’ve pretty much been awake since about 5 a.m.  When I decided to actually roll out of bed 2 hours later, I was greeted by the most enormous spider I have ever seen!!!

I am absolutely terrified of spiders, so I found myself frozen in the doorway, facing off against this creature who was preventing me from entering my bathroom.   Normally Ben comes to my rescue (as he did last night when he went after another giant spider that had crawled under our bed), but he’d left hours ago and I was left to fend for myself. So what else could I do but start throwing shoes at it? It was the most logical solution.  Four tosses later, and the sucker was squished under one of Ben’s boat shoes, which is where he will stay until someone braver (i.e. Mr Moxey) comes home to dispose of the evidence.

I have no idea where all these spiders are coming from all of a sudden, but hopefully that will be the last one until at least Wednesday.

Anyways, back to business. This week on the Bake Off, the challengers made flourless cakes, or tortes. Originally I had planned to make a chocolate one, but I’m afraid that chocolate is the absolute last ingredient I want to have in the house at the moment. I spent all of Thursday touring around London visiting chocolate shops, gelaterias, and patisseries for a project at work and ended up getting really sick Thursday night and felt like crap most of Friday from eating so much rich, dark chocolate. So yeah, taking a break from that.

So to find a recipe for Plan B, I went to the Bake Off authority herself, miss Merry Berry. This recipe is from her Baking Bible, and uses whipped cream and lemon curd to make a delectable filling.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 3 large eggs, separated (you’ll need both the whites and yolks!)
  • 100 grams sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 50 grams fine semolina
  • 15 grams ground almonds
For the filling:
  • 300 ml whipping cream
  • 8 Tablespoons lemon curd
  • fresh raspberries
  • icing sugar

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350° F (approx 175°C). Grease a deep round cake tin and line both the bottom and sides with baking paper. (I don’t have a deep tin, so I used 2 8-inch tins and halved the baking time. The layers were really thin, but it worked out alright.)

2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until they are pale and have a light texture. Add the lemon juice and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens. Fold in the lemon zest, followed by the semolina and ground almonds.

3. In a separate bowl (preferably with an electric mixer), whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then fold into the egg yolk mixture until it’s evenly blended. Gently pour into your prepared baking tin.

4. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until it turns a pale golden brown (I did mine for 13 minutes in the two tins). Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and placing on a cooling rack to peel off the baking paper and cool completely. When cool, cut the cake in half horizontally.

5. Whisk the cream until it thickens and holds its shape, then fold in the lemon curd until it’s evenly blended. Spread half of this onto the bottom layer of your cake, then place a few raspberries around the cake. Add the second layer, then top with the rest of the whipped cream mixture.

6. Add a ring of fresh raspberries around the top, then dust with icing sugar to finish it off.