Chocolate Fudge Pie with Salted Caramel Pecans

Chocolate Pecan Pie 1

When a friend showed me this pie on the cover of Southern Living recently, I knew that we had to try it and the results were quite spectacular.   We made a couple of minor changes (improvements, dare I say).

First of all, the name…this is actually a chocolate pie with pecans on top. The original name “Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie” leaves one expecting a more traditional pecan pie filling.

Secondly, we didn’t care for the lemon juice in the caramel of the original recipe .… gave  it a curious taste,  so we tossed it and made it again without.  (very quick process, don’t be afraid of the caramel!)

Thirdly, the recipe calls for a deep dish pie crust. But please don’t use the frozen ones in the disposable tins.  It is almost as easy to use the Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts and set it in your own pie plate and crimp the edged for a more homemade look.

One more note…if you want to make sure to have gorgeous pecans for your pie, order these  Natural Extra Fancy Mammoth Pecan Halves from Sunnyland Farms.  They are amazing!  We ordered the large economical box and split it up so we will both have fresh pecans in the freezer year round.

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Chocolate Filling

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, melted

1/3 cup flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 large eggs

1 cup toasted chopped pecans

1 Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust

Salted Caramel topping

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/3 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups toasted pecan halves

flakey salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Unroll pie crust and set into a deep pie dish and crimp the edges decoratively.  In a large bowl, stir together the first 6 ingredients of the filling.  Add the eggs and stir until well blended.  Fold in the chopped pecans and pour the filling mixture into the pie shell.

Bake for 35 minutes.  The filling may still seem a bit loose just in the center but will continue to set as it cools.

For the caramel, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over hight heat.  Do not stir.  Boil until sugar begins to change color and then swirl the pot to “stir”.  Do not walk away from the pot at this point because the sugar can go from just right to burnt very quickly.  The whole process will take about 6-8 minutes.  When it is a dark amber color, remover from heat and immediately stir in the cream and butter and salt. Set aside to cool slightly.

Arrange the toasted pecan halves on top of the cooled pie then drizzle all over with the caramel sauce.  Sprinkle with the flakey salt and let cool before serving. (serves 8)

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Banana Scones with Spiced Pecan Glaze

banana scones with pecan spice glaze_Here’s the thing about scones.  You can’t just go throwing in extra ingredients willy-nilly to create different flavors.  You’ll throw off the proportions and end up with a dry and cakey mess.  So in creating this new version of my favorite tea-time treat, I’ve carefully pureed a couple of very ripe bananas into the cream before mixing the dough, and then added extra layers of flavor by spicing up the glaze with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.  And to top it off, the pecans have been toasted in a bit of butter, salt and brown sugar for amazing taste and texture.

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For the dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoon sugar

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 very ripe bananas

3/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For the pecan topping:

1 cup pecans, finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter

pinch of salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

For the glaze:

1 cup confectioners sugar

a couple of teaspoons milk or cream

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

generous pinch of ground cloves

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a Pyrex measuring cup, thoroughly mash the bananas then add cream and vanilla and stir well.  This mixture should total 1 1/2 cups.  Set aside.  Whisk dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and sugar) together in a medium bowl.  Add the butter to the flour mixture and cut it in, either with a pastry fork, two table knives, or your fingers, until the butter is in small pieces (about the size of a pea) and the mixture is crumbly.  Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mixture and pour in the cream/bananas.  Using a fork, gradually work the wet and dry ingredients together to form a dough.  This will not be a wet dough so resist the temptation to add more cream.  As soon as the dough starts to come together, dump it out on a clean surface and begin to pat it out into a rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Be careful not to overwork the dough.  Cut the rectangle in half width-wise, then cut each of those pieces into 4 squares, then cut each square into 2 triangles.  Transfer triangles to the baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until puffed and just lightly brown around the edges.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Toast the pecans:  In a small skillet, melt the butter and add the pecan, salt and brown sugar.  Stir constantly for several minutes until pecans are warmed through and sugar is melted.  Remove from skillet and let cool.

Make the glaze:  Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl and add the milk or cream one teaspoon at a time until you get a thick glaze.  Stir in spices and set aside until scones are completely cooled.

When scones have cooled completely, use a table fork to drizzle glaze over each one and sprinkle generously with the pecans.  Let glaze dry before serving.  Makes 32 small scones.

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“Real South” Salted Caramel Cupcakes

Real South Salted Caramel Cupcakes-2

 

For years, I’ve wanted to master the perfect Southern Caramel Cake.  Betty Irving, who makes the best caramel cake in West Point, Mississippi, won’t give me her recipe.  She just tells me that the secret is the heavy cream.  And the decade that we spent in the Chicago area was virtually caramel cake-less due to the fact that it just didn’t exist in that part of the country.  What fun it was to discover, upon arrival in Winston-Salem, NC, that  I could order a delicious three-tiered caramel cake from Cherries Cafe in Lewisville any time we wanted.  So that’s what we did for birthdays and special occasions until 2006 when Cherries Cafe published a book of recipes that included Ollie’s Caramel Cake.  Hurrah!  Problem solved, right?  Not so fast… Here is what it says at the bottom of the page, “Note: This is a great old-fashioned cake but a bit difficult to make.”  My attempts were tasty enough…. but sloppy and lopsided, real “cake wrecks” if you will.

The recipe below is my solution for satisfying the caramel cake lovers in our family and it has been a huge success.  I use a tried and true yellow cupcake recipe formula from noted pastry chef Gail Gand, the caramel icing recipe from Cherries Cafe Secrets, and a healthy pinch of flakey sea salt which takes this desert to a whole new level.  Cupcakes, being infinitely easier to frost with the warm, candy-like icing, were the answer.  Now we have a family argument over how many cupcakes constitute a serving.  I say one, and I’m confident that I am correct.  Others insist that 2 cupcakes equal one slice of a traditional layered cake.  You be the judge.

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For the cupcakes:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 eggs

3 cups sifted cake flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2, 12-cup muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.

In a mixer fitter with the whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue to whip.  Add the vanilla and gradually mix in the eggs, one by one, until well combined.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk and ending with the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter in to the prepared pan, filling each slot three-quarters full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cupcakes are puffed, firm in the center , and light golden brown on top.  Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack.

For the icing:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

1 (16 ounce) package brown sugar

1 (16 ounce) package confectioners sugar, sifted

flakey sea salt, such as Maldon

Bring the butter, cream and brown sugar to a boil in a heavy saucepan.  Boil for 5 minutes or until thickened and the sugar is dissolved, stirring often,  Pour carefull into a large bowl and add the sifted confectioners’ sugar immediately.  Beat until creamy and smooth.  Let the icing cool slightly.

To frost the cupcakes:

Remove the cupcakes from the pan.

The icing should still be warm but firm enough to just barely drip over the edges.  Do a test on one cupcake and when it is the right consistency, go ahead and frost all the cupcakes fairly quickly before the icing hardens. (a small off-set spatula works well here)  Sprinkle each with a healthy pinch of the flakey sea salt as you go so it will adhere to the wet icing.  Let icing set before serving.  Makes 24.

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Perfect S’mores Cookies and 3 More Great Recipes

Perfect S'more CookiesIn this post I am going to share 4 recipes that I use time and time again.  Each of them is featured on someone else’s food blog and since I make them exactly as  written, I am simply going to refer to you the source.  These are real keepers and only a click away.  Enjoy!

The aptly named, Perfect S’more Cookies by Baked By Rachel

Pay attention to her advice to press the marshmallows into the center of the dough when possible.  It’s an easy step that will help the cookies keep their shape.  These cookies are a huge hit around here.

Grilled-salmon-with-avocado-salsa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grilled Salmon with Avocado Salsa from Laylita’s Recipes  

I haven’t photographed this dish so I have borrowed the lovely one above from Laylita’s Recipes.  Sometimes I use a whole side of salmon and serve it with the salsa on top for a beautiful dinner party presentation.

Sesame Noodles with Scallions and Cilantro

Sesame Noodles with Scallions and Cilantro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sesame Noodles with Scallions and Cilantro from Week of Menus.  

I like to add lots of veggies to these noodles.  They travel really well and sometimes we top them with grilled chicken or shrimp.

 

Caesar Salad

 

Homemade Caesar Dressing from Once Upon A Chef

No raw eggs here so no worries about that.  I like to make tiny little croutons to put on this salad…nice to get a little crunch with every bite!  In this photo, my  croutons are gluten free.  Udi’s White Bread, found in the freezer section of Whole Foods and other grocery stores, makes excellent croutons.  Just remove the crusts, cut into tiny cubes, about 1/4 inch, douse with extra virgin olive oil (enough to just soak through the bread cubes but not pool on the baking tray) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and put in an 250 degree oven and then you can just forget about them for a while…..1-1 1/2 hours…or until golden brown and crunchy throughout. (Pepperidge Farm Hearty White Bread is a good option for croutons if you don’t need/want gluten free)

Salted Caramel Shortbreads with Pecans

another caramel to post 2

A buttery, melt in your mouth shortbread base with a dollop of real caramel, a pinch of flakey sea salt and you have before you the Ultimate Caramel Cookie!  You will need a candy thermometer and several mini muffin tins for this but it’s actually a very simple recipe that yields extraordinary results.  Enjoy!

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For the shortbread:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup finely chopped pecans (see Note # 1 below)

For the caramel:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

4 tablespoons heavy cream

2 tablespoons evaporated milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Flakey Sea Salt

Make the shortbread:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the vanilla, flour, and salt, then add pecans and mix until just combined. Do not over mix; mixture will be crumbly.

Press a heaping teaspoon of shortbread batter into each well of a mini muffin tin to form a flat base about 1/4 inch in thickness. (see Note #2 below)  Bake for 25 minutes, until the cookies are just firm to the touch.  Cool slightly then remove cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Make the Caramel:

Combine the sugars and the corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over med-high heat and attach a candy thermometer to the side of your pan.  Once the mixture reaches 240 degrees, remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, cream and evaporated milk…this will make the mixture bubble violently for a few seconds so be careful.  Stir in the vanilla and let cool a bit.  At this point, you are waiting for the caramel to reach a consistency that will be thin enough to spoon onto the cookies, yet thick enough so that it doesn’t  run off the sides.  This will take approximately 10 minutes.

When the caramel is ready, drop a teaspoon onto each shortbread base and let set for at least 15 minutes before you sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of sea salt.  Cookies keep 3 days covered at room temperature.  Makes about 5 dozen.

Note #1:  Here is my favorite gadget to use when I want nuts chopped finely, but not ground.( Nut Chopper)

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Note #2:  An inexpensive wooden  Tart Tamper,  will make very quick work of pressing the batter into the mini muffin tins to form the bases for these cookies.

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new coffee cup

Glazed Chocolate Chip Cream Biscuits with Sprinkles

biscuits to post 2

It’s what happens when you cross a scone and a donut.  Quick and easy, light and fluffy, softly sweet, in short… a lovely treat for a cold January afternoon (or morning or night!)

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2 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cup sifted confectioners sugar

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

chocolate sprinkles

 

Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.   Using a pastry knife (or your fingers) cut butter into the flour mixture until there are no pieces larger than a pea. Stir in the mini chocolate chips then make a well in the center.  Pour the 1 cup of heavy cream into this well and, using a table fork, gently stir the dry mixture into the cream until it is just moistened.  It will still be a crumbly mixture, but will be just moist enough to barely hold together.  Avoid the temptation to add more cream.

Gather the dough, place it on a lightly floured clean surface and gently pat it into a circle 1-inch thick.  Using a 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds as you can, placing each on the parchment lined baking sheet.  Gently pull the remaining dough together to create another 1-inch thick circle and continue cutting  biscuits until all of the dough has been used.  Important note here….you want to touch this dough as little as possible during the shaping.  It does not need to be kneaded at all and will be tough if you overwork it.  Just gently pull the dough together and press lightly.  There will be cracks and crevices in the tops of the biscuits that come from the second and third batch that you cut but that will just give the glaze a lovely place to seep into.

Bake the biscuits 12-14 minutes,or until they have risen and are just beginning to turn golden around the edges.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the icing, simply stir together the confectioners sugar with a bit of cream, one tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency that you desire.  In the photo above, I left the icing quite thick and dipped the biscuits to just coat the tops.  You can also make a thinner glaze that can be drizzled over the tops and will drip down the sides.  Add the chocolate sprinkles and let sit until the glaze dries.

These biscuits are best the day they are made but still quite nice on day 2 if you keep them in an airtight container.

Makes 15

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Chocolate Chip White Buttermilk Snack Cake


Not every cake needs an inch of icing.  There’s a lot to be said for a nice little snack cake like this one.  It’s light and moist with a fine crumb and it’s just perfect for snacks, coffees, lunch boxes, picnics, bake sales, etc.  As a matter of fact, the recipe comes from The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook, by Barbara Grunes.  She presents it as a layer cake with white chocolate frosting. Nice to know that it can stand on it’s own as well.

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3 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 egg whites

2 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven t 350 degrees.  Spray or grease lightly 2 loaf pans.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cream of tartar and beat until stiff, glossy peaks form,  Set aside.

In another large bowl, cream the butter and the remaining sugar (1 1/2 cups) until light, about  2-3 minutes.  Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Beat in the vanilla,  Gently fold in the egg whites and the mini chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Baking time will depend upon the pans that you use.  Approximately 40 minutes for the pans pictured here.  Cool 15 minutes in the pans then remove to wire rack to cool completely.  Will keep wrapped tightly for 3-4 days.

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Deep South Chocolate Bourbon Chess Pie


The saying “easy as pie” must surely be referring to a Chess Pie.  There are hundreds of variations but as far as I can tell, they all involve a bowl, a whisk, and ingredients that you probably have in your pantry and refrigerator right now.  This particular one comes from  Charleston Cooks!  a charming cooking shop and school on East Bay Street in Charleston, SC.

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Pie Crust

1 stick cold butter

1 1/2 cups flour

one pinch salt

whole milk, about 2/3 cup

1.  Stir together the butter, flour, and salt in a mixing bowl.  Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is the size of peas.

2.  Add milk, one splash at a time to the flour and stir. Continue adding the milk until the mixture forms a  ball.  Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk shape.

3.  Chill dough about 15 minutes.

4. Roll dough, place in a pie place and trim and crimp the edges.

5.  Chill dough while you make the filling.

Filling

1/2 cup butter

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1 cup sugar

3 eggs

2 tablespoons flour

1-2 tablespoons Bourbon

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees

2.  Place butter and chocolate in a small glass bowl or Pyrex measuring cup and microwave for 45-60 seconds.  Stir and let sit to finish melting the chocolate and then to let it cool a bit.

3.  Place sugar, eggs, flour, bourbon, salt and vanilla in a large bowl.  Whisk well to combine.

4.  Add chocolate mixture to the sugar mixture and whisk until smooth.

5.  Pour filling into pie crust and bake in preheated oven until edges are browned and filling is puffed and set (but still wiggly in the center), about 30 minutes.

Let cool and serve alone, with whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

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Mom’s Chocolate Cake???

Must be the festive holiday spirit in the air that compelled me to make this special dessert from Laurent Tourondel.  I’m no pastry chef so many of the spectacular holiday cakes that I see in cookbooks and magazines intimidate me…. but I had a feeling that I could pull this one off.This is definitely a chef’s recipe, and by that I mean it is a recipe that was written from a professional’s prospective instead of being geared to the average home cook like me.  But it is actually very doable and I am going to try and be a bit more precise as I rewrite the directions.  I will warn you that I used a lot of mixing bowls in this process.  But you can make this dessert and run the dishwasher a good 36 hours before your guests walk in the door.

It cracks me up that this is called “Mom’s Chocolate Cake”!  No wonder this guy became a chef….growing up with a mom who whips up cakes like this!

I am so happy to finally know how to make beautiful chocolate curls.  Of course I had to do a little online research to find a technique.  See what I mean about “chef’s recipes”?  They say things like, “decorate with chocolate curls” just assuming that we all know how to do that.  But now I do know how to do that so thank you Chef Tourondel for inspiring me to figure it out.

Mom’s Chocolate Cake
 (chocolate mousse cake with creme anglaise) 

Adapted from Bistro Laurent Tourondel: New American Bistro Cooking by Laurent Tourondel and Michele Scicolone. Here is the basic idea:  you make a yummy chocolate mousse, layer it with lady fingers dipped in syrup then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.  Then you make a vanilla creme anglaise, let it chill a couple of hours, pour it on top of the cake and chill again for a bit.  Decorate with chocolate curls and serve.  I’ve made the cake a little less boozy cause I like my liquor on the side rather than in my dessert.  In my version the liquor just heightens the flavor but it won’t come through on its own. As for the chocolate curls,  I turned to  The Pioneer Woman to get a photo demonstration to show me the way. (I used chocolate chips)  Here’s a link:  Chocolate Curls
Chocolate mousse
 
7 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoons rum
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup heavy cream
5 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place it in the top half of a double boiler set over simmering water. Add the espresso powder and rum and let stand uncovered until the chocolate is softened. Stir until blended. Transfer the chocolate to a large bowl to cool.
2. In a large, chilled bowl, whip the cream on high speed for 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form.  In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until pale, about 3 minutes. In yet another bowl, beat the whites with an electric mixer on medium speed until frothy. Gradually add the remaining 4 tablespoons of the sugar and increase the speed to high. Whip until soft peaks form.

3. Add the egg mixture to the melted chocolate and stir to combine. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the whites.

Cake Assembly
 
Chocolate mousse
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons  rum
20 to 25 ladyfingers, cut in half horizontally
1. Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and ¾ cup water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely.
2. Mix together the simple syrup (you should have ¾ cup) and the rum. Dip half of each ladyfinger in the syrup until slightly softened.
3. In a 2-quart glass serving bowl, alternate layers of 1/3 of the mousse followed by 1/3 of the ladyfingers, finishing with the mousse. Alternatively, you may make individual servings by layering the mousse and ladyfingers in large wine glasses. Cover and chill at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.
 
Creme Anglaise
 
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
Chocolate curls or shavings, if desired
1. Bring the milk, vanilla bean scrapings and pod, and 1/2 cup of the sugar to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and discard the vanilla bean.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until thickened slightly and well combined. Very slowly,  add about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and whisk until well incorporated. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened slightly and the mixture lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, dip a spatula in the sauce and run your finger through it. If your finger makes a trail rather than causes all of the custard to run off, the sauce is ready.
3. Remove the sauce from the heat and strain into a clean bowl. Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
4. Pour the creme anglaise over the chocolate mousse cake and chill until ready to serve.  Decorate with chocolate curls just before serving.

 

Individual Vanilla Bean Banana Puddings

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As much as I love banana pudding, I never served it to guests until I figured out how to make it a bit more elegant.  Real vanilla beans and brown sugar take it to a new level and serving it in individual portions is key.  This is the perfect make-ahead dessert.
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2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold, unsalted butter
3 bananas (2 diced and 1 sliced)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
mini Nilla Wafers
Heat milk and vanilla bean in small saucepan.  As soon as it reaches a boil, remove from heat and set aside to let the vanilla bean infuse the milk.
     Whisk egg yolks and brown sugar together until fluffy.  Add cornstarch and whisk until smooth.  Remove vanilla bean from warm milk and discard.  Whisk 1/4 of the hot milk into egg mixture until incorporated.  Then whisk in the remaining milk.  Strain this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until pudding is thick and starting to boil slowly.  Remove from heat and stir in the butter.
Dice 2 of the bananas (about 1/4 inch) and stir into the pudding.  Fill individual ramekins about half full then add a layer of mini Nilla Wafers.  Add pudding to reach the rim of the ramekin.  Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap, pressing wrap to make contact with pudding and refrigerate until cold.  Whip the cream with the confectioner’s sugar.  To serve, garnish puddings with banana slices, a dollop of whipped cream and a mini Nilla Wafer, if desired.
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Snickerdoodles

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One of my children once said, “It’s hard to be in a bad mood when there are Snickerdoodles in the house!” Like the best sugar cookie but with so much more personality.  I don’t usually like to cook with shortening but I make an exception for these cookies…it’s for the texture…crisp yet chewy.  This is a recipe from Baking Illustrated.  Hints for getting the best results: use parchment paper, try to make the cookies uniform in size, bake until just starting to brown around the edged and no more… the centers will be soft and puffy but will collapse back down and set as they are cooling. 

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2¼ cups (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1½ cups (10½ ounces) granulated sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for rolling dough
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, for rolling dough
Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions.  Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt; set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and 1½ cups sugar on medium speed until well combined, 1 to 1½ minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and beat again until combined, about 30 seconds.  Add in the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.
In a small, shallow bowl, combine the 3 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon for rolling the dough.  Stir well to combine.  Working with a heaping tablespoon of dough each time, roll the dough into 1 inch balls  Roll the balls in the cinnamon sugar mixture and place them on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
Bake until the edges of the cookies are beginning to set and the center are soft and puffy, 9-11 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time.  Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
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Peach Crostata

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Now, I’ve made pies and tarts, crisps, crumbles and cobblers….but this is the first time that I have made a crostata.  No particular reason, just never got around to it.  Well, I’m here to tell you that I may never make another proper fruit pie.  This crostata, or free form tart, couldn’t be easier and I just loved the way that the kids would slice off a wedge and carry on their way, no plate, fork or napkin.  Such a casual, fun little pie.  Of course, you could always dress it up for company with a lovely scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprig of fresh mint.  This recipe is adapted from Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.
(makes 2 small crostatas that will serve 4-6 each)
For the dough:
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cup into 1/2 inch cubes and chilled
1/4 cup ice water
For the filling:
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
2 1/2 pounds ripe peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced into 3/4 inch thick wedges
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon heavy cream, for an egg wash
1 tablespoon coarse or granulated sugar for topping
To prepare the dough, combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend.  Add the butter and pulse until it is the size of small peas, about 15 times.  With the processor running, add the ice water and process for about 10 seconds.  Stop the processor before the dough comes together.  Turn the dough out onto a sheet of waxed paper, divide the dough in half, and shape it into two disks.  Wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, for the filling, combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl. Add the butter and cut the mixture together with a pastry knife or two table knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Roll each disk of dough into an 11 inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place the peaches in the center of the dough circles on the baking sheet and top with the butter sugar mixture.  Begin draping the edges up and over, forming about three pleats.  crimp the pleats and press down to seal.  Brush the pastries with egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.
Bake the tarts for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.  let cool on a rack and serve warm or room temperature.
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