Monday, February 27, 2012

Double Chocolate Chess Tart

I didn't read the book "The Help" so when the movie came out I didn't rush to see it. I don't know? For some reason it just didn't appeal to me. A lot of "chick flicks" don't and I'd somehow got the impression that "The Help" was one. But, it got really good reviews and even some of my more manly men friends liked it. Hmmmm, maybe it wasn't your typical "chick flick". I was curious. So, one afternoon, while folding laundry, I queued it up on the ole DVD player. WOW, I loved it, what a great movie. I even paid for an extra rental day so my daughter could see it. (BTW, she loved it.) Of coarse I was immediately drawn to the character of Minny. Sassy, opinionated, strong and the best cook around. We were instant imaginary BFFs. (Does anyone else have imaginary fictional character BFFs? Or, am I just crazy? Wait, don't answer that!)

Seeing the movie inspired me to get back to my southern roots and rediscover chocolate pie. Not just any chocolate pie. Not fluffy, crumb crusted, chocolate cream pie. No, I wanted that most southern of chocolate pies, Chocolate Chess Pie. I fumbled around on the web and found a few recipes settling on one from In Jennie's Kitchen. But, I wanted to put my own spin on it, you know, up the wow factor. What's more "wow" than more chocolate so I decided to use a chocolate crust. My next concern was sweetness. Chess pies are super sweet, I mean really sugary. So I went the same route as I did with my Pecan Tart and adjusted the filling for a tart rather than a pie, yielding a more even ratio of crust to filling. I'm happy to report that the resulting Double Chocolate Chess Tart was a huge hit with everyone in my family and the two good friends who were kind enough to taste it for me. A buttery tender chocolate crust and filling that's light and crispy on top and fudgy in the middle. I hope you'll agree. . .

For the chocolate pastry crust here's what you need: AP flour, Dutch process cocoa, sugar, salt, butter, shortening and some ice water. You could probably use all butter, eliminate the shortening, but your crust may be a bit more crumbly and harder to work with. I've found the combination of butter and shortening works best.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, sugar and salt.

You may need to sift it a couple of times, you want a nice uniform mixture. Use a whisk to get the last bits of cocoa and flour mixed in.

Cut the butter and shortening into 1 inch-ish chunks and toss it in.

Mix it around with a fork, pastry cutter or I like to use my hands, until the fats are broken up into smaller pieces. Don't go too far. The "coarse cornmeal" texture called for in most crust recipes is too much. 

Sprinkle in the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture around until it starts to hold together. Divide the mixture in half.

Form each half into a ball then flatten and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least an hour before using. The recipe makes enough for two crusts. You only need one for this recipe.

After the dough has chilled turn it out onto a generously floured sheet of waxed paper. Lightly dust the top with flour.

Roll out into a circle about 2-3 inches larger than your tart pan. Dough should be a generous 1/8 inch thick and no thinner.

Using the wax paper, gently lift the dough into a 9-inch tart pan. Fit the dough into the pan making sure it's snug into the corners, try not to stretch the dough too much. If you get any cracks or tears just repair with the excess dough from the edges. Trim the excess even with the top of the tart pan. Refrigerate until you are ready to fill.

For the filling you need: butter, sugar, salt, Dutch process cocoa, eggs, vanilla and yellow corn meal.

Start by first browning the butter: Heat the butter in a small saucepan over low heat until melted. Turn the heat to medium and cook until the butter starts to bubble and the solids sink to the bottom and brown. As soon as you see the browned bits and the mixture smells nutty, remove from the heat. Seriously watch it close, it will go from browned to burned in about 10 seconds. Let the butter cool for at least 5 minutes. This is a good time to start preheating the oven to 350°F.

This is what the browned butter should look like: just slightly brown liquid with darker brown bits on the bottom.

Add the rest of the filling ingredients, except for the corn meal,
to the melted butter and whisk into a thick batter.
(Note: The recipe lists a specific order for adding and mixing ingredients. I made two pies, one exactly like the recipe and one by just dumping all the ingredients in at once. There was no difference in the finished pie.)

Sprinkle in the cornmeal and stir just until combined.

Put the pastry lined tart shell on a rimmed baking sheet and pour in the filling. You may need to use an offset spatula to level the filling into the crust. It's just a bit thick to level on it's own.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 30-35 minutes until the top has a hard crust and the filling doesn't "jiggle". Allow it to cool for a good 3 hours. It will cool faster if you take it off the sheet pan and set it on a cooling rack.

This is a rich dessert so start with fairly small slices. Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream for a truly delicious and traditionally southern dessert. I think Minny would be proud.

(Note: When I first tasted this pie I immediately thought of a Kellog's Chocolate Pop Tart. Then when my husband tasted it he remarked that it "tastes like a Pop Tart". So, if you like chocolate pop tarts, this is the pie version of one.)

Double Chocolate Chess Tart
(Adapted from "In Jennie's Kitchen" blog)

1/2 recipe Chocolate Pastry Crust (below)

3 T. unsalted butter
1 C. granulated sugar
1/8 t. salt
3 T. Dutch processed cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 t. vanilla
2 t. yellow cornmeal

Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it just starts to brown and smells nutty. Let cool.
While the butter is cooling, roll out the chocolate pastry and fit it into a 9-inch tart pan. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to fill.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
In large bowl, stir together, melted butter (including all the browned bits), sugar, salt and cocoa until well combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk into a thick batter. Stir in cornmeal just until combined.
Pour filling into chilled pastry crust. Level filling using a knife or offset spatula. Set pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes until top has a hard "crust" and filling no longer jiggles.
Allow pie to cool at least 3 hours but overnight is best. Pie should be served at room temperature with a small dollop of whipped cream.

Chocolate Pastry Crust
(Yield: 1 double or 2 single 9-inch crusts)

3 C. AP flour
1/4 C. Dutch processed cocoa powder
2 T. granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C. vegetable shortening
1/2 C. unsalted butter
6-8 T ice water

Stir together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt. Cut shortening and butter into 1/2-inch chunks and  add to flour mixture. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, quickly cut in the fats until the bits are smaller (1/4 inch). Do not overwork the dough. Sprinkle in the water, a tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture around until it just starts to hold together. You should still see bits of fat here and there in the dough. Form into two equal balls, flatten slightly and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for a least 1 hours before rolling and lining your pie tin.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Easy Lemon Poppy Scones

So as of late, I'm totally hooked on the PBS show Downton Abbey.  I'd heard some buzz about it and decided to check it out. One episode and I was sucked in. I'm just such an easy mark for period English pieces that this show is tailor made for me. Seriously, check it out. Funny thing is that since I've started watching, my inner monologue has developed a British accent. Go figure. I've also suddenly been wanting to have tea. I'm not actually a big tea drinker but I'm enamored of the tradition of taking a relaxing break in the afternoon and enjoying a treat. So, what would be more English that scones. I usually have coffee with mine but isn't that what us Yanks do, forgo tradition.

I'm showing you a super easy, shortcut, way to make scones. Using a boxed biscuit mix eliminates the whole "cutting in" mess with the butter. It's kind of cheating, I'll admit, but I'm also not going to lose any sleep over it. It just shortens up the process a bit and you'll be eating your scones that much sooner. I decided to make Lemon Poppy Scones because my dear neighbor brought me a big old bag of lemons. Lucky me! You can flavor them with whatever you like. Replace the lemon with orange and the poppy seeds with some dried cranberries or eliminate the lemon, poppy seeds and sugar, add parmesan cheese, garlic and basil for a savory dinner scone. The possibilities are endless, so, get to sconing. . .

Here's all you need: A box of biscuit mix, sugar, poppy seeds, heavy cream, a lemon (You are going to use the zest plus you need 4 tablespoons lemon juice, one medium sized lemon should be fine.) and powdered sugar.

In a large bowl, mix with a fork, just until combined, the biscuit mix, sugar, poppy seeds, lemon zest, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and heavy cream.

Turn it out onto a floured surface. It will be a crumbly mess. Knead it as little as possible, just until it comes together. 3-4 turns max.

Then pat it into a circle that's 1/2 inch thick. The circle will be about 8 inches. Using a sharp knife cut the circle into 8 wedges. Separate the wedges and place them 1 inch apart on a Silpat lined cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 400°F until the tops just start to brown.

While the scones are baking, whisk together another tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/4 cup powdered sugar to make the glaze.

Remove the scones to a cooling rack set over some waxed paper. Let them cool about 5 minutes. These got a bit dark because I used a dark coated pan. I would suggest NOT using a dark coated pan and taking them out of the oven a bit earlier.

Spoon about 1 teaspoon of glaze over each scone and let a bit run over the sides.

And yep, it's that easy. Just one little shortcut and you can whip up a batch of scones anytime. You can use this method to make a variety of different flavored scones both sweet and savory. If you try savory, just leave out the sugar. Happy Sconing!

Easy Lemon Poppy Scones
1 8oz. box Jiffy Buttermilk Biscuit Mix*
3 T. sugar
1 T. poppy seeds
Zest of one lemon
1/2 C. heavy cream
3 T. lemon juice

1 T. lemon juice
1/4 C. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large mixing bowl combine biscuit mix, sugar, poppy seeds and lemon zest. Stir to combine. Add heavy cream and 3 T. lemon juice and stir with a fork until just combined.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3-4 times until dough comes together. Pat into a 1/2 thick circle and cut into 8 wedges. Separate and bake on a cookie sheet 8-10 minutes until just golden brown on the tops. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
For glaze, whisk together lemon juice and powdered sugar. Spoon 1 teaspoon over each scone allowing some to run over the sides. 
Makes 8 scones

* You can use an equal amount (by weight) of Bisquick or other all purpose baking mix.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Two Ingredient Fudge

I've been perusing a lot of cooking blogs as of late and have discovered some new ones. My "recipes to try" file is seriously getting out of control. When my exploration led me to this recipe my interest was piqued. Seriously, "Two Ingredient Fudge". I had to try it. The super cute pink hearts certainly had something to do with it. To say I was skeptical is putting it mildly. It really couldn't be that easy. Two ingredients? I mean really, two ingredients? Could fudge be that easy? Have I been putting way too much effort into it all these years? I simply had to try it out. Here's how it went. . .

OK, I know, I said 2 ingredients and I'm showing 3. But, the sprinkles aren't really part of the recipe. What you do need is a can of frosting and a bag of chocolate chips.

Spray a 9x9 pan and line with a double thick strip of waxed paper. Spray the waxed paper as well. This will help you lift the fudge out of the pan in one big piece.

On the top of a double boiler (or in the microwave) melt the chocolate chips.

When they are all melted and smooth, remove from the heat.

Add the entire can of frosting and stir until both ingredients are completely combined.

Pour into the prepared pan and smooth flat. If you want to use sprinkles put them on before the fudge is set. Put the pan in the refrigerator for at least a 1/2 hour to set up.

Here is the chocolate (much tastier) version. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the fudge. Pull up firmly on the wax paper to remove the fudge from the pan. Use a sharp knife to cut into squares or use a cookie cutter for festive shapes.

OK so my kids and husband liked both flavors but preferred the chocolate. Me, they were both a bit sweet and the strawberry was way, way too sweet. But, to be honest, I don't really care for the strawberry frosting to begin with. And, really, I'm not big on fudge. That being said, the texture was pretty fudge-like and you can't beat how easy this recipe was. (Let's just not think about all the funky stuff in canned frosting. YIKES!) It would be great for a Girl Scout or Boy Scout cooking project, a camping trip or an in-class demo for grade schoolers. The combinations of "chips" and frosting are endless: peanut butter chips and chocolate frosting, butterscotch chips and vanilla frosting, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. All and all I give this recipe a 10 for ease of preparation and a 7 for taste. 

Me, I'll probably stick to the Fantasy Fudge recipe on the back of the marshmallow fluff jar. But, if you need a quick and easy treat for Valentine's Day, give it a whirl.

Here is a link to the post where I got the recipe.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Caramel Apple Pecan Pull Apart

I can't believe I've never made this before. It was so, so, so super easy. And delicious. I'm going to make it again and again and again. It was that easy and delicious.

I've heard of "Monkey Bread", know people who've made it and I've seen it for sale at the grocery store.  But, I've never been able to get past the name: Monkey Bread. Seriously, there isn't anything appetizing about Monkeys. Or maybe it's just me. I just don't think of food or eating when I think Monkey. It conjures other thoughts that, since this is a family friendly blog, I won't go in too. Enough said. So. . . I've renamed it "Pull Apart Bread". And that's all I've got to say about that.

Cinnamon and sugar are delicious together and I could have gone with the traditional formula but I wanted more. I searched several recipes and found one that had caramel. Ah, yes. . . but I still wanted more. Nuts? Yes! PECANS! My favorite nut. But I still wanted more.  Then looking at picture after picture of lumpy, cinnamony, sugary, Monk. . . Pull Apart Bread I couldn't help but think of apple fritters. Possibly the most unsung hero of the donut case. Yes! Apples. And so it was : Caramel Apple Pecan Pull Apart Bread. Win, win, win, win!

The players: Pecans (roughly chopped), apples (finely chopped), cinnamon, sugar, canned biscuits (Not the flakey kind, the cheapo kind.), brown sugar and butter.

Start by spraying a bundt or tube pan with Pam. Put about 1/3 of the pecans and apples in the bottom of the pan.

Mix together the cinnamon and sugar.

Open the biscuits and separate them. Roll each biscuit in the cinnamon-sugar.
Get 'em nice and coated.

Lay the biscuits in the pan.

After you have a layer of biscuits, add more apples and pecans sprinkling them around to the edges.

Keep layering until you use all the biscuits. The idea is to not be so neat and even with the biscuits. Just squish them in any old way.

Next melt the butter.

Then add the brown sugar and take it off the heat.

Stir it around until its all mixed together.

Then pour it over the biscuits. You can lift up a few biscuits here and then so it oozes through the cracks and crevices. I gave the pan a good whack or two on the counter to get the butter-brown sugar mixture to settle in. Then pop it into the oven.

Ohh, nice and golden brown.

Plop it out onto a serving plate. Then pull off delicious gooey chunks and enjoy.
Super easy, super good. Two things I love in a recipe.

Caramel Apple Pecan Pull Apart
1/2 C. chopped pecans
1 C. finely chopped apples
1/2 C. sugar
2 t. cinnamon
4 - 7.5 oz. cans biscuits (not the flakey kind)
6T. butter melted
3/4 C. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F
Grease or spray a 12 cup tube or Bundt pan.
Sprinkle a third of the pecans and apples in the bottom of the pan.
In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon and sugar. Separate the biscuits and roll each in the cinnamon sugar mixture to coat. Lay a single layer in the pan. Top with more apples and pecans. Then another layer of biscuits, squishing them around to fit. Continue layering until you have used all the biscuits.
Melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. Pour over biscuits, lifting some up to allow mixture to seep around the biscuits.
Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes until golden brown. Turn out onto a plate and serve while warm.