Chocolate Pecan Pie

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For those of us who write about food, being invited to go and eat somewhere is fairly commonplace. Sometimes it’s a new restaurant, a cookbook launch or a street food market. Sometimes it’s an event tailored especially for food bloggers, which can either be tedious beyond belief or the perfect place to meet new drinking buddies. Most of these invitations come with freebies of some sort, which you repay with a plug  – a tweet, Instagram photo or, if you have time, a blog post. Although these events can be fun and do have their uses, they also come with the risk of sapping the fun out of eating out.

Which is why the best invitations of all are those that come from friends.

In this world of promotion and social media, it’s easy to forget that there is joy in just eating out for the sheer hell of it. Enjoying food, sharing time with friends and just having a good time. It’s why most of us (bar an unscrupulous minority who are in it for the free goods) started writing about food in the first place: because we love it. Before hashtags, sponsored content and reviews, there was just dinner. And it was joyful.

So I spent Sunday afternoon at a south London barbecue in the garden of some very good friends. One just happens to be one of the best chefs in London, but don’t let that distract you from the story.  We sat under a huge parasol chatting, drinking, cooing over the baby and eating olives. The sun was out and we had nowhere else we had to be. Six hours later, realising we had work in the morning, we wandered home full, a little drunk and very content. My friend cooked a shoulder of pork that spent a couple of days in a dry rub, before being cooked in beer, smoked and then finished on the barbecue. I knew it was going to be a cut above sausages and burgers – let’s face it – but nothing prepared me for how much I was going to love that pork. Three days on and I still dream about it.

My usual contribution to a barbecue is prosecco and dessert. The first is universally accepted as is, but the second can be a bit of a struggle when there are multiple guests with different dietary requirements. Fortunately this time, the brief was wide open, which I interpreted as an excuse to make my favourite chocolate pecan pie.

There’s not much more to say about it other than it being a classic pecan pie with the addition of chocolate chips.  The only anomaly from the general rules of pie-making is that I don’t blind bake the tart shell. I have done in the past, but I find that a slightly softer, less cooked pastry works better with the filling; the flavours seem to permeate into it somehow. The pastry on this particular example is not my best, as I forgot how difficult it is to make pastry by hand in a hot kitchen when your food processor has gone on strike. These are moments when ready-made shortcrust is forgivable, if not preferable.

Chocolate Pecan Pie
Serves eight. Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz.

For the pastry
175g plain flour
Pinch salt
1 tbsp icing sugar
120g unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small cubes
A little water

For the filling
3 large eggs
150g soft light brown sugar
200g golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
30ml olive oil
200g toasted pecans, roughly chopped
150g chocolate chips

To make the pastry by hand: sift the flour, salt and icing sugar into a large bowl and rub in the butter until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs.  Gradually add the water, a little at a time, until it comes together in a smooth dough.
To make the pastry in a food processor: pulse together the flour, salt, icing sugar and butter until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs. With the motor running, gradually add the water until it comes together in a smooth dough.
Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 190ºc. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and use to line the inside of a pie dish. Crimp the edges and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, golden syrup, vanilla extract and olive oil until smooth.  Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.  Scrape the filling into the pie dish and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes. When ready, the filling should be mainly set but with a slight wobble in the middle. Allow to cool completely before serving.

One year ago: Blueberry and Lemon Breakfast Scones

An Ode to Banana Bread

Before you say anything, I realise that the world reached banana bread saturation point a number of years ago. You could be forgiven for rolling your eyes just a little upon reading the title of this post, and for thinking that I’ve finally run out of inspiration for adding another banana bread recipe to the myriad of banana bread recipes already out there. You could indeed be right, for I have two banana bread recipes on this site alone; but the reason I am adding another one is more or less the same reason I bought another black vest yesterday despite having three or four identical to it at home: I know a good thing when I find it.

So bear with me.

The truth is that this post isn’t really about banana bread at all, it’s about my current obsession with trying to use up what I have in the fridge and cupboards before buying more food. Despite my best efforts to keep an organised pantry, it has become so out of control in recent weeks that cupboard doors have to be opened with extreme caution in case piles of half-full packets, precariously balanced jars and hastily-labelled tupperwares come tumbling down. I have been haphazardly buying food without checking what I already have and suddenly realised that I was becoming the foodie equivalent of a bag lady. The other day I found three bags of risotto rice, all opened. It had to stop.

One Saturday afternoon, I completely emptied my cupboards and took stock of everything in them. I threw out anything past its best, condensed everything into single packets and put everything back in a way less likely to injure me next time I opened the door. I then sat down to plan my meals for the week and, instead of simply devising recipes based on what I would like to eat, I planned meals around the surplus ingredients I had in the cupboard and only bought what was needed to supplement what I already had. Common sense, I know, but it’s easy to act contrary to this when you’ve spent years cooking and eating on a whim. I also don’t need to tell you that this brought down the cost of my food shopping enormously, right? You know this already.

The idea for banana bread didn’t come from a surplus of over-ripe bananas, as is usually the case, but from a want to use up other things I had lurking in the cupboard: ends of bags of different flours, stubs of different butters, a bit of brown sugar, a bit of white sugar and half a bag of pecans. The reason that there are so many different banana bread recipes out there is simply that you can throw in pretty much any ingredients and it will still turn out fine. There isn’t much of a precise science to it, which gives you room to experiment.  If you understand the basic ratios of baking ingredients, the supermarket shelves offer endless possibilities. You might even find yourself buying bananas just to deliberately let them blacken so that you can make more banana bread.

This recipe below is for a basic banana bread, which is why it looks so plain on first glance. Here are a few notes on substitutions you might find useful:

  • The flour can be substituted with any flours that do not contain rising agent, but do bear in mind that the less refined flours will give a coarser texture. That being said, banana bread made with spelt flour is lovely. If you do use self-raising flour, omit the bicarbonate of soda.  If you wish to add cocoa to the banana bread, add 60g in place of 60g of flour.
  • The nuts can be substituted for other similar dry ingredients or omitted altogether.  If you want to up the quantity of nuts, you may need to add a little extra buttermilk to loosen up the batter.
  • A small quantity of wet ingredients can be added to the batter (e.g. a tablespoon of rum) without altering the mix too much. If you wish to add much more than this, it would probably be best to find a different recipe.
  • Substitutions can be made for those with dietary requirements; e.g. gluten-free flour, margarine, egg replacements and dairy-free milk.

 

Banana Bread
Makes 8-10 slices. Adapted from a recipe from Peyton and Byrne: British Baking

125g butter, at room temperature
200g sugar
2 eggs
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
60ml buttermilk
200g flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
40g chopped, toasted nuts
Demerera sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180c.  Grease a medium loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, followed by the mashed banana and buttermilk.  Sift in the flour and bicarbonate of soda and fold until just combined. Finally, fold in the nuts.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle with the demerera sugar.  Bake in the oven for 45-50 minutes until risen. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.  Leave to cool in the tin before transferring to a wire rack. In an airtight container, this should keep for about five days.

One year ago: Blueberry pancakes.

See also:
Banana, rum and coconut bread
Vegan double chocolate banana bread

Emergency Chocolate Mousse

Trust me, you need this emergency chocolate mousse. All I’ve been hearing about lately is people suffering from baking disasters: collapsed choux buns, sunken cakes, curdled custards and burnt biscuits. We must be in the midst of an epidemic.

The symptoms of this peculiar affliction begin slowly; caused by a slightly dodgy oven or a slapdash approach to measurement. Sometimes it’s a missing ingredient and you decide to ‘wing it,’ sometimes you’re too busy looking at other people’s bakes on Instagram and have a lapse in attention. It escalates quickly and, before you know it, you are in the throes of disaster, crying into your charred creation, angrily throwing it into the sink or, in extreme cases, sitting in the corner of the kitchen, covered in flour, rocking back and forth muttering about how Mary Berry made it look so easy on television.

I succumb to this on a regular basis. Even for those of us for whom cooking is a hobby, it can still be a massively stressful experience as, now more than ever, we are expected to share our food with others and, even more frighteningly, on social media. The worst bout of disaster for me came when I tried, and spectacularly failed, to make a tray of gin and tonic jellies for a Band of Bakers event. I came home before the event to collect them and they were still liquid, even after 14 hours in the fridge. I had ignored the symptoms, you see: I have a terrible track record with gelatine and booze is notoriously difficult to work with. I threw the whole lot down the sink and needed a remedy.

It was not the first time that the emergency chocolate mousse has been my saviour, it has managed to cure me of dessert-related meltdowns on several occasions in the past. Of course, if you balls up your planned dessert royally, you can just go to the shop and buy one, and I thoroughly advocate this; unless, of course, you write a food blog and run a baking club, in which case you had better turn out something homemade or your credibility will plummet. Or so my inner fears go at these moments.

The best thing about this mousse is that it takes hardly any time to make. The second best thing is that you can buy most of the ingredients from the corner shop which if, like me, you’re a bit of a way from a supermarket and don’t have a car, is a godsend. After my failed gin and tonic jellies were so unceremoniously dumped, I managed to get to the corner shop, buy ingredients, make the mousse and chill it, all within an hour. It also tastes pretty good and, more importantly, homemade. If you have a posh corner shop, or at least one that sells more than booze and crisps, you can get creative with what you serve with the mousse. I spooned mine into little individual cups and served half with some fresh strawberries they had in that day, and the other half with sweets from the pick and mix stand.

Of course, you may be one of those lucky individuals for whom nothing goes wrong, but if you’re susceptible to the odd bout of baking disasters, I would bookmark this page and make a note of your local shop’s opening hours. At least until they discover a vaccine.

Emergency Chocolate Mousse

Note: if you don’t have these exact ingredients to hand, don’t worry about it. 300g of any chocolate will suffice, and if you don’t have brandy you can sub it out with any other whisky or liqueurs you have in the booze cupboard – or leave it out all together.

150g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
50g white chocolate
3 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp brandy
250ml whipped cream

Break all of the chocolate into small pieces into a glass bowl and place it over a pan of simmering water. Stir the chocolate until it melts and then set aside to cool.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until thick and pale, then fold in the cooled chocolate, being careful not to knock too much air out of the eggs. Gently fold in the brandy and whipped cream.

Either divide into individual serving dishes, or serve from the large bowl.

Serves four. Adapted from a recipe by Gino D’Acampo.

Vegan Cherry Coconut Cake

It stands to reason that when the co-founder of a baking club has a birthday party and invites the other co-founder, plus several other members, there is going to be a lot of cake. It’s not like any of us ever really need an excuse to bake, but we do get excited about birthdays, which are an occasion for only the most special of cakes.

Naomi‘s birthday fell right in the middle of Veganuary, which threw me into a whole world of vegan cake-baking I was wholly unfamiliar with. Not only could I not use butter or eggs in the cake itself, but there was to be no buttercream, no cream cheese frosting, no creme patissserie and no chocolate ganache – all of the things that turn a cake into a birthday cake. I had to resign myself to the idea that my cake would be the plainest on the table. The wallflower of the cakes, with nothing more than a dusting of icing sugar for decoration.

As I’ve mentioned before, the knack to vegan baking is to either find a vegan recipe that somebody else has written, or adapt a recipe that doesn’t have a lot of dairy in it anyway. Anything coconut-flavoured is a good shout, for you can use coconut milk in place of any other wet ingredients. Cakes made with oil have the benefit of having already omitted butter, and I’ve already talked about the merits of the No Egg Egg Replacer. I’m sure there is a way to make good vegan frosting, but I am yet to discover it. It would be a good discovery to make as the most unnerving thing about vegan cakes is that, due to the lack of egg yolk, they are very white, which is looks far less appetising than a golden crumb and could do with something to cover it up a bit.

The cake I made was a cherry coconut bundt cake, adapted and veganised from a recipe from the brilliant Souvlaki for the Soul blog. It’s a coconut cream-moistened cake with a lot of desiccated coconut, studded with fresh cherries. Aside from my initial freak-out, staring into the oh-so-white batter thinking I’d forgotten something, it was a very easy cake to bake with few issues. It’s a good one if you don’t have a great deal of time, which I never seem to. Other berries would work just as well, as would a drop of kirsch if you’re feeling daring.

Vegan Cherry Coconut Cake

185g self-raising flour
165g caster sugar
80g desiccated coconut
250ml coconut cream
25ml vegan milk (I used Alpro coconut)
No Egg Egg Replacer made up to two eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g fresh cherries, pitted and halved
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180c. Spray a bundt tin with cake release spray (I use Dr. Oetker’s.)

Combine the flour, sugar and desiccated coconut in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the ingredients and add the coconut cream, milk, egg replacer and vanilla extract and stir thoroughly to combine. Fold in the cherries.

Scrape into the bundt tin and level off. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 35-40 minutes until brown(ish!) and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

My Nan’s Tea Loaf

 

Given my obsession with nostalgia and cake, it was only a matter of time before this recipe popped up again. Friends, I hope you have the patience to sit through it again. You can skip it if you want. Or, you can put some dried fruit in a bowl, pour a cup of black tea over it and join me in my tea loaf fixation for a while.

My nan made the best tea loaf there ever was. As prone to hyperbole as I am, I can assure you that this is no exaggeration. Every week, when we went to visit, she would emerge from the kitchen with one, still warm from the oven, wrapped in crumpled and slightly charred baking paper. With this cake, she managed to win over many guests who weren’t really into fruit cake, my now husband included.

The problem is that Nan never wrote down any of her recipes. She had quite a small repertoire, favouring the same dishes that she simply adapted to whatever ingredients she had in the house, and just committed them to memory. When she sadly passed away in 2011, all of this knowledge became lost. Intense cravings for this cake, and for other dishes she used to make, became a part of the grief in the months immediately following her death; and the idea that she would never again cook for me was overwhelming.

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Nan and I, some time in the mid-1980s

It was my nan who taught me to bake, you see. My brother and I would spend most of the holidays with her when my parents worked and, whilst my brother would occupy my time with his Nintendo, I would be stood on a chair at the kitchen counter with a tea towel tucked into my waistband as a makeshift apron, contentedly rubbing butter into flour. It was probably the best way to keep me occupied and, over the years, I learned how to make pies, cakes, jam tarts and biscuits. She had very few gadgets by modern standards, so taught me to make pastry by hand, cakes without a mixer and whip up cream using nothing but a hand whisk and a lot of effort.

When Nan died, my kitchen provided a welcome distraction. I had cleared out my diary for a couple of months to recover but quickly tired of doing nothing, so embarked upon a mission to replicate the tea loaf.  I knew it began with dried fruit soaked in tea, to which the usual cake-making ingredients are added. There was a lot of trial and error, I added spices and took them out again, I experimented with different quantities of eggs, sugar and flour and I threw many disasters in the bin. I palmed off tea loaf on to neighbours, colleagues and just about every tradesman that came into my building. What I couldn’t get rid of, I froze.

Eventually, I wrote a recipe that I was happy with and that I have used every time since, and now I make this tea loaf all the time. When friends visit, I will often emerge from the kitchen with one, still warm, wrapped in crumpled and slightly charred baking paper. Each time I make it, my husband, who is really not into fruit cake, remarks: “I think this might be your best one yet.”

“Perhaps,” I reply. “But it still isn’t as good as Nan’s.”

My Nan’s Tea Loaf

Note: this recipe is very easy to make vegan, just replace the egg with an egg substitute.

400g dried mixed fruit
275ml black Earl Grey tea, cooled
75g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
250g self-raising flour

Combine the fruit and tea in a large bowl and leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180°c and spray a medium-sized loaf tin with cake release spray (I use Dr. Oetker’s.)

Stir the egg and brown sugar into the fruit mixture, then add the flour, a little at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Scrape the batter into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for about an hour until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. You will be able to smell it when it’s cooked!

Vegan Double Chocolate Banana Bread

After six weeks with a broken oven, few things could ever make me happier than the prospect of baking. Fortunately, I have good friends who are generous with their kitchens, and was invited by my friend Aimée, an amazing baker herself, and currently on maternity leave, to come and bake in her home.  After 10 days of veganism, I was itching to try out some dairy-free, egg-free baking.

From what I have read in various books and blogs, the key to successful vegan baking is to make sensible substitutions; and for me this means choosing recipes that don’t contain a great deal of dairy to begin with. Of course, there are endless recipes for vegan cakes online, if you know where to look, but I was keen, instead, to ‘veganise’ some non-vegan recipes. With some bananas ripening in my kitchen, banana bread seemed a good place to start. Smitten Kitchen‘s double chocolate banana bread to be precise which, with only 115g butter and one egg to sub out, ticked all of the relevant boxes.

A quick glance at this recipe told me immediately that this would satisfy my craving for home-baked goods: a banana bread made rich with dark brown sugar, cocoa and dark chocolate chips. The idea was that I would make one as per the recipe for Aimée, and a ‘veganised’ one for myself. The butter was easily substituted with Pure vegan margarine, and the egg with the No Egg Egg Replacer, which I have talked about before. As is always the case when I adapt a recipe with ingredients I am unfamiliar with, I was skeptical about the results, but I needn’t have been, as it turned out exactly as I had hoped: moist and squidgy in the middle, with pockets of melted chocolate and a crackly crust. The result was no less enticing than any other banana bread I have made, which makes me confident about vegan baking for the rest of the month.

My oven arrives on Friday – hurrah!

Banana bread previously: I always feel that the world doesn’t ever really need another banana baked thing, and yet I always find myself baking one and writing about it. The allure of a bunch of spotted bananas with little fruit flies buzzing around them is always too much for me to resist, and I find myself dreaming up new versions of the old classic. The banana, rum and coconut bread is the one I make most often, and could easily be ‘veganised.’ It’s my husband’s favourite, after all.

Vegan Double Chocolate Banana Bread

2 large, or 3 medium, bananas
115g melted vegan margarine
145g dark brown sugar
Egg replacement made up for one egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp fine salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
125g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
150g vegan dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 175ºc. Spray a medium loaf tin with cake release spray (I use Dr. Oetker.)

Mash the bananas in a large bowl, then whisk in the vegan margarine, sugar, egg replacement and vanilla extract.  Combine the bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, flour and cocoa powder in a separate bowl then sift into the banana mixture. Mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Bake in the oven for about an hour, until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the loaf comes out clean. If the top looks like it is browning too quickly, cover loosely with foil.  Allow to cool in the tin before transferring to a wire rack.

Adapted from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen.

Apple, Date and Cinnamon Bundt Cake

One of the things I love about this time of year, as the tail end of autumn turns into winter, is the endless bags of apples I am given. Living in a flat in central London, I do not have a garden, or apple tree, of my own so am often the grateful recipient of apples from those generous enough to give me what they cannot manage to use. “You’ll be able to do something with these, won’t you?”

And of course, I always can, for big bags of bramleys mean only one thing: baking.

Despite the many uses for apples in baking, I almost always end up making a pie. The traditional kind, baked with a little brown sugar and cinnamon with a lattice top, served up hot with some chilled custard. Never homemade as I have a perpetual love of the bright yellow kind that comes in cans. I would have done so this week were I making a huge comforting roast to follow it with.

But I was not, so cake it was. This particular cake is autumn itself: a cinnamon and ginger-spiced crumb studded with plenty of apple and a scattering of sweet dates. It was destined to be a loaf cake, with a slice each to eat warm from the oven and the rest frozen to enjoy at a later date; and then I spotted the bundt tin languishing at the back of the cupboard and yearned for something a little more special. Once baked, I mixed up some icing sugar with a little water and drizzled it over the top. I had the intention of freezing some of the cake but, with a few visitors over during the week, we ended up finishing it in a matter of days.

Apple, Date and Cinnamon Bundt Cake

175g butter, plus an extra knob for cooking the apples
4 bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm dice
350g granulated sugar, plus 2 tbsp extra for cooking the apples
4 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
120g dates, chopped
420g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
250ml buttermilk
100g icing sugar
A little water

Preheat the oven to 180ºc and prepare a bundt tin with cake release spray (I use Dr. Oetker’s.)

Melt the knob of butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat, tip in the apples and sauté until golden brown. Sprinkle over the two tablespoons of sugar and cook for a few minutes longer until the apples are glazed. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a free-standing mixer, beat the remaining butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition, followed by the vanilla extract.

In a small bowl, toss the dates in a tablespoon of flour to coat them, then sift together the remaining flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.  Beat half of this mixture into the wet ingredients, followed by the buttermilk, followed by the remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix.

Fold in the cooked apples and dates, then scrape the batter into the bundt tin and level off. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until browned and risen, and until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the tin for 20 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a small bowl, mix together the icing sugar and water until a smooth icing is formed. Drizzle over the cooled cake with a spoon and allow to harden.

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz.