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

Emergency Chocolate Mousse

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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.