We’re hosting Christmas in SF again this year, and I’m so excited for: avoiding holiday highway traffic, driving by Tom and Jerry’s wild and wacky Christmas display, cooking up a storm with Anna in the kitchen, decorating the tree and arranging the presents just so, enjoying a glass of wine with a house full of roasting turkey aroma. I’m very lucky that the main deal, the Christmas meal itself, is a collaborative affair with B’s mom Anna expertly navigating us through the menu. This allows me to take my rightful place, as the slower, clumsy sous chef always standing at the ready.
Another thing I am looking forward to is making dessert. The Christmas dinner dessert, I believe, should be a comforting classic but with an enticing element of excitement. I don’t need a spectacular show-stopper because the meal itself is so rich and hearty – and I definitely don’t need something so complicated as to set myself up for a flailing failure either. Last year, I made a fragrant bourbon pumpkin pie with pecan streusel. This year, I’ve decided to go the way of a pecan pie, and this salted chocolate pecan pie will please a lot of different tastes. Its gooey and sweet but also a touch salty like the best caramel, crunchy and nutty chock full of sweet pecans, and crumbly with smooth pockets of intense chocolate. If you or your loved ones are fans of any of the above, then this should be your Christmas dessert, too.
Some notes on this recipe: I recommend toasting the pecans to round out the flavors. Also I royally failed on the crust end. I think what happened was that the pie was too full and some of that caramel like filling oozed over the edge and behind the crust: effectively super-glueing the pie crust to my dish. I had to chisel out shards of pie crust and the plated dish was more like chocolate caramel pecan cobbler (a delicious, delicious, cobbler). So use whatever crust (ready-bought or from scratch) that you like but watch the level of the filling, chill the dough, and flour that crust before laying it in the dish. Or, just get out some bowls for a scrumptious cobbler and call it a success.
The best parts of the holiday season are that warm, fuzzy feeling of goodwill toward humankind, the impulse to bestow good tidings to strangers, and the deep-seated flush from feelings of cheer, magic, and merriness. Of course, I am talking about alcohol. When is a better time to catch that spill of Kahlua with a mug of hot chocolate? What other time of year is vodka undoubtedly better with some hot apple cider and spices? Why else does peppermint Schnapps exist?
Let’s see, so far I’ve baked with Irish beer, Mexican tequila, and French calvados, so I clearly have an alcohol problem. The problem being that I haven’t even considered an American spirit – so it’s time for some good old-fashioned, stars and stripes, eagle clutching a lady liberty figurine-style patriotism. In the form of bourbon.
Bourbon, that great American whiskey, lends its earthy, sweet, and nutty flavor well to other traditional tastes of the holidays – namely, pecans and pumpkin. It’s a natural fit. This bourbon and pumpkin pie with pecan streusel has everything you could want in a holiday dessert, especially if you can’t decide between a slice of pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or a shot of Maker’s Mark on the rocks. Have them all! I plan to substitute it for vanilla extract in every recipe from here on out. OK, maybe not but the idea still stands – it’s a great flavor that makes other flavors greater. And super patriotic.
My kitchen is tiny. I own one pan, one pot, and have one outlet that is nowhere near any counter space. With this in mind, I own few appliances that are carefully tucked away taking up minimal precious storage space. It goes without saying that these appliances, a mixer and a rice cooker, have to be multi-taskers to win their limited spots in this streamlined kitchen. However, I covet. I covet blenders and grinders and whirring swirling shaking steaming flashy gadgetry, but reason always wins. The only uni-tasker that even reason cannot overpower has been an ice-cream maker. I adore ice cream….gelato….fro-yo….sorbet…my voice, filled with glee, is what you hear when one screams for ice cream. And now, thanks to B and his spacious, beautiful, and very very empty kitchen, I got an ice-cream maker and the space to house it. So, prepare yourself for a likely avalanche of ice cream posts…
My first experiment in ice-cream making had to be something special. Luckily, I found the perfect inspiration in my dessert bible, Barbara Fairchild’s Bon Appétit Desserts, a thoughtful gift from Anna and Pat. Right from the start I knew I would try the brown butter ice cream recipe; brown butter with its sweet/salty caramel flavor with a hint of nuttiness is a perfect foil to all things savory (brussel sprouts, bitter greens) and sweet (butternut squash and prailines). In creamy ice cream form, it is truly rich and decadent in flavor. To this luxurious base I added chopped pecan brittle, as I just prefer the sweetness and lightness of pecans to peanuts. You can find any great recipe for brittle, but this recipe was super easy because everything can be made in a microwave and then spread out onto a silicone baking sheet liner. The result was a lovely buttery, nutty crunch to the brown butter ice cream, like caramel bits in caramel cream.
I admit that my first ice cream endeavor was more time-consuming than I had imagined, and that the result, although delicious, wasn’t as smooth in texture as I’d like. I think I took a shortcut by pouring the room-temperature cooled custard straight into the frozen ice cream maker rather than chilling the base to a cooler temp. The ice cream turned out a bit gritty although still very rich and flavorful. Now that it has a home, I hope my shiny new uni-tasking splurge will be put to good use practicing, practicing, practicing…