Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pies, Cakes and Giving Thanks

It's our last morning of our Thanksgiving weekend.  We ate leftovers for breakfast and a football game is playing in the background.  A few slices of pie and cake remain in the fridge, along with the Thanksgiving Leftovers Turkey Soup.  I've made huge pots of turkey and ham stock, and frozen it in small portions, to be used throughout the winter for soups and stews.

Later today, I plan to make a creamy cranberry spread by mixing the last of the cranberry orange compote with a little butter or cream cheese, to have on muffins and toast, and tonight, we'll have turkey and butternut squash pot pies for dinner.  It's going to be a relaxing day.

And although Thanksgiving is barely over, I'm already excited to start decorating for Christmas, wrapping presents, and baking a few Christmas treats.  Come January, I'm sure I'll be about done with sweets for quite a while.

We didn't do any early shopping on Black Friday, but did hit quite a few sporting goods stores over the weekend with Jamie's parents.  Bass Pro was quite an experience, and there was a lot of interesting stuff to check out there.  And after all, what would the holidays be without a few shopping trips to stores full of people flinging piles of sweaters around trying to find the last one in their size, or stressed out parents of wailing toddlers over not getting every toy they see or not getting to sit on Santa's lap!  Or maybe they're crying because they were forced to sit on Santa's lap?  Either way.  Lots of kids.  Lots of tantrums.  I think I need to balance out all that shopping for hunting equipment with a little trip to Williams Sonoma.  Have you ever noticed how peaceful it feels in there?  At least it does to me.  Pots and pans, beautiful dishes, cookbooks, ramekins...  Aw, that's a fun shopping trip.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with both Jamie's and my parents.  (You'll have to forgive a few of my pictures of the cake and pecan pie that I took around the table, with overhead lights and distracting shadows everywhere.) After a late breakfast on Thursday of eggs,  pumpkin streusel coffee cake, and lots of coffee, we spent a relaxing day together while preparing the meal.  We had a ham and a turkey, with savory gravy from both, creamy mashed potatoes with dill, vegetable casserole and sweet potato casserole.  A batch of rolls that wasn't entirely successful, which have now been turned into dry bread crumbs for another use.

A chocolate pecan pie made by my mom - she used her standard pecan pie recipe and added chopped chocolate to the filling, which was a really nice touch.  I love the gooey, brown sugar filling of pecan pies.

A pumpkin spice layer cake made by me - my first 4-layer cake - and one of the best cakes I've ever tasted.  Layers of moist pumpkin cake with rich brown butter and brown sugar cream cheese frosting, and crunchy toasted pecans.  After making this cake, I now have a line-up of layer cakes I want to make in December.

I also made an apple custard pie, which I will never be making again, after getting pretty annoyed with the recipe I used.  I've decided there's no point in messing around with any apple pie other than the classic (deep dish, double-crusted apple pie, with a crumble topping), so why try to change something that's already so perfect?

A chocolate cream pie with a butterscotch crust was a little bit of a happy accident.  A while back, I tried to invent a cookie recipe for butterscotch oatmeal cookies, and while they tasted great, they spread all over the pan and just wouldn't hold together.  I dumped them all in a zip-lock bag, shoved them to the back of the freezer and forgot about them until I started thinking about pies.

A butterscotch cookie pie crust sounded to die for.  I had originally planned on making this crust for the apple custard pie, but when I realized that it would not hold up well for a baked pie, I had to come up with another plan.  It was actually Jamie who suggested I make a no-bake filling to pour into the crust and refrigerate it.

Chocolate cream and butterscotch - what could be better than that?  The last chocolate pie I made was incredibly rich and thick and fudgey, so I found a recipe that sounded much lighter.  The egg-less chocolate pudding was smooth and creamy, but not too sweet, and a really nice pairing with the sweet butterscotch oatmeal cookie crust.  Topped with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa powder, it was as pretty as it was yummy.  Unfortunately, I'll never be able to exactly replicate that butterscotch crust again, but really, this pie can be made with any sort of non-bake cookie crust you like, or a pre-baked pastry crust.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too, with lots of pie!

Chocolate Cream Pie (egg-less)
printable recipe

  • 1 no-bake or pre-baked cookie crust or all-butter pastry crust
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup whole milk, heavy cream or half 'n' half
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • cocoa powder, for garnish

Prepare the pie crust in a pie pan or tart pan, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the cornstarch, granulated sugar, cocoa powder and salt.  Gradually whisk in the milk and 1 cup cream.  Set the pan over medium heat and slowly bring to a boil, while whisking constantly.  Once you see it start to boil, cook for two minutes, continuing to whisk constantly, as mixture thickens.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the chopped chocolate and vanilla until smooth and creamy.

Pour into the prepared crust.  Smooth out the top, and cover with plastic wrap, with the plastic resting against the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming.  Chill for 3-4 hours, until set.

Before serving, whip the 1 cup whipping cream with the powdered sugar until soft peaks form.  Top the pie with the whipped cream and garnish with a sprinkling of cocoa powder.

Yields 8-10 servings.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet, via Smitten Kitchen.

Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake, with Brown Butter/Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting and Toasted Pecans
printable recipe

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons, all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/3 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans, plus extra whole pecans for garnish
To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare two 8-inch cake pans by spraying them with non-stick spray, lining the bottom and sides with parchment paper, and then spraying the parchment paper with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Cook the butter, swirling occasionally, until it turns a nutty golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Pour into a small bowl and let sit for 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  In another larger bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, eggs and buttermilk.  Gradually whisk in the flour mixture until combined.  Add the brown butter and whisk until incorporated.  Divide the batter between the cake pans.

Bake until the cake tests done, about 28-30 minutes.  Set the pans on wire racks and cool completely in the pans.

To make the frosting:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Cook the butter, swirling occasionally, until it turns a nutty golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Pour into a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes.  Set the bowl in the freezer and chill for 20 minutes.

Scrape the chilled butter (discarding the browned solids at the bottom) into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add the cream cheese and brown sugar.  Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping as needed, until sugar is dissolved and mixture is smooth.  Add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until you have the desired spreading consistency.

To assemble the cake:

Remove the cooled cakes from the pans and carefully peel off the parchment paper.  Level the tops of the cakes with a sharp knife or cake leveler.  Carefully divide each cake into two equal layers, so you have 4 layers of cake.

Place one layer of cake on a cake plate.  Top with just enough frosting to spread it about 1/4 inch thick.  Add the second layer of cake, and spread with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Top with the third layer of cake, and spread with a 1/4 inch layer of frosting.  Top with the final layer of cake, bottom side up so you have a smooth, crumb-free surface for the top.  Apply a thin crumb coat of frosting all over the top and sides of the cake.  Let sit for 20 minutes.  When the crumb coat has set, finish frosting the cake, reserving 1 cup to pipe decoratively around the top edge of the cake.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining chopped pecans.  Line the bottom with the whole pecans, all the way around.

Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve and refrigerate any leftovers.  The cake will stay moist and fresh for days, if refrigerated and covered.

Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking.

Chocolate Pecan Pie
printable recipe

  • 1 all-butter pie crust, unbaked
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces bittersweet or dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chunks) (chocolate is optional)
  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare the pie crust in a deep-dish pie pan.  Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with the flour and the chopped chocolate.

In a bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients until well combined.  Pour into the crust.  Bake the pie for 45-50 minutes.  If needed, cover the edges of the pie crust with foil to prevent them from over-browning while the pie bakes.

Cool completely before slicing.  Yields 8-10 slices.