maple pecan cake with a cinnamon ribbon

sometimes, things go according to plan.  sometimes, they do not.  this cake landed somewhere in the middle of maybe.  what i wanted and what i got were close, but… either way, it was a really nice cake with a few surprises.

first surprise was peeking into the oven at the half way mark and realizing that the crumb topping had sunk below the surface of the cake.  that was a little worrisome.  crumb topping needs to be on top to get that typical crunchy texture of a good struesel.  when it sinks down into the cake, it can be gummy and oily.  this recipe yielded a moist ribbon which was not at all gummy.  the second surprise was that a small amount of the crumb topping actually remained around the edges on the top of the cake giving it a nice crunch.

the biggest surprise was in flavor.  to flavor this cake, i chose a grade b maple syrup because they are supposed to have more flavor than a grade a.  honestly, i didn’t get a clear maple flavor at all, and i do not think anybody else did.  perhaps the use of maple sugar would be better or a little pure maple flavoring or some combination of the three but that question will have to be answered on another day.  in the mean time, if you are wanting a piece of cake to have with your afternoon cup, this is an easy cake to make and despite the results, a tasty way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

maple pecan cake 
serves about 8
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup grade b maple syrup
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
crumb topping/ribbon recipe follows
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a small bundt pan, approximately 8 cup capacity.   toast the pecans by spreading them in a thin layer in a baking dish until they are fragrant, about 5 minutes.  set the nuts aside to cool.  place the flour, cinnamon and baking soda into a mesh strainer or a sifter and sift together onto a piece of paper.  cream the butter with the brown sugar, vanilla and salt until it is light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  add the syrup slowly while the machine mixes.  scrape the bowl well.  add the egg and mix in.  add the flour in batches and alternate it with the buttermilk, folding gently until combined.  scrape the batter into the prepared pan.  sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the top of the batter and bake until a tester comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.
crumb topping
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
place all of the ingredients into a bowl and rub together with your finger tips to make a crumbly struesel topping.  

maple syrup-smoked pecan tart

the latest food52.com challenge-use maple syrup in a recipe.  easy enough, right?  but the thing is, too many recipes with maple syrup also use maple flavor and that is something that i do not care for.  maple syrup is a subtle flavor that when concentrated, it can be cloying to the palette.  that is probably why i hate pancake syrup and if i am going to eat waffles or french toast, the syrup will be a pure maple or it will be skipped.   so with my distaste for cheap syrup in mind, i let my mind wander and ponder what i could bake with the bottle of grade b maple syrup sitting on my pantry shelf.  wait, grade “b”?  yes, grade b.  why “b” and not “a”?  flavor, plain and simple.  grade b has a stronger flavor that grade a, it is also a little darker but in my book, it is perfect to bake with and no  maple-like extracts are required.  to find grade b, look in the syrup section of some supermarkets-possibly publix, or head out to whole foods or trader joe’s since both carry a selection of grade b maple syrups.

 one of my latest thrift store acquisitions-a $2 deep 8″ tart pan with a removable bottom

the plan is to make a pecan pie in a tart pan but with some liberties to the standard recipe.  for a perfect pecan pie-and trust me, i make hundreds of them, one must mix the filling ingredients in the proper order or the butter will separate from the filling and spill out of the pan during the baking and leave you with a puddle in the oven and a pie that almost looks deep fried.

 place your sugar, spices and flour (if the recipe calls for it) in a bowl and whisk to combine them.  break up the lumps so that when you mix the filling, there aren’t any large sugar lumps left to sink to the bottom of the pie.

 melt the butter slowly-warm butter works better than boiled butter in the next step.

 in short, you are creating an emulsion.  add the butter and vanilla and/or other flavors to the brown sugar and whisk to form a smooth, glossy paste.

 to create the emulsion, the eggs need to be added carefully so only add them one at a time and whisk each one in completely.  scrape the bowl as you go.  this is with one egg added

 egg #2 whisked in

 egg #3 added and whisked in here.  do you see the difference in color?  it is nicely combined and the butter and eggs are blended together so that the filling will not separate in the oven.

 last step to make the filling is so add the syrup-in this case, it is maple and corn syrups that are added.

 to get a perfectly baked pie or tart, one must start with a partially baked shell.  there is nothing worse than getting a forkful of gummy under baked crust along with a bite of pie!  here i use my favorite trick-a restaurant sized coffee filter and marbles.  coffee filters are designed to hold a large amount of wet grinds without tearing.  they absorb a little of the grease so that it doesn’t stick and you can literally lift the filter with the weights right out of the tart shell and set it aside to cool.  filters do not get brittle like parchment, they do not cause creases and cracks like foil and they do not melt like wax paper so if you can get ahold of some, give it a whirl!  and just so that you don’t think i have lost my marbles, those are my pie weights!

 while any pecan would work, i like the smoky flavor of pit smoked pecans.  it adds something to the tart and the way the flavors of maple and smoke (think bacon without the pig here) work together transcends a basic dessert staple into something really special that will have them reaching for seconds.  to amp up the flavor, i also added a little dry rub to the filling but you could skip that and if you are really adventurous, you could try using a little ground chili to add another dimension.

 place the nuts in the shell and pour the syrup over them-this gets them coated with the syrup and the ones on top look shiny and taste a little caramelized when the tart is fully baked.

 let the tart cool completely in the pan then remove it-a warm tart will break pretty easily and the fluted shape of the crust tends to create weak spots so heed the advice and just wait.

beautiful…
for the complete recipe, see my entry on food52.coms best maple recipe contest by clicking here.  and as always, bake one and send me a photo, i will post it here!  bake on friends, bake on

baking sweet memories with my daughters, part 1: chocolate pecan tart, pie #42 of 52

it has always been a hope of mine that my two daughters will embrace the art of home made food.  to me, a well made meal is an event and when shared with family, there isn’t much out there that can top it. over the years, both of my girls have shown a desire to bake, mostly cookies with the occasional cake thrown in.  but with all of these pies i have been baking, i have wanted to spend an afternoon baking a pie with each of them.  this last week, i finally got that wish.  alix was home for a visit and to help her sister get packed for the big move west and i took advantage of the time to bake a tart with alix.  when asked what kind of pie she would like to make, she chose chocolate pecan-you can’t go wrong with chocolate and when you add pecans, it’s even better!


we quickly mixed up a batch of tart dough using the food processor and alix pressed it into the pan with her fingers-no rolling pin required!  be sure to use a tart pan with a removable bottom to make cutting serving the easy.



using my foolproof method for partially baking a tart/pie shell, alix lined the shell with a large coffee filter and filled it full of marbles-my choice of pie weights.

while the tart shell baked, we mixed up the filling.  for a smooth filling every time, it is important that the ingredients are combined in the proper order.  otherwise, the custard separates in the oven and it the chocolate will float to the top.  to emulsify the filling, the brown sugar is whisked with the melted butter and chocolate mixture, the cinnamon and vanilla.  then the eggs are whisked in one at a time.  the final addition is the corn syrup.  be sure to scrape that bowl as you go.

alix whisking in the corn syrup-gotta love the action shots!

toast the pecans if you like and then chop them up and fill the shell with them.

pour the custard over the chopped nuts
decorate it with pecan halves

baked to fudgy perfection!  let it cool completely before removing it from the pan or it may crumble

chocolate pecan tart
serves 8
for the tart shell, use half of the recipe for tart dough from pie #39.  freeze the second half for another time and partially bake the tart shell at 325 for 20-25 minutes.  the dough should no longer look glossy and it will not have begun to color.  remove the weights and proceed with the recipe.
filling
1 cup pecan pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
3/4 cup corn syrup
pecan halves to decorate the tart, at least 1 cup
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the pecan pieces on a baking tray until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.  place the pecans in the partially baked tart shell.  melt the butter and the chocolate together by placing them in a microwave safe bowl and using the lowest power setting.  place the brown sugar in a mixing bowl with the vanilla and cinnamon.  whisk in the melted chocolate and butter.  whisk in the eggs, one at a time.  be sure to scrape the bowl between additions.  finally, whisk in the corn syrup and pour the custard into the prepared tart shell.  carefully arrange the pecan halves on the top of the tart.  bake until it puffs up and is almost set in the center, about 30-35 minutes.  allow the tart to cool completely before removing it from the pan or cutting.
as always, if you bake one, send me a photo and i will post it here.  may the power of pecans be with you…bakinbabe116@aol.com

maple-pecan pie with butternut squash, #10 of 52 pies in 52 weeks

as a pastry chef, it is always fun to take something considered savory and transform it into a dessert.  coming up with an original idea is often as easy as taking a slow walk through the produce aisle in the supermarket.  during the winter months, the selection of produce can be a bit boring because the variety is not always as abundant.  as i shopped for groceries last week, i started out in the produce section since it is right by the main entrance of the store and one of the  first things that caught my eye was a display of hard winter squashes; spaghetti, acorn-golden and green and butternut.  i like butternut squash and so does the gang at home and i serve it every now and then.  we generally like it baked with a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon and a little butter.  sort of like a dessert that you can eat first and not feel guilty about.  at that moment i wondered, would it make a nice pie?  a nice filling for a pecan pie?  what about a maple pecan pie…

pick a squash that weighs at least a pound-you will lose some of the weight to the skin but should have enough for the pie.  if you chose a larger one, that means the rest is a bonus and i suggest you add a little brown sugar, cinnamon and butter to it and eat it.  to prepare the squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds.  place the squash in an oven proof dish, put a small amount of water in the bottom of the dish, cover it with foil and bake at 350 until it is soft.  the time can vary due to the size and the one i chose weighed just over two pounds and took about an hour.  remove from the oven and scoop the flesh out with a spoon.  allow it to cool before using, you will need 1 1/3 cup for the recipe so anything extra is for snacking.  when it comes to maple syrup-purity matters.  pancake syrup is not maple syrup and it won’t give it the same flavor as pure maple syrup.  if you can find grade “b” syrup, it will offer a more intense flavor but grade “a” is fine and that is what i used-no time to make a trip to trader joe’s for grade b and i didn’t want to buy/spend for just a few ounces.

maple-pecan pie with a butternut squash filling
serves 8-10
something funny happened in the oven-the squash filling rose and the maple custard filling sank!

squash filling
1 (9″) prebaked deep dish pie crust-any kind you like, i used a tart dough recipe that has sugar in it but it browned too much so i recommend sticking to pie pastry.
1 1/3 cup baked squash flesh
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) heavy cream
place the squash, sugar, maple syrup and spices in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend.  process the mixture, scraping the bowl occasionally until it is completely and evenly pureed.  add the eggs one at a time and pulse to mix.  scape the bowl, add the cream and combine well.   pour the mixture into the prebaked pie shell and smooth the top.

maple-pecan topping
1 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the pecans until fragrant, about 7 minutes.  in a mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar with the melted butter and the cinnamon.  whisk in the eggs, one at a time and then whisk in the maple syrup.  sprinkle the pecans evenly over the squash filling.  carefully pour the maple filling over the pecans.  ***do this slowly and hold the bowl close to the pie as you pour-the idea is to make layers and if you pour quickly or from a long distance above the surface you will force the pecans down into the squash layer.  bake until the pecan topping puffs up and is firm across the top, 40-45 minutes.
allow to cool before serving and if you like, serve it with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

a few more notes about this pie:  the squash could easily be made with any other sweet hard winter squash such as acorn or turban or some other heirloom variety as well as pumpkin.  sweet potatoes can also be used in the filling and if you prefer walnuts, go for it!

as always, if you dare to bake along, send me a photo and i will post it here-bakinbabe116@aol.com