Confections


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I think pecans may be my favorite nut.  Sure, cashews may be my favorite just to munch on, and pistachios are the best to eat while sitting around a campfire, but pecans can be transformed into so many wonderful goodies – pies, turtles,  brittle.  Not only are they the perfect baking nut – they are so addictive to eat raw.  My mom used to hide the bags of bulk pecans she would  buy for Christmas baking, because otherwise me, my brother and my father would eat them all before she got around to making them into treats.  But now that I live down south where pecans are omnipresent, there’s no need for pecan hiding.  And this abundance has led to many more opportunities to try different pecan recipes.  The most recent is a recipe for spicy candied pecans, and it has been an unmitigated success.

pecans

Now a caveat – sometimes I have to hide the spicy candied pecans because C loves this recipe so much.  If not hidden, the spicy pecans rarely last a few hours, let alone a day,  so I’ve become adept at making these at the last minute.  Since the recipe only takes a half an hour from start to finish this is not a hardship. In fact this recipe is by far the easiest recipe for candied pecans I’ve seen anywhere and I think it’s the tastiest.

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While I used measuring implements for this recipe,  if you’re good at eyeballing measurements you might want to try that to save on the sticky clean up.  The recipe calls for corn syrup, which whenever I cook with it, manages to get all over my entire kitchen.  You combine the corn syrup with sugar, salt, ground pepper and Tabasco sauce.  I won’t tell you how much Tabasco sauce to put in because it all depends on how spicy you like your pecans – obviously the spicier you like your nuts the more shakes of Tabasco.  I would warn you to taste the sugary mixture as you go – a few too many shakes of the Tabasco bottle and the the mixture could be fiery hot.

unbaked-pecans

After the sugary mixture is the correct spicy temperature, you mix in the pecans.  Don’t worry that the mixture won’t cover the pecans evenly, as the melting process will take care of that in the oven.  I would urge you to cover a baking dish with foil and then spray it with Pam or some other baking spray  –  it will save your sanity by making clean-up easier.  Once the pecans are in the baking pan, they go in the oven.  You stir once or twice to make sure the pecans get all the sugary mixture, but you basically let them bake for 15 minutes.

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Once that 15 minutes is up you have to work fast – use a fork to separate the pecans on another piece of foil sprayed with Pam.  If you dilly-dally you’ll get a big hunk of candied pecans.  Not the worst thing.  I suppose you could treat it like peanut brittle and chop it up – but it’s better if you have individual candied nuts.  Once cool you can store in any covered container –  except the nuts probably won’t last that long if anyone hungry is around the house.   Which is fine – this recipe is so easy you can always make more!

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Spicy Candied Pecans

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 T.  corn syrup
1 1/2 T. sugar
3/4 t.  salt
1/4 t.  (generous) freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco Sauce (to taste)
1 1/2 C. pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line with foil and spray baking sheet with nonstick spray. Combine corn syrup and next 4 ingredients in large bowl. Stir to blend. Add pecans; stir gently to coat. Transfer to baking sheet.

Place large piece of foil on work surface. Bake pecans 5 minutes. Using fork, stir pecans to coat with melted spice mixture. Continue baking until pecans are golden and coating bubbles, about 10 minutes. Transfer to foil. Working quickly, separate nuts with fork. Cool. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Makes 1 1/2 cups

It’s funny how a simple lunch time conversation can lead you down a cooking rabbit hole. J and I were having lunch a few weeks ago and we were remembering a simply sublime cornmeal and lemon curd cookie that is made by Marché, one of our favorite East Nashville lunch places. That led us towards contemplating lemon curd, and considering that our planned-for Kitchen Confit Peach Week was on the horizon, we wondered if it was possible to make peach curd. A few simple web searches later and I discovered that apparently a few brave souls had tried peach curd. With the idea stuck in my head I knew I needed to try it – what I was going to do with it once I made it, I was wasn’t quite sure. But I knew eventually I would come up with something.

The recipe I found for peach curd was pretty basic: egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, butter and peach puree. The recipe also called for rosewater. Rosewater is a traditional Middle Eastern ingredient, made from rose petals and distilled water. Now at this point, rosewater did not reside in my cupboards, but I was determined to fix that. I must say, rosewater was surprisingly hard to find from more commercial gourmet sources – Williams Sonoma did not carry it (they suggested driving to Atlanta to find it!) and it was absent from the Whole Foods shelves. Not about to despair, I dropped into the International Market at the Nashville Farmers Market. They carried several varieties of rosewater and I grabbed the one in the prettiest bottle (it was also the cheapest!).

With rosewater in hand, I was ready to begin the curd. I combined the yolks, sugar, peach puree, lemon juice and rosewater. I placed this mixture over a pot of simmering water and I whisked. And whisked. And whisked. You’re supposed to do this until thickened and the mixture did thicken. I just wasn’t sure how much it should thicken. In retrospect, I should have whisked a few more minutes, since after beating in the butter and straining, the curd was a bit runny. I had hoped that the curd would thicken more as it chilled – and it did, a bit – but not as much as I would have liked. But the curd would serve for my purposes… it had become a peach tart.

From this point on, I was kind of winging it. I made a sweet tart dough and blind baked it. Once it was cool I poured in the peach curd. I knew I needed to top the the peach curd with more peaches, but I wasn’t sure if they should be raw or cooked. In the end I decided to poach the peaches in a mixture of sugar, water, brandy and lemon rind. After twenty minutes in this syrup, I took the peaches out, sliced them and then attempted to arrange them in a circular patten on top of the peach curd. And in the end this haphazard dessert was delicious – a bit messy, since the peach curd really should have been a bit thicker – but delicious all the same. Thank goodness for foodie lunch conversations and cooking rabbit holes!

Peach Curd and Poached Peach Tart

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Peach Curd

Recipe from epicurean.com

Ingredients:

4 egg yolks

2/3 c. sugar

1 c. fresh peach puree

Lemon juice to taste, about 1 T.

1/2 t. rosewater to taste, about 1 T.

6 T. butter

Directions:

Beat the yolks, sugar, peach puree, lemon juice, and rosewater. Put mixture over summering water and whisk constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and beat in the butter, a little at a time. Strain well and and chill.

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Sweet Tart Dough

Recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

Ingredients;

11/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 stick plus 1 T. (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Directions:

Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before filling with the peach curd. Refrigerate.

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Poached Peaches

2 c. water

1 1/2 c . sugar

1 c. brandy

Rind of 1 lemon – peeled in thick strips

2-3 peaches – halved and pitted

Bring all the ingredients except the peaches to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the peaches. Add the peaches and simmer for 20 -25 minutes or until tender. Remove from the syrup and slide the peaches out of their skins. Once cool slice the peaces lengthwise and arrange the slices in a circular pattern on top of the peach curd. Chill. To serve, remove the tart from the tart pan and slice.

Cheese Cake Ice Cream Pice with Strawberries

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie with Strawberries

I love cheesecake. I love it so much I even made it my wedding cake. Basically I’m addicted to the extreme creamy cheesiness combined with just a hint of lemon all served on the simple, yet wonderful graham cracker crust. I’m also addicted to my ice cream maker. Coming up with new ice cream dishes throughout the long steamy summer helps keep me sane when the temperatures down here in Nashville edge higher and higher. So deciding to come up with a version of cheesecake ice cream is not exactly out of character for me. And given my love of cheesecake, the fact that I decided to freeze the concoction into a graham cracker crust and serve it with strawberries – well, that’s just the logical next step.

The ice cream was fairly easy. Just start with a softened block of cream cheese and whip it with the whisk attachment of your mixer. Once it’s soft and creamy you can add the sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and then – slowly – the half and half. After a run through the ice cream maker, the base’s consistency will be almost soft serve-like. Perfect for putting into a pie plate. Or if you have low willpower, gobbling it up right from the ice cream maker.

Graham Cracker Crust

Graham Cracker Crust

The graham cracker crust is possibly the simplest crust you can make – crushed graham crackers, sugar and melted butter are all you need. I added a tiny bit of nutmeg – but that’s because I’m also addicted to nutmeg (there must be a 12 step program for spice addicts somewhere). After a quick trip to the oven and a thorough cooling, the crust will be ready (and willing) to be filled. After a few hours in the freezer, the whole pie was ready to be cut and served. The whole thing makes for an easy summer treat – especially nice when I don’t feel like cooking a cheesecake for an hour and heating up my home. A nice ice cream pie takes care of my craving and keeps me cool. Perfect.

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie

Ingredients

For the Ice Cream:

8 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature)

juice of 1 lemon

1 t. vanilla

1/2 c white sugar

2 cups half and half

For the crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/2 cup melted butter

1/3 cup sugar

nutmeg (optional)

To make the crust – combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and nutmeg (if wanted) and press mixture into a pie plate. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

To make the ice cream – using the whisk attachment of an electric mixture whip the cream cheese until smooth. Add in the sugar, slowly, until incorporated. Add in the vanilla and lemon juice. Slowly add in the half and half until the mixture is smooth. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour. Freeze the base in an ice cream maker until the mixture reaches a soft serve consistency. Spoon ice cream into cooled graham cracker crust and smooth out the top. Cover in plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours.

To serve, remove from freezer – if pie is too hard let sit for 10 minutes. Top with the fruit of your choice.

After a long weekend of fast cars (H went to the Porsche Driving School), spa treatments(I got a massage and a facial at the Ross Bridge Resort), and amazing food (Incredible meals at Bottega and Hot and Hot Fish Club), one should not expect much upon returning home. So imagine my surprise when a package greeted us at the door from Earth and Sky Confections. Co-Owner Chris Parks, a long time family friend, trained at The French Pastry School. This is the first time I had had the pleasure of enjoying some of Chris and Laura’s confections since my wedding. (Chris made our favors.)

Each piece of this handmade chocolate was beautiful, so much so that I was having a really hard time trying to pick which one I wanted to eat first. The salivating was interrupted by JC. He had spotted the bananas and was rubbing his chest (the sign for please) and saying “nana, nana!” with increasing urgency. H deposited JC in his highchair with a banana then joined me around the sliver box of deliciousness. I choose the sea salt caramel and H the spicy peanut butter. WOW!

We really tried to show some restraint, but with a little less than a week since it arrived, it is completely empty, save one bananas foster. (I kept to eat tonight after I finish this post.) Maybe I should have waited, but even the the expiration date…everything is made with fresh ingredients…encouraged me along. I kept telling myself you don’t want them to expire! Each and every one was delicious!!!

Over the past few days I have told everyone I know about these chocolates! Literally everyone…my pilates instructor, person standing next to me waiting to get her car at the garage, the waitress at lunch, etc. So as I have done since that first bite…I will evangelize a little more…Check out these amazing chocolatiers!

Earth and Sky Confections – Jonesboro, TN