For many of us, the holiday season means extra baking and extra sharing of homemade treats. I thought I would share here the recipes for some of the treats I made for friends and family this year. I hope you enjoy trying out the ones that look good to you. Let me know if you have some of your own recipes you think I should try!
Jennie's Pecan Pie
I started developing this recipe soon after my husband and I began seeing each other. We were chatting one afternoon when I thought to ask him what his favorite dessert was. He immediately responded, "pecan pie." He pronounced it wrong, of course, saying "pee-can" instead of "puh-cahn," but that's not the really scary part of this story. That came next, when I asked him, "Who's been making pecan pies for you?" and he answered "Mrs. Smith." Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, "You've been BUYING pecan pies? From the GROCERY STORE?" My shock and dismay must have been apparent, as he timidly responded "Uh . . . yes." "Then you've never tasted pecan pie!" I exclaimed, now clicking fully into sassy Southern woman mode. "I'll fix that," I continued as I grabbed my coat and headed home to look for recipes. I had never actually baked a pecan pie myself at that point, but that didn't deter me. I knew the basics of what to do from watching my mom make many of them over the years. And, for better or for worse, I had inherited a bit of both her prowess and her confidence in the kitchen. So I was pretty confident that I could come up with something better than the stuff from the deep freeze at the Piggly Wiggly. I'm pretty sure my first one wasn't that great. (He seemed to think it was, and at the time, that's all that mattered.) But over the years of making them regularly, I've tinkered around and come up with a formula that seems to work well. I hope you'll agree.
Recipe for Jennie's Pecan Pie
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°.
Prepare the dough for a 10-inch piecrust. Roll it out and place in the pie plate. Set the plate in the refrigerator.
Spread on a baking sheet 2 cups pecan halves (or a little more if you’re feeding real pecan lovers). Toast the pecans for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Whisk until blended:
5 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
½ c. white sugar
½ c. firmly packed brown sugar
½ t. salt
½ c. dark corn syrup
½ c. light corn syrup 3 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t. dark rum
Stir in the toasted nuts. Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and pour in the filling. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until the edges are firm and the center seems set (it may still be a bit quivery). Let cool on a rack for at least 1½ hours. Serve at room temperature or toast individual slices and top with whipped cream or ice cream.
By the way, this pie freezes very well! (I wrap the slices individually in plastic wrap and then place them in a plastic bag before putting them in the freezer. Whenever my husband wants a slice, I take one out, quickly thaw it in the microwave, and then pop it in the toaster oven.)
Chocolate Velvet Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting
This cake is both delicious and visually impressive. A virtual tower of indulgence, it resembles German Chocolate Cake, but the cake itself has a nicer texture and the layers are thicker than a tradition German Chocolate. Here is the recipe from Southern Living Magazine. (I had to make 1 1/2 the recipe for the frosting in order to have enough to cover the cake generously.)
Cookies for Santa: Ma's Best Butter Cookies
This recipe is truly an old-fashioned one, and a great one to make with your kids. It is Laura Ingalls Wilder's version of her mother's butter cookies, rewritten for her youngest fans. It comes from the collection My Little House Cookbook (HarperCollinsPublishers).
As you can see from the photo above, the girls and I rolled out the dough and cut it with cookie cutters instead of following steps 5 and 6 below. The dough rolled and cut well. As you can also see, we decorated them pretty simply. (The girls enjoyed shaking the colored sugar over the cookies with abandon much more than trying to make precise designs!)
Recipe for Ma's Best Butter Cookies
(Makes about 25 cookies)
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons sugar* or colored sprinkles
1. Ask a grownup to help you preheat the oven to 375°.
2. Put the flour, salt, baking soda and ginger into a small bowl and mix lightly.
3. Use a sturdy tablespoon or a large wooden spoon to cream the butter and sugar: First mash the softened butter thoroughly in a large bowl. Next, add the brown sugar and mash the butter and sugar together until they are soft and completely combined.
4. Add the egg and vanilla to the butter and sugar and mix together well. Empty the bowl of dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Keep stirring until thoroughly combined. Finish off with your hands if you'd like, mixing until the dough is one uniform light-brown color.
5. Pour out the 2 tablespoons of sugar into the bowl that held the flour mixture. Wash your hands and don't dry them. Roll walnut-sized balls of dough.
6. Press one side [of each ball] into the sugar or sprinkles, coating the top generously. Place the balls, topping side up, 1 1/2 inches apart, on the cookie sheet. Press the fork into the cookie.
7. Bake for 12 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned. Remove with the spatula and place on a rack to cool. Store in an airtight tin.
*We like to color the sugar ourselves--it's very easy and much less expensive than the store-bought versions. Just add a few drops of food coloring to a small bowl of sugar and stir thoroughly. Keep adding food coloring until the sugar is the desired hue.
Favorite Old-Fashioned Gingerbread
This is a dense, dark, intense gingerbread. The recipe comes from www.allrecipes.com. A topping of slightly sweetened whipped cream seems the compliment it just right.