Southern Snacks Cookbook

The Southern Sympathy Cookbook

I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Caramel Popcorn Tart

“May you live in interesting times” is purported to be an ancient curse, but I cannot verify the origins of it. It does seem however, that we are now living in interesting times. We are all looking for comfort and solace, but also things to do! For me, being alone in the kitchen is not such a hardship (alone everywhere all the time is another matter). I’ve been working away to figure out recipes and ideas that use up pantry staples and simple, available ingredients, which I am sharing on my Facebook page, The Runaway Spoon. I am always happy to answer questions or start discussions there. But in addition to these helpful hints, I like to share some decadent comfort foods, like this Caramel Cobblerrecipe.

It has, frankly, been a little bit hard to know what to post in the last couple of weeks. All these spring vegetable and Easter recipes I had ready to go? Lists of ingredient substitutions or 101 ways to use dried beans? There are far greater concerns in the world than fun recipes or kitchen projects, but we all need to eat and we could all use with a little distraction. I generally try to adhere to the British Keep Calm and Carry on ethos in most emergencies, but that is exactly the wrong idea right now. Keep calm, yes, but change your daily habits to protect yourself, your family and friends and complete strangers. So I will probably go off book here for awhile. If you’d like me to post something specific, please let me know. I may draw from the archives and repost some classics from the past. I may skip a week here and there. But please, keep up with me on Facebook and Instagram for some very distant social interactions.

And remember, your local food bank is in desperate need right now. With monetary donations, they can purchase food to distribute to those who can’t afford to stock up, those who are losing their jobs and kids who rely on school meals. Volunteers are needed as well, and all necessary safety precautions are in place.

So, to move forward, I’ve decided to post this rich, decadent and slightly silly dessert that I created before social distancing was a thing. I had it in reserve for some future post, but it seems like the right thing for right now. The whole family will love it, it uses pretty simple, staple ingredients. There is a little work involved, but it is not difficult, only taking a little patience. It will pass some time. This tart is rich! Only small slices are needed, and it will last covered in the fridge for a day or two.

Use plain, unsalted, unbuttered popcorn to start. It is best to use airpopped as it has nothing clinging to it. You can even put kernels into a paper lunch sack, fold the top down a few times and place on its side with the fold facing down in the microwave. Set for 5 minutes, but listen to and remove when the popping is almost stopped. Microwave popcorn or packaged popped corn have a chemical taste, and popping with oil adds, well, oil. Make a little extra and toss it lightly with some melted butter and salt to sprinkle over the tart. As I say, this is a very sweet treat, so don’t skip the sprinkling of flaky salt on the top to cut through some of the richness.

Caramel Popcorn Tart

For the Crust:

7 cups plain popped popcorn (you’ll want about a cup more for topping)

1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt

9 Tablespoons butter, melted

For the filling:

1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) of butter

1 ½ cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Buttered popcorn and flaky salt for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-inch removable bottom tart tin with foil. Use your fingers to press the foil into the ridges of the sides of the tin.

Put 4 cups of popcorn in the bowl of a food processor and process until ground. Add the rest of the popcorn 1 cup at a time until it is all ground to fine crumbs (like you would do with graham crackers for a similar crust). Add the sugar and salt and process to combine, then pour in the melted butter and process until you have a wet rubble. Transfer the crumbs to the prepared tart tin and press into an even layer that covers the bottom without gaps and climbs up the sides. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Bake the tart shell for 10 minutes, until it is lightly browned. The crust will slide from the sides of the tin, but as soon as it comes from the oven, use a flexible spatula or the back of a spoon to press the crust back up the sides at least half way. Press together any cracks in the bottom to repair gaps. Refrigerate the tart crust immediately.

For the Filling:

Melt the butter and sugar together in a medium saucepan and bring to a roiling bowl over medium high heat, stirring frequently. When it reaches a deep caramel color, remove the pan from the heat and pour in the cream, stirring to combine. Stir in the salt. The mixture will bubble and if it appears to seize up at all, return it to the heat and stir until smooth.  Pour the hot caramel into the chilled popcorn crust and leave to cool down for a few minutes, then refrigerate until firm (about 2 hours) or overnight.

To serve, warm a knife under hot water or over the stove flame and slice the tart. Small slices are sufficient. Top with generous flakes of sea salt and some buttered popcorn.

Serves 10

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Chocolate Cherry Emergency Cake

I have had this recipe all written up for years, waiting to post during a holiday rush, but it seems to me like now might be the perfect time to share this uncomplicated, family friendly sweet treat. I call this my emergency cake for those occasions when I need to take something to a friend, a last minute dinner invite or a school function. This recipe is one for which I can always have the ingredients on hand and bake up quickly without making the kitchen a disaster zone. Plus, it’s really good, moist and chocolatey with a nice little fruity sweetness.

I have been making versions of this cake for years – it was originally inspired by a recipe I cut from an English magazine that used orange marmalade. And that is a great version. But I soon discovered you can use any type of jam you happen to have, or one that suits your tastes. I’ve used raspberry preserves, strawberry jam, even some of my own homemade jams. But I particularly love this cherry version. French cherry preserves have become pretty easy to find at my local grocery stores, and this takes exactly one jar of the Bonne Maman brand. At the holidays, I am always tempted by those pretty jars of Italian cherries in syrup, and those make a great accompaniment to this cake. You could even add a glug of liqueur to the batter to complement the jam.

Chocolate Cherry Emergency Cake

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3.5 ounces dark chocolate

1 cup cherry preserves (such as Bonne Maman)

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 ¼ cup self-rising flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch springform pan with baking spray and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a large saucepan over medium heat until melted and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cherry preserves and the sugar. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then beat in the eggs. Gently fold in the flour in three additions, just until there is no white flour visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, just until the center is firm and a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it.

Cool the cake for 15 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edge. Remove the ring, invert the cake onto a platter and remove the bottom and parchment paper. Leave to cool completely.

Serves 6

Roasted Strawberry and Cream Cake with Ruby Chocolate Glaze

I love strawberries, but I generally only eat them when they are in season from local growers. I think this adds to the sense of anticipation and excitement I feel about them. The brief period in April and May when they are at their peak, I gorge myself, making jams and preserves and baked goods – and of course eating them out of hand. The rest of the year is mostly strawberry free for me. If I really need to, I use frozen whole strawberries for baking or maybe to make sauce. But every once in awhile I am tempted by fresh ones, though I am always almost disappointed by the hothouse year round offerings. I set out to create a cake with as much in season strawberry flavor as possible when only the grocery store berries were available.

So let me take this opportunity to discuss the birth of a recipe. The origin of this recipe begins when I wanted to bake a cake for a friend’s birthday, which falls outside strawberry season. But she loves strawberries and pink was just the perfect color for the occasion. I used some frozen, but just wasn’t thrilled with the result. Sure the cake was pink, but not very strawberry-ish. I wanted to do better. I kept thinking, and decided to roast some fresh strawberries to bring out their flavor and sweetness. This turned out to be a much better option for the out of season fruit, and I was pretty pleased with the result. Time passed, and I had reason to make a Valentine themed dessert. Of course, the pink-tinged strawberry cake seemed like a perfect  idea. But I still had some reservations about the level of strawberry flavor. I happened to have in my pantry some freeze dried berries, which used to be a rare gourmet store snack but I know find in the dried fruit aisle at every store. I crumble them up on yogurt sometimes, or mix them with nuts for a snack. I couldn’t help but think that concentrated strawberry taste would add to the cake, and indeed it does, upping both the flavor and the hue. And thus was born this lovely year-round strawberry cake. 

Then there is the glaze. I bought some ruby chocolate at a gourmet store in London some years ago, intrigued by the pink hue. Ruby chocolate is a naturally red chocolate developed a few years ago (do an internet search for more information). Since then, I now find it at markets like Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s and certainly online. I wanted to use that unique color in a Valentine sweet. It has a slightly berry taste, so it seemed like a perfect pairing for this strawberry cake. 

A few notes – I make this in a small 6-cup bundt cake pan I bought on a whim a few years ago from a holiday display at a big box store. I have fallen in love with it, because it makes a beautiful cake that’s perfect for a smaller gathering. But this recipe will easily double for a 12-cup bundt, just increase the cooking time, checking with a tester from 1 hour onward. I have no talent for frosting beautiful cakes, which is why I’m such a fan of the Bundt, so I happily use cheats. The one pictures here has some powdered dried strawberries, shiny sugar flakes and something called gold lustre dust.  Go wild with your own creation.  

Ruby chocolate turns slightly grayish pink when mixed with liquid, so to keep the color I simply melt the chocolate. If you want to substitute a white chocolate glaze, melt ½ cup of white chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon of cream in the microwave and stir until smooth.

Strawberry and Cream Cake with Ruby Chocolate Glaze

For the Cake:

16 ounces large strawberries

1 scant cup freeze dried strawberries

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

For the Glaze:

3.1 ounces ruby chocolate (I use Chocolove bars)

For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or nonstick foil.

Hull and halve the strawberries (you can hold a few back for garnish) and spread in an even layer cut side up on the baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the strawberries have begun to collapse and are very soft. Remove from the oven and place the berries in a measuring jug. Use a spoon or a spatula to crush them a little – leave some larger pieces visible. Set aside to cool.

Spray a 6 – cup bundt pan with baking spray. Put the freeze dried berries in a ziptop bag and use a rolling pin to crush them to a powder. You should have ¼ cup powder (save any extra for garnish).

Beat the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium high for a few minutes until well combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the mixture is pale and fluffy and the sugar no longer feels granular when you rub a little mix between your fingers. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl and making sure each egg is beaten in before adding the next. Beat in the flour and salt until fully combined, scraping the bowl, and smooth. Add the roasted strawberries and the strawberry powder and beat until well combined and smooth. Raise the speed to high and beat five seconds. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely (place the rack over parchment paper to catch any drips from the glaze).

For the Glaze:

Fit a small glass or metal bowl tightly over a small pan. Put about an inch of water in the pan, not touching the bottom of the bowl, and bring to a simmer. Break up the chocolate and put it in the bowl over the water. Stir until melted and smooth, then drizzle over the cake. Leave the glaze to set for several hours.

Serves 8

Roasted Cocoa Brownies with Caramelized White Chocolate Buttercream

We’ve made it through January, and now is the perfect time for a little indulgence. So I’ve doubled up on rich chocolate flavor with these brownies. Sure, they take a little bit more time, but they are perfect for a day of relaxing around the house with the oven warmly humming and the lovely smell of chocolate wafting through the air. And the deeply chocolate flavor of the brownie with the complex caramel flavors of the frosting are an excellent pay-off. And telling people the name of these gets some very appreciative nods for your genius in the kitchen!

I’ve included some tips below for the white chocolate. Once you master the simple technique, you’ll find all sorts of uses for it (watch this space!). The roasted cocoa is so simple, but adds such dimension and depth to a simple brownie it is worth the time investment. Use a quality, natural cocoa powder – I like Penzey’s or Ghiradelli. I recommend a good European style butter for the frosting. You are going all out on the richness here! 

Tips for the caramelized white chocolate:

Make sure you are using actual white chocolate – not chocolate coating or candy melts. Scharffen Berger, Guittard and Ghiraldelli are good brands to try. Look for 30% cocoa butter. Lesser versions have additives that will not caramelize properly.

The time this takes to caramelize will vary, so watch carefully, stirring every 15 minutes or so to spread the chocolate out evenly. It may take 30 minutes, it may take 60.

At some points, the chocolate will look grainy and not very nice, stir to smooth it out.

If the chocolate is nicely caramel colored, but still grainy – don’t panic. Transfer it to a small food processor and process until smooth. Scrape it into a glass bowl or measuring jug to cool.

Roasted Cocoa Brownies with Caramelized White Chocolate Buttercream

For the Frosting:

4 ½ ounces white chocolate, 30% cocoa butter

½ cup (1 stick), unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the Brownies:

½ cup cocoa powder

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips

¼ cup ( ½ stick) unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

6 Tablespoons milk

You can cook the chocolate and cocoa powder at the same time.

Preheat the oven to 250°

Break the white chocolate into small pieces and spread in an even layer in a square glass baking dish. Place in the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, stir and spread the chocolate to smooth it out to an even layer, then bake for 15 minutes. Stir and scrape the chocolate and spread it back into as even a layer as you can. The chocolate will progressively turn a golden caramel color. It may look grainy at some point, just stir it smooth. Keep baking, stirring and scraping every 15 minutes, until the chocolate is the color of rich caramel and it has smoothed out.

For the Roasted Cocoa

Preheat the oven to 250°. Spread the cocoa powder out in a thin, even layer in on a parchment or foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 2 hours, stirring and spreading out the cocoa every 15 minutes. You want to move the powder around so it doesn’t get scorched in one place. The cocoa will turn darker and look a little lumpy. You can do this while you are making the caramelized white chocolate, though the cocoa takes longer. 

For the Brownies:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line an 8 inch square pan with non-stick foil with overhanging edges.

Put the chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl or measuring jug and microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring well after each, until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until pale and smooth. Beat in the chocolate and butter mixture and beat until combined. Add the roasted cocoa, flour and salt and beat until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Beat in the milk to smooth out the batter, then scrape it into the prepared pan and smooth the top making sure the batter fills the pan. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs clinging. The top should be shiny, but not jiggly. Cool completely in the pan. Remove the brownie slab from the pan with the foil for frosting.

For the Frosting:

Beat the caramelized white chocolate and butter together in the cleaned out bowl of the mixer. Use the paddle attachment to beat until smooth, then add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until completely combined and spreadable.

Spread the frosting on the cooled brownies, smoothing the top and reaching all the edges. Refrigerate the brownies for about 30 minutes to firm up the frosting. You can store the brownies in the fridge or on the counter in an airtight container. Cut into squares before serving.

Makes 16

Mulled Wine Brownies

Mulled Wine Brownies

I love all the silly sweets at Christmas. This rice crispie treat wreaths, cupcakes with red and green sprinkles, those little pretzel reindeer. It’s the kind of fun the holidays are all about. But sometimes it’s nice to present something a bit more grown-up. As the children in my life are turning into adults (faster than I like), I find more reason to try out those sophisticated things a bit more. That’s where these brownies come in. They are deep and rich and chocolatey with a complexity from the red wine and a perfectly seasonal twist from the spices. I usually serve these cut into small squares – they make a fabulous take along to a holiday party. But they would work equally as well cut into large squares served with ice cream or a swirl of whipped cream on a plate, maybe with a little drizzle of chocolate sauce. These would also make a lovely gift.

Don’t use best wine – but this is great for the tail end of a bottle. Check the bulk spice section at a grocery store to buy small amounts of these spices if you don’t keep them on hand. You could also use them to make mulled wine to drink. Or simply put them in a pot of water bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let the lovely spicy smell fill your kitchen.

Mulled Wine Brownies

1 ¼ cup red wine

¼ teaspoon allspice berries

¼ teaspoon whole cloves

¼ teaspoon whole coriander

½ cinnamon stick

1 star anise pod

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate

¾ cups (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter

1 ¾ cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ baking soda

¼ kosher salt

Pour the wine in a small saucepan. Tie the allspice, cloves and coriander in a small cheesecloth bundle (or use a mesh tea ball). Add to the wine and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and bubble it away until it is reduced to exactly ½ cup. Cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9 by 13 inch brownie pan with parchment paper or nonstick foil, with some overhang to lift out the brownies when cooked.

Make a double boiler with a large glass or metal mixing bowl set over a pan with an inch or so of water, not touching the bottom of the bowl. Put the chocolate and the butter in the bowl and heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until both are melted and smooth and well combined. Remove the bowl from the pot and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar until completely combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and stir until very well combined. Stir in the reduced wine until combined – it will be very loose. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda and salt and stir just until the batter is combined and there are no streaks of dry ingredients visible.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan smoothing the top and bake for 30 – 35 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging. These are nice and fudgy, so don’t worry if they’re a touch soft. Cool and cut into squares.

Makes 16