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.

Rhubarb Ginger Chess Bars

Rhubarb reminds me of England. I didn’t really eat rhubarb as a child – it doesn’t grow much in the South – and the only thing I really ever heard about it was my mother lamenting a horrible dessert served at her boarding school. So I discovered rhubarb when I started spending time in England, where it is very popular and figures in a many classic English desserts. Sure, I had some pretty dismal versions in the college dining hall, but when its good, it’s is really good. I had a small obsession with rhubarb and cream hard candies and bought bags full back from my travels, and I always pick up yogurt with a swirl of rhubarb in at my favorite grocery in London. When I find rhubarb in the produce section here, I go a little overboard, making cakes, infusing gin, and as a dyed-in-the-wool Memphian, a zippy Rhubarb-e-cue sauce. This particular recipe combines my love of all things English with my Southern roots – chess pie is one of my all time favorite desserts. And in this recipe, the sweet stickiness of a sugary, eggy chess style filling is perfectly cut with the tart rhubarb.

Rhubarb and ginger are a popular combo in England – I used to have a recipe (long since lost) for a cheesecake-like dessert on gingersnap crumbs with rhubarb compote on top. I think the ginger in both the crust and the filling of these bars really sparks. A little spicy bite with the tart rhubarb and sweet filling marry together beautifully.

Rhubarb Ginger Chess Bars
Yields 16
Print
Ingredients
  1. For the Crust
  2. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  3. ½ cup powdered sugar
  4. ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  5. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Filling
  1. 4 large eggs
  2. 2 cups granulated sugar
  3. ½ cup all-purpose flour
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. A pinch of salt
  6. 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  7. 4 cups diced rhubarb (about 5 medium stalks)
For the Crust
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 19 by 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Put the flour, the powdered sugar, the butter and the salt in the bowl of a mixer and blend until combined but crumbly. Scatter the crumbs in the bottom of the prepared pan and press evenly into a uniform crust. Bake for 15 minutes until firm and golden in places.
For the Filling
  1. Beat the eggs in a bowl, then add the sugar, flour, vanilla and salt and stir together until well combined and there is no trace of sugar or flour in the bowl. Stir in the ginger and the chopped rhubarb until completely combined. Spread the filling over the crust while it is still warm, then return to the oven for 45 – 50 minutes, until the top is firm and no longer jiggly and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into squares.
Notes
  1. I like to cut the rhubarb in half lengthwise, then into small pieces across. Smaller pieces are less stringy and blend into the filling better.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Cajeta Caramel Cake with Cajeta Whipped Cream

Cinco de Mayo is something of a silly commercial enterprise, but all the ads and instore displays do peak my interest in recipe with the flavors of Mexico. I usually focus on meals, like Chicken Tingatacos or Queso Fundido Soup, but there is always room for dessert. I am certainly no expert on Mexican cuisine, but I love to explore ingredients and ideas. I was introduced to cajeta some years ago at an ice cream parlor here in Memphis that specializes in Mexican paleta popsicles, and I have become a little obsessed – I use it in all sorts of applications instead of a standard caramel. Of course, this cake is good at anytime of the year, but it is a lovely end to a spicy fiesta-style meal.

Cajeta is a delicious caramel, dulce de leche-like sauce made with goat milk and that goat milk tang makes it a truly special treat. The first time I served this, one of my dinner guests immediately recognized the bite of goat cheese-like bite. You can find cajeta in jars or bottles in the Hispanic food section of many grocery stores or a Latin market but making your own is easy and really adds a special touch. People are always impressed when you do things like this from scratch! Once you master it, you may find yourself making it all the time. It is fantastic over ice cream or with fruit for dipping. I love to layer the rich cajeta flovor by adding it to a whipped cream that perfectly complements the rich cake.

Cajeta Caramel Cake with Cajeta Whipped Cream
Print
For the Cake
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  2. 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  3. 1 cup cajeta (homemade or purchased), at room temperature, see below
  4. 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  5. 3 cups all-purpose flour
  6. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  7. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  8. ½ teaspoon salt
  9. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  10. 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  11. Confectioners’ sugar
For the Cajeta Whipped Cream
  1. ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
  2. ¼ cup cajeta (homemade or purchased), at room temperature
  3. A pinch of flaky salt
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the cajeta and beat until smooth and completely combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is combined before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla extract, then add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, until the batter is smooth and combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out to an even layer. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles, then bake for 45 – 55 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter to cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
For the Whipped Cream
  1. Scoop the cajeta into the bowl of stand mixer and add the cream and salt. Beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Transfer to an airtight container and keep covered in the fridge for 3 days.
Notes
  1. Homemade Cajeta
  2. 2 quarts whole goats milk
  3. 2 cups sugar
  4. 1 cinnamon stick
  5. A pinch of salt
  6. ½ teaspoon baking soda dissolved in one Tablespoon water
  7. Heat the goats milk and sugar with the cinnamon stick and salt in a large, deep pot (5 – 6 quart) over medium heat until the milk is simmering and the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Pull the pot off the heat and stir in the baking soda and water – it may foam up, just give it a good stir. Return the pot to the heat and continue cooking the milk, stirring frequently, until it becomes a light amber color, anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Watch carefully and keep it at gentle but meaningful bubble or it will boil over. When the milk begins to turn golden, stir very frequently and watch carefully until the mix turns a caramel brown and thickens to the consistency of syrup. Drop a few spoonfuls on a cold plate and see that it thickens to a caramel sauce consistency. Pour the cajeta through a strainer into a bowl and cool, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a month.
  8. When cooking the cajeta, if it gets too thick, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a few tablespoons of water until it reaches the right consistency. When using the cajeta, you can warm it in the microwave to loosen it up, or if it is really thick, transfer it to a saucepan over medium heat and whisk in some water until it thins out.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
SaveSave

SaveSave

Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake

There are some flavors that are a natural match. Tomatoes and basil, leek and potato, cucumber and mint, and for me, carrot and ginger. The combination works in both sweet and savory applications. Carrot cake needs a lot of spice to complement the sweetness of the carrots, and its usually lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. I have slowly been upping the ginger in my carrot cakes for years, until I just decided to go all the way. A lovely dose of ground ginger in the cake plus bright, sweet candied ginger pieces rather than the more traditional raisins, adds a subtle heat and spice and a delightful texture. Fresh ginger pumps up the glaze adding another layer of zing.

I love this version of carrot cake for a variety of reasons. I always find Bundt cakes easier to make than layer cakes and simply because of the pan’s shape, you easily get a pretty presentation. This cake is very moist which is the key to delicious carrot cake. The glaze is a crackly sweet gingery glaze, almost like a glazed donut. The cake will keep well for a couple of days.

Carrot Ginger Bundt Cake
Print
For the Cake
  1. 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  2. 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
  3. Zest of one medium navel orange
  4. ½ cup fresh orange juice
  5. 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  6. 3 large eggs
  7. 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  8. 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  9. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  10. ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  11. ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  12. 3 cups grated carrots, from about 4 - 5 carrots
  13. ½ cup crystalized ginger bits (small piece), plus more for garnish
For the Glaze
  1. 6 Tablespoons whole milk
  2. 3 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  3. 2 cups confectioner's sugar
For the Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10 -cup Bundt pan with baking spray.
  2. Mix the butter, sugar, orange juice, zest and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure each addition is completely combined before adding the next. Beat in the flour, baking soda, ginger, salt and nutmeg until the batter is smooth and combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the carrots and ginger bits and mix on low until evenly distributed. Give the batter a good stir with the spatula to make sure the carrots are distributed, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Glaze
  1. While the cake is cooking, heat the milk and the ginger slices in a small saucepan just until the milk begins to bubble at the edges. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse and cool. Strain the milk through a fine sieve into a large bowl and discard the ginger. Beat in the confectioners' sugar until smooth and spoon over the cooled cake.
Notes
  1. I transfer the cake to a serving platter and tuck some wax or parchment paper around the edges before glazing the cake. When you've finished the glazing, just pull out the paper and you have a clean platter. This glaze is a little drippy to begin with, so I gently spoon the glaze that collects in the center around the edges and return it to the top of the cake covering the entire surface.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Guinness Caramel Sauce or Caramel Chews

This starts as a tale of failure. I set out to make a rich, Guinness-laced caramel sauce to drizzle over ice cream. In my first attempt, I dropped the ball, got distracted and cooked the caramel little longer than needed. But as the caramel was setting up, I thought perhaps I could save the day by pouring the thick caramel into a pan to see what happened. What happened was lovely little chewy caramels. I hit my intended goal on my second batch, which made the lovely sauce I imagined. This recipe(s) has been sitting in my files for awhile now, as I wasn’t sure exactly how to share it. But in the end, I couldn’t resist sharing the intended and unintended consequences.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I frequently pull out the Guinness and start cooking. Deep stout beer adds flavor and depth to so many preparations, from Guinness and Oatmeal Quick Bread to Guinness Sausage Coddle. It’s also an interesting ingredient in sweet recipes too, adding a heady note to this decadent sauce – and the caramel chews. I love the sauce poured over simple vanilla ice cream or drizzled over pound cake. The caramels make a lovely little gift – a special pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

Guinness Caramel Sauce or Caramel Chews
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1 ¼ cup white sugar
  2. ½ cup Guinness Extra Stout, divided
  3. ¾ cup heavy cream
  4. 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  5. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Instructions
  1. Mix the sugar and ¼ cup of the Guinness together in a high sided saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes without stirring. Measure the heavy cream and remaining Guinness together in a measuring cup. Carefully add it and the butter and salt to the caramel, stirring to combine. It will bubble heavily and seize up a little, just keep stirring until it is smooth and creamy.
  2. For Sauce: Cook for 2 minutes, until it is thick and smooth. Let the sauce cool. Transfer to an airtight jar and store in the fridge for up to a week. Place the jar in a bowl of warm water to soften the caramel.
  3. For Caramel Chews: Line an 8 by 8 inch square pan with parchment paper. Cook the caramel for 4 minutes, then pour directly into the prepared pan. Don't worry if it doesn't spread all the way to the edges of the pan; when it is just cool enough to handle, shape any ragged edges into a square. When the caramel is completely firm and cool, cut it into 1 - inch pieces. Wrap each piece in a twist of waxed paper. You can use clean fingers to shape the pieces into a bit more of a cylinder if you prefer, or leave them in rough squares.
Notes
  1. Makes about 1 ½ cups sauce or 20 caramel chews
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/
SaveSave

SaveSave

Egg Nog Custard Tarts

In the busy, crazy holiday season, necessity is often the mother of invention, and this recipe is proof of that. Some years ago, after a trip to Portugal with a group of girlfriends, I worked out a recipe for Portuguese Custard Tarts. It was really an attempt to recreate a memory for my friends, but they are so easy to make and lovely to serve, that they became something of a staple for me. I always seem to have the ingredients in the house.

Until last year at Christmas, a last minute event was added to an already busy calendar and I was tasked with bringing something sweet. These delicate tarts immediately came to mind. But alas, I had no milk. It being the whirlwind of the season, however, I had a bottle of egg nog from a local dairy in the fridge (as I usually do in December) and I thought why not give it a go. And the results are as lovely as the original, with an added holiday flair. This version is a little sweeter than the original because there is some sugar in the egg nog, but in the holiday season I like my sweets sweet, so I think it is a perfect result.

As with the original, these tarts are perfect all on their own – with just a little dusting of nutmeg on top, but they are also versatile. You could still try a drizzle of dulce de leche, and the little hollows on the top are a perfect cradle for a pretty, wintery dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. And I’d like to try a sweet cranberry sauce on the top for a very festive dessert.

Egg Nog Custard Tarts
Yields 18
Print
Ingredients
  1. 3 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 2 cups granulated sugar
  4. 2 cups dairy egg nog
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  6. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling
  7. ¾ cups flour
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
  2. Put the butter, eggs and sugar in the carafe of a blender and blend until smooth. Add 1 cup of the egg nog and blend, then add the flour and the remaining egg nog, vanilla and nutmeg. Blend until smooth.
  3. Spray 18 muffin cups with cooking spray. Spray them really thoroughly right before you pour the batter in. Pour the batter into the cups, filling them ¾ full. Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top of each tart. Bake the tarts on the upper and middle shelves of the oven for 40 – 45 minutes until firm and golden in the center. Do not bake less than 40 minutes. If using two muffin trays, swap them from the top shelf to the bottom after 30 minutes of cooking.
  4. Cool the tarts in the tins, then use a plastic knife to loosen the tarts and remove them carefully from the muffin cups. (A plastic knife won’t scratch the surface of the tin). These want to stick, but be patient and gentle and ease them out.
  5. The tarts keep remarkably well for several days in an airtight container.
Notes
  1. I used a nifty little fluted muffin tin I happen to have which adds a pretty touch, but plain tins work beautifully.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Gingerbread Cake with Cookie Butter Frosting

I didn’t really grow up eating gingerbread, though there is a long history of gingerbread cake in the South. I mostly knew those classic gingerbread men cookies, which I have never much liked. I think they dry out too much and never have enough spice for me. But over the years, I started to experiment with various gingerbread recipes, both cookie and cake form, and it is now an essential part of the holiday season to me. And I think gingerbread and spiced cookies just scream holiday. So I’ve combined them in to one moist, delicious dessert that feeds a crowd, perfect for holiday entertaining. I love a good 9 by 13 cake for serving at a party, either in large slabs on a dessert plate or smaller squares on a bigger spread.

The joy of gingerbread is that not only the taste, but also the wafting fragrance of sugar and spice while it’s in the oven. It’s like a nice extra gift. I sprinkle crushed cookie crumbs on the top, but I have been known to add a little gold glitter to jazz things up. I once had some little reindeer cake picks that have unfortunately disappeared, which is a shame, because they would be adorable marching across this cake.

Gingerbread Cake with Cookie Butter Frosting
Serves 12
Print
Ingredients
  1. 4 cups all purpose flour
  2. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  3. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  6. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  7. 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  8. 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  9. 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
  10. 1 1/2 cups molasses
  11. 1/2 cup water
  12. 2 eggs
  13. 2 cups buttermilk
For the Frosting
  1. 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  2. 3/4 cup cookie butter spread, such as Biscoff
  3. 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  4. 3 cups powdered sugar
  5. 3-4 Tablespoons milk
For the Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 13x9 pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the melted butter and molasses, mixing until combined (the batter will be thick). Add the water, mixing until everything is loosened. Beat in the eggs and buttermilk then until evenly combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Pour the batter into the pan and bake 45-50 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.
For the Frosting
  1. Beat the softened butter and the cookie butter together in the bowl of the stand mixer until smooth and combined. Beat in the powdered sugar at low speed 1 cup at a time. Drizzle in the milk a little at a time until you have a spreadable icing. Spread the icing over the top of the cooled cake.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Sweet Potato Pralines

I aspire to be, but am not much of a candy maker. I get a little nervous about the candy thermometer and the exactitude. In fact, I first started making pralines when I learned how to do them in the microwave. But I have been experimenting and expanding for awhile, and have come to discover making candy is not nearly as intimidating as I had feared. Sure, it takes some organization and patience, but the reward is so great, it’s utterly worth it.

As with a great deal of cooking, what really gets me interested and motivated is old community cookbooks, those treasure troves of local knowledge that always inspire and excite me. Many of these gems have whole chapters on candy making, everything from fudge to toffee to divinity and parlaines. And that is where I found this recipe for “yam” pralines. The idea intrigued me so, I had to try it. With a little tweaking and modernization and some interpretation from a clearly expert praline maker to a real novice, I got this version just right.

These pralines are incredibly autumnal, as sweet and luscious as the original, but with this lovely earthy undertone from the sweet potatoes. And they are celebratory – everyone is impressed with homemade candy. Wrap these individually in little cellophane bags tied with ribbon for a sophisticated Halloween treat, stack them up in a Mason jar as a hostess gift for friendsgiving, or lay them out on a pretty silver tray for the Thanksgiving dessert display.

Sweet Potato Pralines
Print
Ingredients
  1. 3 cups granulated white sugar
  2. 1 cup heavy cream
  3. 1 ¼ cup cooked, mashed sweet potato*
  4. pinch of kosher salt
  5. 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  6. 2 cups chopped pecans
Instructions
  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set near the stove.
  2. Combine the white sugar, heavy cream, sweet potato and salt in a large, heavy saucepan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side. Stir to blend thoroughly, then cook over medium heat until the thermometer reaches 234 degrees (sift-ball stage. Stir occasionally. Meanwhile, melt the brown sugar in a heavy saucepan. When the sweet potato mixture reaches 234, quickly stir in the melted brown sugar and the pecans until thoroughly combined. Remove the pot from the heat, then quickly drop large tablespoons of mixture onto the prepared baking sheets. Leave to cool for several hours until firm and dry. These will keep for at least a week in an airtight container.
  3. Makes about 2 dozen
Notes
  1. * You can cook about 2 sweet potatoes by pricking them all over with a sharp knife and microwaving for 10 minutes until soft when pressed. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, but still warm, cut in half and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Process until you have a smooth puree, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Leave the puree to cool. I have, however, also used a canned sweet potato puree – just sweet potatoes, not candied yams. I find these at better grocery stores.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Rosemary Chocolate Caramel Tart

One of my favorite indulgences on my yearly trip to London is Millionaire’s Shortbread, a crumbly cookie crusted bar with rich caramel and a layer of chocolate on top. These bites are decadent and delicious. I have to stop myself from eating one every day, which proves to be my greatest challenge in self-control. I have often tried to recreate the bars, but I suppose they just never live up to the original. But I finally hit on a close approximation in a Millionaire-inspired tart. And this version is perfect for Fall, and perfect for a time when we could all use a little comfort and indulgence.

Rosemary is a surprising and fantastic addition to this lush dessert, so infuse it in every layer. I served this to a friend who exclaimed she never would have imagined rosemary with chocolate, but damn was it a good idea! That’s how I feel – it adds a new dimension and cuts through the decadent richness of this tart. And the finished product is beautiful to boot. I promise, anyone you serve this too will be impressed, and very, very happy.

Rosemary Chocolate Caramel Tart
Serves 8
Print
For the Crust
  1. 10 ounce box of shortbread cookies (I use Lorna Doones)
  2. 1 Tablespoon rosemary needles
  3. ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling
  1. 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  2. ½ cup water
  3. 2 stalks fresh rosemary
  4. 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  5. 6 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  6. ½ teaspoon sea salt
For the Topping
  1. 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  2. 1 stalk fresh rosemary
  3. 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
For the Crust
  1. Spray a 9-inch removable bottom tart in with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350. Place the cookies and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground. With the motor running, pour in the melted butter until the crumbs star to come together and are moistened evenly. Transfer the crumbs to the tart tin and press to create an even crust on the bottom and up the sides of the tin. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and set aside.
For the filling
  1. Place the sugar, water and rosemary sprigs in a medium sized, heavy bottom saucepan. Cook over medium high heat, swirling the pan a few times, until the bubbling mixture is amber colored. Remove from the heat and use tongs to lift out the rosemary stalks. Stir in the butter, cream and salt, being careful as it may spatter initially, until smooth and combined. Pour the caramel into the prepared pie crust and let stand for 15 minutes. If there are any stray rosemary needles in the caramel, you can use the point of a sharp knife to lift them out if you’d like.
For the topping
  1. Place the cream and the rosemary stalk in a medium saucepan and bring just to a bare simmer over medium heat – just until little bubbles form on the surface. Lift the rosemary stalk out of the cream, the drop in the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes, then stir until smooth and completely combined. Pour the chocolate over the caramel in the crust. Let stand until completely set, about 2 hours.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Spiced Apple Torte

Recipes in my life go around in circles. I used to make a version of this apple dessert when I was just starting out in my first apartment, when a springform pan was considered exotic kitchen kit. I don’t know where I originally found it, but I imagine it might have been in my mom’s extensive file of apple recipes. My mother loves a good file folder, and when the apple tree my dad and I planted in the backyard started to produce fruit, she started filling a folder. I thought I was fancy because I added cinnamon for flair. Somehow, the recipe fell out of my rotation and I had not thought about it in years, but a recent internet search led me in a circuitous route to several recipes for apple sharlotka, a traditional Russian dessert. These recipes reminded me of this classic from my repertoire, so with apple season in full swing, I pulled it out again and updated and modernized it a bit. It was a treat to rediscover an old favorite.

What I love about this dish is that is mostly apple, tart chunks held together by a light, almost custard like filling – making the most of the season’s best fruit. In the spirit of autumn desserts, I’ve added a bouquet of warming spices – veering away from simple cinnamon to the less explored end of the spice rack. Of course, you can just use a dose of cinnamon, or leave out the spices altogether, but I think this combination adds a great hint of mystery and warmth. The cake is lovely on its own, but a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream never goes amiss, or a scoop of ice cream. I recently served it with salted caramel gelato to great effect.

Spiced Apple Torte
Serves 6
Print
Ingredients
  1. 6 tart green apples, like Granny Smith
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  4. 1 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  7. ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  8. ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  9. ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  10. ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  11. ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  12. confectioners’ sugar for dusting the top
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, then spray the paper and the pan with cooking spray.
  2. Peel the apples and cut them into small chunks, about the size of dice. Layer the chunks directly in the prepared pan.
  3. Beat the eggs, flour, sugar, vanilla, spices and salt together in the bowl of stand mixer. At first, it may look like dough, but beat for a few minutes until you have a smooth, thick batter. Spread the batter evenly over the top of the apples. Use a spatula to cover all the apples with batter and to encourage it reach down between the apples. Let the pan sit for a few minutes for the batter to distribute, then bake for 50 – 60 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Cool the cake completely, then remove the springform ring. Sprinkle generously with confectioners’ sugar.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Chocolate Chocolate Chess Pie

You may not forgive me for this one. It is the very definition of decadence. Chess pie, in all its forms, has always been a favorite of mine, from the traditional to my Sweet Potato Buttermilk Chess Pie. Add in some chocolate, and I am a really happy girl. I recently made a classic chocolate chess for a lake weekend with friends (and a traditional chess, just to be safe) and though I licked my plate, and got rave reviews, I couldn’t help but think what I could do to snazz up the original, as I am wont to do. And it came to me – chocolate overload. Swap out a standard pie crust for one made with a hit of cocoa, and you have got something special.

The crust can be a little ticky to work with, just be patient and patch any holes with scraps of dough when you fit it in the plate. You can, of course, pour this filling into a standard butter pie crust, but really. The center of the pie needs to be firm, but with a tiny little wiggle. It will fall a little on cooling and some cracks may appear, but those just reveal the gooey chocolate center. I think this pie is amazing on its own, but a little dollop of whipped cream is never a bad thing.

Chocolate Chocolate Chess Pie
Serves 6
Print
For the Chocolate Crust
  1. 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  2. 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  3. 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  4. ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  5. ½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
  6. 3 – 4 Tablespoons ice water
For the Filling
  1. ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  2. 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  3. ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  4. a pinch of kosher salt
  5. 3 eggs
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1 Tablespoon cornmeal
For the Crust
  1. Place the flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to blend completely.  Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into the food processor. Process until you have a crumbly mixture with the butter distributed evenly. With the motor running, add the water a little at a time, just until the dough starts to come together. Dump the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and knead a few times into a cohesive ball. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in the plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but overnight is fine.
  2. When ready to assemble the pie, remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the dough into a round large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie plate (about 12 inches around). Spray the pie plate with cooking spray. Carefully drape the crust over the rolling pin and transfer it to the pie plate. Press the crust into the plate and crimp the edges. Refrigerate while you make the filling.
For the Filling
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the sugar, cocoa powder and salt together in a large bowl. Add the eggs, melted butter and vanilla and stir until completely combined and smooth. Stir in the cornmeal until combined. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the pie is firm, with just a teeny jiggle and the top has formed a crust.  Cool the pie completely.  The pie can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept on the counter for one day, or refrigerated for two days, or wrapped in plastic and then foil and frozen for up to two months. Thaw in the fridge before serving.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/