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.

Gypsy Tart

I thought, when all these safer-at-home orders started, that I would be an absolute cooking machine. Testing 3 and 4 recipes a day, absolutely alight with creativity. And I’d make myself fantastic meals twice a day. I planned to become an expert on cooking from the pantry and the freezer. But it hasn’t happened. I still cook – it’s my job – but that burst of energy and creativity hasn’t come. I’ve conquered a couple of long delayed kitchen projects, but I haven’t written a whole new book. And my meals have tended toward the peanut butter sandwich variety more than I care to admit. As far as posting on this site, it’s been a little tricky, I generally have a store of recipes created months, sometimes years in advance, but they haven’t felt like the right thing to do. Feasts for a family Easter, fiesta meals for Cinco de Mayo or decadent ideas for special occasions. I’m just not sure about the right way to precede here. 

I have been exploring some recipes and ideas for cooking with fewer, more available ingredients, and I share them on my Facebook page and Instagram feed. I’ve flipped though old cookbooks and seen what other people are creating. And I stand in my own pantry and think about ways to use things.  Somewhere in the back of my mind was this niggling idea of a pie made with evaporated milk and sugar. I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it or why it was in my brain, but it just kept tapping at my memory. I thought maybe it was a Depression era recipe, so I started looking through community cookbooks from the 40s. I was thinking Southern, but when I didn’t turn anything up, I went through those resources from other regions. Then it hit me that maybe it was a wartime rationing recipe from England, so I searched through a few books I have on that era, but to no end. Then I took to the internet. It was a circuitous route, searching for “evaporated milk and sugar pie,” but eventually, through some trick if internet luck, I came across Gypsy Tart and knew that’s exactly what I had in mind. There are lots of resources for Gypsy tart, and many stories to go with it – some of which admit to being pure speculation – but it appears to be a specialty of Kent in England, and many of the articles I read said that people from Kent love it, but outside the area are not familiar with it, so how it came into my consciousness I cannot imagine. 

The point is, it is a very simple and utterly delicious pie made with very few ingredients. And it is very different than what I expected, in a lovely way. Somehow, in my mind I imagined something similar to a chess pie, but it is not that at all. It is a light and airy mousse with a deep, treacly, molasses-y flavor that is a complete surprise in something so delicate. And it is not cloyingly sweet at all.  Many recipes called for a sweetened pate sucree style crust, but I couldn’t see it needing any more sugar, so I went with a simple, basic crust – I even tested it with a pre-rolled, bought pie crust which works a treat. The secret here is to whip the milk and sugar more than you think you should until it is stiff, then to slip it into the oven for less than you think you should. I had some filling the first time round that I just couldn’t imagine would fit in the crust, so I put it in a ramekin and baked it along with the pie. It turned out beautifully too, so I think you could even do this without the crust if you are in a bind. I find screw top boxes of evaporated milk that are 17 ounces. A can is 12 ounces, so you will need two to make this recipe. And the milk needs to be chilled before using. Original recipes called for muscovado sugar, but I went with the readily available dark brown sugar. Don’t pack it heavily into the measure, just lightly tamp it in to fill.

Gypsy Tart

1 – 9-inch pie crust (homemade or ready-rolled)

17 ounces (2 1/8 cup) evaporated milk, chilled overnight (see story above)

1 ¾ cups lightly packed dark brown sugar

Chill the evaporated milk in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Fit the pastry into a 9-inch deep dish pie or tart pan sprayed with cooking spray. I prefer a removable bottom tin. Score the crust with the tines of a fork all over. Line the crust with parchment paper, then fill the paper with baking weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven, cool and remove the paper and weights. The crust must be completely cool before you fill it. Place the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment, which will make it easier to transfer to the oven and catch any drips.

Beat the chilled milk and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at medium high speed for 10 – 12 minutes. The filling should hold peaks that are not fully stiff but more than soft – the peaks should only flop over slightly. I hate to make this comparison, but whipped topping from the tub is about right. Scoop the filling into the prepared crust, smoothing it to the edges as you go. Fill it as much as you can without overflowing. The filling does not puff up nor deflate, so what you have here is what the finished product will look like. If you have a bit of extra filling, spoon it into a ramekin and bake and chill it alongside the pie (see story above). Slide the tart into the oven and bake for 10 minutes, just until the top is slightly golden at the edges and the filling barely wobbles. Cool the tart completely, then chill it overnight or for eight hours.

Slice the pie, wiping the knife between cuts, and serve immediately.

Serves 8

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Strawberry Elderflower Tiramisu

I am messing with tradition here and I know it. This recipe is far from a traditional Italian tiramisu, but I think it retains the general spirit, so I’ve used the name happily. I first had tiramisu on a school girl trip to Italy when I was fifteen. The name was exotic and Italian and sophisticated, and the waiter taught us all how to pronounce it correctly. When I got home, I told my rather gourmet aunt that I had simple adored the tiramisu in a bid to sound wordly, and she searched high and low to find me a copy of the classic cookbook that had the recipe she preferred. I made it a few times for family, probably as an excuse to show what I refined world traveler I had become. It made appearances on my table over the years, the classic custardy egg and mascarpone version, but I found it to be a little troublesome. When a friend let me know she just loved tiramisu, I started whipping up a simpler version for her on occasion – just a creamy mascarpone filling with espresso soaked savoiardi and a sprinkling of cocoa and it became a hit. But the honest truth is, I don’t like coffee. Not the drink, not the ice cream, not the truffle in the Valentine chocolates. So despite my adolescent pretensions, I don’t particularly love traditional tiramisu.

But I do love this creamy, berry-laden no bake riff on the idea. It’s become easier to find the Italian ladyfingers at better grocery stores, and the sweet spring berries are wonderful with the tangy mascarpone. I make a strawberry jam with a dose of elderflower liqueur every year that I get frequent requests for, so I decided it would be the perfect addition to this recipe. I use St. Germain, which is widely available, even in little airplane bottles. If you can’t find it or just don’t want to try, use another liqueur like Cointreau or Triple Sec, or a little lemon juice.

Strawberry Elderflower Tiramisu

For the Base:

3 cups strawberries, hulled and halved

2 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

2 Tablespoon elderflower liqueur

For the Filling:

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

16 ounces mascarpone, at room temperature

2 Tablespoons elderflower liqueur

For Assembly:

1 (7.5 ounce package) Italian lady finger (savoiardi)

2 cups hulled, sliced strawberries

1 ½ cups heavy cream

2 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

For the Base:

Puree the strawberries, liqueur and sugar in the carafe of a blender until smooth and liquid. Pour into a wide bowl and set aside.

For the Filling:

Beat the heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachement. As the cream thickens, slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Add the mascarpone and the liqueur and beat until combined and thick.

For Assembly:

Choose an 8 by 8 inch dish with high sides. Dip each ladyfinger in the strawberry puree and flip to coat both sides. Place in the dish and repeat with half of the ladyfingers, covering the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the mascarpone filling over the lady fingers and top the mascarpone with half of the sliced strawberries. Drizzle over about 2 Tablespoons of the strawberry puree, then dip and layer the remaining ladyfingers. Spread over the rest of the filling, another layer of sliced strawberries and a drizzle of puree.

Whip the heavy cream in the bowl of a stand mixer and slowly add the sugar until thick and stiff peaked. Spread the whipped cream over the top of the tiramisu to cover the strawberries. Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. Reserve the remaining puree covered in the fridge to drizzle over the top of the tiramisu before serving.

Cut into slices and serve drizzled with strawberry puree.

Serves 8

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

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