Saturday, October 16, 2010

English Toffee

I tried this recipe many years ago in my tiny apartment, before husband, before kids. It looked so easy, but I failed miserably. Hard crack stage quickly became giant ball of glue stuck to my cheap-o pan. But today—with my trusty candy thermometer—success!

Mom makes this at Christmas every year and the holiday tin she puts it in quickly becomes empty. Last year, she decided to make it as her contribution to our family "gift game," the one where you draw a number and then either choose a gift or steal from someone else. Well, the game was not taking place until Christmas night, so for all the days leading up to the game, everyone was becoming very disgruntled that she had not made the toffee...we scoured the house and accused her of falling down on the job. How could we have Christmas without the toffee?!? I think in the end she gave it up and told us we had to wait to see who could get it in the game. I can't remember who actually won it legitimately because as soon as it was out in the open, it was gone. Mom, next time, you make a batch and I'll make a batch and everyone will be happy.

English Toffee
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
3 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine first 4 ingredients in medium saucepan. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, to a hard crack stage (300). Remove from heat and pour onto greased cookie sheet (9x13). Cool 1 minute. While hot, cover with chocolate chips and spread as they melt. Sprinkle nuts on top. Do not refrigerate; it may cause the chocolate to separate from the toffee. Just sit on your counter until it's hard enough to break into pieces.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Crunch Time

I'm getting down to the wire on the cookbook project and can see my Christmas deadline quickly approaching. Time to do some designing and editing instead of cooking and blogging. I do have about 8 recipes remaining that must be included, but not sure I will have time to test them...

English Toffee, Candied Walnuts, Christmas Cinnamon Rolls, Pecan Pie, Sweet Potato Casserole, Homemade Dinner Rolls...and a few others. 

After tackling and conquering the Black Bottom Pie, though, I feel like my work here is done!

After 10 months of testing and compiling recipes, I have a little over 50 recipes to include in the cookbook. I weeded out many from the original list of about 100 because I realized they had little or no significance for me as far as childhood or family memories were concerned. Some didn't make the cut because my mother could not remember ever making them, even though they were in her recipe collection! And then some I just could not muster the energy to even attempt: 3-day pickles (with lye!), Christmas Pudding, Tomato Aspic...I had high hopes of getting through everything, but low and behold, morning sickness just got in the way! Maybe after the baby comes and I'm just lounging around the house on maternity leave with nothing to do...

So as I dive into the world of self-publishing, forgive me if my blog suffers from neglect. I will post a few of the remaining tests just because they are soooo good and you should experience them too. But the remaining weeks before Christmas (only 73 shopping days left, my friends!) will be dedicated to completing what has been an extremely fun and empowering (and exhausting) journey. I've loved spending so much time in the kitchen—showing my daughter that her working mom can also be a homemaker. I've been empowered by the fact that I can recreate so many taste memories from my childhood, and actually cook this amazing homemade-with-love food that I grew up on. And I have thoroughly enjoyed what I've discovered along the way about the strong mothers in my family tree who have passed these recipes along to their daughters throughout the generations. In the end, this was the purpose for me as pass along a great tradition of home cooked meals to my TWO daughters. And they will have them in a beautifully bound collection! But don't worry...all those recipe cards will not be thrown in the trash. I think the Smithsonian might want them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Greatest Pie on Earth

Well, I've done it. Reached the pinnacle. Crossed the finish line. I have done what few even attempt and I survived to tell the tale. I made my mother's famous Black Bottom Pie. Four stages of instructions, two pages typed, thirteen ingredients, and two hours of my life I'll never get back. Worth every single minute.

This pie is one of those pies that you could quite easily sit down and eat the entire thing in one sitting...just you, a 13x9 pyrex baking dish, a fork, and bite after bite of dreamy creamy chocolately goodness. I think my sister has actually done this, which is why she vows never to make it herself. She had to move to the East Coast just to be 3,000 miles away from the one woman who makes it. And when she comes to visit, it's really the only required menu item. We think it's best for breakfast.

As my father says, it's like walking into a cold breeze with your mouth open. Or I prefer describing it as being like heaven and angels and all things beautiful. It's deceptively light and fluffy, with a dark chocolate cookie crust in the perfect thickness to give it just the right amount of decadence. It's an elegant dessert...the layers are straight and symmetrical, the colors remind you of a tuxedo and ivory satin, and it floats in your mouth.

I've always been intimidated by this recipe and now I know's pretty complicated, or at least doing it the first time was incredibly daunting. What if it didn't turn out right? A failed Black Bottom Pie would cause me to rethink this whole project. At several points in the process, I didn't think what was supposed to happen was happening so had to call my mom for some reassurance. Even when it was all said and done, I just wasn't sure I had pulled it off. After the first bite, though, there was no question. I had made a Black Bottom Pie and it was perfect.

Black Bottom Pie
Vera Davis
Makes 16 slices when using a 13 x 9 pyrex

1 box Nabisco Chocolate Icebox cookies

5 Tbsp melted butter

1 packet Knox gelatin (about 1 Tbsp)

2 cups whole milk
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar + 3 Tbsp, divided
1 Tbsp flour

Dash of salt
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tsp vanilla, separated
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 pint whipping cream
1/2 square unsweetened chocolate, grated

Crust: Crush one box of Nabisco Chocolate Icebox cookies in a food processor to a fine texture. Mix with melted butter. Press into the 13 x 9 pan. Heat in 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until very hot so the crust will hold together.

Filling: Stir the Knox gelatin with 4 Tbsp of cold water. Set aside. Pour milk into a double boiler to heat. Meanwhile beat egg yolks well and add to them 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp of flour mixed well. Add a dash of salt. Gradually blend this mixture into the hot milk and whisk to make smooth. Cook until the custard mixture coats a spoon, about 20 minutes.

Chocolate Layer: Take out 1 cup of the custard and mix it with 1 1/2 squares of unsweetened chocolate that has been thoroughly melted. Blend this until smooth and add 1 tsp vanilla. Spread this mixture over crust. This will make a very thin layer so be careful not to pull the crust apart as you spread.

Cream Layer: Remove pan with the filling mixture from the double boiler. Dissolve the congealed gelatin mixture to a liquid and add it to the filling mixture. In a separate bowl, make a stiff meringue by beating 4 egg whites, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 tsp vanilla. Fold meringue into the filling mixture. Pour on top of chocolate layer. Let stand in the refrigerator until firm, preferably overnight.

Topping: Beat whipping cream and 3 Tbsp of sugar. Spoon on top of chocolate layer. Use remaining 1/2 square of unsweetened chocolate and grate it on top of the whipped cream. Return to refrigerator. This will make 16 servings and will keep several days...or about 15 minutes.

This is the scariest moment in the life of a Black Bottom Pie. After serving it at a family dinner, I'm left with just enough to do some serious damage to that pregnancy weight gain limit. Do I take one more bite, which could lead to another and another until the whole thing is gone (a sad moment in itself)? Or do I show restraint, be conservative in my approach, and save the last corner to savor another day? What did I do? I'll never tell...