Saturday, October 24, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Nabs Crust

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Nabs Crust
Nabs. Peanut Butter Crackers. Lance's Toast Chee. Whatever you call them, you are likely familiar with the unnaturally florescent "cheese" crackers that are sandwiched with peanut butter and wrapped in cellophane-- six to a pack. For me, they were the stuff of after school snacks, bought with quarters out of the teacher's lounge vending machine or pulled from my mother's desk drawer while my brother and I waited for her to finish her classroom work. I hadn't thought about those sandwich crackers much since until my friend Emily Wallace, a Nabs devotée, made some illustrations of them for bookmarks. Then a few months ago, while interviewing Richmond chef Travis Milton for a story for Gravy, he mentioned that he'd made some Nabs-crusted pork cutlets and began to wax poetic:
It’s kinda like a fried pork chop pounded up and you just grind up Nabs and the sugar and the peanut butter gets real real crispy and kinda caramelizes and the cracker meal gets good. I’ve also rolled sausage balls or boudin balls in that too. Nabs are one of my favorite things in the world.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Nabs Crust

This got me thinking-- could I use Nabs in a sweet dish, perhaps as a pie crust? I started talking about it with some friends, but quickly realized that many did not know what "Nabs" were, calling them instead "Toast Chee" or "Cheese and Peanut Butter Crackers." "Nabs" are a shortened version of "Nabisco," who along with Lance, produced varieties of the sandwich crackers in the early 1900s. Nabisco adopted the shortened name used by customers, however in the late 70s and early 80s, they discontinued their "Nabs," leaving those made by Keebler and Lance to become the prominent brands. The "Nabs" moniker is particularly prevalent in North Carolina, as according to Our State Magazine, both Lance and Nabisco had factories in the state, and the crackers were a common quick snack for mill workers who often did not get a break for lunch.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Nabs Crust

Regardless of what you call them, my rigorous testing proved that Nabs can indeed make a fine pie crust, similar to a graham cracker, saltine, or Oreo crust. I adapted the filling from this Peanut Butter-Pretzel Tart, as Nabs seemed to demand a milk chocolate pairing rather than semi-sweet. The result resembles a Butterfinger, both in richness and flavor. Rather than a peanut butter swirl, you could also do a chocolate covered peanut filling, which would add a nice crunch.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Nabs Crust Slice

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Nabs Crust

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups (about 6 packets) Nabs aka "Cheese" and Peanut Butter Crackers, crushed
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling:
8 ounces milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (Use run-of-the-mill salted and sweetened peanut butter. If you use natural, make sure it's smooth, and you'll want to add sugar to taste--probably 1/2 cup)

1. For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place Nabs in the bowl of a food processor and process until fine crumbs form.  Add melted butter, sugar, and salt, and pulse until well mixed.

2. Pat the buttery crumbs into a 9-inch pie pan, pressing mixture into the bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake until crust is set, about 10-12 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature before adding the filling.

3. For the filling: Put chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set aside. Combine cream and butter in a medium saucepan and place on medium heat until it just comes to a boil. When it begins to boil, pour it over the chocolate, cover the bowl, and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Remove the lid and whisk in the chocolate until it is completely melted and has a ganache-like consistency. Pour it into the cooled pie crust and smooth with a rubber spatula.

4. Meanwhile, warm the peanut butter in the microwave or on the stove until it is slightly runny. Pour it over the chocolate ganache, and drag a butter knife through it to create swirls. Chill for at least 25-30 minutes to set. Serve at room temperature and enjoy.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with Nabs Crust

Related recipes:
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pretzel Tart
Chocolate and Strawberry Pocky Pie
Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate Ganache
Speculoos Icebox Pie

Monday, October 12, 2015

Delicata Squash Pie

Delicata Squash Pie aka "Not Pumpkin Pie"

Since the very early days of this blog, I've asserted that if you're going to make a "pumpkin" pie from scratch with purée from a fresh vegetable, you should make it with squash, not pumpkin. Not only is the flavor generally better-- sweeter and more potent-- the consistency is much preferable-- less watery and less stringy than a pie pumpkin. My favorite squash to use is delicata. The long tubular gourd that's striped dark green and cream, indicates its taste via its name, which means "sweet". Delicatas can be harder to find than butternut or acorn squash (unless you live in Vermont, where they seem to be everywhere), but the quest is well worth it for the resulting pie.

This recipe, which I first made for a Burlington, Vermont "Seamonster Potluck" in 2006, was one of the four from Nothing in the House selected by King Arthur Flour to appear in their fall issue of Sift, alongside my article on the anthropology of pie. It's fitting, particularly as I'm not sure I'd had a delicata until I moved to Burlington, where my friend Andrea cut thin coins of them, topped them with masked celeriac, roasted them, and called it a "delicata cookie"-- one of my favorite savory treats to this day.

Here's the recipe that appeared in Sift, adapted from my original. King Arthur's lovely cream swirl didn't quite work out for me, so instead I whipped some extra cream just slightly, and drizzled it atop the baked and cooled pie.

Delicata Squash Pie aka "Not Pumpkin Pie"

Delicata Squash Pie

Nothing in the House pie crust, halved
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk or cream
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
3 medium (1 3/4 pounds before cooking) delicata squash
Additional evaporated milk or cream, for swirling

1. Prepare half of Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions, reserving the leftover egg for an egg wash. Chill dough at least one hour before rolling and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Let chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Halve the squash lengthwise, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Bake, cut side down, in a 9 x 13-inch pan with 1/2 inch of water in the bottom. After 30-40 minutes, press the squash with your finger; when it's soft, it's done. Remove from the oven, and when cool enough to handle, scoop out 2 cups of the flesh. Purée until smooth. Increase the oven's temperature to 425 F.

3. For the filling: Combine the evaporated milk or cream, sugars, spices, salt, and eggs. Add to the squash and blend until smooth with a hand mixer or immersion blender. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell. Add a swirl of cream or evaporated milk on top, or sprinkle with cinnamon for decoration, if desired (you could also drizzle with cream and/or sprinkle with cinnamon post-baking).

4. Placed the pie on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes at 425°F. Reduce the temperature to 350 F and bake for another 40 to 45 minutes, until the pie is mostly set, and a 1-2 inch circle in the center still wobbles a bit when you nudge the pan. Remove the pie from the oven and cool it completely before slicing. Sprinkle with cinnamon and/or drizzle with whipped cream, if desired.

Delicata Squash Pie slice

Related recipes:
Drunken Pumpkin Bourbon Pie with Mascarpone Cream
Pumpkin & Chai Spice Nut Butter Pie
Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake Pie

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pear Tartlets

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pear Tarts

A few weeks ago, I attended an American Folklife Center symposium at the Library of Congress, celebrating the release of the new book Ola Belle Reed and Southern Mountain Music on the Mason Dixon Line by fellow folklorists Henry Glassie, Cliff Murphy, and Doug Peach. The book, which I highly recommend, is based on fieldwork by Glassie and Murphy and relates the story of a group of southern musical families who moved to Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in search of jobs during the Great Depression. Placing Ola Belle and her relatives and descendants at the center, it examines the community of southern traditional music that took hold there and its modern iterations, namely in the music of Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass, and Zane and Hugh Campbell.

As a big fan of Ola Belle, Hugh, and Zane, as well as the book's authors, the symposium a lovely and insightful gathering. My one critique is that I wish there had been more women's voices on the stage. Upon talking about this with my coworker Greg, he suggested I get in touch with Judy Marti, a banjo player, orchardist and last student of Ola Belle's, who also self-published a biography of her that's often quoted in the new book. I emailed Judy and said I was interested in meeting her, learning about her music and farming, and possibly playing some tunes, and she invited my bandmate Nadia and me up to her orchard in Biglersville, PA on a Saturday afternoon.

Seckel Pears in a bowl

I wanted to make something to bring to Judy and her husband, and figuring they already had a glut of apples, my eye turned to the quart of Seckel pears I'd bought at the farmers' market the weekend prior. I don't believe I'd baked with them before, and felt they were so remarkable in their size and flavor, that I wanted to preserve and showcase that as much as possible. I remembered seeing a beautiful wine-poached pear recipe on David Lebovitz's blog and figured I could poach these mini pears whole and place them on individual tarts. I found a similar recipe via The Telegraph, and baked these Saturday morning after poaching the pears the night before.

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pear Tarts

As usual, I was in a rush to finish baking before I head to drive up to Biglersville, but I made it out in time, and it was the perfect crisp and sunny fall day for a trip out of the city. When Nadia and I arrived, Judy took us for a tour of her orchard, which she called a "homestead farm," mostly supplying just enough for her and her family, plus some barter and sales. Then we sat on the deck of her sauna, and she showed us Ola Belle's distinctive picking technique, told us stories about their friendship, and we passed instruments around, sharing tunes with each other.

In the end, I felt a little silly bringing pear tarts to an orchard (that it turns out, also grows pears), but after I left, Judy sent me an email, saying they were "quite good." The tartlets would also do well paired with creme fraiche and could even be brought to the savory side of things with some thyme and goat cheese spread on the puff pastry prior to adding the poached pear. You can make it with store-bought puff pastry or homemade-- Food52 has a great and fairly easy recipe. Either way, the tartlets would be wonderful as appetizers or dessert, for fall dinners or a fancy Thanksgiving feast.

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pear Tarts

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pear Tartlets
Adapted from The Telegraph

1 dozen seckel pears
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup Merlot (or another fruity red wine)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 broad strips lemon rind, pith removed
1 cinnamon stick
8 black peppercorns
11 ounces puff pastry (store-bought or homemade-- recipe here)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Turbinado sugar for dusting

1. Pour water and wine into a stock pot or saucepan large enough to hold all pears and whisk together with brown sugar. Hit on low, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Add lemon rind, cinnamon stick and peppercorns and let simmer on very low-- do not let boil.

2. Meanwhile, peel pears without removing the stalks and place in the saucepan with the wine mixture. Bring liquid just to a boil, then reduce heat to a vert low simmer-- you want the fruit to cook slowly. Gently cook pears, turning them occasionally so every side comes into contact with the wine. They should be tender, but still hold together. Once tender, remove pan from heat and let cool. When at room temperature, transfer wine mixture and pears to a bowl, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for 1-3 hours. This will allow the pears to absorb both color and flavor.

3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Remove pears with a slotted spoon and place on a cutting board. Return wine mixture to pot or saucepan and boil until thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool.

4. With a sharp chef's knife, make lengthwise cuts in pears, about 1 cm apart so slices can fan out slightly.

5. On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass just slightly larger than the pears. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush each pastry round with melted butter, then place pear in the center of each round. Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.

6. Bake at 450 for 8-10 minutes until pastry is puffed and golden. Serve tartlets individually with wine syrup drizzled atop.

Red Wine-Poached Seckel Pear Tartlets

Related recipes:
Pear and Cardamom Fig Pie
Pear, Gruyère, and Caramelized Onion Hand Pies
Pear Tarte Tatin
Quince Biscuit Pie

Cranberry Chess Pie

Fig Pistachio Tarte Tatin

Peppermint Pattie Tart

Whiskey & Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

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