Chocolate Chip Pecan Blondies

ccpecanblondiesBetter Homes & Gardens must have the most awesome test kitchens ever, because their recipes always work. Every. Single. Time.

Every now and then, even those of us with semi-pro-level baking skills can have a disaster in the kitchen, and I usually attribute this to the recipe, rather than to the baker. Some recipes are unclear, or perhaps not as well-tested as they should be; sometimes the ratios are off, or the volume is wrong for the pan, or the flavor profile leaves a lot to be desired.

Not with BH&G, my friends. These folks know their stuff, and this recipe is yet another example. It is a “make it mine” blondie recipe from Better Homes & Gardens Baking, which Mike gave me for Christmas last year (along with some snazzy new spatulas and mini loaf pans). You can add whatever you like to the base, and I chose toasted pecans and chocolate chips. Next time, I might add a chocolate drizzle to the top, or mix in some toffee pieces as well.

Ingredients

  • 10 2/3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13 x 9 baking pan with foil, extending foil over the sides. Lightly grease foil.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture melts and becomes smooth.

Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

Once butter/sugar mixture has cooled slightly, add vanilla and eggs and mix well.

Add flour mixture and stir well to combine; batter will become fairly thick.

Add toasted pecans and chocolate chips and stir to combine.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and spread out into an even layer.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is a very light golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.

Cut into bars while still warm; when completely cool, remove from pan and store in an airtight container.

Pecan Pie Bars

pecan pie barsThe good news: pecans are a great source of manganese, a mineral that has many benefits to overall health. Pecans are also a good source of protein and omega-6 fatty acids, and can help lower cholesterol.

The bad news: the health benefits of pecans may be canceled out by the cup and a half of corn syrup, cup and a half of sugar, and four eggs that are also included in this recipe.

The next time I make these I think I’m going to reduce the filling ingredients by about one-fourth, so that the filling doesn’t bubble over the sides of the pan. If I do so, I’ll post an adapted recipe here so everyone can have the ratios.

These bars were for my brother Andy on his birthday, as he is a fan of pecan pie.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into small cubes

For the filling

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 15 x 10 x 1 pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs; I also used my hands to get a more even consistency.

Press into the bottom of the pan in an even layer; bake for 20 minutes.

With a few minutes left on your crust baking time, prepare the filling. In a large bowl whisk eggs, sugar, corn syrup, melted butter, and vanilla until well combined. Stir in pecans.

Carefully pour filling over hot crust and return to the oven, baking for 25-30 minutes or until filling is set. Note: your pan will be very, very full so move it carefully; I placed a larger baking pan on the rack beneath mine to catch the drips, and my filling bubbled over a bit so I’m glad I did.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack completely before cutting.

Pecan Drops

pecan dropsBaking is both a science and an art, given that it requires both precision and creativity. Once you’ve baked your fair share of treats, you realize that just because the recipe in the book says to use a cup of this and a teaspoon of that, you sometimes need to improvise.

Why is this necessary? It all depends on the conditions under which a recipe has been tested, and the conditions under which you’re baking, which might be very different. Perhaps the test kitchen is in New York City, and you’re baking in New Orleans. Maybe the recipe was tested on a day in the middle of November, and you’re baking in the middle of July. Perhaps the test kitchen baker didn’t let her butter soften as much as yours, or she used a different kind of baking sheet.

Whatever the reason, you’ll usually know if you need to improvise as soon as you’ve finished mixing it according to the source’s instructions, and you’ll most definitely know after your first batch has baked. I suspected that I’d need to add more flour right after I finished mixing my dough, but I baked one test batch just to be sure, and I was proven right. This recipe includes more flour than Martha’s original, but I also fully acknowledge that it’s 88 degrees in Pittsburgh and very humid today, so the next time I make these, I might not need it.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2/3 cup pecan bits, toasted and cooled
  • 32 pecan halves

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line four baking sheets with parchment.

In a small bowl, sift flour and kosher salt together; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add egg yolk and mix well.

With the mixer running on low, slowly beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Stir in pecan bits.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough onto prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart (you should have 9 cookies per sheet for optimal baking). Press a pecan half into the top of each cookie.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until edges are just golden. Cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Pecan Scones

IMG_0452One of the most important things about baking is following your instincts. When you do, amazing things can happen. When you don’t, you end up burning the daylights out of your scones.

Fresh from the oven, these treats looked like the kind of scone you’d pay three bucks for with your morning coffee; they were golden brown and fragrant, smelling of pecans and chocolate and espresso.

I should have left them alone.

But the recipe instructed me to generously dust the tops with powdered sugar, then place the scones back in the oven, under my broiler, to caramelize. Enticed by the notion of a crunchy sugar shell on the top of each scone, I gave it a try. And even though I’m quite adept at broiling, I was no match for the melting point of powdered sugar. Half of the scones were in the direct path of the heat, and those caramelized, then burned within seconds. The others, which weren’t in the direct path of the heat, didn’t even begin to melt. Some careful moving of the baking sheet ensued, and I was able to properly caramelize just a few. And fortunately, the properly caramelized scones are delicious…but next time, my instincts will win out.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)
  • 8 tablespoons butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 lightly beaten egg
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Stack two cookie sheets together and line the top one with foil or parchment.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder (if using).

Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; you’ll need to use your hands in addition to the pastry blender.

Add pecans and chocolate chips, stirring to combine.

Add maple syrup to buttermilk and all the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once, mixing until dough is just combined.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4-5 times. Pat into a circle about 7-8 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut into eight wedges and place on the cookie sheet.

Make egg wash; combine lightly beaten egg with heavy cream and brush the tops of each scone.

Bake 18-20 minutes, until tops are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center(s) comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack.

Pecan Pie…for my Mom

Pecan pieEveryone loves my mother. No, really, they do. Many times in my life, when I’ve introduced myself to someone, they’ve said “oh, are you related to Genny Kozusko?” And when I confirmed that she’s my mom, they inevitably proclaimed, in wide-eyed fascination, “Genny’s your mom?!? I love her! What’s it like to have a mom like her?”

What is it like to have a mom like Genny? She was strict with my brother Andy and me when we were kids, tolerating no back-talk, tantrums, or nonsense. Weekly mass attendance was compulsory, good grades were expected, and junk food was rationed like it was World War II. But every summer, she packed us into the car for a week-long trip to Maryland, where she and my Aunt Liz would take us to Gettysburg, or DC, or Baltimore and teach us about everything they knew; during the school year, Genny came to all of our games, school plays, and concerts when her own busy teaching and coaching schedule permitted. When I lived away from Pittsburgh, I called her every week to check in, and I still call her when I travel to let her know that I’ve arrived safely. She helped Mike and me paint our house, landscape our yard, and renovate our bathroom. She’s our go-to dog-sitter and always happy to take Millie for a walk when she stops by.

What it’s like to have a mom like Genny is to know that I must leave this world a little better off than I found it; to know that family, faith, honesty, hard work, and humor are the most important things that exist. I’m incredibly lucky to have her as my mom. And because it’s Mother’s Day, I’ve baked this pecan pie for her.

Ingredients

  • 1 unbaked pie crust
  • 3 slightly beaten eggs
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9-inch pie plate with crust; trim edges and shape as desired.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, corn syrup, sugar, and vanilla and mix well. Add melted butter, taking care not to cook your eggs, stirring to combine. Stir in pecans, then pour filling into crust.

Cover the edge of the pie with a guard or foil to prevent over-browning; bake for 25 minutes, then remove guard and bake another 20-25 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center of the pie comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for at least two hours before refrigerating.

Meet Genny

Genny O’Donnell Kozusko is the second-youngest of six children. Born in Howard County, Maryland on June 9, 1946, she is fifty minutes older than her twin sister, my Aunt Liz. She’s the director of athletics at The Ellis School in Pittsburgh, though she is retiring this year to spend more time volunteering at her church, hanging out with our nephew Roman, and hopefully walking Millie.

Below, Genny leans over to touch the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston.

Genny and the Monster

Banana Pecan Chocolate Chip Bread

 

 

 

 

 

Some recipes are easy to embellish, and this recipe is one of those.  Take basic banana bread, add some nuts and chocolate chips, and you have a whole new treat.  I used pecans and milk chocolate chips, but you could certainly use walnuts and semi-sweet if you like.

I think one of the things that draws me to baking-other than the predictability of the outcome-is the possibility of creativity, and how there are endless ways to make a recipe more interesting.  Add flavoring to cake batter, and you change the cake.  Add nuts to brownie batter, and you change the brownie.  There’s something oddly liberating in that, in imagining the possibilities.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • generous 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 3 medium very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8x4x2 loaf pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Make a well in the center and set aside.

In another medium bowl, combine egg, mashed bananas, sugar, and vegetable oil.

Pour into flour mixture and stir until combined.

Add pecans and chocolate chips and stir to incorporate.

Pour into loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Cool in pan or serve warm.

Pecan Rugelach

 

 

 

 

 

I think Millie, our dog, is Jewish.   She enjoys challah, the Shabbat bread, and rugelach, a traditional Ashkenazic Jewish pastry.  I discovered her fondness for rugelach after I’d baked a batch for my dear friend Carrie, to celebrate her son’s baptism.  Carrie and I are both Catholic with non-Catholic husbands, and we have interesting conversations about faith.

The day before the baptism the best-looking cookies sat on a platter, wrapped in plastic, on our dining room table.  Not giving the table-to-dog height ratio a second thought, Mike and I went out to dinner.  When we returned, the plastic wrap had been peeled off, about four cookies remained, and Millie stood in the hallway guiltily licking crumbs from her nose.  Fortunately, the other half of the batch had been packed safely in a tin, so those were the cookies that made it to the baptism.

Rugelach are not for the faint of heart, or those who cannot abide a chaotic kitchen.  They require a serious commitment of time, employ various baking techniques and appliances, and will create a gigantic mess on your counter tops. In the end, though, they are worth it.  This batch is intended for Carrie and her family, who I hope can make it to Pittsburgh tomorrow for Memorial Day.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, cut into chunks and slightly softened
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, cut into chunks and slightly softened
  •  zest of 1 small lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 2 1/4 cups pecans, toasted and cooled
  • 3/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

You will also need powdered sugar for rolling and sprinkling on the cookies.

Preparation

Begin with the dough, as follows:

In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, lemon zest, and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Add flour mixture and beat until well combined.  You may need to knead your dough very slightly to get all of the bits of flour at the bottom of your mixing bowl to incorporate it fully.

Divide dough in half, shape into balls, then flatten into discs.  Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 1/2 hours, until firm but not hard.

When the dough is ready to work with, begin to make the filling, as follows:

In a food processor, combine preserves, honey, and cinnamon and pulse a few times until smooth.

Add pecans and process until coarsely ground.

Transfer filling to a large, four-cup glass measuring cup so you’re able to divide it evenly among the dough.  You should have about two cups of filling.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To assemble the cookies:

Sprinkle a clean counter top heavily with powdered sugar.

Roll one disc of dough into a 12-inch circle – don’t worry if it’s not completely round.  Dust with more powdered sugar and turn frequently to ensure the dough doesn’t stick to the counter.

Spread half of the filling over the circle to within one-quarter inch of the edge.

Using a pizza cutter, cut dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into five or six wedges, depending on the size of the quarter.  Your wedges do not have to be perfectly uniform in size; if I have some that are larger than others, I bake the larger ones toward the back of the oven, because my oven is hotter in the back.

Beginning with the outer edge, firmly roll up each wedge and place on a prepared baking sheet, then dust generously with powdered sugar.

Bake for 18-21 minutes, until lightly golden brown on the top.

Cool on a wire rack.