This recipe is a little ode to Thanksgiving, to rectify my error of eating baked goods with pecans only once every 365 days, and a nod to a cake I can’t stop thinking about.
The cake arrived at the end of a long and lovely dinner at Tastings, a Charlottesville wine shop-restaurant hybrid. Picture rows upon rows of wine in a small ground-floor shop. Then, nestled modestly in the back, a handful of tables. Buy any wine bottle in the shop and have it with dinner for a $7 (yes, s-e-v-e-n) corking fee. We were smitten.
The wine was marvelous, but it was the food that impressed us, not a small feat in restaurant-crazed Charlottesville. The menu is tight and well done. I started with a wild mushroom soup that reminded me of Julia Child’s recipe for a deeply flavored classic French onion soup. The oysters were lightly fried with that luscious umami center, and my husband’s French cassoulet redeemed us from failing to try it in France.
Still, the cake. Oh, the cake. It seemed like a basic, even boring selection. But I am a devotee of the sugary rich pecan pie that appears every November. And I was attempting to honor my chocolate-loving husband’s rare desire to skip dessert. Well. So much for that. The cake was just too good to resist—sweet, pillowy, luxurious, and brown-buttery. The pecans shone through like gems, dense and deep and rich in the way that I know only them to be. (Peanuts: sweet, salty, fun, party hats. Walnuts: all grown-up and ready for oatmeal. Pecans: holidays and tuxedos.)
So, yes, a pecan cake. The first time I had ever heard of it. The first time I had ever tasted it. And all I kept thinking was: Why isn’t this up there as a classic American dessert, along with, say, the less decadent and more hum-drum apple pie?
Once home, I dug into cookbooks and recipe sites, but I haven’t yet found anything that seems close to replicating that glorious pecan cake.
What I did find was this short set of instructions for the quickest baked goodies I’ve ever made. These pecan pie muffins are Thanksgiving on any given Thursday. Dense and moist, they are drenched in a thick, super-duper sweetness balanced by thick chunks of pecan. (I used pecan halves.)
I cut the original recipe in half and used a six-muffin tin, enough to quench a couple’s hefty sweet-tooth cravings without allowing us to go overboard, as an entire pecan pie might. (Might.)
One bowl, five ingredients, and less than half an hour later:
Pecan Pie Muffins
(These were originally titled cupcakes, but they looked like muffins to me; no icing required. Rather, if you don’t have a big sweet tooth, you may want to dial back the sugar.)
Makes 6 small muffins
1/2 cup pecans, halved or chopped
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 and butter the muffin tin, if it isn’t nonstick.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. (Optional: reserve 6 pecan pieces for decoration.) The concoction will resemble uncooked pecan pie batter, gooey and light brown.
Pour batter into the muffin tins, half-way or so. They won’t be filled to the top.
Place one pecan nicely on the top of each muffin, in the middle as a decorative note.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the muffins are brown on the edges.
Pop them out immediately from the tin. Let cool.
Now: I am not fooling here. These little guys are good warm. They are fantastic cooled. I know, that’s never the case, but this time, it is!