Cooking Chapbook

Notes from my kitchen in the D.C. area & beyond

Category: Dessert

Pecan Pie Muffins

Pecan Pie Muffins

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.)

half-cup of pecans

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.)

Pecan Pie Muffin batter

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.)

Pecan Pie Muffins

One bowl, five ingredients, and less than half an hour later:

Pecan Pie Muffins

Pecan Pie Muffins
from Food.com

(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
1/4 flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
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!

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Oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

1 bowl, 1 spoon, no mixer. My kind of recipe.

Okay. Here’s the deal about cookies in our house. My sweetheart is a cookie fiend. A certifiable cookie connoisseur. He could double as a very tidy Cookie Monster.

And chocolate chip cookies are the ruling monarchy in his kingdom. No nuts. No peanut butter. God forbid you want to toss in white chocolate. And don’t even think about adding coconut flakes.

So, I get this. And every so often, I’ll make a patch of chocolate chip cookies just for him. Because I love him, and because nothing else food-related (except for maybe brownies or champorado) makes his face light up so brightly.

But then I make a batch for me.

These are my cookies.

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

The best bite of cookie I know.

They are a variation of Mark Bittman’s lacy oatmeal cookies, which have no flour. Mere butter, sugar, oatmeal, those bake meltingly into crisp discs of sugar. That’s a bit too saccharine for me. So I add back in a 1/2 cup to a cup of flour. And butterscotch chips.

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Add an egg to melted butter and oatmeal and stir …

Brianne's oatmeal butterscotch cookies

… don’t forget the butterscotch chips. They make all the difference.

Brianne’s oatmeal butterscotch cookies

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 white sugar
  • 1/2 light brown sugar
  • 2 cups oats (not instant)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1 11-ounce bag of butterscotch chips (roughly 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease a cookie sheet.

Mix all ingredients. A spoon (plus maybe a fork to whisk up the eggs) is fine. No electric beater necessary, though if you need to justify a vehicle for extra licking, I understand. (If you do use a beater, I would still stir in the chips.)

Drop tablespoon-sized balls of cookie dough on the greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

You will be as tempted as I to scoop them off the cookie sheet immediately, but let them rest for a minute. They need to crisp up, or they’ll fold up and collapse when you slide them onto a platter. (If one goes straight into your mouth, of course, collapsing is a bonus perk!)

Schneeball in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a medieval town built “above the Tauber” River.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber features a walkable medieval wall, St. Jakobskirche’s phenomenal carved wooden altar, a surprisingly interesting medieval torture museum, Germany’s largest teddy bear store (according to our highly credible shopping bag), castle gardens, and more than we could get to in a single day.

And something called the Schneeball.

Rothenburg gate

One of the many enthralling Rothenburg gates, which give the town an almost Disney-like feel.

Here’s what Rick Steves has to say about Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s famous sweet creation:

“Unworthy of the heavy promotion they receive, Schneeballen are bland pie crusts crumpled into a ball and dusted with powered sugar or frosted with sticky-sweet glop.” (Rick Steves’ Germany 2011)

I remained intrigued.

Rothenburg cafe

A Rothenburg cafe, modern and cozy inside, with delectable treats under glass.

Schneeballen are in the windows of bakeries all around town, some coated in chocolate, others plain. I liked the snowy look of the ones powdered with sugar.

We found an elegant cafe by the Market Square and settled in to try one for ourselves.

Schneeball

A Schneeball, dusted with powered sugar.

And, well. If you are a pie-crust fanatic, you will be in the land of bliss.

But otherwise: Rick is right. It’s rather crisp and dry, not very tantalizing. I wouldn’t order one again.

Maybe the chocolate variety. Just to be sure.

The best use I found for the pastry bits, once broken apart, was to dunk them in tea like a springerle cookie. Most every hard and purportedly sweet German treat is better softened in tea, warmed up and dreamy.

Croissant and springerle cookie

A cheese-ham croissant and a springerle cookie, imprinted with an elegant bird.

But even then, the schneeball is not truly ideal. This cafe also sold its own springerle cookies, which were beautifully imprinted with detailed animals. And even better dunked in hot tea.

Rothenburg clock man

Rothenburg clock man, at right, just downed his mug of beer to save the day.

Outside the cafe, in the Market Square, the Meistertrunk story is re-enacted regularly by the figure on the square’s clock tower. Legend – apparently unfounded, but a nice tale fit for tourists – has it that in 1631, the mayor saved the town from invaders by meeting an army general’s dare and drinking an entire three-liter mug of beer in one gulp.

And so, on the hour most hours starting at 11 a.m., the mayoral figure lifts his beer mug to the delight of the watching crowd.

About as exciting as a ball of pie pastry.

Rothenburg in the snow

Rothenburg in the snow, a fairytale town.

Still, I wouldn’t skip these little tourism routines. Each town has its own scripts and props, an adorable formality of hospitality on the travel circuit. The oddity brings a light thrill of its own.

And altogether, Rothernburg ob der Tauber was enthralling, a fortress in snow white high above the rushing river. Visiting out of season means watching the museum/church times closely and missing the night watchman’s tour. But what you get in return is a mystical stillness, like walking through a storybook setting, where the only snowballs are edible.

Champorado, Filipino chocolate rice pudding

Champorado, Filipino chocolate rice

Champorado, Filipino chocolate rice

Of all the Filipino foods I know so far – maybe 0.1% of the lexicon – the one that baffles me is champorado. I love chocolate. I love rice pudding. I love salty little fish. And yet …

Essentially chocolate rice pudding, champorado is thick, warm, deeply chocolate, and often served with salty, dried fish. For breakfast. Perhaps you can understand my confusion. Or perhaps you are in my sweetheart’s camp.

He loves it, adores it, craves it. We’re too far right now for his mother to cook up a delicious batch, so I thought I’d try to stir up a bowl for his birthday.

Ingredients for Champorado

Ingredients for champorado

His family had months ago given us cocoa tablets and a jar of tuyo, the tiny fish. They were sitting in the cabinet, watching the cans of tomatoes and coconut milk come and go, and patiently waiting for their day under the stove light.

Ingredients for Champorado

Cocoa tablets for champorado

My sweetheart thought I could use our everyday white long-grain rice, but none of the many recipes I checked out, including the one his mother kindly sent, mentioned ordinary rice. And this champorado would be like a birthday cake! It called for special-occasion rice: short-grain, sticky, sweet rice.

Rice cooking for Champorado

Rice soaking for Champorado

Sweet rice needs to be soaked for 20 minutes or so before you cook it. The nice part is no extra dish is required. I poured 1 cup of sweet rice in a small pot, covered it with 1 1/3 cup water, and let it sit.

Rice cooking for Champorado

I love the little designs the pebbles of rice make.

Then I cranked up the heat until the water boiled. Once it was boiling, I turned it down to the lowest setting, covered the pot, and let the rice cook for another 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, in another small pot, I boiled 2 cups of water. Then I added 3 tablets and 1/4 cup sugar. I let it bubble and simmer and break down while the rice cooked.

Once the rice was done, I mixed in the pot of chocolate into the rice to make a rich porridge.

Champorado

Champorado

I let the rice pudding simmer until it cooked down a little bit. You can cook it longer, if you’d like more water to absorb.

Eat it with dried fish, if you like. Some of my favorite people do.

Champorado, Filipino chocolate rice

Champorado, Filipino chocolate rice