But see, this time of year completely brings out the warm and fuzzies in me. We have our very first Christmas tree lit up all nice and pretty in the living room, the foyer at church is decorated so beautifully that I smile every time I walk through, and I love it (LOVE IT!) when everyone you see smiles at you and says, “Merry Christmas.” I know, I know, this doesn’t sound like me, but the week or two right around Christmas is just the coolest time of year. Planning the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals tickles my fancy. Poinsettias are absolutely gorgeous, especially when it’s the only flower you’ve seen in months. And I really, truly dig those cool Christmas cards with family pictures on them.
As long as I’m not forced to listen to Christmas music for an entire month or to buy presents for people I hardly know, I stay in a good mood all season. And with the first day of winter arriving today, and along with it, the shortest day of the year, I’m really geared up. Lest anyone think I’ve lost my mind, no, I don’t particularly care for winter. And these uber-short days take a toll. But the beauty of the shortest day is the fact that the days start getting longer THE VERY NEXT DAY. So just when I think, oh crap, it is getting dark by six o’clock every day, and its officially winter now, things already start looking up. The worst is over before you even realized it happened.
Of course, I live in the South. And most likely we won’t see any snow this year (just like every year). So you people who live up North have your own set of problems. But I’m assuming you guys enjoy the cold and the perpetual twilight and the grey skies and the shoveling of snow and all that…
As for me, I’m feeling pretty good about things. Christmas morning is much more fun now that we have small children, and I can’t wait to put The Big Boy’s presents under the tree after he goes to bed on Christmas Eve (I know better than to upset a three-year-old’s tenuous emotional grip by putting the presents under the tree too far in advance). And the cooking, OH THE COOKING, I’m right smack dab in the middle of a weekend of baking. There are gifts to make, casseroles and desserts to bake, hot cocoa to drink, carols to sing, beatific smiles to conjure…
Oh dear, maybe I have lost my mind.
More importantly though, there are recipes to share. And I’ve got one that I’ve been dying to mention here, but I wanted to wait until it was closer to Christmas so that it wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle. Remember back around Thanksgiving when I mentioned that chocolate-espresso pecan pie from a recent issue of Fine Cooking? Whoo-whee! That was one of the yummiest doggone desserts I’ve had in a while. My sister-in-law asked about it when I talked to her a few minutes ago, and my mother-in-law already put in a request for it for Christmas Eve.
Now, it should be noted that I cheated when I made this recipe last month and used (oh, the humanity) a store-bought pie crust. I already had a full roster of dishes to prepare for Thanksgiving and I was under constant self-reminder to NOT stress myself out unnecessarily. So I took the easy way out. See, recipes involving dough put an undue strain on my self-confidence anyhow, and I swear I break out in hives when I see ingredient lists that include the words “chilled butter, cut into small pieces.” I shudder now just thinking about it.
But the filling(!), the luscious, rich filling of this pie is just incredible. The texture is perfect, and it has much less of a cloying sweetness than a traditional pecan pie, thanks to the bitterness of the espresso. So prepare your favorite pie crust or just meet me in the frozen foods section where I'll be, once again, picking up a perfectly acceptable pre-made crust. I simply WILL NOT let my own self-righteous moral code regarding Homemade Everything get in the way of a chance to enjoy this beautiful pie.
CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO PECAN PIE (serves 8 to 10, adapted from Fine Cooking)
- 3 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 4 Tbs unsalted butter
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbs instant espresso powder (I like the Cafe Bustelo brand)
- 2 Tbs coffee liqueur (like Kahlua)
- 2 cups lightly toasted, coarsely chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup perfect pecan halves
- pie shell (homemade if you're better at it than I am)
- Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until smooth.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, corn syrup, sugar and salt.
- Dissolve the espresso powder in 1 Tbs hot water.
- Add the espresso, the coffee liqueur, and the melted chocolate and butter to the egg mixture. Whisk to blend.
- Evenly spread the toasted, chopped pecans in the bottom of the pie shell.
- For a border, arrange the pecan halves around the perimeter of the pie shell, on top of the pecan pieces, keeping the points of the pecans facing in and the backs just touching the crust. This sounds complicated, but isn't (and it looks fantastic).
- Carefully pour the filling over the pecans (the pecans will rise to the top as the pie bakes). This filling does not puff up very much, so the liquid should be pretty darn close to the top of the pie shell - if it seems precarious, put the pie plate on a baking sheet so the filling doesn't spill all over the bottom of the oven.
- Bake the pie for 45 to 55 minutes, at 350 degrees, until the filling has just begun to crack and appears fairly set.
- Chill before serving.