Makes 11/2 cups.
• 1/2 c. superfine sugar
• 1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg or ground cinnamon
• 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar or 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
• 11/2 c. pecan halves
Generously butter a shallow baking pan (preferably a 15- by 10-inch jelly roll pan) and set aside. Have metal tongs available.
Combine the sugar, nutmeg or cinnamon, cream of tartar or lemon juice in a 1-quart heavy saucepan or skillet and mix well. Place the pan or skillet on medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sugar dissolves.
Raise the heat and cook the syrup over high heat without stirring, but swirling pan by the handle, for 3 to 4 minutes, or just until the syrup turns the color of lightly brewed tea.
Immediately pour the hot syrup over the nuts, using the tongs to coat evenly in the syrup. Working quickly, separate the pecans with a fork. Or let the candy harden in one layer and break into pieces with a hammer or mallet.
Place the pan on a wire rack and let the candy set until hard, at least an hour.
Nutrition information per serving of 2 tablespoons:
Calories 120 Fat 9 g Sodium 0 mg
Carbohydrates 10 g Saturated fat 1 g Calcium 9 mg
Protein 1 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 1 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1/2 other carb, 2 fat.
SOUTHERN PECAN WAFERS
Makes about 31/2 dozen wafers, for 6 to 8 party servings.
Note: To make these wafers, I use a cookie cutter that is just shy of 2 inches in diameter. I like these wafers small and dainty, and often I infused them with a pinch of dill. But occasionally I use a leaf-shape cookie cutter and this rendition draws "ohs" and "ahs," too.
• 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
• 2 c. grated white or yellow extra sharp cheddar cheese, chilled
• 2 c. all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. crushed cayenne pepper or black pepper
• 1 c. finely chopped pecans
• 2 or 3 tbsp. cold milk or light cream
Cut the butter into small pieces and combine in a large bowl with the grated cheese. Mix the butter and cheese together until well blended.
Sift into the bowl the flour, salt, cayenne pepper or black pepper. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter or two knives, cut or crumble the mixture until it resembles tiny peas or very coarse cornmeal. Add the chopped pecans and mix well.
Sprinkle the cold milk or cream, a tablespoon at a time, over the mixture and quickly form the dough into a ball, squeezing firmly to make it hold a shape. Dust the dough lightly with a little flour if it sticks. Then wrap the dough in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour, or longer if time allows.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have cookie sheets available; you will have to bake the dough in batches.
Scatter the work surface lightly with flour. Divide the dough in half, then cut into half again. Roll out one piece of dough at a time into a 10-inch circle, or until it is about 1/8-inch thick. Using a 2- to 21/2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Sprinkle each wafer top with a little more cayenne, if desired.
Place the pastry rounds on the cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. Return the remaining dough to the refrigerator.
Set the pan of wafers on the lower shelf of the hot oven and bake 12 to 15 minutes, turning over with a metal spatula at least once for even browning. Watch carefully, and bake until wafers are lightly brown and crisp.
Immediately remove the pan of baked wafers from the oven and set on a wire rack. Let cool a few minutes, then remove the wafers from the pan with a thin metal spatula.
Roll out and bake the remaining dough in the same way. If you are using only one baking pan, allow the baking pan to cool to room temperature before continuing to bake.
The wafers are best served warm. To reheat, place in a pan and stick in a hot 350-degree oven for a few minutes before serving.
Nutrition information per wafer:
Calories 81 Fat 6 g Sodium 62 mg
Carbohydrates 5 g Saturated fat 3 g Calcium 32 mg
Protein 2 g Cholesterol 12 mg Dietary fiber 0 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1/2 other carb, 1 fat.
PECAN AND PEAR SALAD
Note: A stack of warm flatbread or wedges of lightly toasted pita bread turn this salad into an easy but elegant entree. And if you toss in a generous handful of cooked turkey or chicken strips, you have a meal in a bowl, a seasonal delight.
• 4 c. lettuce leaves, such as Boston or Bibb or Red Leaf Lettuce, or Watercress, or a mixture of lettuce varieties.
• 1/2 c. grapeseed or walnut oil
• 2 tbsp. cider vinegar
• 1 tsp. prepared mustard
• 1 clove garlic, or more if desired, crushed
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, if desired
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 4 firm eating pears, such as Bosc, Comice, Anjou or Asian
• 1/2 lb. cheese, such as Brie, Camembert or full-flavored Cheddar, cubed
• 1 c. pecan halves, or more if desired
Thoroughly rinse the lettuce or watercress, spin or pat dry with toweling, and then wrap in toweling and chill in the refrigerator.
In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and the black pepper until well-blended and creamy. Set aside.
When ready to serve, peel and core the pears and cut into 1/2 -inch slices. Place the pears and cheese in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with 3 or 4 tablespoons of the salad dressing, mixing well with a large wooden spoon. Stir in the pecans, mixing well again.
Add the chilled lettuce leaves, and gently but thoroughly toss the salad with the salad dressing, adding more dressing as desired.
Serve the salad immediately.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 545 Fat 43 g Sodium 670 mg
Carbohydrates 29 g Saturated fat 12 g Calcium 143 mg
Protein 13 g Cholesterol 57 mg Dietary fiber 6 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 2 fruit, 2 high-fat meat, 5 1/2 fat.
CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE
Note: When I was growing up, Hershey's cocoa reigned supreme in the South, eclipsed now in my kitchen by Ghirardelli and Droste cocoas, which are a little pricey but offer superb flavor in this delectable pie.
• 1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (see recipe)
• 1/2 c. light cream or undiluted evaporated milk
• 1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa
• 1 c. sugar
• 1/3 c. mild flavor honey, such as Wildflower
• 4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
• 3 large eggs
• 1 tsp. powdered or finely grated cinnamon
• 2 to 4 tbsp. orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau, or dark rum or bourbon
• 1/4 c. coarsely chopped pecans
• 1 generous c. of pecan halves
Prepare the pie shell according to directions, and partially bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and dry but not browned.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the milk or cream into a small saucepan, place on low heat and heat only until bubbling, but not boiling. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a bowl combine the cocoa, sugar and honey. Pour over the hot cream or milk and beat briskly for a few seconds. Cut the butter into pieces and stir into the milk mixture and combine well. Let the mixture cool until it is barely lukewarm.
Then, using a whisk or fork, beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the cinnamon, liqueur or other spirit, and the chopped pecans only, mixing well.
Pour filling into prepared pie shell. Top with pecan halves, arranging in a nice design.
Set the pie on the lower oven shelf and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pie is golden brown and puffed, and a knife comes out clean when inserted into the center. (Watch the pie carefully. If it overcooks it can become gummy.)
Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a wire rack. I prefer this pie at room temperature; others prefer it well-chilled.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 750 Fat 47 g Carbohydrates 78 g Saturated fat 20 g Sodium 150 mg Calcium 73 mg
Protein 10 g Cholesterol 167 mg Dietary fiber 5 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 bread/starch, 4 other carb, 1 high-fat meat, 8 fat.
SOUTHERN PIE CRUST
Makes 1 (9- or 10-inch) pie crust.
Note: Of course you can buy a perfectly fine frozen pie crust at the supermarket, but this is for those moments when you want 100 percent hands-on creativity. Remember, too, that partially or fully baked pie crusts are best for pies and tarts made with custard or fruit and berry fillings.
• 11/4 c. all-purpose flour
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 9 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled
• 3 to 4 tbsp. ice water, or as needed
• 2 tsp. white vinegar
• 1 egg white, lightly beaten
Sift the flour and salt into a large chilled mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch or smaller pieces. Dip your fingers into a bowl of ice water and dry thoroughly. Quickly crumble the flour and butter together or cut with a knife and fork until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Combine ice water and vinegar and sprinkle, 1 tablespoon at a time, over the dough while tossing it with a fork. Quickly form the dough into a ball and turn onto a lightly floured board or pastry cloth. Dust the ball lightly with flour if it sticks.
Wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 30 minutes, or longer if time allows.
To form the pie crust, place the dough on a lightly floured work surface or pastry cloth. Lightly dust the rolling pin with flour, and roll the dough into a 12-inch circle no more than 1/8- inch thick, rotating the dough as you roll. If the dough sticks, dust it with a little more flour, or lay a sheet of wax paper over the dough and then roll it out. If the dough begins to ooze butter, chill for 5 to 10 minutes.
Lightly flour the rolling pin again and carefully roll the circle of dough around the pin, lift up, and unroll the dough onto the pie pan. Do not stretch the dough. Use your fingers to fit the dough snugly into the pan. Using a kitchen scissors, trim the dough to 1/2- to 3/4 -inch below the edge of the pie pan.
For a pretty border design, roll up the dough on the rim of the pie pan and pinch all around with your fingers, making a flute design. Or, press trimmed pastry flat against edge of pie pan and notch the edge with the back of a fork.
Pierce the bottom and sides of the pie crust with a fork so the dough can expand as it bakes. Then brush egg white lightly on the pie shell, which keeps it from becoming soggy during baking. Freeze or chill the pie shell for about 10 minutes.
When ready to bake, line the pie crust with foil -- heavy-duty works best -- or parchment paper, then fill the pan with about 3 cups dried beans, peas, rice or macaroni, pressing to evenly distribute the filler.
Bake the pie crust for 10 minutes or until the crust is set and dry but not browned. Remove the crust from the oven, set on a wire rack, and carefully remove the filler (storing it in a jar for next time), including the foil or paper. If the pastry has air bubbles, gently prick with a fork to deflate.
Cool the crust for a few minutes, then brush liberally with egg white. Spoon or pour the filling into the partially baked pie shell, and bake according to directions.