Cooking with Deb Perelman’s book, Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites, is like having a funny friend hanging out in the kitchen with you. The food is terrific and just as unfussy as the title promises. I just made her Chocolate Pecan (and bourbon!) Slab Pie and it’s delicious! A huge thanks to Knopf for giving me permission to share the recipe so that you can taste the book! And just in time for Thanksgiving!
My review of the book with my pics and thoughts of the dishes I tried is right below the recipe.
chocolate pecan slab pie
makes 12 to 18 servings
Considering how annoyed I get about fairly inconsequential stuff, such as decorative paper straws (mmm, wet paper fibers), single giant ice cubes in cocktails (that thwack you in the face when you take a sip), or a single granule of playground sandbox matter in my bed (always the bed; always the bed!), I am sure someone finds it illogical that I find it difficult to get worked up about the evils of corn syrup. My gut feeling is that it shows up mostly in things that nobody is eating for underlying health benefits, and that we all understand we’re only supposed to enjoy in moderation (candies, caramels, etc.); shouldn’t that be enough?
What does bother me about it, however, is that it’s just plain bland—it tastes like sweet nothingness, and though I can shrug this off in small quantities, in larger amounts it’s a real bummer. With this in my mind, I went from assuming that everyone who wanted to make pecan pie already had a go-to recipe for it, to creating my own, with as much nuanced, deeply toasted, luxurious flavor as I could pack in there. But first I have five rather bossy rules for making an excellent pecan pie:
1. Toast your nuts! You must, you must. Untoasted pecans taste sweet but faintly waxy. Toasted pecans taste like toffeed pecan pie before they even hit the caramel. Just do it.
2. Dark-brown sugar trumps light-brown: more molasses, more flavor. By the same logic, both maple syrup and golden syrup taste better to me in pecan pie than corn syrup. The latter, a lightly cooked cane sugar syrup from the U.K. that is basically their maple syrup (i.e., beloved on pancakes), does contain a bit more sodium than corn syrup, however, so hold the salt back slightly if you’re using it. (I learned this the hard way.) I have also used honey in the past, but prefer using it for only half the volume of liquid sweetener here; otherwise, I find its flavor takes over.
3. A tiny bit of cider vinegar (trust me) really helps balance out the aching sweetness of a gooey caramel pie.
4. Good pecan pie causes a commotion, so you’re going to want to make a lot. Go slab or go home (and have to make more).
5. Finally, if you want to gild the lily (of course you do), add some chocolate.
3 ¾ cups (490 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for your work surface
1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
1 ½ tablespoons (20 grams) granulated sugar
1 ½ cups (12 ounces or 340 grams) unsalted butter, very cold
¾ cup (175 ml) very cold water
3 ¾ (330 grams) pecan halves
8 ounces (225 grams) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or about 1 ¼ cups chocolate chips
½ cup (120 ml) heavy cream
10 tablespoons (145 grams) unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups (215 grams) packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup (235 ml) maple syrup or golden syrup (see headnote)
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
1 ½ tablespoons (25 ml) bourbon (optional)
5 large eggs
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) water
to make the pie dough by hand, with my one-bowl method In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. (Some people like to do this by freezing the stick of butter and coarsely grating it into the flour, but I haven’t found the results as flaky.)
with a food processor In the work bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter, and pulse the machine until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas. Turn the mixture out into a mixing bowl.
both methods Add the cold water, and stir with a spoon or flexible silicone spatula until large clumps form. Use your hands to knead the dough together a few times right in the bottom of the bowl. Divide the dough and wrap each half in a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to 72 hours, or you can quick-firm this in the freezer for 15 minutes. If you plan to keep it longer than 3 days, it will have the best flavor if you freeze it until needed.
prepare the filling Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 10-by-15-by-1-inch baking sheet or jelly-roll pan with parchment paper.
Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice so that they toast evenly. Set aside until needed. If you like smaller bits, you can chop some or all of the nuts to your desired size.
Melt the chocolate chunks with the heavy cream, and stir until smooth. Spread over the bottom of the frozen crust. Freeze the crust again until the chocolate is solid, about another 10 minutes.
assemble the pie On a lightly floured surface, roll one of your dough halves (the larger one, if you have two different sizes) into an 18-by-13-inch rectangle. This can be kind of a pain, because it is so large. Do your best to work quickly, keeping the dough as cold as possible and using enough flour so it doesn’t stick to the counter. Transfer the dough to your prepared baking sheet, and gently drape some of the overhang in, so that the dough fills out the inner edges and corners. Some pastry will still hang over the sides of the pan; trim this to 1/2 inch. Freeze the piecrust in the pan until it is solid.
In a large saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, maple or golden syrup, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the pecans, cider vinegar, vanilla, and bourbon (if using). Pour into a bowl (so that it cools faster), and set the mixture aside to cool a little, 5 to 10 minutes. Then whisk in one egg at a time until combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pie shell.
Roll the second of your dough halves (the smaller one, if they were different sizes) into a 16-by-11-inch rectangle.
You can drape it over in one piece (cutting slits to vent the top), or cut it into wide strips to form a lattice; pinch or crimp the upper and lower crusts together, and fold the bottom crust’s overhang, if you wish, over the top crust to seal it. (The lattice is always a bit of a mess, but no matter how much you hodgepodge it, people will freak out when they see it.) Lightly beat the egg with water, and brush this over the top crust and edges.
bake the pie Bake at 350 degrees until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack until just warm to the touch, about another 30 minutes, before cutting into squares.
Excerpted from Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites. Copyright © 2017 by Deb Perelman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher.
My review of the book…
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
by Deb Perelman
This book’s delightful to work with. It takes so little effort to make these special dishes. She has a playful, rustic aesthetic, perfect for the family gathering. Everything is simple and fresh. And everything’s delicious.
The chapters are: Breakfast * Salads * Soups and Stews * Sandwiches, Tarts, and Flatbreads * Vegetable Mains * Meat Mains * Sweets * Apps, Snacks, and Party Food. We don’t have any allergies or food sensitivities in our house, but it’ll be helpful for entertaining that she includes a special menu guide at the end with vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free listings.
1) Baked oatmeal with caramelized peaches and vanilla cream – p 11. So pretty, and such a special take on oatmeal. We all adored it.
2) Halloumi roast with eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes – p 116. Delicious and easy peasy. The saltiness of the halloumi cheese gives a great punch to the sweet earthiness of the roasted vegetables. If you’re not familiar with halloumi, it has a texture similar to cheese curds, and when grilled or roasted, has the same squeakiness.
3) Cacio e pepe potatoes anna – p 145. Such an elegant presentation for such a comforting dish. When I saw the cover, I thought it was Tortilla Espanola, like a very potato frittata. No, this is more like a layered terrine of potatoes with romano. Perfect flavor and texture.
4) Beefsteak skirt steak salad with blue cheese and parsley basil vinaigrette. Yum!
5) Tofu and broccoli with sesame-seed pesto – p 121. Fantastic flavor and great texture on the tofu. I’ll have to double this one next time. My teenagers loved it.
6) Crispy short rib carnitas with sunset slaw – p 169. Crazy good tacos, and the whole house smells amazing. She makes reference to Lisa Fain, aka the Homesick Texan, in the intro. That make sense because this totally has that vibe.
7) Chocolate Pecan Slab Pie – . This is wonderful, and I love that it serves 12. If you have trouble finding the golden syrup, Amazon carries it and I’ve seen it in the British section on the International aisle at the regular grocery store.
Some others I have flagged to try: Spinach, mushroom, and goat cheese slab frittata – p 13 * Loaded breakfast potato skins – p 20 * Alex’s bloody mary shrimp cocktail – p 35 * Fall-toush salad with delicate squash and brussels sprouts – p 66 * Carrot salad with tahini, crisped chickpeas, and salted pistachios – p 68 * Roasted tomato soup with broiled cheddar – p 80 * Broccoli melts – p 94 * Artichoke and parmesan galette – p 97 * Winter squash flatbread with hummus and za’atar – p 109 * Fried green plantains with avocado and black bean salsa – p 123 * Tomato and gigante bean bake – p 143 * Olive oil shortbread with rosemary and chocolate chunks – p 210 * Caramelized plum tartlets – p 230 * Apricot pistachio squares – p 233 * Herb and garlic baked camembert – p 293
*I received a review copy to explore and share my thoughts.