Sweet Potato Pie with Pecans and Molasses

This is the James Brown of pies, y’all.  Which is to say it’s got soul and will make you feel good.  It’s a conflux of flavors that combines two of my favorite pies–sweet potato and sticky pecan.  Never let it be said in my presence that less is more.


For the sweet potato part:

1/2 recipe of only the best brisée ever

approximately 1 lb. of sweet potatoes

1/4 cup softened unsalted butter

the zest of an orange

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1 teaspoon ceylon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

2 large eggs

1 can of sweetened condensed milk


For the sticky pecan topping:

1 large egg

3 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses

2 teaspoons of light brown sugar

1 tablespoon of melted unsalted butter

a pinch of salt

1 cup of chopped pecans



While your paté brisée is chilling in the refrigerator, bake your sweet potatoes.  Scrub them, pierce them with a fork, and place them on a baking tray covered with foil.  I bake mine for about an hour at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas4.

pre-baked potatoes

Allow them to cool while you blind bake your pie crust for about 15 minutes at 350ºF/180ºC/Gas4..  When it’s close to finished, brush it with egg white and place it back in the oven for another minute or so.

Next, spoon out the soft caramelized center of the sweet potatoes and add them to a large mixing bowl.

caramelized baked sweet potato


Stir in the remaining ingredients.  Use a whisk to smooth out lumps.


Pour the mixture into your partially baked shell.  Bake for 30 minutes.

During this time, mix together the ingredients for your sticky pecan topping.

After half an hour, remove the pie from the oven.  Evenly spoon the topping over the pie and place it back in the oven.  Bake for another 15-20 minutes.

When the pie is finished, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.  Serve with a whipped cream of your choice.  For this recipe, mine is cinnamon whipped cream.  I highly recommend it.

baked pie with topping sticky pecans cross section slice



Smackerels, Elevenses, and Tea (a cinnamon toast recipe)

On my first day of kindergarten which I found extremely stressful, my mother made cinnamon toast for me after school.  Cinnamon is and has always been my palliative.  Kind of like French toast for Conrad in Ordinary People.  When I eat it, I know I’m loved and everything is going to be okay. Today I registered my two year-old for pre-school.  When we came home, I made cinnamon toast for her.  I didn’t connect the experiences until a few hours later but there they were–involuntary memories linked by a flavor from Ceylon.  I suppose for me the start of school will always taste of cinnamon.  Even if I’m not the student.   Cinnamon toast is so easy to make.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t require a recipe.  That said, The Pooh Cook Book has one.  I had a copy as a child and recently I stumbled across a copy for Helena whilst perusing the book shelf of a charity shop.  She loves it almost as much as she loved today’s cinnamon toast, both the making and the eating of it.  My hope is you do too.     cover smackerels, elevenses, and teas owl's cinnamon toast helper stirring cinnamon sugar under the grill toast 2014-10-07 14.10.43 licking sugar see food    

Masala Chai for Afternoon Ennui

When life is too colorless to continue and like Dorothy you’ve clicked the shit out your ruby-bottomed Louboutins to no avail, forget Starbucks.  Make your own chai instead.  With one sip you will be transported to the shores of French Colonial Pondicherry where life smells of jasmine, desserts taste like roses, and sounds from the Bay of Bengal lull chubby princesses like myself to sleep.


2 cups water

1/4-1/2 cup milk, depending on your preference

2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

1/2 vanilla bean sliced down the center or a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

the contents of 6 cardamom pods

2 twists of a pepper mill

2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

3 black teabags without bergamot (a strong English breakfast would do nicely)

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar ( more if you prefer it quite sweet)


Bring the water to a boil.  When it does, add all ingredients EXCEPT for the sugar and milk.  Let bubble for three minutes then simmer for two.

boiling up close boil

Next, turn the heat down to low and add the milk.  Stir often to avoid scalding and also to prevent the milk from forming a skin.  After a couple more minutes of stewing, take off the heat and stir in the sugar.  Now strain your tea into a small pot (my favorite strainer is the top hat model from Fortnum & Mason) and pretend you never tasted the “chai” at your local coffee bar.

straining pouring chai

Post scriptum: The word chai means tea in Hindi so when coffee shops have “chai tea” on the menu they’re being redundant.  Now you know two things they don’t.  1.  How to make proper chai.  2.  The definition of said word.

Apple Custard Pie

My darling husband, Henry, eats like a Dickensian fat man.  Don’t get me wrong.  He likes and eats plenty of fruit and vegetables, but what he really loves is meat, game, offal, wine, port, sherry, and cheese.  My point is he’s just not that into sweets.  He eats them to indulge me, but for the most part, my baking endeavors are lost on him.  He’d rather have another helping of roast beast.  That said, there is one thing he never shies from–apple pie.  Below is my recipe for apple custard pie.  Is it good?  Well Henry asked for seconds so yeah.  It’s really good.


1/2 the dough from Only the Best Brisée Ever

1/4 cup apricot jam

1 tablespoon dark rum

1/4 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of 1 lemon and a wedge for squeezing some juice

4 large eggs (1 for brushing the edges of your pie crust and 3 for the custard)

3/4 cup heavy cream

4 large tart apples

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons demerara sugar



a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar (1 tbsp sugar + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon)

powdered sugar



First, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas 6.  Now we’re going to prepare the pie shell.  Roll the cold brisée dough as thin as you can.  I roll mine on baking paper so I can easily flip it over into my tin.  It’s a really easy way of doing things.  Cut the edges and roll or crimp them however you like.  Prick the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork and brush the edges with egg.  Line the shell with foil or baking paper then pour in some pie weights.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Remove the weights and cool completely.

pie shell

While waiting for the pie shell to dry, heat the 1/4 cup of apricot jam and the tablespoon of dark rum in a saucepan over low heat.  Stir often and when it starts to look like a glaze, remove it from the heat.  Strain the mixture into a little bowl.  When the pie shell has cooled completely, brush this glaze along the bottom and sides of your shell.  Allow it to dry. Now onto the custard.

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and the zest of a lemon.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in three large eggs.  Set this aside.

Heat the 3/4 cup heavy cream in a saucepan on medium heat.  Just as it begins to boil, turn it off, and allow it to cool for a minute.  Then quickly whisk it into the egg mixture.  Add 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste.


Peel and slice the apples.  Sauté them in butter with a teaspoon or so of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg.  Allow the apples to soften but do not let them get mushy.  Squeeze them with lemon juice and stir just before removing them from the heat.

spiced apples

Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles in the pie shell.  I use two forks to do this.


Now pour the custard over the apples and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

shell with applesBake at 350°F/180°C/Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes or until the custard has set.  Once it has, allow the pie to cool then dust with powdered sugar.  Put the pie under the broiler for a few minutes to let the sugar caramelize.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.


Cut into slices and serve.




A Mexican Piggy Cookie By Any Other Name

would taste just as sweet.  And indeed they do.  Cochinitos.  Marranitos.  Puerquitos. Cerditos.  It doesn’t matter.  Whatever you want to call them, they are always delicious.

These pig shaped pan dulces are a cross between cookies and cake.  They are lightly spiced with Ceylon cinnamon sticks and sweetened with molasses or dark brown sugar.  In Mexico, they are traditionally sweetened with cones of piloncillo which is a form of raw sugar cane, but as that was unavailable to me, I used soft dark Muscovado.  They are baked with an egg glaze and dusted with powdered sugar and emerge from the oven as fat and soft as can be.  Excellent with coffee, or even better, a mug of champurrado.  It will make you feel like a Mexican princess.

The recipe I used belongs to Patti Jinich.  You can view it here on NPR’s website as well as listen to an interview with her about Mexican piggy cookies.  I highly recommend you check out both.

Cochinitos just baked cochinitos 016 018


And if you need some baking music to get inspired, try this:

The Origins of Chagrinnamon Toast

I’ve never handled birthdays well.  Except my sixteenth.  And that’s only because my parents got The Beat to play at my party.  No one can be sad during a live performance of “Tears of a Clown.”  Not even an adolescent Chubby Princess in the bell jar.  

Most of the birthday parties I’ve had as an adult have resulted in me crying in my closet explaining my existential crisis to my shoes.  My 25th was no exception.  
After leaving Arkansas, I made a beeline to Brooklyn for the fall.  There, I sublet an apartment from a couple of musicians called the Golden Animals.  They were chic.  The accommodations were shabby.  And this is coming from me who once spent a summer as a volunteer at an orphanage in post-Ceauşescu Romania.  The apartment was so squalid.  I didn’t know what to do.  I called my dad.  “It looks nothing like the pictures on Craigslist!” I wailed.  To which he replied, “You have two options.  Be sad in the squalor or go to the local corner shop, buy some products, and clean it.”  I went out.  I came back.  I cleaned.  Five hours later the place still looked dirty.  But at least it felt clean–er anyway.  
I rewarded myself with a Red Stripe and decided to call Pony.  I knew he lived in Brooklyn like most of my friends.  I just didn’t know where.  Coincidentally, the squat I was renting was just off the street where he and his time-share beagle lived.  He had a beagle that he and his ex-girlfriend got when they were together.  Now that they weren’t, the dog took turns staying with them.  He got a week.  She got a week.  They were just like a divorced family.  And just like the child who hates whomever her divorced parent is dating, so did this little dog loathe me.  To be honest, I didn’t like her much either.  And she wasn’t even that pretty of a beagle which is something he liked to boast.
I hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks and I had no clue about his life in New York.  I didn’t know if he was good at any of the sports he liked to play.  I didn’t know his middle name.  I didn’t know how strict a vegetarian he was.  And I certainly didn’t know if he was seeing anyone.  Which he was.  Which is why he was cagey and why I didn’t understand him leaving town the weekend of my birthday.  
To celebrate my quarter of a century, my childhood friend, The Queen of Kentucky, organized a dinner for me as well as a party at the top of The Gansevoort.  True to form, I ate too little and drank too much.  I got sick.  I made a French exit and found myself at 60 Thompson.  There, I sought refuge with a photographer friend who was in town for a few days to do a magazine spread with Naomi Watts.  I took over his bed.  I crawled under the covers and moped.  I rang several friends and asked if they wanted to come to my pity party.  Like the best friends in the world, they did.  They even brought me flowers, Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, a quart of milk and a plastic tiara.  Never had I felt so sad and loved.  
When the sun rose, so did I.  I quietly gathered my birthday treasures and tiptoed over my sleeping friend.  I hopped in a cab and went back to Brooklyn where the driver dropped me at the corner of Cappuccino and Cannoli.  Fortunato Brothers is not only the best Italian bakery in all of Brooklyn but it’s spitting distance from where I lived.  Which also meant spitting distance from Pony.  Which means I should have known better.  
As I stepped outside, the old men who always loiter there with their snacks, smoking cigarillos and shooting dice, whistled and called to me in Italian.  Sure I was still in last night’s silk, halter, Michele-Pfeiffer-in-Scarface-style, party dress but I emanated death, even with a tiara on top.  I waved and smiled politely.  I felt bad for them if their standards were so low as to harass the likes of me.  Just then a small dog started barking at me from across the street.  I squinted through my glasses.  It was the hateful beagle.
My head throbbed.  The roar of the butterflies was getting to me.  Now I had to deal with this yapping beast?  I knew Pony had spent the weekend with another girl even if he didn’t say so.  The last thing I wanted was to now make small talk with him in the street as his dog glared at me.  I felt like a fucked up, less glamorous version of Holly Golightly at the beginning of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  
I don’t remember what we said.  I don’t remember my walk home.  I just remember checking my email when I got there and seeing everything I felt summed up in a photo for the first time.  It was a photo of me.  In bed.  Last night.  Wearing my tiara.  Eating a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.  Crying.  My friend, the Rabbi’s Son, who is wise as an owl, commented.  Chagrinnamon Toast.  That was exactly it.  Sweet and sad just like João Gilberto’s bossa nova.  Or even The Beat’s “Tears of a Clown.”
Until that moment, I had never been able to sum up the kind of person I am or the life experiences I’ve had.  I’ve also never understood why in times of crisis, I always crave cinnamon toast–the real thing or the kids’ cereal.  On the first day of kindergarten which I found extremely stressful, my mother made cinnamon toast for me after school.  Cinnamon is and has always been my palliative.  Kind of like French toast for Conrad in Ordinary People.  When I eat it, I know I’m loved and everything is going to be okay.