The Chocolate Cult: My Friend's Chocolate Pecan Torte

Friday, July 13, 2012

My Friend's Chocolate Pecan Torte

I've been so busy, Sisters and Brothers, that I forgot that I wanted to give you this interview and recipe yesterday since it was "National Pecan Pie Day" but better late than never, right?

This my good friend, Emilie Johnson.  I've known here since we moved to our current city way back in the summer of 1997.  We started graduate programs together, she at the master's level, I at the PhD level.  While she had continued to teach in higher education and I've turned to my writing full time, we still try to make time for each other.  You see what she is holding in her hands?  That is her amazing chocolate pecan pie and we'll get to her amazing baking in a while.  Let's just say that she is an award-winning pie maker.

She kindly agreed to not only share a recipe with us all but also tell me a bit about her baking and cooking in relationship to chocolate.  Her words in are italics.

Emilie, how long have you been cooking and baking?

I remember helping the women in my family make cookies when I was 3.

How did you learn to be as skilled and creative in the kitchen as I know you to be?

Practice and experimentation.  I almost never follow a recipe twice, I always change something.  

How long have you been working with chocolate and cocoa products in the kitchen?

Since I was three.  Yummm…chocolate chip cookies!

Given all the mass media concerns about weight and other health issues, it isn’t too surprising that chocolate is often in the middle of the debates, cited as an ingredient to avoid to or use.  Have any health concerns affected how you use chocolate in your own kitchen?  Why or why not?  If so, how has it affected things?  

I firmly believe that one way to health (and, indeed, even a healthy weight) is to eat “real food.”  Not fast food.  Not fake food, even “lite” food.  If I am going to spend hours making an elaborate dessert that I have been craving for days, then I am darn well going to use real chocolate and sugar and butter.  For a while, I used margarine instead of butter for health reasons, but it negatively impacted the taste and texture in almost everything I made.  Now, new research suggests we all would have been healthier eating butter all along!

Are there any particular challenges you’ve encountered when using chocolate or cocoa?

I almost never use a double boiler to melt chocolate anymore, it is too easy to burn yourself with steam or get a drop of water in the melting chocolate (which will cause it to “seize” or clump into useless lumps.)  I melt it in the microwave, carefully, as it is easy to burn chocolate that way.  I do wish that American manufacturers could all agree on exactly how much sugar is included in “bittersweet” and “semisweet” chocolate, so I could be sure of getting consistent results from recipes.  

How do you overcome those challenges?

If I know what chocolate brand the recipe was tested with, I record that on the recipe.  If not, I record what brands I have used with it and their results.  I write notes on my recipes a lot, even those in cookbooks.  If I made a substitution, if something could have been better, if I have an idea to try next time, I record it.

Have you ever had a failure with chocolate?

Oh, too many to count!  I made cookies with “white chocolate” that turned out to be rancid.  I made a chocolate cake with baking powder that must have been old, because it didn’t rise.  I over-whipped chocolate butter cream frosting until it separated.  Just last month, I doubled a chocolate cake recipe and turned out very dry.  I guess it was too delicate to be doubled.  (I am enclosing a picture of this cake, decorated to look like my dachshund.  At least it looked good.)

Her Pies, You Know You Want One
What is your greatest success with using chocolate?

I won third place at the Chocolate Fest in the category of “Perfect Pies” in 1998.  Okay, I confess:  there were only three entries!  But it was a really good pie:  chocolate pecan torte.  Almost too rich to eat!

Would you be willing to share that recipe with our Followers?

Of course, but it is a little bit complicated.  I even suggest you make sure you have a kitchen helper around, because there is a point where everything needs to be done quickly, with things at just the right temperature.

Finally, do you have a favorite cookbook of chocolate recipes, or do
you prefer family recipes?

Family recipes.  But I have always found Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines to have reliable, clear recipes.  I recently made their raspberry cream cheese brownies.  Quite possibly the best brownies ever!

As promised here is my good friend Emilie's recipe and trust me, Sisters and Brothers, this is indeed excellent!

Emilie’s Award-winning Rich Dark Chocolate Pecan Torte 

Pecan Crust:
1 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces 
vegetable cooking spray

Chocolate Filling:
10 bars (1.5 ounces each) Godiva Dark Chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups heavy cream (do not substitute, also called heavy whipping cream)

Cocoa Cream:
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the pecan crust:
. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray side and bottom of 9-inch springform pan with vegetable cooking spray.

. Place pecans, sugar, nutmeg, flour and butter in food processor bowl. Cover and process until nuts are ground and mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

. Press mixture into bottom of prepared pan.

. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

Make the chocolate filling::
. Place chopped chocolate in medium heavy saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in egg yolks.

. Heat heavy cream in small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a gentle boil. Slowly add hot cream to chocolate mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour filling over crust. Chill for 4 hours or overnight.

. Loosen torte from side of pan. Remove side of springform pan. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.  For this to work, you need to remove the sides shortly after taking the torte out of the refrigerator, not 15 minutes later.  You may need to repair the edges a bit with crumbs from the crust that stuck to the pan.  
Make the cocoa cream: Beat cream, sugar, cocoa and vanilla in large bowl until soft peaks form, using electric mixer at high speed. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip with cocoa cream. Pipe shells or rosettes over top of torte, covering it completely. Or just spread the cocoa cream with a spatula.  

Notes:  don’t have a food processor?  A mixer can fill in, but you may need to process in two batches.  
Don’t have a springform pan?  A regular large pie plate will work, but you won’t be able to remove the sides for serving, you will have to serve from the pan.  
Variations:  I have made this with a graham cracker crust, and I think an Oreo crust would also be nice.  You can skip the cocoa cream or use plain whipped cream.  You can decorate with chocolate curls, chopped nuts, or pecan halves half covered in chocolate.  


elizabeth said...

Great interview, and I wish I had one of Emilie's pies right now!

The Chocolate Priestess said...

I know! It makes it hard to wait for the day after Thanksgiving but it also makes that day more special.

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