If only it were possible to have conversations with myself, both past and future, without the burden of mental illness. When people utter the word “cool” in a sentence with my name (not a brag, more of a statement of disbelief), I wish I could bring young Quelcy into the fold, with her cumbersome backpack and pre-algebra stresses and general obsessive bookishness. “Hey you, LOOK! Someday, somehow, this will all pay off.” Similarly, I’d summon that Quelcy who worked a job she grew to abhor.
That Quelcy found a solace and creative outlet in baking, in trying new recipes and techniques, all while tinkering with a new camera. That Quelcy would walk into my dining room, judging the updates with her eyes (as always), and say, “Oh, you’ve paired down the collections a bit. Good for us, but why aren’t you hosting a brunch today?”
Current me would justify past Quelcy’s poignant observation. I’ve managed to steer myself to this magical overlap, where people pay me to play with food and flowers and gatherings, but somewhere in that process of leaving the job I hated, and fuzzing the line between work and play, I forgot to slate days to bake just for me or to host friends in my home just for fun. In short, I forgot that weekends even existed.
I was due for a reminder, so I treated myself to one of those expensive recipe compilation magazines, those textured pages just dripping with sweetness set against dark fabrics, etched slate and cold, crisp marble. Then I sank into my couch, nestled under the warmest of plaid blankets and made a weekend plan. In the simplest of approaches, I began with the first page, which just happened to boast many of my favorite flavors paired together: chocolate, pecan, bourbon and pie crust.
As winter finally made herself known, and the darkness set in oh so early, I sequestered myself, by my own freewill, in my kitchen, where I embraced the full process of baking and playing with food… simply because that’s what I really love to do, and I needed the reminder.
Even if you don’t play with food and flowers and gatherings for a living, the holiday season can taint baking and cooking with a hint of stress. Dinners and holiday parties put schedules and deadlines on creative outlets, and in the process, they can suck some of the joy from kitchen escapes.
Maybe there’s a future iteration of me, who could join current me and past me in the dining room, and hopefully tell us both that she figures it out, she finds more ways to balance paying bills with feeding our souls (after all, she will be the older, wiser one). In the meantime, I’m letting my inner crazy attempt to steer me toward more balance and simpler baking joys, and I hope you find the same outlets during the crazy of the holidays.
Here’s to [some semblance of] sanity!
Whole Grain Chocolate Pecan Tart with Bourbon Whipped Crème Fraîche
Adapted from Bon Appétit
About this Recipe: By reducing the sugar in the crust, using raw cane sugar, maple instead of processed sugar and corn syrup, and an extra dark chocolate, my adapted version allows you to enjoy the winning trifecta that is pecan, chocolate and bourbon without that “I feel my teeth rotting” sensation. In my zeal, I accidentally skipped adding chopped pecans to the filling, but I left that part in the instructions, so do as Bon Appétit says and not as I do. I was also a little over zealous with the chocolate (as per my usual). The Bourbon Crème Fraîche has a thick and fluffy texture, almost like a non-melting ice cream- win win!
Whole Grain Pâte Sucrée
Yield: 2 crusts
3 large egg yolks (organic/free-range)
1/4 cup organic heavy cream
2 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (such as King Arthur)
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup organic raw sugar
1/4 tsp pink Himalaya sea salt
Whisk egg yolks and cream in a small bowl; set aside.
Pulse flour, butter, sugar, and salt in a food processor until a coarse meal forms. With machine running, gradually add cream mixture; blend just to combine (do not overwork dough or crust will be tough).
Transfer dough to a large work surface. Knead just to incorporate, 4-5 turns. Divide dough in half; shape each half into a 1-inch-thick disk and wrap in plastic. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours.
Note: Crust can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling out. Crust can also be frozen for up to 4 months. Thaw overnight in refrigerator before rolling out.
Pecan and Chocolate Tart
Yield: 8 to 10 Servings
1 Pâte Sucrée disk (recipe above)
White whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour (for dusting)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans plus 1 1/2–2 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (organic/grass-fed)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup organic raw cane sugar
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs (organic/cage-free)
~4 ounces dark baking chocolate (or more), chopped (Callebaut Dark Chocolate– I used 97%)
bourbon whipped crème fraîche (recipe below)
Roll out Pâte Sucrée disk on a lightly floured work surface to a 1/8-inch-thick round, dusting with flour as necessary to prevent sticking.
Transfer crust to tart pan; press onto bottom and up sides of pan. Trim dough flush with edge of pan. Chill for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Spread out chopped pecans in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned and aromatic, 8-10 minutes.
Place butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean.
Cook, swirling pan a few times, until butter browns and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Discard vanilla bean.
Whisk sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in warm brown butter, then eggs; whisk to blend. Spread chopped pecans in an even layer over prepared tart shell. Scatter chocolate over. Place pecan halves in concentric circles over chopped pecans and chocolate.
Pour filling slowly and evenly over nuts.
Bake tart until filling is just set in center, 45-50 minutes.
Transfer tart to a wire rack; let cool for at least 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Tart can be made 8 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
Bourbon Whipped Crème Fraîche
3/4 cup organic heavy cream
1/4 cup organic crème fraîche
2 teaspoons bourbon (such as Blanton’s)
Beat cream, crème fraîche, and bourbon until soft peaks form.
Note: Bourbon whipped crème fraîche can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover; chill. Rewhisk before serving.
Cut tart into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature with bourbon whipped crème fraîche or salted caramel ice cream.