Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday Aftermath.

My house is still hung with the aftermath of a really lovely Christmas – the tree is still up, decorated if a bit dry, but no worse for the wear. There are even a few presents still under it glinting in our vintage oversized tree lights. Presents that have not found homes are all over the dining room, making friends with kitchen items that have been displaced thanks to a vacation-enabled cabinetry project. There are glittery pinecones and garlands of antique pink metal beads and a blood red amaryllis about to burst into bloom any moment now. There’s a fire in the fireplace, a milky black tea with honey by my side, and I’m still in PJs at 11:00am.

Our Tree

This aftermath suits me well. There’s nothing more relaxing than the rest of the lame duck year after Christmas blows by and we’re left in its tinsel and cookie crumb dust. It’s a calm space, free of major obligations – the resolutions have not yet been made. So the rest of those treats that are left over are still being enjoyed before we all press ourselves to make life better by eating more veggies, less sugar and gluten, drinking more water and much less alcohol and caffeine, in the new year. Maybe we’ll go to yoga more and do a few pushups. Who knows?

Tree light blur.

But for now, I’m still dreaming about the amazing chocolaty pie I made for Christmas day, the final crumbs of which have recently bid us adieu.  As any frequent readers know, I am not a huge fan of chocolate. I definitely go more for anything buttery or vanilla, with caramel, fruit, etc. But this concoction caught my eye from a Williams-Sonoma baking book I got as a wedding gift in 2005. It’s a light fluffy baked chocolate cheesecake with a dense, buttery, almost savory chocolate wafer cookie crumb crust. You could stop right there, or as suggested make chocolate whipped cream to spread on top just before serving, for another subtle chocolaty layer.

I made some changes to the recipe as it appeared in the book – originally it called for the inclusion of coffee, to create a delicious mocha flavor, but my tween nieces would be enjoying the pie too, and I didn’t think they (or their parents) needed the gift of extra caffeine to wrap up the holiday. So instead of using the coffee/hot cream combo called for, I infused the pie with yet another layer of chocolate, essentially adding heavy cream hot chocolate to the mix. Divine.

Wishing you all a Happy 2012!

Sweet Chocolate Pie
adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Baking Book, 2005

1 package (9 oz) chocolate wafer cookies
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sweet cocoa powder
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 lb cream cheese, at room temperature (make sure it is or you'll have unsightly blobs of undissolved cream cheese throughout your silky chocolate filling)
2 extra large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate whipped cream - I didn't measure anything when making this really. Pour some chilled heavy cream into a chilled metal bowl then beat it with your hand mixer for about 2 minutes. At that point beat in as much or as little sweet cocoa powder as you like, tasting along the way. Keep chilled until just before serving the pie.

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

To make the crust, combine cookies and sugar in a food processor. Process until crumbs form. Add melted butter and pulse until crumbs start to stick together. Press crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 10-inch pie plate, creating a crust of even thickness. Poke holes with a fork in the bottom and bake for about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temp to 325˚F.

In a small saucepan over medium heat gently warm the heavy cream until small bubbles form around the edges - do not boil. Add sweet cocoa powder and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt semi-sweet chocolate (either very carefully in the microwave or in a double boiler over gently simmering water). Stir until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat on low until very smooth. Stir in "hot chocolate cream" mixture, then the cooled melted chocolate. (You'll have to fully incorporate this by hand in the end, for a completely homogenous mix.) Pour the batter into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Bake until the top is dry to the touch and slightly firm, 35-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Top with chocolate whipped cream just before serving. This is best at room temperature - if you chill it to have the next day it's still great, but it will get denser in the fridge.

Serves 8-10.

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