I did try to replicate something from there once. After eating a delicious appetizer of a tomato-mushroom ragout with truffle custard, I decided to cook a similar dish, which I chronicled in another post. After going there two weekends ago, I decided to order the same appetizer. It was just as good as I remembered it, so I decided to replicate it once more.
My previous incarnation was to cook sausages in the compote. I decided this time around I would cook something my husband might eat. I decided to make the ragout a bit lighter (white wine instead of red) and stew some chicken in it, sort of like coq au vin, but maybe it’s more like coq au champignon?
Well, I'm not going to share the recipe with you! Why? Because it wasn't good! I browned some chicken thighs and breasts. I cooked up some onions and garlic. I sauteed enough mushrooms to make me have visions of Smurfs for the rest of the evening. I poured on some wine. I stuck it in the oven for a while.
I thought everything would come together in a tasty melange of flavors. Instead it all tasted watered down and bland. On the attractiveness scale it didn't look too bad. The taste was just meh. Oddly enough, Sir Pickypants thought it was really good. I guess the chicken itself wasn't devoid of flavor. I served it with some rich mashed potatoes made with whole milk and butter.
One way to comfort myself with a bad recipe is to come up with a new recipe, especially if it's a PIE recipe and that's what I did.
If you want me to cook something, the best way to do it is to get a bug up my butt and suggest something I’ve never made before.
Seriously, if you tell me, “Make X with X sauce,” and I think that sounds like a good idea, you can bet I’ll invent a way to make X with X sauce. Case in point: my Hazelnut-Crusted Chicken with Port Cherry sauce that came about from a single suggestion from Emily.
So you can imagine how it made the gears turn in my head when at work one day my friend Erika innocently said to me, “You should make a chocolate-pecan-caramel pie.”
I don’t know exactly what type of pie she had in mind when she suggested it, but sure enough I felt the need to take her up on her suggestion. What would go into such a pie?
In a sense, I already do make such a pie. My favorite dessert cookbook Gooey Desserts (often mentioned in past posts) has a recipe for a Turtle Pie that includes a chocolate crumb crust topped with pecans, homemade caramel sauce and a rich topping of whipped ganache. Pies don’t get much better than that.
Still, I wanted a caramel pie that was all my own.
I toyed with what would go in it? Chocolate custard studded with pecans over caramel sauce in the crust? How about caramel custard studded with chocolate chips and pecans?
The more I toyed with the idea I decided I wanted a caramel custard, but that I wanted the custard to be completely smooth and free of chunks. So how do I incorporate the three flavors together?
Start with a baked pie crust.* Line the inside of the crust completely with melted chocolate. Then press toasted, salted pecans into the chocolate while it’s still warm and soft.
The next step was caramel custard. I decided I could do a basic pastry cream, but Icaramelized the sugar before adding it to the milk. A threw in a scraped vanilla bean as well.
I topped it with fresh whipped cream sprinkled with pecans and chocolate chips. This would also be pretty swirled with chocolate and caramel syrups if you have them handy.
The flavor of the pastry cream was quite distinctive. It wasn't quite what I was expecting it to taste like and definitely made for a unique pie. The pie was not without issues though.
For one thing, 3/4 of a package of chocolate chips is WAY more than I needed. Yes, a layer of chocolate on the bottom makes a pie more delicious, makes it easier to cut in one piece, and keeps the crust from becoming soggy. However, a THICK layer of chocolate, although delicious, makes a pie rather hard to eat - at least if you're trying to be civilized and use a fork. Good thing SPP and I were by ourselves.
The other issue was the custard. It tightened pretty quickly and ended up somewhat curdled. I strained it (something I admit I don't always do with custard) and after I had removed the lumps, I didn't have much actual custard left. It barely covered the chocolate in the crust.
I merged a couple of recipes to come up wtih this one and I think I really don't have a good grip on proportions for homemade pastry cream. I suspect that one less egg yolk might have been a good idea. I would love to have someone who is a better pastry chef than I weigh in on this.
Chocolate-Pecan Caramel Cream Pie
1 baked pie crust
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 egg yolks
7 1/2 tsp corn starch
4 Tbl butter
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbl confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Fill a large bowl with ice. Set a smaller bowl inside it and place a strainer on top of the bowl.
Toss pecans with salt. Set aside.
Melt 1 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips. Spread inside the pie crust all over the bottom and sides.
Press 3/4 of the pecans into the chocolate while it is still warm. Chill in refrigerator so chocolate sets.
Empty contents of vanilla bean pod into the milk in a medium saucepan. Keep warm over low heat.
In a small saucepan heat all but two tablespoons of the sugar and water over medium high heat and bring to a boil, giving it an occasional swirl. If crystals form on the side of the pan, wash down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Cook the sugar until it's a deep amber color and smells like cotton candy. Mix the caramel into the milk. It will harden, but keep stirring until dissolved.
In a bowl beat eggs, corn starch and remaining sugar for about a minute or until thick, light colored and creamy. Quickly whisk some of the warm caramel milk into the yolk mixture to temper the yolks. Add the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the milk. Stir over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes or until it becomes tight and thick.
Remove from heat and add butter a little at a time. Now pour the custard through the strainer that's set over the bowl sitting in the ice bath. DO NOT SKIP THIS. I sometimes don't strain my custards, but this one can get curdle-y very easily, so you want to get rid of as much of that curdle-y-ness as possible and have a smooth custard.
Pour the custard into the set pie shell, cover with plastic wrap (unless you're one of those weird people who likes pudding skin - I'll pass on that one), and chill until competely set.
Place cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff-ish peaks form. Spead on top of pie and sprinkle with remaining chips and nuts.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to using a pre-made frozen crust. Normally I would make a crust myself, make jokes about how ugly it is, and make snarky comments about people who don't make their own crusts. In this case, I wanted a gluten-free crust and wasn't up to figuring out the best way to go about it. I was more concerned about the creative filling than I was about the crust. I took the easy way out and found one at Whole Foods.