Learn How to Make these Fabulous-looking Pecan Sandies

MasterCook is pleased to have Chef Emily Novak as our guest blogger. Chef Novak graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in New Zealand, where she received Le Grand Diplôme. She has worked as Pastry Chef at some of Philadelphia’s top restaurants—including the James Beard Award-winning Abe Fisher and Serpico—and currently works at One80.

While the calendar may tell us that spring is here, the blustery cold winds that continue to whip around the city of Philadelphia make it feel otherwise. These chilly mornings make the blankets feel a little warmer, and the slippered shuffle to the coffee pot a little further away. Yet nothing warms up the house quite like the smell of toasting pecans and robust maple syrup.

Chef Emily Novak

One of my favorite cold weather recipes is Maple Pecan Sandie Stacks. These little stacks not only look elegant and inviting, but are also the perfect balance of rich, comforting butter cookies and light fluffy maple diplomat cream. It is easy to dress them up with extra pieces of dark chocolate or maple sugar candies, but they can also pair well with zesty gingersnap ice cream or an after-dinner coffee.

The Pecan Sandie cookie recipe is easy to make, and incredibly forgiving. It readily takes on different shapes, and while I choose to cut them into thin rectangular cookies for stacking, this dough also makes an excellent tart shell or thumbprint cookie if you are looking to change the appearance of the dessert.
Pecan Sandies ready to eat

After the dough has been mixed, it works best if it is allowed to chill for half an hour to an hour, but can also be made in advance and kept overnight in the refrigerator. When preparing to roll out the dough, work directly on top of a pre-measured portion of parchment paper (or silicon mat).

It is important for stacking that the cookies are quite thin, so using parchment paper or a mat avoids the headache of trying to transfer the ultra-thin dough to a new location. Additionally, the small processed pieces of pecan within the dough can make it fragile and prone to tearing when rolling down to a few millimeters thick. If this happens, pressing small pieces of dough into the gaps as filler works perfectly fine.

To achieve uniform cookies with a clean definitive shape, parbake the sheet of cookie dough before cutting it. When the sheet begins to look dry and the edges are just starting to barely turn golden brown, remove the tray from the oven.

You can now use a cookie cutter or slide the sheet carefully onto a large cutting board to trim the desired shapes with a knife. At this point, the cookies are already set in their shape and should retain a nice clean edge once you have finished baking them off.

The maple diplomat cream that is piped in between the cookies may sound foreign, but is closely related to a whole family of dessert creams which includes anglaise and standard pastry/patisserie cream. The reason I like using a diplomat cream is because it offers a middle ground in consistency between runny, sauce-like anglaise and thick and dense pastry cream.

A diplomat is a pastry cream which is fortified with gelatin for structure, but cut with whipped cream for lightness. It maintains a pipe-able firmness and hold, but doesn’t overwhelm the other delicate pieces of the dessert.

* For those who are using Le Cordon Bleu® Recipes from MasterCook, these recipes have been automatically added to your online recipe collection and are ready to sync with your desktop version of MasterCook, where it will be added to Le Cordon Bleu® Blog Cookbook.

Pecan Sandies

250 grams chopped pecans or pecan pieces
225 grams butter, softened
110 grams cream cheese
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
100 grams brown sugar
125 grams white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
315 grams all-purpose flour

      1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Lightly toast pecans on a cookie sheet until they are fragrant and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Reserve a small portion for garnish, and blitz the remaining nuts in a food processor until they are in very small pieces. Be careful to not over process the nuts or they will start to look wet and clumpy when too much of the natural oil is released.

3. Blend softened butter and cream cheese together in a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment. Scrape down the bowl and continue to beat until there are no lumps. Add in vanilla extract.

4. Add the sugars, salt, and flour to the bowl and slowly mix until the dough looks sandy and there are no large clumps of fat remaining. Add in your finely processed pecans and continue to mix until the dough just begins to come together in a single ball and pull away from the sides of the bowl.

5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for ½ hour-1 hour.

6. Lightly flour and roll out the dough to 2mm thick.

7. Bake for 6-8 minutes until parbaked, cut out cookie shapes, and return to the oven as described above for another 3-4 minutes.

Maple Diplomat

2.5 sheets gelatin
75 grams egg yolks
115 grams brown sugar
35 grams cornstarch
300 grams milk
20 grams softened butter
130 grams maple syrup
300 grams heavy whipping cream

1. Bloom gelatin in ice cold water.

2. Whisk together yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and a small quantity of milk in a large bowl. Use just enough milk to help incorporate the dry ingredients into the yolks so the mixture is not too thick and paste-like.

3. Heat the remaining milk until it comes to boil. Temper the hot milk into the yolk mixture, and then return all of the liquid to the pot on the stove. Whisk continuously over a medium-low heat until the mixture is thick and begins to boil. Continue to whisk while boiling for 1 minute.

4. Remove from heat, and immediately transfer the hot mixture into a clean container. Whisk in bloomed gelatin, then butter and maple syrup.

5. Cover the mixture with a piece of cling film directly on the surface to avoid forming a skin. Chill the mixture in the fridge (stirring occasionally) until it is approximately room temperature. You do not want to chill it all the way until it is set.

6. While the mixture is cooling, whip cream to soft peaks. Once the mixture is ready, gently fold in the whipped cream. Return the fresh diplomat cream to the fridge until the gelatin has set. Once firm, the cream can be transferred into a piping bag and used in decoration.

Desserts to Make the Holidays Shine Brighter

Desserts are king during the holiday season, as diets relax and sweet indulgence reigns. Chef Denise Marchessault joins us to talk about her newly published cookbook, British Columbia from Scratch: Recipes for Every Season, authored with photographer Caroline West. She also offers some tips on how to stay on top of holiday cooking and shares with us a few delectable dessert recipes just in time for the holidays.

Chef Marchessault is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu® Ottawa, in Canada, where she achieved Le Grand Diplôme®, a 9 month comprehensive programme combining pastry and cuisine. She teaches cooking classes in Vancouver, Canada, and also penned the Master Class Series for EAT Magazine with photographer Caroline West.

British Columbia from Scratch book cover

MasterCook: Tell us about the “from scratch” part of your book. As a chef, what do you see as the benefits of cooking from scratch rather than using processed foods?

Chef Marchessault: Well, it’s healthier, more economical, and more flavorful than anything you’ll find in a box, packet or cube. Cooking is not a chore to endure, it’s is a pleasure in itself. Fortunately, there’s a new wave of cooks, young and old, who are discovering, or rediscovering, the simple pleasure of cooking from scratch.

MasterCook: Since your cookbook is inspired by the flavors of British Columbia, will readers outside the province be able to find the ingredients to make the recipes in your cookbook?

Chef Marchessault: Absolutely! I wanted a cookbook as practical as it is beautiful so I favored recipes with easily accessible ingredients. Seafood recipes are adaptable to any variety of fish and most ingredients are available at your local market.

MasterCook: As a professional chef with lots going on outside the kitchen–including a new book to promote, teaching, writing, and raising twins–what is your advice to people trying to stay organized as they plan and prepare meals during the holiday season?

Denise Marchessault

Chef Marchessault: My best advice is to get a jump-start on food prep whenever possible. When I come home from the market, for example, I peel and chop several onions and store them in plastic containers, in the fridge. No matter how frazzled, I can always muster the strength to prepare dinner when armed with a fridge full of pre-washed and chopped vegetables.

Dressings and pestos can be made ahead, too, and they liven-up quick and easy meals like frittatas, roasted vegetables, pasta, legumes or fish. Most desserts and pastry doughs freeze well, so when you’re in the mood for baking, fill up your freezer!

Cranberry Meringue

I do as much as possible in advance, and break down recipes into manageable tasks. For example, I’ll make dough one day and roll it out the next.

MasterCook: What are you planning for your main holiday meal this year? Do you have traditional items you always make, or do you change the menu from year to year?

My daughters are Pescetarian, so I’ll prepare salmon in puff pastry, rather than a traditional turkey. I’ll include an assortment of traditional side dishes, such as cranberries and garlic-roasted mashed potatoes.

The last few years I’ve prepared Christmas dinner entirely in advance. Re-heating a meal, rather than cooking all day, means I’m enjoying a relaxing day with my family.

Chocolate Mousse with Pear Chips

Chef Marchessault has kindly provided us with two recipes from her cookbook, “Cranberry Meringue” and “Chocolate Mousse with Pear Chips.”* For more information on Chef Marchessault, please click on the following link: denisem.ca. You can view a video preview of her book here, or purchase British Columbia from Scratch at Amazon by clicking here.

* For those who are using Le Cordon Bleu® Recipes from MasterCook, these recipes have been automatically added to your online recipe collection and is ready to sync with your desktop version of MasterCook, where it will be added to Le Cordon Bleu® Blog Cookbook.

Cranberry Meringue

Makes 10 – 12

¼ cup cranberry purée (recipe below) or strawberry jam
4 large egg whites, with no traces of yolk, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine or berry sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon white vinegar

You’ll need a baking sheet lined with parchment. A pastry bag is handy for portioning the meringue but not essential.

Preheat oven to 250 °F

To keep meringue uniform, draw circles onto your parchment-lined baking sheet, using a teacup as a template, with 2” space between each circle. Turn the parchment over and use as a guide when spooning or piping the meringue onto your tray.

Whisk the egg whites in a meticulously clean bowl, at medium speed for about one minute or until a network of tiny bubbles have formed. Gradually add the sugar and increase the speed to high and whip until the whites have expanded and formed billowy, firm glossy peaks. Be mindful not to over-whip otherwise the whites will turn grainy and lose their shape. Reduce the speed to low and add the cornstarch and vinegar until just blended.

If using a pastry bag, spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a ¾” tip. Pipe or spoon the meringue onto your prepared tray, using the template as a guide. Dip a butter knife into a bit of cranberry purée or jam and gently drag the purée around the unbaked meringues to create a marbled effect.

Bake for about an hour on a rack in the lower third of your oven or until the meringues are dry. Turn the heat off and leave the meringues in the oven until they cool. The meringues will crack slightly. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place.

Cranberry Purée

6 ounces, fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries, ½ standard package
6 tablespoons granulated sugar

Purée the cranberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a small saucepan, using the back of a ladle or a large spoon to press the solids against the strainer, extracting as much liquid as possible.  Heat the purée over medium heat with the sugar and reduce until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Set aside ¼ cup for the meringue and use any leftover purée as a topping for ice cream or swirled into puddings, muffins, loaves, pancakes or cookies.

Chocolate Mousse With Pear Chips

Serves 4–6

The key to this rich, melt-in-your-mouth mousse is to have your tools close at hand. With only two ingredients, chocolate and cream, the recipe is more about preparation than culinary finesse.

Once the cream and melted chocolate collide, the mousse firms quickly, so have your containers nearby. A piping bag is useful for distributing the mousse into narrow glasses but a small spoon works too.

If you’d like your mousse to peer above the rim of the containers, as pictured, wrap parchment paper around the containers first.

The mousse is rich and best served in small sherry or shot glasses.

If you’d like to garnish your mousse with pear chips and chocolate leaves, plan to make these in advance.

8 oz (230 g) good quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream, chilled
Pear Chips (optional; recipe follows)
Chocolate Leaves (optional; recipe follows)

You’ll need a wire whisk and a spatula.

Place the chocolate and 1/4 cup (60 mL) whipping cream in a heat-resistant bowl placed over a saucepan filled with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is just melted then remove from the heat.

Pour the remaining whipping cream into a large bowl or the bowl of a standup mixer fitted with a wire whisk. Whisk the cream until just thick enough to form soft peaks.

Working quickly, pour the melted chocolate into the whipped cream, using a spatula to scrape any remaining melted chocolate left clinging to the bowl. Whisk the chocolate into the cream until the mixture is uniform in colour and has thickened.

Spoon or pipe the mousse into glasses and refrigerate until set.

Take the mousse out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving. Remove the parchment collar, if using, and garnish with a pear chip and chocolate leaf, if desired.

Pear Chips

1 firm, slightly underripe pear, washed
1 cup (250 mL) sugar
1 cup (250 mL) water
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 200°F (95°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the sugar, water and lemon zest in a small saucepan over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Slice the pear paper-thin, using a mandoline or vegetable slicer.

Coat both sides of each pear slice with the sugar water mixture and place on a prepared baking sheet without overlapping any slices.

Dry the pear slices in the oven for 2–3 hours, carefully turning them over once. Allow the pears to cool for 10 minutes then gently peel the slices from the parchment. If the pears are not firm and crisp once cooled, continue to dry them in the oven.

The pear chips can be made a few days ahead of time and kept in a covered container.

Chocolate Leaves

6 oz (175 g) good quality chocolate, chopped into small pieces
8–12 small, firm non-toxic leaves such as holly or rose, washed and completely dried

Place the chocolate in a heat-resistant bowl over a saucepan filled with 1 inch (2.5 cm) simmering water. When the chocolate has melted, dip one side of each leaf into the chocolate and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Once the chocolate has firmed, carefully peel the leaves from the chocolate.