Nuts to You

The Food writers reveal their favorite pecan recipes

Mick Vann

Sweet Pecan Tea

Serves 6

An ancient Chinese variation (here with pecans instead of almonds) on the Mexican horchata, with an added Thai and Southwest Asian twist.

1/4 cup long grain white rice, soaked in water for 4 hours, drained

4 ounces pecans, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, drained

6 cups water

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup coconut cream (the thick part at the top of a can of unshaken coconut milk)

6-9 drops rosewater

Finely puree the rice and pecans with 2 cups of the water in a blender for 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1 more cup of the water and puree 1 minute more. Line a colander or strainer with cheesecloth, pour in the pecan mixture, add the remaining 3 cups of water, and allow it to drain completely into a 4-quart saucepan. Grab the edges of the cheesecloth and extract all moisture from the mixture by squeezing into the saucepan. Set the saucepan over medium heat and stir constantly until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat and add the sugar, coconut cream, and rosewater, stirring until dissolved. Serve.

Caramelized Sweet-Spicy Pecans

Serves 6

These Chinese pecans make an excellent sweet/spicy nibble for a party, or a gift for friends.

3 cups boiling water

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup honey

2 cups whole pecans

1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil

16 whole dried red Chinese chiles

1/2 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, lightly toasted and finely ground

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar (optional, for a sweeter taste)

Combine the water, sugar, and honey and stir until dissolved. Place the pecans in a heat-proof bowl, add the water mixture, and place a heat-proof plate over the nuts to submerge them, allowing them to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the pecans, pat dry, and arrange on a drying rack or sheet pan to completely air-dry (they can have a little internal moisture remaining). Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chiles and fry them until they become dark red and just begin to smoke. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add the pecans and fry them while stirring until they just begin to caramelize. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a metal bowl; sprinkle them with the Szechuan peppercorn, salt, and sugar; and toss well to coat evenly. Spread them onto a paper towel to drain. Combine with the reserved chiles before serving.

Claudia Alarcón

Tamales de nuez (pecan tamales)

About 2 dozen tamales

I taught this recipe at a Central Market cooking class a few years ago, and it was a huge hit. It is a recipe from Mexico City, but one that's perfect for Central Texas, where pecans are abundant just in time for tamale-making season. Serve as a light supper or for breakfast with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate.

1 package dried corn husks

1 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup lard or shortening

1 pound masa harina

1 cup very finely chopped pecans

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup chopped dates

Soak corn husks in warm water in a large bowl or in the kitchen sink for about 30 minutes to soften. Drain and set aside.

Bring the evaporated milk to a boil with the sugar until it reduces by about half. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat shortening well until very fluffy. Add the masa harina, alternating with the milk mixture and the chopped pecans. Beat vigorously for approximately 6 minutes, until a small portion of masa floats when dropped in water.

To assemble, spread 1 heaping tablespoon of masa onto corn husk. Sprinkle a few date pieces. Fold both sides in tightly to overlap. Fold pointed end toward the flat end, and tie with corn husk strands or kitchen twine, if you like.

Line the bottom of a tamale steamer or an 8-quart pot with a steamer basket with corn husks. Add water to the bottom of the basket. Place tamales vertically, folded-side down. Cover with a damp kitchen towel or more corn husks and place on stove top over high heat to bring water to a boil. Once the pot is steaming, lower heat to medium and cover with a lid. Cook for about 50-60 minutes or until done.

Kate Thornberry

Locally Famous Pecan Pie

Many years ago, I worked as a baker at a Locally Famous Restaurant whose pecan pie was quite renowned. This version is quite similar! (Quite!)

This recipe is formulated for a 10-inch pie pan, which is the size usually sold for home use; if you are using a disposable aluminum pan, or your home pie pan is a 9-inch – or, God forbid, an 8-inch – that's no problem: You'll just have too much filling. Use fewer pecans, and only fill the pan with filling until it is slightly less then "full." If you are using incredibly dinky 8-inch disposable aluminum pans, you could double the pie crust recipe and make TWO pie crusts, then use ONE batch of pie filling to fill them, I bet.

The Crust

The pie crust is my own recipe; if you pay attention and follow the instructions, you will become famous for your pie crust. Many would-be bakers are leery of pie crust, and use premade. Don't you dare! It is really so easy and fun: Just follow my instructions! The main reason for pie-crust failure is that most cookbooks are not descriptive enough. I will walk you through it.

Pie crust: Into your food processor or a large bowl, deposit one heaping cup of flour and one teaspoon of salt. Pulse once or, if using a bowl, stir it up with your fingers or anything handy. Then, slice an entire stick of butter in in fat slices. You can use either salted or unsalted, it doesn't matter. Food processor: Pulse until it gets to looking "fine," as though the butter is evenly incorporated, and then keep going until it starts to "clump together" a little bit. At the first signs of clumping together, stop pulsing, or it will clot into wedges and be harder to work with. For the bowl method: Get out your pastry blender (this is the kitchen device that looks kind of like an egg slicer with a handle) and cut the butter cubes into the flour, as with the processor, past the "fine" stage and into the clumping stage. I myself have a food processor, but if I am just making one pie, I usually just use the bowl method because cleanup it easier. (One time, when I didn't have a pastry blender, I used the ancient method of "cutting" the butter into the flour with two knives. This also works, it just takes a lot longer. If you have neither a food processor nor a pastry blender, you can just cut the butter in with two knives, using a motion reminiscent of one of the Three Stooges pretending to cut up a bowl of salad. Use sharp knives!

Dump the clumpy little bits of butter-infused flour into a large bowl. Get out your set of measuring spoons, a small glass of water with two ice cubes in it, and a dinner fork. Cast 3 or 4 tablespoons of cold water onto the mixture while you toss the stuff around with the fork. (Don't accidentally throw the cubes in.) Usually the bowl method will take 4 tablespoons and the processor method will take 3. Toss the bits all around to attempt to evenly coat them with dampness. Then, rub a little flour on your hands, and grasp the mixture and press it into a single ball. Throw and press it around the bowl until it is nice and smooth. It should easily press into a single smooth ball. Smooth. It should easily press into a single smooth ball.

Next, get out a large cutting board and a rolling pin, and coat them both with flour. (Put 1/4 cup on the cutting board.) Place the ball of pastry onto the cutting board, and press down with your palm to flatten it a bit. Turn it over, then roll out a circle with the rolling pin. If you can't get a nice, even circle, put your pie pan upside-down on top and cut out a circle about an inch larger than the pan. Then place the circle of pie crust in the pan and flute the edges. Stick it in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 350, and use the microwave or stove top to melt a stick of butter (don't allow the butter to brown!). Use low heat and keep an eye on it. Remove from heat when melted.

In a large bowl, or a stand mixer (use paddle attachment), mix slowly in order given:

3 eggs

1 cup sugar mixed with 2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup dark Karo brand corn syrup (if you don't feel like getting your measuring cup sticky, just pour in half of the 16-ounce bottle, by the "eyeballing" method)

1 1/2 tablespoons of vanilla ... REAL vanilla, not fake!

stick of butter that you melted

Get out your homemade pastry crust that you just made as per my instructions; put 2 full cups of pecans into the pie pan. You can use pecan halves or pieces, it doesn't matter, Although the Locally Famous Restaurant used halves. Pour the liquid mixture over the pecans with a dribbling method, so that the nut meats are coated by the mixture as you pour. That will make the nuts look shiny when the pie is done. Put it in the oven and bake for 50 minutes. When it is done, it will be "puffed up" and the crust will be lightly browned. As it cools, it will flatten out again.

It is good to serve warm, with an enormous scoop of whipped cream.

Pecan Biscotti

There is nothing more perfect with cappuccino than biscotti. Unlike many baked goods, a batch of biscotti, stored in an airtight container, lasts for weeks! Here is my favorite recipe for pecan biscotti:

2 cups chopped pecans

1 stick softened sweet butter

3/4 cups sugar

3 eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoons salt

Preheat the oven to 325.

Place the pecans in the oven and toast lightly for 10 minutes.

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla extract. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together and add to the butter. Stir in the toasted pecans.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into 2-inch-diameter logs. Place logs on a parchment baking sheet and press down to form the classic arch biscotti shape. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven with a thin spatula. Cut into 3/4-inch slices. (Use an incredibly sharp serrated knife, because cutting through the pecans without "tearing" the loaf is important.) Lay slices on their sides and return biscotti to oven to dry and toast for 15 more minutes (or until they are as toasted as you want them to be). Cool on rack. Makes 20 biscotti, enough to fill a regular-sized counter canister.

Barbara Chisholm

Roquefort Grapes

As part of a cocktail spread, these never fail to surprise. Of course, everyone thinks they're some sort of sausage ball or other savory nibble. But, no! It's more of a mini cheese ball with a juicy center. Watch the fun as people pop one in and burst the juicy center! They couldn't be easier to put together either, which only adds to their allure in my book.

As part of a cocktail spread for 12 (assuming three per guest):

36 seedless grapes (pick your favorite among what is available at the time. When red globes are available, I love to use them)

4 to 6 ounces Roquefort (or other tangy blue cheese of your liking; quantity depends on how piquant you like your finished product)

8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup (or more, depending on size of grapes) toasted pecans, chopped.

Wash and dry grapes. Mix together the blue and cream cheeses to form a paste. Put a dollop of the cheese mixture in your hand, make an impression in the center of the dollop with your thumb and insert the grape. Completely cover the grape with the cheese mixture, then roll in the pecans. Keeps in the refrigerator for a couple of days. You'll figure out how much cheese you'll need for each grape, depending on the size of the fruit. These shouldn't be too big; they should be one-bite beauties.

Virginia B. Wood

Easy Pecan Pralines

Growing up in Midland, one of our favorite outings was to a Mexican restaurant in Odessa called Manuel's. Dinner there always ended with a round, sugary praline purchased at the cash register. When I started making candy, duplicating those pralines was one of my first goals. This is not their recipe, but it's as close as I've been able to get. I use La Vencedora Mexican vanilla because I like the flavor. It's available at Central Market and some of the Mexican markets around town.

1 1/2 cups pecan pieces

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Mexican vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with baker's parchment or tinfoil and spread the pecan pieces on the sheet. Bake until toasted lightly, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven. Cover a heat-resistant surface with a large sheet of baker's parchment or tinfoil and set out a rounded soup- or tablespoon. (This will be the area where you spoon out your pralines.) Combine the pecans, both sugars, buttermilk, butter, and salt in a heavy, nonreactive 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Once the mixture has come to a rolling boil, boil 1 1/2 minutes by a timer and then remove from heat. Carefully add the vanilla and stir to blend. Continue stirring mixture until it loses its sheen and begins to look creamy. Working quickly, use the rounded spoon to scoop pralines onto the parchment or tinfoil, placing them 1 to 2 inches apart. (If they spread too much and run together, you didn't stir long enough. If the mixture solidifies in the pan, you stirred too long.) Allow them at least an hour to cool and set. Store between layers of parchment or waxed paper in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate or freeze, as that destroys the texture. Makes approximately 20-24 2-inch pralines. end story

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