Pecan Pie Octopus Monster!

28 Oct

All Photos Courtesy of Ben May

Here’s what fall should look like.

Being a resident in Charleston for nine months out of the year means I’m missing out on well, the seasons. Gone are the nutmeg scents, Brand New blaring, corduroy sporting that makes me feel like an extra in The Royal Tenenbaums, and that crisp touch on the skin. In Charleston, we have two seasons: summer and mopey monsoon.

Courtesy of Charleston Horticultural Society

That’s more of what I have.

Over fall break, I had the chance to go back to my roommate Ben’s hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee, where I got a swift reminder of what fall looks, smells, and tastes like.

That’s a facsimile as to what fall tastes like. A dark chocolate bourbon mousse doesn’t taste like pumpkins or apple cider, but it’s got all of the fullness and warmth of a dish that’s perfect for longer sleeves. When we put it all together, it made for a “pecan pie reconstruction,” based off of a recipe from Anson Restaurant. Though Anson is in the heart of downtown Charleston, this recipe was perfect for autumn. Sandwiched between college football, hikes at Bays Mountain, and pep band, pecan pie reminded of the season I’ve grown to love but forget about.

I’m particular about pecan pie.

There’s two elements to the Southern dessert: there’s the syrup side and there’s the pecan side. I tend to like pretty equal distribution of pecans in the pie with the syrup taking the sidecar. Some pies are a big on a roof of pecans over a thick, predominant layer of syrup. I’m just not crazy about those.

This reconstruction takes all of the flavors of a pecan pie (vanilla, bourbon, pecans) and changes around the texture. The vanilla from whipped cream becomes a liquid, and the pecans take the form of a garnish. All together, they make for a new way to gobble up the classic. Once Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m really feeling like giving this another whirl.

This little experiment is a chocolate dessert first and foremost-and lots of chocolate. Ben went to work creating the chocolate mousse with 8 ounces of dark chocolate and whipping cream, spinning and stirring the two until the two make their own delicious mountains.

We both got a lesson in how to use an electrical mixer, a useful trait that isn’t in the syllabus for genetics or features writing.

Meanwhile, I made up a geleé, a gelatin, to go on top of the mousse in a very thin layer. A very thin layer due to its bourbon content. When I said this is a chocolate dessert first and foremost, it also prominently features bourbon. The geleé is unflavored gelatin, sugar, and bourbon while the chocolate contains traces of corn whiskey.

It’s like a Jell-O for grownups.

And in Tennessee, this works.

While Ben worked the mousse, I boiled sugar water to gradually add to the gelatin mix. Meanwhile, we had sugar caramelizing with vanilla in a saucepan for homemade pecan pralines.

We didn’t act like this. We also didn’t use corn syrup. In fact, we have nothing in common with her.

Also, this recipe brings up a controversy on how to pronounce the garnish.




Ben’s family, who pronounce it the first way, pointed out how I take both pronunciations to make a hybrid.

Once the pralines get to the softball stage of 236 degrees (this experiment was as much Science as it was South), we took the pralines off to dry off.

They made for the crisp treat that haunts Charleston streets as often as fanny packs and flip flops. he mousse, bourbon geleé, and pecan pralines were like an orchestra. The mousse goes into ramekins (very cleanly), a thin layer of gel goes on top (we needed something fast forming and light on the bourbon flavor), and the individual ramekins go into the refrigerator to set.

The final dish has a miniature vanilla milkshake (smooths out the stronger chocolate flavor) and the praline of top. The ice cream made it richer but more balanced. The praline worked similarly to sweeten up some of the fuller tastes. I think the next batch could use a thin layer of praline “dust” on top. It needed the praline flavor in every bite; but with the big chunks, it was hard to carry that off.

Paula would be proud of the eight-armed (props to Ben’s mother) creation’s ingredient content. Alton Brown would have liked the chemistry. The May family liked it post-meal. We served it for dessert after an equally Southern spread of butternut squash and apple cream pork chops.

The Reconstruction was a dark time for American history and President Andrew Johnson (Tennessee’s own), but this reconstruction was a highlight of my journey to Tennesse.


2 Responses to “Pecan Pie Octopus Monster!”

  1. lilyclare October 28, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    1) That looks delicious. 2) I miss you both. 3) Mopey Monsoon is the best descriptor for Charleston weather I’ve ever heard. 4) It’s totally pee-can (my friend who went to school for word pronunciation said so). Love reading your blog!

    • trwerner October 30, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

      Ha! So it is pee-can. I want to do a special issue on Scottish food. How great would that be?

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