If I were to name one cake that epitomizes southern desserts my pick would be carrot cake. Chess pie could be said to hold the spot for the pie category, and peach cobbler for something in between the two.
You may consider a different cake to fit the textbook definition of southern, but for me carrot cake was always a family favorite. Throughout my life (and throughout most celebratory tables) a carrot cake was alway present.
Such an old recipe has a debatable origin. It is not debated that it origins began it another country and eventually grew and changed in the States. Traditionally the sponge includes shredded carrots and nuts and smeared with a creamed cheese icing.
With such a traditional cake, it is hard to find a unique or delicious variation on the classic version. I find keeping the modification simple will result in the best results. An easy variation on the tradition is the use of honey to sweeten the cake. Of course, I prefer local honey since Savannah has such good procurers like Capital Bee Company.
To push the variation a bit more, I added orange zest and a bit of orange juice to the cream cheese icing. The citrus brightens up the soulful cake.
Honey Carrot Cake
1 Cup of Honey
1 Teaspoon of Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon of Baking Powder
2 1/2 Cups of AP Flour
Zest and Juice from One Orange
1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
1 Stick of Butter, melted
2 Tablespoons of Vanilla
3 Cups of Grated Carrots
1 Cup of Chopped Walnuts, toasted
1/4 Teaspoon of Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger
2 Teaspoons of Cinnamon
For the icing:
15 Ounces Cream Cheese
4 Cups of Powdered Sugar
Zest From One Orange
1 Tablespoon of Fresh Orange Juice
Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grease and flour two eight inch cake pans. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients. Set aside.
In the mixing bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Make sure the honey is fully combined.
Gently, a portion at a time, whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
After the batter is fully combined and smooth, fold in the carrots and walnuts.
Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans.
Bake on the middle rack until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Approximately 40 minutes.
Meanwhile make the frosting.
In a stand mixer beat together the cream cheese and sugar, adding the sugar a little at a time.
Finish by mixing in the zest and orange juice.
Allow the cakes to cool fully before icing the cake with the frosting.
Do you know what a muscadine is? It is okay if the answer is no, considering most southerners would answer the same.
My childhood included a giant muscadine vine in the back yard, and most years it produced plethora of the juicy fruits. We had so much fruit growing in the backyard, my mother and I even tried our hand at making muscadine wine. It may have turned out a little on the vinegary side.
A muscadine is the south’s version of a grape but gooier and a bit more tart. They are in season right now and can be found by the carton full at your local farmer’s market. I naturally scooped up more than I could reasonably use in one recipe because finding them inspired me to create.
You can eat them like a grape, but after years of tasting the unique fruit, I can advise you that straight off the vine is not the best option. Roasting them at a high temperature breaks down some of the fibrous material and subdues the chewy fruit. It also adds to the overall flavor since by roasting you are caramelizing the natural sugars.
You can do a lot with a raw or roasted muscadine, but for this years bounty a muscadine toast sounded like an interesting option. A quick call to one of my all-time favorite Savannah restaurants, Cotton & Rye, and I scored a gigantic warm loaf of fresh baked rye bread.
The last ingredient I selected to round out the flavors was fresh, creamy ricotta with a squeeze of lemon.
I think you will find this recipe simple, unique, and quite delicious. Since muscadines are so unique and often difficult to find, I would love to hear you ideas on how to use the fruit.
1 Pound of Fresh Muscadines
1 Small Loaf of Rye Bread, sliced
250g of Fresh Milk Ricotta
First prepare your ricotta. Zest and juice the lemon then combine with the ricotta. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rinse the muscadines and allow the to dry.
Place the muscadines on a cookie sheet, then coat with olive oil and salt and pepper.
Roast for approximately 20 minutes.
While the muscadines roast, prepare the bread.
Toast the rye bread in a toaster until golden brown and crispy.
Slather each toast with prepared ricotta and three to four roasted muscadines.
Finish the toast with a sprinkle of finishing salt.
*Optional, you can also finish the toast by sprinkling over microgreens.
The history of the chess pie is debatable. Many contribute its origin to England, but those who have lived in the south their entire lives know it is as southern as peach pie.
To describe the many variations of chess pie that I have tasted, I would sum up the experience as a pecan pie without the pecans, and in their place, a little bit of cream. Just like a pecan pie, chess pie is one of the easiest pies you can make. Almost impossible to muck up.
A flaky tender crust sits at the base of the custard-like filling. And because the filling is so neutral, you can flavor the pie with almost anything.
Chess pie is sometimes referred to as buttermilk pie or vinegar pie.
For my summer version, I went with lemons and fresh pineapple sage from the garden. The custard is made using fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. I add in pineapple sage by seeping cream with it and using it throughout the recipe.
I always make my own pie crust because the taste is so much better than store-bought. A ratio of half butter and half lard is my preference for fat. You are your own baker, so use any recipe for a crust that you like or even use a premade one!
Lemon Chess Pie
Recipes, Sweet Recipes
For Pie Crust:
2 1/2 Cups of Flour
1 Teaspoon of Salt
1 Tablespoon of Sugar
1/2 Cup of Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into cubes
1/2 Cup of Cold Lard
4 to 8 Tablespoons of Ice Water
4 Large Eggs
2 Cups of Sugar
1 Tablespoon of Yellow Corn Meal
1 Tablespoon of Flour
3 Teaspoons of Grated Lemon Zest
3/4 Cup of Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup of Melter Butter
1/4 Cup of Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup of Pineapple Sage
First make the pie crust.
In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the crust.
Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and lard. You want the crumbs to resemble various sized beans.
Once the crumbs are at the desired size, pour in 4 tablespoons of the ice water.
Gently begin to press the dough together to form a ball. If more water is needed ad it.
Once you have a ball of pie dough formed, divide it into two.
Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and allow them to rest for at least one hour in the fridge.
Save the second ball of dough for another use.
After the pie dough has chilled and rested, begin making your pie.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roll out one of the balls of dough, on a well floured surface, to a 12 inch circle. This is for a 9 inch pie pan.
Place the pie crust into the pie pan, then form edges to your desired design.
Poke holes in the bottom of the crust, then weight it down with parchment paper and pie weights.
Bake the crust for approximately 15 minutes.
Once baked removed the crust from oven, remove the pie weights, and set aside.
Make the pie filling.
Steep the pineapple sage in the heavy cream by placing the two in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Steep for approximately 10 minutes, and do not allow the cream to come to a boil.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a mixing bowl, combine your sugar, flour, and cornmeal.
Stir the eggs into the dry mixture, one at time. Mixing each until well combined.
Whisk in the melted butter, lemon juice, lemon zest, and 1/4 cup of the steeped cream.
Pour filling mixture into the pie crust, and bake for 1 hour.
If your pie crust starts to brown, cover with foil.
To finish the pie, whisk the remaining steeped cream until a medium stiffness whipped cream is formed.
Spread whipped cream over the top of the cooled pie and garnish with chopped pineapple sage.
Travel is the best way to draw inspiration in life. For me traveling means exploring the food of the city I am visiting. I spend hours of research mapping out my food journey to ensure I eat only the best the city has to offer. Oftentimes the result is overindulgence over a short period of hours.
Two weekends ago I found myself in New Orleans. One of my favorite southern cities of all time. I am lucky to have family in Louisiana which gives me more than enough legitimate reasons to explore the land of endless sugar cane fields. If you have never visited, I strongly urge you to add NOLA to your short list of destinations. Wrought with history and culture, the French influenced city has no shortage of things to see and do. Live music in every bar, towering historical buildings, and more voodoo shops that you can stand. I have been many times yet I have never seen the same thing twice.
Louisiana a state that is know for the origin of Cajun cuisine which is heavily influenced by Creole cooking with French technique. Technically, Cajun food did not start in Louisiana, but through immigrants who eventually settled in the state. And yes, there is a large difference in the Cajun and Creole, which I plan on breaching in a later post.
For now I would like to spend a little bit of time focusing on the Creole and French side of the state. The city folk, those in New Orleans, cook Creole food, unlike the country folk who cook Cajun. Since I spent time in the city, everything I ate could be considered Cajun—even the non-Cajun food—and here is why:
If you have ever visited New Orleans it is easy to see that the town is a culmination cultures created through the settlement of immigrants, which is still occurring today. There are more restaurants that a visitor could reasonably conquer, all of which are a different—even if only slightly. Restauranteurs present patrons with their interpretation of local food, adding in their own influences and ideas. This is a practice that has been occurring in NOLA since before my time. The food of our ancestors is not the food of our towns as we now know them.
A world-wide known dessert is the perfect example of the evolution of the food in NOLA. Bananas foster was created in New Orleans at famous New Orleans restaurant Brennan’s by Chef Paul Blange. Today you can still visit Brennan’s and try the food that has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards. The recipe was created in 1951 and even published by the New York Times in 1957. The concept is simple: smother ripe bananas in butter, sugar, and liquor then set it aflame.
Although widely considered a traditional southern dish, by no means it is so in the literal sense of the word. The recipe was not contemplated until the mid 20th century. When comparing so many dishes that are said to be traditionally southern, bananas fosters is much younger than say hoppin’ john, which can be dated back to the 19th century.
This dish epitomizes both Southern and Louisiana cuisine, ever progressing into new fare that features a nod to the past. So why not draw inspiration from a City and State that has drawn culinary inspiration from it’s inhabitants, landscape, and visitors, and create something totally new from already known and loved recipe (also my husband begged me to make monkey bread, so the idea was streamline).
Many recipes call for canned biscuit dough. I believe that fresh is best, so my recipe makes the dough from scratch.
If you draw any inspiration from this post or recipe, I hope you take the idea of bananas foster and add it into a something to create a brand new dessert…or savory dish. I would love to hear about what you come up with!
Bananas Foster Monkey Bread
For the Dough:
⅔ Cup of Warm Whole Milk, no higher than 110°F
1 Tablespoon of Sugar
1 0.25 Ounce Package Dry Yeast
3¼ Cups of Flour, divided
¼ Cup of Butter, melted
2 Large Eggs
1 Teaspoon of Salt
For the coating:
1 Cup of Light Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon of Cinnamon
For the Bananas Foster:
4 Very Ripe Bananas, peeled and sliced
4 Tablespoons of Butter
1 Cup of Firmly Packed Light Brown Sugar
½ Cup of Heavy Whipping Cream, room temperature
3 Tablespoons of Bourbon
Pinch of Salt
4 ripe bananas, sliced
Start by making the dough.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour in the milk then sprinkle over the yeast and sugar. Let sit for at least 10 minutes until the yeast is bubbly.
With the dough hook attached, turn the speed to low. Pour in 1 cup of flour, mixing until combine. Next the melted butter, and finish 1 cup of flour.
Mix in the eggs, then finish with the remaining flour and salt.
Once dough is fully combined turn the speed to medium and kneed for 3-5 minutes. A soft dough should form and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Coat a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl, coat with spray, and allow to rise, covered, in a draft free place for one hour or until double in size.
In a small bowl, combine the topping sugar and cinnamon. Mix until combined then set aside for later.
Prepare your bananas fosters. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add brown sugar and butter. Cook for approximately 3-5 minutes until mixture is an amber color.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, salt, and bananas. Stir to fully coat bananas. Set aside and allow to cool.
Prepare a bundt pan by coating it in cooking spray.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Gently shape dough into a ball.
Pinch off one inch pieces, roll them into a ball, then dunk them into the cinnamon sugar mixture.
Start assembling by placing a small amount of bananas fosters mix into the bottom of the pan.
Create a layer of dough balls in the bottom of the pan, then coat in your bananas fosters. Continuing layering dough and sauce until the pan is full.
Bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes.
Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before turning it out.