The Lowcountry Celebrates
December in the Lowcountry brings on a flurry of holiday activity and the denouement of our entertaining season. Welcome to the whirlwind of the holidays: those last minute dashes to the store for gifts, cocktail parties as we deck the halls, and the sounds of jingle bells ringing in the cold winter air.
The treasured demeanor of our historic towns and plantations takes on a special glow, with doorways and windows garlanded in evergreen and coastal inspired decorations. Indicators of Christmas are all around; tinsel on the trees, stockings hung by the chimney with care, cookies on the counter hot from the oven. A stroll on the beach reveals the froth of winter waves at the ocean’s edge. Our Christmas shopping often mellows into intimate gatherings with neighbors and old friends. There is a natural sense of camaraderie evident in our relaxed style of entertaining. Often we celebrate the season with quieter parties in our homes that revolve around the warm and welcoming hospitality of an open house.
But most of all, the season is about spending time with friends and family. Recently, I spent an afternoon with my friend, Leslie Rohland, owner of The Cottage on Calhoun Street in Bluffton, where she shared with me the secrets to several of her most popular holiday desserts—easy to make and just right for any holiday occasion.
Salted Caramel Chocolate Pecan Pie
Our Southern pecan harvest coincides with the season, therefore holiday meals always contain plenty of pecans. While growing up, my mother’s specialty was bourbon balls and fruitcake, snowball cookies, and those white little divinity candies. My job was to sit at the counter and press a pecan half into each ball of divinity, and get my fingers dusted white from sprinkling powdered sugar on those buttery, pecan-filled snowball cookies.
Butter, brown sugar and toasted pecans… in the South, that combination of flavors is one of the greatest holiday comfort foods.
Recently, I took a bite into a salted caramel chocolate pecan pie like no other I had ever had before—moist layers of toasted nuts, chocolate, and buttery goodness.
Chocolate Filling: 1½ cups Sugar - ¾ cup Butter, melted - ⅓ cup All purpose flour - ⅓ cup Unsweetened cocoa - 1 Tbsp Vanilla extract - 3 large Eggs - 1 cup Pecans, chopped and toasted - 1 (9-inch) Unbaked deep-dish piecrust shell
Salted Caramel Topping: ¾ cup Sugar - 1 Tbsp Fresh lemon juice - ¼ cup Water - ⅓ cup Heavy cream - 4 Tbsps Butter - 2 cups Pecan halves, toasted - ½ tsp Sea salt
Prepare Filling: Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add eggs, stirring until well blended. Fold in chopped pecans. Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake 35 minutes. Filling will be loose, but will set as it cools. Remove from oven to a wire rack.
Prepare Topping: Bring ¾ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and ¼ cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Do not stir. Boil, swirling occasionally after sugar begins to change color, about 8 minutes or until dark amber. Do not walk away from the pan, as the sugar can burn quickly once it begins to change color. Remove from heat. Add cream and butter. Stir constantly until bubbling stops and butter is incorporated (about 1 minute). Stir in salt.
Arrange pecan halves on pie. Top with warm caramel topping. Cool 15 minutes and sprinkle with sea salt.
While we are always about giving no matter what the season, whether it be giving back to our community or giving homemade gifts from our kitchens, the holidays remind us all to extend ourselves and our hearts a little wider. Pecan Snowballs, packaged in cellophane, tied with Christmas ribbons, are always a welcome gift.
Ingredients: 1 cup Butter, softened - 1 cup Powdered sugar, divided - 1 tsp Vanilla extract - 2 cups All purpose flour - 1 cup Pecans
Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat butter, ½ cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour and pecans, beating on low speed after each addition, until well blended
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1½ inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 15 minutes or until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheets. Roll warm cookies in remaining ½ cup powdered sugar until evenly coated. Place on wire racks. Cool completely. Store in tightly covered containers at room temperature.
Gingerbread Pumpkin Cake
Alternate layers of Pumpkin Cake and Gingerbread Cake make for a moist, scrumptious holiday dessert!
Ingredients: 4 cups All purpose flour - 2 tsps Baking soda - ½ tsp Salt - 3 tsps Ground cinnamon - 2 tsps Ground ginger - 1 cup Unsalted butter, room temperature - ¼ tsp Ground cloves - 1 cup Light brown sugar - 4 large Eggs - splash Lemon juice - 1 cup Unsulphured molasses - 2 cups Milk
Directions: Preheat oven to 350°F and place rack in center of oven. Butter and flour (or spray with Baker’s Joy®) two 9-inch round cake pans with 2-inch sides.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
In bowl of electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon juice and molasses and beat to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the dry ingredients and milk, alternately, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Beat just until incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing cake from pan. Let cool completely.
Holiday Pumpkin Cake
Ingredients: 2 cups Sugar - 1 cup Vegetable oil - 4 large Eggs - 2 cups All purpose flour - 2 tsps Baking soda - 2 tsps Ground ginger - 1 tsp Baking powder - ½ tsp Salt - 2 cups Pumpkin puree - ½ cup Pecans, chopped (optional)
Directions: Combine sugar, vegetable oil and eggs in a large mixing bowl and thoroughly combine. Sift dry ingredients into a separate bowl. Combine with the oil mixture and beat well. Stir in pumpkin puree.
Pour batter into two greased and floured 9-inch round layer cake pans. Bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes. Turn out onto racks to cool.
Alternate layers of pumpkin cake and gingerbread cake. You can choose to have a four-layer tall, beautifully impressive cake, or this recipe can make two cakes with one layer of pumpkin and one layer of gingerbread cake each. Frost with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with chopped pecans.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Ingredients: ¼ cup Butter - 1 pkg (8-oz.) Cream cheese, room temperature - 1 pound Confectioners’ sugar, sifted - 2 tsps Vanilla extract
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth.
The Cottage's Pistachio Cream Cake
Ingredients: 2½ cups Cake flour, sifted—see below - 1 Tbsp Baking powder - ½ tsp Salt - 2 sticks Unsalted butter, room temperature - 2 cups Sugar - 4 large Eggs - 3 tsp Vanilla extract - 1 cup Sour cream - ½ cup Pistachio paste (available at - King Arthurs flour and specialty stores) - ½ cup Pistachio nuts, finely chopped
Directions: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray and line three 8 x 2-inch cake pans with parchment. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter in a large bowl, with an electric mixer, until fluffy and light in color, about 2 minutes on medium speed. Add the sugar and continue to mix until fluffy and light. Add eggs, one at a time, being sure each is well mixed before adding the next one. Add vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with sour cream. Add pistachio paste and nuts and mix just until blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth. Pound pans on counter 4-5 times. Bake 30-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. The top should be nicely browned or in this case “greened.”
For frosting, the best one is a traditional cream cheese frosting (recipe shown with the Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake on left.) We have made this cake with several different frostings, even a vanilla butter cream. Add pistachio paste to any frosting for a richer and nuttier flavor, and, of course, add ground pistachios too!
Upside Down Cranberry Spice Cake
Ingredients: ⅔ cup Light brown sugar, packed - 12 Tbsps Unsalted butter, melted - 1 Tbsp Molasses - ¼ cup Water - 2 cups All purpose flour - 1 cup Sugar - 2 tsp Baking powder - 1 tsp Salt - 3 large Eggs, room temperature - 1 cup Sour cream - 3 cups Cranberries, fresh or frozen - 1 Tbsp Vanilla - 1 tsp Cloves - 1 tsp Ground ginger - 1 tsp Nutmeg - 1 jar Caramel topping - Whipped cream
Directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-inch Bundt pan. In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, molasses and ¼ cup water and bring to a boil. Stir well and pour into prepared cake pan.
Add the cranberries to the prepared baking pan and gently press the fruit into an even layer.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sour cream together at medium speed, until well blended. Add vanilla and spices. Scrape down the bowl and add remaining melted butter and beat until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until smooth.
Dollop the batter on top of cranberry layer in the Bundt pan. Bake on the center rack until golden and a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool about 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the inside of the pan, turn over and place on a flat platter. Drizzle with caramel and top with whipped cream.