Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cinnamon-Pecan Tea-Cakes

It's cookie-swap time, y'all!

One of the many things I look forward to this time of the year is the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap--sort of a "secret Santa" for food bloggers.

Last year I sent each of three participating strangers a dozen Elf Cookies, my homage to Keebler's E.L. Fudge, and I received an assortment of delicious treats from three different food bloggers. This year, in keeping with my theme of childhood favorites, I had planned an homage to Nabisco's Nutter Butters--delicious, right?

But as I started to draft my recipe, I realized my heart just wasn't in it. Prepping for family to come for the holidays, keeping up with my rambunctious two-year old, and fighting off morning sickness (!!) made the massive undertaking of developing a sandwich-cookie copycat recipe seem a little more daunting than usual.

So with the nutter-butter concept on the back-burner, I racked my brain for a new idea. It would have to be something that could be packed and shipped, something that would keep well, and ideally, get even better after a few days.

Then it came to me: Tennessee Tea-Cakes!

The rules for the cookie swap stipulate that the blogger must choose a recipe he or she has never posted before--but it can be a variation of a previous post. Though I'd written about the fudge-textured confection of Southern legend in the past, I'd been wanting to do a variation on the mythical treat for quite a while (stopped only by the knowledge that I would eat them all within a two-hour period if allowed), so with the flavors of the season in mind (and with recipients' addresses in hand), Cinnamon-Pecan Tea-Cakes were born.

The addition of a cup of chopped pecans to the batter means your yield will be a little greater than a dozen. Resist the urge to fill the muffin liners all the way to the top--simply bake off the remaining batter after the first batch is done. The tea-cakes do not rise much, but filling them to the top requires them to cook for longer, and the texture won't be quite the same.

In the original post, I baked the tea-cakes in a 350-degree-Fahrenheit oven. Since that time, I have moved a couple of times, and my current oven produces slightly better tea-cakes at 375. Unfortunately, I have yet to follow the advice of every cooking authority EVER and purchase a removable oven thermometer, so I don't know which temp is the truest, or if the addition of the pecans somehow changes the ideal temperature. If possible, you may want to do a test batch to see which temp gets the best results for you.

The MOST important thing to remember with this recipe, however, is to let the tea-cakes cool completely before dusting with powdered sugar and to let them rest even longer before serving. Powdered sugar will get goopy on still-warm tea-cakes. Also, remember the texture of these tea-cakes should be akin to that of a fudgy brownie. Right out of the oven, the tea-cakes will seem underdone on top and overdone on the bottom, and the taste will be far less complex. The taste and texture achieve perfection after a day or two. Wait that long if you can, but definitely wait at least a few hours before digging in. You won't be sorry.

Cinnamon-Pecan Tea-Cakes
There is just a kiss of cinnamon in this recipe, letting the pecans, butter, and brown sugar really sing. 

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or cassia (aka Saigon cinnamon)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 T pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
4 oz (1/2 a standard package) Neufchatel or reduced-fat cream cheese, not whipped
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a 12-cup standard-size muffin pan with muffin liners.

In a small bowl whisk together flour, pecans, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar over med-low heat, whisking to combine. Bring just to a boil, remove from heat, and add vanilla, vinegar, and cream cheese, whisking until smooth. Thoroughly whisk in the egg. Whisk in the dry ingredients. 

Fill the prepared muffin cups about half-full with batter, reserving remaining batter for second batch.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 16 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Cool completely. I cannot stress this enough.

These tea-cakes are going to come out of the oven smelling so good that your anticipation is likely to get the better of you. DO NOT GIVE IN.

When you first take the tea-cakes out of the oven, the bottom halves will seem too cake-y and the top halves will seem too gooey. They need to hang out for a while in order to settle into textural and flavorful perfection.

In fact, they'll be even better after a day or two. . . if you can manage to wait that long.

Once completely cool, dust with powdered sugar and store tightly covered at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Makes about 16 tea-cakes.

Thanks for reading! Here's to Being the Secret Ingredient in your life.