Chocolate Pecan Torte
Post and Courier
By Sarah Bates February 2, 2011
Nathalie Dupree shows you how to make a chocolate pecan torte for your favorite valentine.
Here is a story I wrote many years ago about Kate Almand in 1987, to be exact. I will miss Kate, and I always knew it. She passed on today, January 10, 2011
Grannie Kate’s Biscuits
It was a hot night, and the sun was setting later and later each day. Worrying about her grandmother, the small child couldn’t sleep. She was staring at the ceiling, when her mother came in to tuck her in. Since she normally fell to sleep when her head hit the pillow, her mother asked if anything was wrong. “No,” Jamie replied. “Are you sure?“ her mother asked again. “Well,” the tot replied, knowing somehow she wasn’t concerned about her grandmother’s mortality as much as her own self-interest, “I was just wondering—who’s going to make biscuits for us when Grannie Kate dies?”
At a young age, the child had hit upon something most of us only learn late in life. There are certain foods that will linger in our memories and hearts long after the people who made them are gone. And it’s important to learn from them how to make their treasures so they will live on.
Grannie Kate, still in robust good health, is the best biscuit maker I know. Her biscuits are tender, light, a bit smaller than the average, just large enough to hold sautéed pork tenderloin or a sausage without crumbling until the very end when the juices break it up. Whenever Kate Almand is around, everyone else is tempted to take a backseat and let her make the biscuits, Although I frequently tell people she was born with a biscuit bowl in her hands, she’s only been making them since she was a small child herself. One of thirteen children, she was told by her dad one day, when her mom was gone, to make the biscuits. She tried, and made a mess. The next day he had her make them again, and told her how, and she’s been making them ever since.
Biscuits are quite cheap to make—just flour, baking powder, salt, and shortening in most cases, with a bit of milk or buttermilk. But it’s like learning to hit a golf or a tennis ball; the chances are you aren’t going to be happy until you practice a bit, and study the basics.
First, the right ingredients help. Kate uses a southern soft winter wheat flour, White Lily, because it is low in protein, and that contributes to the fluffy lightness of the biscuit. She also likes Crisco better than any other shortening. She prefers sweet milk (the southern term for homogenized milk) to buttermilk, but she can make a biscuit out of any flour and shortening because she has the technique down pat.
She doesn’t measure her flour. This probably goes back to the days when she bought it in huge sacks and used those sacks to make her daughter dresses. The flour, in an opened flour sack then, was as susceptible to change as it is today. In a dry season, it will absorb water differently than in a rainy one.
When possible, she uses a biscuit bowl, larger in circumference than it is deep. She places a large quantity of flour in it, makes a well in the center, then cuts in shortening and milk in a soft motion that kneads the flour briefly as the liquid is mixed in. She winds up with a very soft dough, which she turns and coats in flour, leaving it nearly wet in the middle, but dry enough to handle on the outside. She pulls off a piece of her dough, dips the wet portion in the flour, and rolls it lightly in her floured hand. She places it on a baking sheet, keeping all the biscuits close together, so they will stay tender When finished, she sifts any leftover flour back into a container, ready for the next day’s use.
Too much kneading will make a tough biscuit. Too little will not give you as nice a rise. Too much shortening makes a crumbly dough, too little robs it of tenderness.
This recipe is from the upcoming book, Southern Biscuits, by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart
Makes 12 to 18 biscuits
The method of making biscuits in a traditional wooden bowl, without a recipe, was traditionally practiced by home cooks all over the South. A sack of flour was emptied into the bowl, a well was made in the flour, and then the number of biscuits desired was miraculously shaped by the addition of fat and liquid. The remaining flour mixture was then sifted and returned to the bowl, covered with a tea towel or flour sack, or to the sack itself until the biscuits were made
again later in the day.
Alas, this process is so intimidating to novice cooks, until they get the “feel,” that I have to
caution the novice to try another recipe first. Please come back and try these after practicing with easier versions, because this version makes biscuits the way they are supposed to be—meltingly light, tantalizingly tender, flaky, moist—and unforgettable. I have never had a better biscuit than Kate’s.
1 (5-pound) bag self-rising flour,
to use 2 1⁄2 cups flour
1 portion sweet (fresh) milk, approximately 1 cup
1 handful chilled lard, hard shortening,
or butter, approximately 1⁄3–1⁄2 cup
Softened butter, for brushing
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
Fill a wooden biscuit bowl 2⁄3 full with as much of the bag of flour as possible. Use the back of a hand to form and simultaneously pack an 8-inch well in the center of the flour,
leaving a small amount on the bottom. Gently pour the milk into the well-packed center of the well. Scoop 1⁄3 cup of roomtemperature lard into the milk. Using the fingers of one hand, mush together the milk and fat until it looks like thick lumpy pancake batter. Making a massaging motion with the fingers of one hand, slightly akin to playing the scales on a banjo, move the batter around the well in a whirlpool. Continue moving the fingers steadily around the bowl as a rotary mixer would, like a centrifuge. The batter will gently pull in the packed flour. After a few rotations, it will have pulled in
sufficient flour to make a very wet dough in the center of the
bowl, cradled by the rest of the flour.
Re-flour both hands in the remaining flour and scrape the wet
mess off the gooey hand back into the dough. Re-flour both
hands and slide under the dough, turning it completely over
in the remaining flour with the wet portion of the flour at the
bottom of the dough and the top portion completely floured.
Re-flouring hands as needed, pinch off an egg-sized portion of the dough sufficient for a 1 1⁄2-inch biscuit. The portion pulled from the dough will be wet. Dip it into the flour so the total exterior of the dough is now floured. Cup one hand, making sure the palm is floured, and move the dough on top of the palm. Use the palm of the second hand to smooth the top ofthe dough with pinkie and thumb to keep it round. Using a
Wooden bowls are the easiest place to makebiscuits. They are large and shallow enough to
allow the sweeping motion required, combining theingredients without spilling flour everywhere; andif used regularly, they don’t require washing. Anyremaining dough scrapes out easily, the bowl iswiped out and ready for use again.
I’m Nathalie Dupree and I’m asking the people of South Carolina to write in my name as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate against Jim DeMint. I have one goal in this campaign: to cook Jim DeMint’s goose. First I’ll have to find him, which means searching for him–in Delaware or Alaska, or Florida, or Ohio, or Nevada, or maybe I’ll find him in Arizona.
He’s already given a million dollars to candidates in those states who opposed main-stream Republicans. In Washington the Democrats laugh at his antics, and the Republican leadership is getting disgusted. What he really needs is a one-way ticket home. The Democrats in the Senate don’t respect him, and the Republican leadership would be happy to see him go away.
I love living in South Carolina and recognize, along with a majority in the Palmetto State, that dedicated, focused, and enlightened leadership is needed for us to move forward in the second decade of the twenty-first century. And we need two full-time South Carolina senators working for us.
And now Sen. DeMint’s stubbornness and bad ideas about earmarks–federal grants for a specific project-threaten the port of Charleston. The largest of our five ports, it serves as an economic engine for all of South
Carolina. Without the port of Charleston, there would be no BMW in South Carolina, which generates almost 50,000 jobs in the state. There would be no Michelin with its 10,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs and its North American headquarters in Greenville. The port was essential in wooing Boeing to Charleston for its Dreamliner. To say all earmarks are bad is like saying all milk is bad because you have a carton that turned sour.
Because of cooperative efforts by both of their senators, every other state with a significant port on the east coast is receiving earmarks that will lead to deepening of its harbor. These $400,000 grants will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study required before their port can be deepened as needed for the larger ships that in 2014 will be crossing an expanded Panama Canal. Sen. Lindsey Graham is trying, but Sen. Demint’s small-minded, stubborn refusal means that our state is being punished, all because he refuses to join Sen. Graham in asking for an earmark. It’s wrong and it hurts our state and its people.
It’s time for South Carolina again to have two full-time senators who can work together with each other and their Senate colleagues for the good of our nation and the good of our state. It’s sheer idiocy to follow the policies of Sen. DeMint and Gov. Mark Sanford in their opposition to passage and acceptance of stimulus funds that already have created or saved thousands of jobs in South Carolina that otherwise would go elsewhere. It’s time to balance our state’s representation in the Senate with two senators who can agree or disagree on national issues, but work together for our state.
What I love about this state is its capacity to come together on issues important to all of us, to accept ideas from within, to show others that we can act for the good of all of our people. The people of South Carolina makeup their own minds, as demonstrated by the write-in campaign of Strom Thurmond. He won. And I acknowledge that I’m no Strom Thurmond. The odds of that happening today are far greater, and I know that, too. But it’s a fight worth making that will enable us to show South Carolina’s real stuff to the nation.
My husband has written two biographies of Sen. Thurmond, and thus I clearly know that while Strom voted against a number of new programs by the federal government, whenever legislation passed he made darn sure that South Carolina got every dollar available for programs needed for our state. For 38 years, South Carolina had Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings in the Senate, men of different parties and philosophies who worked together for our state. No matter who occupied the White House, South Carolina’s interests were covered.
I’m a long-shot candidate, yes, but I’ve been in the homes of hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians over the years through my cooking shows and books. I know you, you know me, and you know I mean business when I tackle something. My viewers know me and trust me to put the food on the table.
A pot of soup, a loaf of Bread,
the Best of Wine, Cheese and Olive Oil, and a Fearless Cook
Whenever I can I read the New York Times “Portraits of Grief,” a daily series of personal glimpses of the victims of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. I am not aware of anyone I know having been there. I am instead searching for a common connection, bonds of brotherhood, perhaps– and the need for putting names and faces to my nameless, faceless grief. Last week, the headline “a Fearless Cook” caught me unawares and I found my heart beating as I searched the photographs and word portraits.
Every cook’s most asked question is, “What is your favorite dish,” and most of us answer something different each time — according to the weather, the company, the occasion, our mood, and the ear of the inquirer. In truth, most of us do want to be remembered for some special food, something that will be spoken of when memories are shared about us. And we wish that every meal could make its mark, could reach for the sky in its perfection. In the South, women are known for the specialties they bring to funerals and church suppers — Aunt Ruth’s carrot cake, or MaMa Dupree’s caramel cake– without which an occasion would not be complete.
Ribollita is just such a fitting memorial for Lydia Estelle Bravo, who died at the World Trade Center. The mention of it brings up memories of comforting food shared by large groups of laughing people, whether in a café or sitting around a long table in a Tuscan farm house. Ms. Bravo loved cooking, even taking cooking lessons at Peter Kump’s (Sic) New York Cooking School. Her fiance said she cooked Ribollita in their New York apartment the night before she died , accompanied by some Sangiovese wine.
A specialty of Tuscany in Central Italy and the heart of the Cianti region, Ribollita varies every time you eat it, tomatoes dominating in their season , and a special Italian green leafy vegetable (“Cavelo Nero”)and cabbage as it heads into the fall. (I use a mixture of collard greens and cabbage and it works just fine.) It is, simply put, vegetable soup, reboiled (“Ribollita” means just that , with the additional caveat of “cooked a long time” built into its definition) and served over the traditional unsalted Tuscan bread in the bottom of a dish, then sprinkled with an extra virgin olive oil, and perhaps Parmegiano Reggiano, the unique cheese from Parma, Italy. Usually ribollita is eaten with Tuscan’s special wine, Chianti Classico, which by Italy’s legal definition is primarily made from Sangiovese grapes. Since many of the vineyards that grow the Sangiovese grapes for Chianti Classico also grow olives and bottle their own olive oil, the whole meal – the wine, the extra virgin olive oil and the cheese, makes a completely compatible experience. The best of everything.
Sometimes the bread breaks up enough to make a thick soup eaten with a fork. Other times, its vegetable broth reigns, and a spoon is used. Nothing else is needed, except good friends and loved ones.
Now, as I recall the number of times I ate Ribollita in Tuscany last summer, another face comes into my mind, that of a stranger, a women who so loved life that she cooked the food she loved and God gave the grace to cook it the night before she died. May I make every meal for my loved ones as memorable as this one was . And when I cook, as I will today, I will bless the food as I cook it, rather than at the table, and think of her.
This recipe is not meant to be followed exactly – omit or add as you like, including water, to get the flavor and texture you like with the ingredients you have at hand. Leftovers refrigerate well for several days, or freeze.
¼ – ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 finely chopped onion
1 medium leek (optional)
1-2 finely chopped garlic cloves
8 ounces red cabbage, shredded
8 ounces Savoy cabbage or collard greens , shredded
1-2 peeled chopped carrots. optional
1-2 peeled celery stalks (minus leaves), optional
2-4 cups drained canned cannellini or white northern beans
1 cup canned peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice
Freshly ground pepper
1 slice good crusty Italian bread for each serving
1-2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmgiano-Reggiano for each serving
Basil, parsley or other fresh herbs, chopped
Heat a heavy casserole or soup pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when hot add the onion, leek and garlic. Cook until soft. Add the cabbage, collards, carrots, celery, drained canned beans, and tomatoes with their juice. Season with pepper and salt. Add 5 cups of water and bring to the (sic) boil. When it is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1-2 hours, according to your taste. (Many Italians like it almost creamy. Others like it when you can tell the beans are beans.)
Lightly toast or grill the bread, or use stale bread, and tear into big pieces, some in the bottom of each soup bowl. Ladle the hot soup over the bread and let it stand for about 5 minutes. Just before serving, drizzle a little of the olive oil over each serving and sprinkle with the Parmiagiano-Reggiano cheese and fresh herbs if desired..