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Sugar Bowl Mix: November 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wordless Wednesday|Our first professional photo session

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Vegetarian or meat-eater?

Vegetables Clip Art
Clip art from
Tim doesn't eat meat. He's been a pesco-vegetarian for fifteen years. He eats fish, dairy and eggs. The girls and I do eat meat, although we rarely eat red meat. We usually eat chicken, turkey and occasionally "the other white meat," pork. We also eat a lot of fish and vegetarian meals, too. The concept of vegetarians and vegans has frequently come up at meal times since Tim often eats something different.

Katherine's favorite school lunch of the moment is chicken teriyaki. She regularly orders chicken fingers and she loves turkey bacon. So it came as some surprise on Thanksgiving day when she announced that we were "really terrible people" for killing and eating turkey and she couldn't believe we were going to put turkey on the dinner table. Tim was having fish so we said she could eat fish for her Thanksgiving dinner, too.

As dinner time approached Katherine came into the kitchen, saw the turkey breast on the counter and began crying.
"Oh my gosh!" she shouted indignantly. "You already killed the turkey! I can't believe you killed the turkey! I can't eat dinner with you if you're eating turkey!"

This scene lasted throughout our entire meal, pretty much killing (pardon the pun) our Thanksgiving dinner.

We were completely perplexed. Hadn't she, just the day before, ordered turkey bacon at breakfast?

Caroline piped up in the middle of dinner with: "Mommy, why is it called turkey breast?" Not helpful.

A few days later I talked with Katherine about Thanksgiving dinner. I asked if a friend at school had said something to her about killing turkeys. She said no, it was just because turkeys were some of her favorite animals and if everyone went around killing turkeys and eating them they would become extinct and she didn't want them to be extinct. It didn't help her feel better when I assured her turkeys were not at risk of extinction. It struck me that it probably also wouldn't help to point out that some fish actually are at risk of extinction if we continue "to go around killing them and eating them."

The reality of raising animals for food is not a topic I am ready to broach with my six-year-old. The fact is it's not a topic I like to think about a whole lot myself. It's a lot easier to simply go to my local grocery store, buy the packaged boneless, skinless chicken breasts, preferably organic and free-range, or get the wild-caught salmon at the fish counter. Not anything to be proud of. But the reality of modern, urban living.

If I really thought about it or had to be involved in the process of farming I would become a vegetarian. Or maybe not.

When I was a little older than Katherine I had a good friend who lived on a farm where her family raised cows. They named all the cows and I thought it was rather fun to open the gate and let the cows back into the barnyard at night. One winter night as we ate steak for dinner my friend's mother announced, with an air of hilarity, that we were probably eating Bessie. I choked back tears and almost threw up. I never ate steak at her house again.

However, this incident didn't stop me from eating meat elsewhere.

So, I'm curious. If you're vegetarian do you raise your children vegetarian? If you do eat meat, how do you broach the subject of meat and where it comes from? Do any of you have children who decided on their own to become vegetarians? Do any of you live on farms where your children get a hands-on-experience of the food chain?

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Best red velvet cupcakes for the holidays

Tim grew up in Tennessee and introduced me to red velvet cake shortly after we met. I love this cake's unusual tangy flavor and its festive color makes it perfect for the holidays. Tim's mom always makes red velvet cake at Christmas and it has become a tradition for our family, too.

My sister-in-law gave me this recipe ten years ago to use for the groom's cake at our wedding. I've adapted it by giving it a stronger chocolate base and using cake flour to give it a finer crumb, ultimately yielding the best red velvet cupcake ever! At Christmas I serve it with vanilla cream cheese frosting and red sprinkles.

When I found these precious Betty Crocker paper cupcake liners I couldn't resist filling them with red velvet cake. But you can follow the same recipe to make a 9 inch two layer cake.

Red Velvet Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 stick)
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 one ounce container red food dye
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line the cupcake pans with cupcake liners.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa together in a bowl.

Cream butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add in the eggs and beat well.

Add the food dye and mix until well blended.

Combine the buttermilk and the baking soda and mix well. Add to the sugar and butter mixture alternately with the dry ingredients.

Add the vinegar and the vanilla. Mix well.

Spoon into cupcake liners. This batter filled 20 cupcake liners.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 ounce package cream cheese
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound confectioner's sugar
red sprinkles

Combine the cream cheese with the butter and the vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Gradually add the sugar while beating.

Ice the cupcakes and decorate with red sprinkles.


Find the recipe to print here.

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This post is participating in Serenitynow4Amanda's Weekend Bloggy Reading and I'm grateful for at Maxabella Loves....

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In memory of Charles - Wordless Wednesday

Charles was my beautiful, loud, loving, one-of-a-kind, unforgettable Siamese cat. He had the most gregarious, out-there, demanding and hilarious personality you can imagine. Everyone who met him adored him. Everyone. Even cat-haters.

I was lucky enough to have him with me for 17 1/2 years. He was my first baby, my companion, my friend.

Part of my heart.

Part of our family.

June 2002. Checking out Caroline, the new arrival, with his brother, Jasper.

September 2002. Reading with Tim and Caroline.

June 2004. Watching over Katherine a few days after she arrived.

February 2006. Hanging out with Caroline before bedtime.

November 2010. A few days before he passed on.

April 21, 1993 - November 19, 2010

Katherine to me when she heard Charles was gone: Mommy, it's okay because now his body isn't hurting him anymore and he's with his brother. Charles will live in out hearts forever.

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Thanksgiving post: This one's a troublemaker

I wrote about Caroline's birth in an essay on Literary Mama, but never wrote Katherine's birth story. Caroline got a beautiful first year scrapbook and Katherine's lock of hair, hospital bracelet and other keepsakes are still sitting in a box six years later.

So I'm sharing Katherine's birth story here, in Thanksgiving week, with you, because all birth stories are worth sharing and because I'm so thankful for Katherine's birth. After you read Katherine's, please share your childrens', if you care to, and link back to Sugar Bowl Mix. I love reading birth stories. Each one is its own extraordinary miracle.

When I was pregnant with Caroline I lived in fear of the delivery. I was terrified. I was a wimp for pain. At the birthing class at a San Francisco hospital I was the only one who stood up when asked who wanted the epidural in the parking lot. After watching a graphic, bloody birth movie starring a long-haired-Haight-Ashbury-1970s-hippy screaming in agony, the birthing instructor spelled out all the reasons why we should delay the epidural as long as possible and really, best of all, skip it altogether.

I tortured myself with Discovery channel's Birth Stories. One episode in particular haunted me: a woman whose birth plan dictated skipping the epidural changed her mind as she was pushing out the baby. She screamed and cried, pleading and begging in a high-pitched little voice: "Is it too late to get the epidural?" It was.

But then an extraordinary thing happened. My water broke, we went to the hospital and I endured back labor for nine hours with no epidural and it wasn't scary. Yes, it hurt. A lot. But I discovered I have a high tolerance for pain. And when I finally got the epidural it wasn't very effective and that last half hour of pushing was one major BURN-fest. But I survived. It wasn't terrifying.

I came to realize that for me the delivery was a piece of cake, though not chocolate cake. It was the nine months of pregnancy that was hard. When I was pregnant with Katherine I had to wear a pregnancy girdle belt for the entire pregnancy because of bad back pain. Not fun. When I was four months along I came down with a kidney infection and had to be hospitalized for two nights. Tim was in New York and we had no family in town. Not fun. The Braxton Hicks contractions started a a few weeks later and never stopped. Not fun at all. Sciatica set in at the same time. Maybe the worst thing of all. I still have it six years later.

After discovering the baby was breach at thirty-six weeks I decided against the C-section and had her turned. When my OB warned me it would be "a little uncomfortable" I knew I was in for it. Five minutes of my OB pushing and shoving my baby's bottom and I almost passed out from the pain. I'd go through fourteen hours of back labor again before I'd repeat that. But my baby was turned and the C-section averted.

When I was a week overdue I begged my OB to induce me. I couldn't take it a second longer. And didn't she know I had a wedding to attend in Carmel in ten days and my mother-in-law and niece were arriving in two days? I needed this baby out! I did everything I could to naturally induce the delivery short of drinking witch's brew. Still no baby.

Finally, eight days overdue and I got word that I could come in and be induced that afternoon. Hallelujah! By tomorrow I would no longer be pregnant! I rushed to Target to buy a last-minute changing table, I rearranged Caroline's room, rearranged the den, cooked, watered the plants, folded baby clothes and played with Caroline.

I rushed around all day, in major nesting mode, so elated at the thought of meeting my baby and not being pregnant anymore, but suddenly, as we drove to the hospital that afternoon, I remembered that while delivering babies wasn't terrifying, it wasn't a piece of chocolate cake.

At the hospital I waited for forty minutes while two women were checked in before me. One woman, in active labor, winced and groaned, paced, leaned over and finding no relief crumpled on to a chair, sobbing. A reminder of what lay ahead for me.

Finally, settled in to the delivery room, hooked up to various contraptions, with Tim-I've done-this-before-call-me-when-you-need-me reading a book by the window, a nurse came in to check me.
"You're five centimeters dilated and you're having major contractions," she said.
"Oh, these aren't contractions," I said. "I've been having these for months. They're just Braxton Hicks contractions."
"Honey, you're in active labor. How have you not gone insane with those huge contractions for months?"

Four hours later with no induction necessary, my contractions fast and furious, I was pushing hard. The OB arrived, ready to oversee the delivery.

Suddenly, my baby's heart beat dropped. A lot.

"Get the vacuum!" the OB shouted to the nurse.
"Vacuum needed in room **," the nurse called on the intercom.

I didn't want forceps or the vacuum. At any cost. Now, I lay there, helpless, a vacuum on the way.

The room was very quiet.

This is one of those moments. One of those defining life moments, I thought. What happens next will change everything. Everything. I breathed in hard. It hurt.

'Where's the vacuum?" the OB called out, her voice panicky.

The nurse called for it again. I appreciated her calm voice, her methodical movements. I breathed in long and deep again,  thinking the extra oxygen would help my baby.

Four people in surgery gowns charged into the delivery room in a blur.

The OB struggled with the vacuum.

"Shit, "I heard her say. Really? I remember thinking. Did she really just say that? Now? In this moment?

Then my baby was out. One of the surgery gowns grabbed her and flew over to an area I couldn't see under a bright light.

"We're going to make sure the baby is okay," I heard the OB say, in between heavy breaths. I didn't know who she was talking to.

 I haven't heard her cry, I thought. I waited, holding my breath, willing my baby who I couldn't see to cry.

I looked to Tim but he was watching the surgery gowns check our baby.

Then, just like that, a loud, forceful cry went up.

"There she goes," someone said.

I let my breath out. Hot tears slid down my cheeks.

They placed my baby, wrapped tightly in a hospital blanket, in my arms. I looked at her full head of black hair, her little, serious brown eyes and her round, red face. She didn't look anything like her sister. She didn't look anything like I expected she would, but I knew her already. I knew my baby who had  grown inside me, kicked me, punched me and hiccupped every night at nine o'clock. I knew her.

"Hi precious," I said.

"Watch out," the OB said, "this one's a troublemaker."

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Homemade peanut butter cups: The ultimate Thanksgiving treat

These homemade peanut butter cups are perfect as a hostess gift at a Thanksgiving dinner. At your own Thanksgiving meal they can also be the perfect alternative to the pumpkin pie that many people don't really like but feel obliged to eat.

I adapted the recipe from Have Cake Will Travel. My version uses dark chocolate and brown sugar.

Extraordinarily delicious, easy to make and requiring no baking, these are the ultimate Thanksgiving treat.

9 oz dark chocolate (I use 72% dark cocoa)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons graham crackers
2 pinches of salt

Melt the chocolate in the microwave (I melt it for 3 minutes at 50% power) or, you can melt it in the double boiler. Add the 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, a pinch of salt and mix it well.

Line muffin tins with 12 cupcake paper liners. Spoon 2 teaspoons of the melted chocolate mixture into each liner, pressing the chocolate up against the sides as you go. Place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make your own graham cracker crumbs by crushing graham crackers in the blender or by hand with a spoon.

Mix the graham cracker crumbs with the peanut butter, brown sugar and pinch of salt. Mix it well.

When the chocolate is hard, spoon 1 tablespoon of peanut butter mixture into each paper liner, pressing it flat as you go.

Add an additional 2 teaspoons of chocolate to each cup, spreading the chocolate evenly over the peanut butter.

Place in the refrigerator for an hour before indulging!


The recipe to print can be found here.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hollywood: A scene from my life before kids

This is a creative non-fiction account of a day in my former life as a development executive in Hollywood for a well known actor's production company. It's told in the third person. Can you guess "Brian," the Hollywood celebrity's identity?

After guiding his spaceship-like Porsche into his private parking space on the Warner Bros. lot, Peter enters his company's office, in Building 81, just down the hall from Clint Eastwood's production company. A year ago Peter partnered with an A-list actor and acquired these hips digs in this much sought-after building. Peter walks through the lobby, past the framed black and white posters of classic films that he had nothing to do with, past the door leading to the bathroom that contains an orgy-size shower that Steven Seagal had designed when he occupied this space. He doesn't notice the new, overly-smily intern sitting at the reception desk.

Further into the office he nods a good morning to Greg, assistant to Anne, the VP of Development.
"Can I have a cappucino?"Peter asks.
"You got it," Greg answers, jumping up.

Greg beckons the intern to follow him. "This morning," he says to the intern in the kitchen, "you will learn to make the perfect cup of cappuccino."
"Great!" The intern exclaims.
"Making cappucino is a pain in the ass," Greg says, struggling to clean the steamer spout. The intern's broad smile disappears.

"Get me my brother!" Peter shouts out to Hannah, his perky blonde assistant who is attractive but not so attractive as to make the MAW (model, actress, whatever) wife jealous.

Hannah quickly dials the number, one of hundreds she has memorized.
"Tom?" She says. She's very polite, very proper, very efficient. "I've got your brother, Peter, calling for you." She places Tom on hold, swivels around in her chair, gets up and enters Peter's domain, a spacious office modeled after Sylvester Stallone's office, replete with a sink-in, big-enough-for-sex-sofa, German 1970s black leather and metal chairs and a glass desk perfectly organized for the day by the super-assistant.
"Tom's on two," Hanna says and then she closes the door behind her.

A day at Halo Pictures has begun.

The phone buzzes non-stop. The two assistants handle three or four calls at once. Anne doesn't allow the intern to answer the phones after she twice gave the incorrect name of callers. Anne will fire the intern later today when she has time. For now, she scrambles to put together notes for Peter's latest "great" idea: a romantic comedy set in white trash culture.

Greg and the intern reappear with the perfect cup of cappuccino. Hannah knocks on Peter's door, enters and places the cup on top of a napkin in the far right corner of the desk.

And then Brian saunters in to the office. He wears gym shorts, a black T-shirt and sneakers. He's been playing basketball on the set of the hit TV show that put him on the map.

"Hey! I'm Brian," he says casually to the intern. He offers his hand. The intern's jaw drops. She stammers but no sounds come out. "Welcome aboard," Brian says.

Hannah catches her breath as Brian approaches. He defines sexy. Even in his sweaty, post-work-out-mode, or maybe because of it. She stands up as he leans in to kiss her and offers him her mouth. Hannah always kisses him on the lips.

Anne is in her office, on the phone, fighting with an agent who won't give her the spec script that went out that morning. Brian knocks on her door, gives her a big smile and makes a comical gesture about the agent on the phone. He comes around her desk and kisses her firmly on the cheek.

"Brian just walked in," Anne says to the agent. "Should I put him on the phone so you can tell him yourself why you're not letting us have the script?"

Brian puts his hand out to take the phone, but the agent gives in and agrees to send the script. Anne gives Brian a thumbs up. He reciprocates and heads out to the assistant area.

In the assistant area, Brian chit chats with Hannah and Greg. Anne comes out to join them. Brian has a casual ease about him that almost makes those with him forget he's been People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. For a few moments the office is filled with giggles and silly jokes, fun banter and Brian's charm. 

But then Peter emerges from his office. Hannah quickly returns to her desk and Greg turns back to his desk.

"Brian!" Peter says too exuberantly. Next to Brian, Peter seems small and nerdy in his tight black pants, tight black T-shirt and army boots. "How are you?" He laughs giddily.

Anne rolls her eyes and goes back to her office. Just last night Peter had whined to her about not being invited to Brian's party over the weekend.

Inside Peter's office, Brian throws himself onto the oversize sofa. He puts his hand up his T-shirt and plays with it, revealing his taut stomach. Does he notice the picture of Peter's nubile twenty-year old wife in the Demi Moore naked-while-pregnant pose? Or the naked post-baby picture of the perfectly whittled body with just a hint of pubic hair showing? Or the naked-with-two-year-old-child card that went out this past Christmas? If so, he doesn't comment.

Instead, he says, "so I've been thinking. I don't want to do romantic comedies. I want to concentrate on smart thrillers, dark dramas."

Peter's goofy smile fades. He's spent the last year looking for romantic comedies for Brian to headline. He spent all weekend working on his white trash rom-com idea.

"Hannah! Get Anne in here!"

Anne hears the desperate shout before Hannah summons her. In Peter's office she doesn't sit on the sex-sofa with Brian. She sits on one of the very uncomfortable chairs opposite to get a better view. She knows something significant must have happened because neither Brian nor Peter say anything.

"Great shoes," Brian finally says. Anne just bought the leopard skin shoes at the Nordstrom sale that weekend, her only respite from twenty scripts and two five-hundred page manuscripts she had to read.
"Thanks," she says.
"Okay guys, good to see you. Gotta run." And with that Brian is off, but not before kissing Anne and Hannah goodbye.

"Anne, we'll reschedule the white trash meeting," Peter says. "Hannah, cancel my lunch and get me Dr. Rosenbaum on the phone."

Everyone, except the intern, knows that when Peter wants Dr. Rosenbaum, his shrink, their day will be miserable.

After she gets the shrink on the phone, Hannah comes to tell Anne about Brian not wanting to do rom-coms. Anne shrugs.

"We'll make the white trash rom-com a white trash thriller," Anne says.

In Hollywood there are many ways to spin a story.

**All names except for mine, Clint Eastwood's and Steven Seagal's have been changed to protect the guilty.

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(I posted a previous version of this before my blog went public.)

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A girl and her Daddy - wordless wednesday

A girl helps her Daddy celebrate his birthday.

Come on, Daddy! Hurry up! Let's get to the restaurant I chose!

This restaurant I chose for your birthday has the bestest bread. EVER!

Especially when it's dipped in olive oil and vinegar.

And chased down by root beer.

And followed by a chocolate birthday brownie.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hollywood premieres to cloth diapers and underpants

At one point in my life I used to go to Hollywood premieres on a regular basis. I saw a lot of movies for free that way and ate late dinners while milling through crowds of celebrities and other film industry executives.

My life has changed a lot since then.

Last week a friend and her son were over for dinner. In my effort to retain some kind of elegance amidst my general chaos I grabbed a linen napkin from the napkin drawer to line the bowl to hold the chicken tacos. As I was carrying the bowl  to the table I noticed the tacos were elegantly nestled in a cloth diaper.

In my haste I had apparently opened the rag drawer, not the linen napkin drawer. My friend was so amused she told me I had to leave the tacos in the diaper for dinner.

A few weeks ago the chain that turns Katherine's bedside lamp on broke off and was lost. So I took a pair of her underpants - clean ones - and unscrewed the lightbulb to turn off the lamp. This works well. I don't burn my hands and the light gets turned on and off.

For now I'm not going to fix the lamp or replace it. There's a wonderful humor, a zaniness in using underpants to switch her bedside lamp on and off.  I don't want to give that up just yet.

Do you do anything zany that makes you laugh that you never would have considered pre-children?

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Crack Pie: Tim's Thanksgiving alternative

I’m not a pie person. I don’t have the patience to make pie crust and I really dislike pumpkin pie. In previous years I have made apple pie for Thanksgiving dinner. But when it comes right down to it, I’d really rather have something chocolate. Even if the pilgrims never ate chocolate.

So earlier this year, when Tim came across this recipe for Crack Pie in The Los Angeles Times he told me he’d found me the perfect Thanksgiving pie alternative.

Momofuku Milk Bar in Manhattan puts a few twists on the old-fashioned chess pie of Tim’s Tennessee youth. First, there’s the name: Crack Pie. A daring, attention-grabbing moniker for an addictive dessert that Momofuku has gone so far as to trademark. Then, there’s the crust. This is no normal pie crust. It’s an oat cookie baked to perfection and then crumbled together with more butter and pressed into a pie dish. No rolling out the dough. Even I could make this crust! And finally, the combination of the cookie crust with the buttery, gooey pie filling is like candy in your mouth.

It’s totally crack. Perfection in a pie. I’m hooked. How about you?

You can order these pies for a mere $44 per pie (Fed Ex shipping not included) direct from the bakery but it’s much more fun and cost-efficient to make your own.

Or, have your husband make one like Tim did this past weekend. 

This recipe is for two pies. Email me at sugarbowlmix at gmail dot com if you want to know why. (Or, cut the recipe in half to make only one.)

Cookie for crust
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
Scant 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter
1/3 cup  light brown sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
Scant 1 cup rolled oats

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Beat the butter, brown sugar and sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk the egg into the butter mixture until fully incorporated.

With the mixer running, beat in the flour mixture, a little at a time, until fully combined. Stir in the oats until incorporated.

Spread the mixture onto a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking sheet and bake until golden brown and set, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool to the touch on a rack. Crumble the cooled cookie to use in the crust.

An exciting aside: Tim removed the cookie from the oven and set it on the stove top where I was, unbeknownst to him, boiling water.

“Watch out!” I shouted, but it was too late.

The parchment paper caught on fire! With shrieks and yells from both of us, Tim grabbed the oven glove and put out the fire, but the glove caught on fire. Tim got the burner turned off, the glove in the sink and the cookie was saved. And me? I was taking pictures, of course. (Note the burned parchment paper below.)

Crumbled cookie
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine the crumbled cookie, butter, brown sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse until evenly combined and blended (a little of the mixture clumped between your fingers should hold together). Divide the crust between 2 (10-inch) pie tins. Press the crust into each shell to form a thin, even layer along the bottom and sides of the tins. Set the prepared crusts aside while you prepare the filling.

1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus a scant 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon milk powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
3/4 cup plus a scant 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 egg yolks
2 prepared crusts
Powdered sugar

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, brown sugar, salt and milk powder. Whisk in the melted butter, then whisk in the heavy cream and vanilla.

Gently whisk in the egg yolks, being careful not to add too much air. Divide the filling evenly between the 2 greased pie shells.

Bake the pies, one at a time, for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake until the filling is slightly jiggly and golden brown (similar to a pecan pie), about 10 minutes. Remove the pies and cool on a rack.

Refrigerate the cooled pies until well chilled. The pies are meant to be served cold, and the filling will be gooey. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.


Find the recipe to print here.

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