I just came back from 2 weeks work in Johannesburg, during which I had planned to blog about all the exotic and wonderful food experiences I was having. Sadly, the working hours were long, and I ended up either eating (dreadful) hotel food, or at bland mall restaurants every night. It was such a missed opportunity, as I’m sure an exciting city like Johannesburg has lots of amazing places to eat. I just didn’t have the chance to explore. The happy exception was the wine, invariably better than South African wines we have in the UK. I did, however – and because it would be impossible not to notice – stay there long enough to appreciate how warm and welcoming people were to me in South Africa. It is especially lovely to be greeted with big open smiles by people in big cities, where they have reasons to be grumpy and stressed out.
I could have used my weekend there to visit the many food markets I kept hearing about, and catch up on nice food, but once I heard the words baby and lion, all I could think of was to visit this place in Pretoria that a friend of mine recommended in ‘Do Not Leave South Africa Without Visiting It’ terms. Horseback Africa is indeed a place I cannot praise highly enough.
Part country lodge, part conservation project, it is a beautiful, peaceful, happy place. If you like horse riding, you can go on a mini safari and come very close to giraffes, baboons, springboks, warthogs. Yes, the lions are kept separately. As a friend worriedly noted: lions run faster than horses. So, don’t worry. You’re safe from lions during the horse ride. There are also trekking tours, or plenty of space by the pool where you can read a book and enjoy the company of the many oh so sociable resident dogs. In other words: it is heaven. And then if you are a very lucky person – as I am – you get the room by the cubs’ enclosure, and get to play with 2 month old lions all day long. And so I spent 2 days on a high that lasted well into the week, thanks to the cutest animals scratching my door in the morning so I’d come out and play. And yes, you do get a little bit bitten and bruised, but nothing serious. If you don’t mind the little pests stealing your shoes and growling at you when you dare demand them back.
And whereas the barbecue by the campfire in the evening, by the light of a full (nearly super) moon was really nice, it was the pecans they had lying around the place that really became the food superstar of my weekend. The only pecans I knew were the supermarket variety – which I love anyway – , but what they had there was in another league altogether. I cracked a couple from a bowl they kept at reception for guests, and before I knew it, a mountain of pecan shells had been formed. Since they’re just wild pecans the family collects once a year, there wasn’t a lot of them, but seeing my equally uncultivated behaviour towards the nuts, they kindly offered me a bag to take home – probably wondering if we don’t have enough food in England. And thanks to the good folk at Heathrow, the bag of pecans made a successful entry back in London. Where I promptly selected a pie recipe to make the best of those babies.
Taken from the Back In The Day Bakery cookbook – now THAT was a food holiday to remember, with daily visits to this wonderful bakery in Savannah – , it has pecans, chocolate chips and bourbon in it. A Holy Trinity pie. The only change I made was to replace the recommended corn syrup by golden syrup – more easily available in the UK. I would have added some maple syrup too, but had none at home.
The dough is one of those very easy affairs, a bit like the cookie base for a cheesecake. No need to rest of roll out; you just press the crumbly crust onto a pie dish.
The result was a golden, deep flavoured, very sweet and yet not sickening pie. The buttery crust is only slightly crumbly and holds the treacly nutty filling perfectly. The nicest souvenir I could have brought from South Africa. Apart from the baby lions.
Bourbon Pecan Pie – ever so slightly adapted from the Back In The Day Bakery cookbook
Easy Shortcrust Pie Shell:
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (the recipe says you can also use granulated sugar, but why would I?)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 11 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted.
Whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Slowly drizzle in the butter and stir with a fork until the mixture looks moist and crumbly.
Press the dough evenly over the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish.
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups golden syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon all purpose flour
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 3/4 cups pecan halves
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 180C and position the rack in the lower third of the oven.
Stir together: both sugars, corn syrup, salt, flour and eggs. Whisk well for a couple of minutes until completely combined. Stir in the vanilla, bourbon and butter until well mixed. Fold in the pecans and chocolate chips.
Pour the filling into the prepared pie case. Place the pie dish over a baking tray lined with parchment.
Bake for 1:15h, or until the pie is firm around the edges and just a bit wobbly in the centre.
Remove it from the oven and cool for at least 1 hour on a wire rack before slicing it. Mine did leave the over rather loose in the middle, so waiting for an hour is good advice.