Chocolate-espresso cream pie with Kahlúa caramel sauce

Nothing is perfect. Life is messy, and sometimes it pins us against the wall so bad we can hardly breathe. Buried under all those have to’s, need to’s, and shoulds we lose sense of where we’re going and how we want to be in the world. Exhausted, we’d give our right arm for just a little more sleep, and don’t have the energy to think what should change or what to do to actually make it happen. We switch to survival mode, just trying to make it today: Morning coffee – I need to be here – you need to be there – here, sign this – can you pick up the dry cleaning? – the fridge broke – the kid doesn’t understand equations – I’ll be working late tonight. And days turn into weeks.

Life is about relationships, and relationships are tricky. They take time and effort – a lot of it. Despite what Facebook wisdom would like  you to believe, you can’t have a relationship conducted via likes, e-mail, and text messages. It is built on communication, and if that’s missing, it all goes sideways. And it doesn’t matter if you wanted it to or if it was the last thing you wanted to happen. The important thing is that it did. And then one morning, hastily sipping your lukewarm coffee you realize that maybe you don’t even really know this person you’re supposed to do life with anymore. What does he want? And what, if anything, does he want from you? And what is it that you want?

And so not knowing what to do exactly, you decide to set out for a journey. Leaving all those shoulds and need to’s behind, you drive away, just the two of you. Down the interstate, down the memory line. Talking, listening. Searching for what was, what is, what could have been and what could be. And at the end you’re in this tiny town just steps from the ocean, listening to sea lions, and sharing the most delicious chocolate pie together. Leaning against each other, elbows touching, you savor every bite of this dreamy coffee-caramel-chocolate delicacy, and cherish every second of the newfound connection. And deep down, you feel relieved. You’re still there, underneath it all. All is well with the world.

*****

Still sitting at that cozy bistro I started pondering how to recreate that cream pie at home. It had a very moist crust and I wanted to keep that moistness – many  tart shells can be dry and mealy, which I wanted to avoid. Some time ago I started experimenting with raw desserts that often rely on combination of nuts and dates for the crust. It seemed like an obvious choice for this pie – medjool dates are soft and juicy even when dried, and have a sweet caramel taste which goes well with the sauce drizzled on top of the pie. I combined the dates with pecans this time, because they’re my favorite, but any type of nut would work beautifully, and I threw in a handful of oats, to soak up some of the greasiness of the nuts. Three ingredients, pulsed together in a food processor, and voilà! In just seconds I had a “dough” that was easy to roll out between two sheets of parchment, and made a very versatile crust with no need to prebake, no added sugar, and no flour, so that even folks with allergies can enjoy it. A definite winner in my book!  Into the crust then goes a smooth filling of dark chocolate ganache with subtle coffee undertones. We could just stop here – the combination of roasted pecans, velvety chocolate, and coffee is deeply satisfying as it is. With the drizzle of boozy Kahlúa caramel sauce this dessert will send you right into a food coma. Be sure to cut it into tiny slices – it is very rich, so a small piece goes a long way.

Grab a fork, sit back and enjoy the moment. It is sweet moments like this that make life delicious.

Chocolate espresso cream pie

 Chocolate-espresso cream pie with Kahlúa caramel sauce

Crust:
  • 2 cups pecans (dry-roasted or raw)
  • 2 cups medjool dates
  • ¼ cup oats (if you’re making the pie for gluten-intolerant, make sure the oats are gluten-free)
Chocolate-espresso ganache:
  • 9 oz. (250 g) bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 9 oz. (250 g) semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1 ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 oz. (56 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
Kahlúa caramel sauce:
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • ½ cup Kahlúa
  • pinch of salt
Method:
  1. Lightly grease a 9 – 10 inch pie or tart pan with removable bottom.
  2. Process the dates in a food processor to a paste; remove and set aside. Pulse nuts and oats together until coarse meal forms. Gradually add date paste and pulse until the mixture forms a ball (be careful not to overprocess the nuts).
  3. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper to a circle that is a little bit bigger than your pan. Chill the rolled-out dough for about 20 minutes so that the crust is easier to handle, and then ease the crust into a pan. (Alternatively, you can just press the dough into a pan – it is very sticky and holds together well.) Chill the crust while you prepare the filling.
  4. To make chocolate-espresso ganache: Put the chocolate into a bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream with butter until hot (do not boil). Take it off the heat and stir in the coffee. Pour the hot cream-coffee mixture over the chocolate in a bowl, and let stand for 2 – 3 minutes until the chocolate melts. Stir until well combined, and then add the powdered sugar and whisk with a wire whisk until smooth. Let cool slightly.
  5. Pour the ganache into a crust, smooth out the top and chill for at least 2 hours.
  6. To make the Kahlúa caramel sauce: In a non-stick pan, heat the sugar with couple tablespoons of water. Don’t stir, just let it bubble until most of the water evaporates. When the sugar starts to turn golden around the edges, stir it gently with a spatula until it caramelizes and turns nice golden brown. (Watch it closely, caramel burns quickly!)
  7. Turn down the heat and gradually add the diced butter, stirring constantly. The mixture will sizzle. Keep stirring until all the butter pieces melt and the mixture is homogeneous.
  8. Lastly, add the Kahlúa. The mixture will bubble up again. Just keep stirring until all the ingredients are well combined.
  9. Take off the heat and stir in the salt. Let the caramel sauce cool slightly before drizzling it over the cake. Store it in the refrigerator and warm it up again before use.

Chocolate espresso cream pie slice

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