Scalloped Chocolate Pecan Strip

December 24, 2010

A new friend recently asked me about Christmas morning food traditions in our house.  I’m not sure what she was expecting but the truth is that Christmas is still relatively new to me.  I grew up in a household that was culturally Jewish and religiously agnostic.  We lit the menorah on Hanukkah but we didn’t open presents each night because it drove my parents insane to be asked when we were opening our gifts for eight straight days.  (Now that I am a parent, I understand this.)  Even though half the time we forgot to light the candles, my mom drew the line at a tree or stockings.  Each year we would ask and each year she would say no.

Consequently, two of her children, the ones who married non-Jews, go absolutely nuts at Christmas.  My youngest brother doesn’t really care either way, but my middle brother is the type who has a giant inflatable snow globe in his yard, and Christmas villages set up all over the house.  I don’t go quite that far, but we do have a lit-up reindeer and a new penguin sporting a Merry Christmas sign.

Truly, the holiday tradition that has endured is celebrating my parents’ anniversary on Christmas Eve.  They got married in 1967 while my dad had a few day break from his medical residency.  Since all their families and everyone they  knew was Jewish, the fact that their wedding day fell on Christmas Eve didn’t make much difference to them.  Until they realized in all the subsequent almost 43 years, that their celebratory anniversary dinners were either in a Chinese food restaurant, or in a hotel.  In my early 20’s, when I was broke but still wanting to “give” them something for their anniversary, I started making them dinner.  As I got to be a better cook, it became a special dinner.  And it also just began to make sense that we open our gifts that day rather than Hanukkah.  Our holiday is affectionately referred to as Hanumass.

Having young children who truly believe in Santa has made me look at Christmas Day with new eyes.  Ever since marrying Randy, I have always loved the stockings and presents under the tree, but now Spencer worrying that Santa may trip over the poinsettias that we have in front of the fireplace makes me realize how magical all of this is for children.  Special days deserve special traditions.  I think my kids are a bit too young to even notice food on Christmas morning – it’s all about the toys.  Truthfully, it’s all about the toys for my husband too.  (The X-box?  It’s for the kids!)  I have some baked goods on this site that I think would be wonderful to share with your family.  I’m a big fan of the three Holly B roll-type things on here (cinnamon rolls, almond butterhorns, orange rolls) but if coffee cake is more your thing, this might be a good option for you.

I made this for a brunch with friends recently and the kids went nuts over it.  The adults liked it too.  I appreciate recipes where the result looks so much more impressive than the work you put into it.  I bought this cookbook with high expectations.  We often have people over for brunch and I like making something sweet along with what is inevitably some variation on eggs and roasted potatoes.  A book devoted to coffee cake type things sounded perfect.  However.  I find the recipes to be incredibly fussy.  Lots of (in my mind) unnecessary instructions making the directions incredibly long and daunting looking.  But I did like this and several other things I have made from it and so, on the shelf it stays.

One Year Ago: Peanut Butter (or Caramel) Mini Brownie Cups
Two Years Ago: Ultimate Ginger Cookie

Scalloped Chocolate Pecan Strip
Adapted from Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, and More
Makes one 15-to 16-inch strip; 8 to 10 servings

¼ cup water
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
½ tsp. espresso powder
2½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
½ recipe (about 1 pound) Simple Sweet Dough (recipe follows), cold
½ cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 large egg lightly beaten with 2 tsp. water, for egg wash
2 tsp. opaque pearl sugar, optional

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the water, granulated sugar, espresso powder, and chocolate.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until large bubbles form.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.  Set aside to cool completely.  The mixture should have the consistency of soft fudge.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it 6 to 8 times, or until smooth.  Roll it into a 9×14-inch rectangle with the 14-inch side parallel to the edge of the counter.  Using a small offset spatula, spread the cooled chocolate filling over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides.  Sprinkle the chopped pecans on the chocolate, and using your hand, press the nuts gently into the chocolate.  Lightly brush the far edge of the dough with the egg wash.

Starting at the bottom edge, roll the dough tightly into a log, pinching the  seam to seal.  Place the log seam side down, on the prepared cookie sheet and square the ends with a dough scraper or metal spatula.  Flatten the log slightly with the palm of your hand.

Using scissors, cut about twelve slits at approximately 1-inch intervals on the right side of the dough, cutting about three-fourths of the way through.  For the left side, also cut about twelve slits; however, space the slits so that you are cutting in between the slits on the opposite side.  Gently turn the slices to expose the filling, and pull them slightly downward, starting with the right side first.  After the right side is done, turn the left  side.  Flatten the top of the cake gently with your hand, and then lightly press the slices so they lay flat against the pan.  Cover the cake with a tea towel and set in a warm place to rise for 45 to 60 minutes, or until puffy and almost doubled.

Fifteen minutes before baking, position the rack in the lower third of the oven.  Preheat to 350ºF.

Lightly brush the strip with the egg wash and sprinkle the top with pearl sugar.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Simple Sweet Dough
Makes enough for 2 coffee cakes

4 tbsp. sugar
¼ cup warm water
1 package (2¼ tsp.) active dry yeast
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus 1 tsp. soft butter for brushing top of dough
½ cup milk
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Put 1 tablespoon of sugar into a small bowl and add the warm water.  Sprinkle the yeast over the water.  Do not stir.  Cover the bowl with a towel and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes .  Stir it briefly with a fork, cover again and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes more, or until bubbly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix on low speed the 3 cups of flour, remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, and the salt.  Add the slightly firm cubed butter and continue to mix until meal-size crumbs form, 2 to 4 minutes.  Stop the mixer.

Using a fork, in separate bowl, mix the milk, vanilla, and egg yolks.  Add the milk mixture to the flour, along with the dissolved yeast, and mix on low speed for about 15 seconds.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Mix on low speed for another 30 seconds or until a smooth dough is formed.  Note:  This is a soft dough.

Lightly butter a medium bowl for storing the dough.  Empty the dough into the prepared bowl, smoothing the top with lightly floured hands.  Spread a thin layer of softened butter over the top.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  (This dough may be kept in the refrigerator, tightly covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.)


  1. Wow, this is gorgeous Dana! I hope you have a very Merry Christmas with your family!

    Comment by Maria — December 24, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  2. Yum this looks good. And even though I promised myself yesterday, no more bread baking this week, I might just have to break down and bake this sometime this weekend. Hope your boys have an amazing Christmas!

    Comment by Charlotte — December 24, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

  3. that is just stunning dana! i don’t know if i could pull this off as easy as you.
    merry christmas to you! i hope santa is good to you!

    Comment by vanillasugarblog — December 24, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

  4. Once again, you slay me. I liked reading about your Hanukkah/Christmas traditions. I adore Christmas for the festive, fun spirit it brings. I don’t observe the religious parts but I think it is fun to decorate and get excited about having one day of the year where basically everything stops and you can just celebrate.

    My mom “doesn’t like the holidays” so when I visit her on them, they tend to be just like any other day which is depressing to me – you’re supposed to celebrate even if you’re not observing religion. I can’t wait until I have my own husband or family so that I can do it right, and make yummy breakfast pastry!

    Comment by Maris (In Good Taste) — December 24, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

  5. More and more these days, I don’t think it’s unusual for less religious Jews to celebrate Christmas. My roommate’s boyfriend is Jewish but his mom took him to visit santa every year when he was a kid. Go figure.

    We were never big on fancy breakfasts in my family either but I could see myself incorporating this chocolate loaf into my life. Somehow. It looks gorgeous!

    Merry Christmas and happy holidays Dana!

    Comment by Joanne — December 24, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

  6. Ah yes, the kids AND the adults loved this one. Maybe I’ll take a stab at it once the holiday cookies finally disappear…

    Comment by Sage — December 24, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

  7. Have a great holiday, Dana! That bread looks amazing and even though I love presents on Christmas morning, I do love relaxing with a nice breakfast.

    Comment by kickpleat — December 25, 2010 @ 2:19 am

  8. Oh my goodness! THIS IS GORGEOUS!
    stunning strudel.
    Happy holidays to you and your little sledders, they are too cute!

    Comment by stacey snacks — December 25, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

  9. This looks great and the filling sounds WONDERFUL. The old Joy of Cooking had a Swedish tea ring that was similar. The poppy seed filling with that one is great.

    Comment by Cindy — January 6, 2011 @ 4:01 pm

  10. I totally know what you mean about the recipes in this book being overly fussy. I have the book and love it, have made many things from it. But it’s not one I’ll go to all the time. However pretty much everything I’ve made from it has been really good so I definitely love having it. Anyway your scalloped chocolate pecan strip is beautiful. I love breads like this.

    Comment by Ashley — February 24, 2011 @ 8:12 pm

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