Meet In Your Kitchen | Cynthia Barcomi’s Pecan Pie with Chocolate and Cranberries

by meike peters

This post is part of my Meet in My Kitchen podcast series:

How did we get to where we are in life and what does food have to do with it.

I do feel that with time I have learned the necessity to calculate my risk. In the beginning I was uninterested in calculating risk, I wasn’t even necessarily interested in spending the time of thinking How risky is this. I was much more focussed on what I wanted to do.” – Cynthia Barcomi

Before I moved to Berlin I used to have a little ritual, every time I came here I made it a point to visit Cynthia Barcomi‘s Deli at Hackescher Markt. I was in love with this place, obsessed with her chocolate cherry muffins, with her tuna sandwich made with the juiciest potato bread, and the world’s best New York cheesecake. Whenever I set on the black and white leather benches in the tall lofty room of her Deli, Cynthia managed to make me feel home and taken care of but at the same time hungry and excited for everything that was new to me in this big city.

There was a lot that this American lady taught me – without ever meeting her: my first carrot cake was hers and the frosting of that cake seemed like a miracle for a German girl in the nineties, almost impossible that something tasting so good is only made of cream cheese, lemon, butter, and sugar. Four simple ingredients creating sweet magic. No one masters the genius simplicity of comforting American-style baking like she does, at least in my world. She approaches her recipes like everything else in her life: with curiosity, discipline, passion, and stubborn persistence. Cynthia only stops working on a recipe – be it for her café, for one of her nine books, or for her TV shows – when she’s 100% sure that she nailed it. She never compromises.

“There was definitely a time when I was like I have to do this and this, more and more, and now I kind of feel like it is really important for me to stay focussed. And it is really important for me to protect this part of myself, which feels incredibly inspired and curious and creative and all these different things, where I know if I get too bogged down by the many other things that are going on in the world or in my life that I cannot access that.” – Cynthia Barcomi

Cynthia came to Berlin in the nineties, tumbling out of a rather protected childhood in Seattle, Washington State, and a few wild years in New York City, studying philosophy, theatre and drama at Columbia University and becoming a dancer at the same time. Those were the eighties and Cynthia lived the Flashdance-life. Although it can’t really get much better than that Cynthia felt pulled to Europe, to Pina Bausch, Paris, Florence, and at one point to Berlin.

Always moving, she can’t stand still. With two kids, she started looking for a more steady life in the food world (maybe the only thing she ever miscalculated), so she decided to roast her own coffee beans and open her first café in Kreuzberg. Today this wouldn’t be such an adventurous career move, but back in 1994, this was a risky endeavor. There were no American-style cafés, people didn’t really care much about American cakes, pies, and cookies, there was simply no demand for it. Germans drank their old-fashioned filter coffee in questionable quality, and were happy with it, and enjoyed their German cakes for their Kaffee und Kuchen. So now Cynthia popped up in the city, ready to conquer and change it all – and she succeeded.

“I think it’s really important that you do stay true to yourself and that you spend less time comparing yourself and your work to other people, which I think is going down a rabbit hole that will suck all the energy out of you. And I really do encourage especially women to kind of not have quite so much shit in their head and just do it.” – Cynthia Barcomi

Three years after starting her first café, she opened her Deli, which is the reason why I moved to the area where I live now. I had to be close to that place. Almost 30 years ago, Cynthia changed they way people eat in the capital. Less competition may make it sound easier compared to today but this also meant that the risk was much higher. She had to pioneer a market that was so unfamiliar with her vision that even the banks told her “Look lady, if this were a really good idea, we’d already have it.” Her answer was “What are you talking about. Society lives from new ideas. We wouldn’t have washing machines, we wouldn’t have cars, we’d be lighting fire, we’d be cavemen. I mean come on. Jesus!” So she just put a plate of her cookies on the guy’s desk and at one point she got the loan.

Sometimes in life you have to swim against the current, ignoring the anxious voices around you. It worked out in Cynthia’s case but it wasn’t always a smooth journey. Last year she had to close her Deli to save her business. A decision so painful that it still hurts her to talk about it. A chapter came to an end, after writing a beautiful story that will always be a part of Berlin, but Cynthia wouldn’t be the person who she is if she didn’t get back on her feet to write another story – to be continued.

Cynthia shared the ultimate Christmas or New Year’s Eve dessert with me: Pecan Pie with Chocolate and Dried Cranberries.

The podcast episode with Cynthia Barcomi is in English. You can listen to the Meet in My Kitchen podcast on all common podcast platforms (click here for the links); there are English and German episodes. You can find all the blog posts about these podcast episodes including my guests’ recipes here on the blog under Meet in Your Kitchen.

Listen to the podcast episode with Cynthia on:

Spotify / Apple / Deezer / Google / Amazon / Podimo

On Instagram you can follow the podcast @meetinmykitchenpodcast!

Pecan Pie with Chocolate and Dried Cranberries

by Cynthia Barcomi

Makes one 23cm / 9″ – pie

For the crust

  • 125g / 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
  • 25g / 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 180g / 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 25g / 3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch or wholegrain flour
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 75ml / 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice cold water

For the filling

  • 100g / 1/2 cup muscovado sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 25g / 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 100g / 3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 100g / 3 1/2 ounces dried cranberries or dried cherries, lightly floured
  • 200g / 7 ounces pecans, left whole

For a light and flaky crust, cut the butter and the shortening into small pieces and chill in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, starch, sugar, and salt. Blend in the cold butter and shortening with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cold water and stir with a fork until a dough just forms. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and quickly knead the dough into a circle. Wrap the dough in parchment and chill for about 2 hours (the dough will keep in the fridge for several days and in the freezer for several months).

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F (convection setting). Have a 23cm / 9″-pie or tart form at your side. No need to butter it.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to about 3mm / 1/8″ thick. Work with a light dusting of flour on your rolling pin and on your work surface. Do not use too much flour or the crust will become hard and dry. Place the rolled-out dough into the pie dish and gently press into the sides. Trim the edges to an about 5mm / 1/4″ overhang. With your fingertips, crimp the edges. Chill while you make the filling.

Make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar with the eggs, then stir in the syrup. Add the salt, vanilla extract, and melted butter and stir to combine.

Place the chopped chocolate onto the bottom of the pie dough, followed by the dried fruit, and the pecans. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the pecans. Bake for 10 minutes at 200°C / 400°F, then reduce the heat to 190°C / 375°F and bake for another 10 minutes. If it seems to be getting brown too quickly, cover the pie with parchment. Reduce the heat once again to 180°C / 350°F and bake for another 14–16 minutes until golden. Leave to cool on a rack for several hours before serving.