Visiting with the "Pastry Queen" in San Antonio

Rebecca Rather icing a cake
Rebecca Rather icing a cake | Larger

Rebecca Rather is known as the pastry queen in Texas Hill Country. Her bakery the "Rather Sweet Bakery and Café" features buttery scones, cookies, the size of saucers and brownies as big as bricks.

Well, the pastry queen has written a cookbook, called—you guessed it, "The Pastry Queen" featuring mouth-watering dessert recipes that those of us with a sweet tooth will enjoy preparing.

Chinese Chicken Burgers
Chinese Chicken Burgers | Larger

Rather was a guest at the 48th annual National Chicken Cooking Contest sponsored by the National Chicken Council that took place in San Antonio, Texas. The first place $50,000 winning chicken recipe was Chinese Chicken Burgers with Rainbow Sesame Slaw prepared by Brigitte Nguyen of Lexington, KY. All of the winning chicken recipes are available online at the National Chicken Cooking Contest website.

Don Strange Ranch
Don Strange Ranch | Larger

Rather was enjoying her day at the contest busy whipping up her special desserts for guests at the annual event at the 125-acre Don Strange Ranch in Welfare, Texas.

San Antonio is considered the birthplace of Tex-Mex cuisine, which blends Mexican and Spanish recipes with American fare. It is much more than refined beans and sizzling fajitas. Local fresh produce is readily available and the cuisine of the area reflects cuisines from around the world.

San Antonio links Mexico and the United States and in the early days it was the crossroads of several railroad lines, attracting visitors from around the world.

Riverwalk Barge Cruise
Riverwalk Barge Cruise | Larger

Today, San Antonio's Riverwalk, features local restaurants, shops and hotels. A popular tourist attraction is the Riverwalk Barge Cruise.

Some of the city's most popular Texan dishes are prepared by Bruce Auden of San Antonio's Biga on the Banks restaurant and Jason Dady, chef and owner of The Lodge Restaurant. I also enjoyed the cuisine of Chef John Brand of La Mansion del Rio Hotel where I stayed. This quaint southwestern hotel is located in the heart of downtown San Antonio and is picturesque with impeccable service as well as fine cuisine. Other excellent dining venues in the city are Olorosa and Pesca on the River.

Sightseeing must include "The Alamo" which served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts for nearly 70 years. Construction began in 1724. In 1793, Spanish officials secularized San Antonio's five missions and distributed their lands to the remaining Indian residents. San Antonio and the Alamo played a critical role in the Texas Revolution. The final assault on the Alamo came on the morning of March 6, 1836, as columns of Mexican soldiers headed for the walls of the fortress eventually overwhelming those inside.

The Alamo
The Alamo | Larger

While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, people worldwide continue to remember the battle as a heroic struggle against tremendous odds.

One of the best ways to see the city is on the San Antonio Trolley tour. You can purchase tickets at San Antonio Trolley ticket center located inside Pat O'Briens at Alamo Plaza. The tour takes visitors to The Alamo, the Tower of America's where you can take an elevator 500 feet above ground and experience breathtaking views of the city, Hemisfair Plaza Water Park with its millions of gallons of water flowing through the park's fountains, waterfalls and streams, the Spanish Governor's Palace and more.

However, my favorite pastime in San Antonio was the food, including Rebecca Rather's pastries. Below are some of my favorite recipes from her cookbook, "The Pastry Queen."

Texas Pecan Pie Bars
Texas Pecan Pie Bars | Larger

Texas Pecan Pie Bars

Yield: About 2½ dozen


  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  • 8 large eggs
  • 6 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup bourbon (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 2 cups pecan halves

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 12 by 17 inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter in a large bowl on medium speed about one minute. Add the sugar and beat about one minute, until fluffy. Add the flour and salt: mix on low speed until evenly incorporated but still crumbly. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until it has darkened to a deep golden brown. Leave the oven at 350° F.

To make the filling: Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until blended. Stir in the bourbon, butter, vanilla, flour, and salt, then the coconut and pecans. Pour the filling over the crust, spreading evenly. Bake until set, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool thoroughly, at least 30 minutes, before cutting into 3-inch squares or diamonds.

My Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: About 5 dozen

  • 1½ cups walnuts
  • 1½ cups pecans
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1¼ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Arrange the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden own and aromatic. Cool the nuts and then coarsely chop.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, or grease with butter or cooking spray. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars in a large bowl on medium speed for one minute, until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed for one minute. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix on medium-low speed until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts, pecans, and chocolate chips. The dough is relatively stiff, so don't be surprised if this takes some muscle.

Drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets using a 1¾-inch diameter ice cream scoop. Space the cookies about 1½ inchs apart as they will spread. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are medium brown around the edges. The cookies will spread to about 3½ inches in diameter.

Texas Pralines

Yield: 20 to 22 pieces

  • 2½ cups whole pecans
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350° F. Arrange the pecans on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast them for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic.

Combine the buttermilk, baking soda, sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a heavy bottomed 4-quart pot; cook slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the soft-ball stage, registering between 234° and 240° F on a candy thermometer, about 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the vanilla and pecans and beat the candy with a wooden spoon until it starts to lose its shine, becomes more opaque, and starts getting creamy, about 10 minutes. The candy should be thick enough to drop by tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper. Cool the candies thoroughly, then wrap them individually in plastic wrap. They will keep at room temperature for about 5 days.