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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 3: Monochromatic Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie with Cayenne-Spiced Crust

Now that I'm no longer 10, the sticky sugariness of my beloved pecan pie is too cloying - yet I still yearn for the contrast of goo and crunchy nut. I'm ready for a more grown-up pecan pie.

This is the kind of challenge that makes me love cooking - imagining flavor combinations then finding a way to make them work. After a few happy hours clicking through blogs and flipping through books, I finally settled on bittersweet chocolate and cayenne to kick the adult-o-meter up a bunch of notches.

Delicious but monochromatic - where's the whipped cream?
This version has the right level of goo, a tiny bit of bitterness to balance the sweet, and a hint of heat. The final, unsolvable problem is that it's a pretty ugly pie. It looks like a monochromatic mud pie. Next time I won't make a chocolate crust. I'll also have plenty of whipped cream on hand, if not for taste then for cover up.

A note about corn syrup. I put a ban on it after reading an alarming and blunt article called "5 reasons why high frustose corn syrup will kill you." But what is pecan pie without the goo-imparting goodness of corn syrup? Then someone told me about brown rice syrup. I found a fairly reasonably-priced organic product by Lundberg. It has the consistency of warm honey, and does a great job.

Never use corn syrup again. Substitute in a 1:1 ratio.
Full disclosure: just as I was scraping the last of the filling into the crust I realized that I'd forgotten to add the eggs. Luckily, the crust was cold and the filling had just enough heft to roll up like an old, sticky carpet, taking some layers of crust with it. But by this time, the mixture was a semi-solid, egg-impermeable mass. I had to reheat the blob to loosen the mixture - but not so much to cook the eggs - and stir madly. It worked but the bottom of the crust never recovered. It was hard and thin. Dang.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie with Cayenne-Spiced Crust
Inspired by David Lebovitz and Hungry Food Love

1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder                                                                                                                         4 tablespoons ice water
Chocolate-pecan filling
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup rice syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt flakes (like Maldon's), or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt 
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 cups toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
To toast pecans: spread onto baking sheet and bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes; remove when fragrant and before burning.
Crust: Mix the flour, salt, cocoa, and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the cubed butter and mix until the butter pieces are broken up and about the size of small peas. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time, mixing with a spatula, until dough just comes together. 
This is the dough directly from the food processor - it's pretty crumbly. I hear that's a good thing.
Remove the dough onto a work surface and gather into a ball, press into a disc, wrap in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes or more.
On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round. Gently fold into quarters and transfer the dough into a 9-inch pie plate. Fold the overhanging dough under itself at the rim, to create a double width of dough. Crimp the edges and refrigerate until ready to fill.
 I'm pretty sure there's something wrong happening here, but it is pretty.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF and position the oven rack to the center of the oven.
In a heavy bottomed pan on the stove, combine and gently heat brown sugar, syrup and butter until butter melts . 
Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla, salt, and cayenne. Stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips and scrape the filling into the pie shell. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling puffs up slightly but still feels slightly jiggly and moist in the center.
Let pie cool completely before slicing. Store up to 3 days at room temperature.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Day 2: Cranberry Whole Wheat Hand Pies

There are too many things to love about hand pies. These little discs of deliciousness are super cute, portable, and have built-in portion control. Plus I learned on Wikipedia that 'hand pie' is an anagram for pinhead!

Last spring, I started rolling out hand pies to hold the fruits of the season. Rhubarb held the lead through the fall, but I think the cranberry is a strong contender. They carry the Thanksgiving theme, and they're not too sweet. You can serve up a plate of hand pies after dinner and everyone can feel virtuous about just having one or two. Plus they're easy to pack up for guests, though why would you want to when breakfast is just a few hours away?

Cranberry Whole Wheat Hand Pies

Adapted from Bon Appetit and Heed the Feed

This recipe has a not-too-sweet filling that's further tarted up with orange zest. It also uses whole wheat flour which gives the pies an earthy substance that somehow goes with Fall. You can try it, or just use white flour. The dough will be more compliant when you roll it out, and the crust will be flakier and more delicate. Either way, the instructions are the same. This recipe makes about 30 hand pies. You can keep the extra dough in the fridge for a few days or freeze it well-sealed for up to 6 months.

1 cup unbleached white flour                                                                                                                                      2  2/3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), cut in 1/2" cubes and frozen
ice cold water
Cranberry filling
1 pound fresh cranberries (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract                                                                                                                                                 
1 large egg, beaten                                                                                                                                           
Cane sugar
Preheat oven to 425°Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
After cubing the butter, keep it in the freezer while you measure and mix the dry ingredients.
Dough: combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your processor, fitted with a steel blade. Pulse once or twice to mix. Add the frozen butter cubes to the flour mixture and carefully toss -- it will fill a smaller processor entirely. Process until the mixture is like coarse meal. Again, this may require stopping the machine to redistribute the butter. Slowly, one tablespoon at a time, add the ice water, pulsing a few times after each addition until the mixture just comes together. The dough may be a little crumbly but it's ready if it adheres when you squeeze it.  Turn onto a floured surface and, gathering the dough with a dough scraper or spatula, knead a few times until smooth. Divide in half, shape into a smooth ball, sprinkle with flour, and flatten into a disc. Tightly wrap each half in plastic. Chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
Orange zest tarts up the already tart cranberry

Filling: combine cranberries, sugar, orange zest and juice, cornstarch, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Let it stand about 10 minutes for the juices to accumulate. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer and begins to thicken, 5-6 minutes. (Some cranberries will have burst.) Let cool completely.
Roll out the dough super thin, about the depth of 20 pages in a book, or 1/16 of an inch.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disc of dough until super thin, about 1/16 inch thick. That's like 20 pages in a paperback. Using a cookie cutter, cut out as many circles as you can. I had a 3" cutter which made about 20 tarts (40 disks).
Put a heaping teaspoon of cranberry mixture smack in the center
Brush the edges of half of the circles with beaten egg. Place 1 heaping tablespoon filling in the center of each circle. Top each with a mate and using a fork, crimp 1/4-inch around edges to seal. Repeat with remaining dough, egg, and filling. Divide pies between prepared sheets and make room in your freezer to chill for 45 minutes.
Take one sheet out and score dough, forming a small X in the center of each pie, or three parallel lines. Brush tops of pies with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops start to turn golden and juices bubble vesuviously out of the x's. Let stand for 5 minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the rest of the pies.
A charming gift for your Thanksgiving host

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Day 1 of Pie Week: Pumpkin Custard in Lemon-Ginger Pâte Sucrée

The only thing I want to do anymore is poetry and pie. 

Is that bad? 

My mother rarely baked pies, so I don’t have any crust secrets to summon from our DNA. But a few years ago, when I found myself beset by anxiety, baking pies proved as good as atavan. I’m still not very good at crusts, but it doesn't matter. When baking pies, a floury calm seems to settle over the kitchen that tames my jumpy monkey-mind, and makes me feel like I’m in exactly the right place. Plus, when you bake pies, the whole building smells great and everyone loves you – even when the crust isn’t perfect.

Thanksgiving's just a week away, the start of the holiday craziness. It’s the ideal time for a nice anxiolytic dose of pie-making, don't you think? So I had this idea – what if I made a pie a day for a week? I promise to try to make them interesting. By the end of the week, I’ll have some mad pie skills to share with anyone as obsessive as I am about pies. And the kitchen will smell great, and everyone will love me:)

See you in ten pounds!

Day 1: Pumpkin custard in lemon-ginger pâte sucrée

Filling adapted from Cook's Illustrated (1993), crust riffed on Warm and Toste

I’ve been thinking about a way to make pumpkin pie less like the dense and churlish boy next door, and more like a dashing, mustachioed uncle from Paris. The makeover started with the crust, which should snappy and gingerish, but not gingersnappy. A bright and elegant lemon and ginger cookie. I settled on a pâte sucrée – the kind of short crust you get with a fruit tart – but flavored with pumpkin-complementary lemon zest, grated ginger, and a hint of cardamom. And the filling – custardy and just a little sweeter than the average pumpkin pie so you wouldn’t need whipped cream. I hunted through a bunch of crust recipes for the flavor I was tasting in my mind, and couldn’t find one, so I winged it (gulp). But I did find a really fine recipe for the filling in Cook’s Illustrated, which I adapted. I think Uncle Maurice would like it beaucoup. (Leo did.)

Pâte sucrée

2 1/2 cups flour
8 oz (16 Tbs) cold butter, cubed
1 Tbs shortening - I used 3/4 Tbs coconut oil
1/3 cup sugar
zest from 2 lemons
1" fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup heavy cream

Pumpkin filling

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree (or roast and strain your own, about 2 cups)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or grated fresh)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
4 eggs

Crust: I make mine in a Cuisinart fitted with a steel blade, which changed everything. But if you are an advanced pie crust maker, feel free to use a dough cutter or forks or your fingers.

Some pointers: get everything as cold as you can. When it's hot in the kitchen, put all the ingredients in the freezer for a few minutes before mixing. Some people put their food processor bowl in there too.

Combine first seven ingredients -- all but the cream -- in the bowl of the food processor. Process until it looks like a course meal. Add cream and pulse until the dough pulls together, but don't overmix. It may be crumbly but will stick together when you squeeze it. With the heel of one hand, quickly press the pastry by two-spoonful bits on the board away from you, smearing it out about 6 inches. This is called fraisage. Using a scraper or spatula, gather the dough and knead it quickly to form a smooth ball. Separate in half and flatten each into a disk. Sprinkle with flour and wrap in plastic. Put one in the freezer for use in up to 6 months. The one you're baking, either put in the freezer for at least an hour, or in the fridge for two - or overnight.

Generously sprinkle flour on your work surface. Remove the one disk and sprinkle with flour lightly. If the dough it's hard, beat it with a rolling pin a few times (be sure to put on your apron and mad face when you do this.) It should give a little when you press it. If it cracks when you try to roll it, let it sit a bit longer, but not more than 5 minutes. Roll out a few times in one direction, turn the dough 90 degrees, then roll it again a few times, continuing like this until it's about 9" in diameter. If it gets sticky, toss a little flour under it. Flip it over and roll it out in all directions -- no turning -- until it's about 1/8" thick and 14 inches in diameter.

Fold the dough loosely into quarters and put it in a 9" glass pie plate. Fold the excess dough up to the top and press your fingers to flute it.

Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Then prick the entire pie with a fork every 1/2 inch or so, including the corners. Cover with aluminum foil and press to follow the concave shape. Prick the aluminum foil bottom about 10 times. Chill for another 30 minutes.

Pop the oven open and put the rack on the bottom most slot. Heat to 400*. Start  your filling when you put the pie in to bake. Bake 15 minutes and press down on the foil to flatten air bubbles. Take the foil off and bake 10 minutes longer until the crust just starts to turn color.

Filling: The key, according to Cook's, is to add the filling to the crust when both are hot: this will make the custard firm up faster, and prevent it from soaking into the crust. Genius! 

Cook the pumpkin mixture, stirring until shiny and thick.

Process the pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt for one minute. Transfer to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and heat medium-high to a sputtering simmer, stirring constantly until shiny and thick. Mine looked like a slightly thinner-than-usual frosting. This should take about 5 minutes. 

As soon as the pie crust comes out of the oven, whisk in the milk and cream and bring to a very low simmer. In the food processor add eggs and process about 5 seconds until mixed. With the motor running, slowly and carefully add half the hot pumpkin filling through the tube. Stop the machine and add the rest, then process 30 seconds.

Pour the custard right away into the hot pie shell and pop into the oven. After 5 minutes, you can ladle in any excess -- the custard will have settled a bit. Bake until the filling is puffed, lightly cracked around the edges, and the center wiggles when gently shaken. This should take about 25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack, where it can cool for an hour or more.