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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chia Berry Coconut Cream Parfait

To reward myself after a doctor's appointment, I dipped into an upper east side juice bar where I found the breakfast of my dreams: a parfait layered with chia seeds, berries, granola and coconut cream. I bought it without hesitation. The overall bill was a little high, but I thought it was the fresh juice. It was the parfait. $10. Gulp.

So I have tried to reproduce this elixir myself, and it was yummy. It would be better if I could wait for it to set in the fridge - but I can't.

Chia Berry Pudding Coconut Cream Parfait
Serves 2-3

This recipe is composed of three layers: chia-berry pudding, a quick stove-top granola, coconut cream.

First layer - pudding:
2 Tablespoons Chia seeds
1 cup frozen mixed berries
Splash of water

In a small saucepan on medium heat, add berries and water until berries soften. Turn off heat, stir in chia seeds and set aside. 

Second layer - granola
1/2 cup nuts and seeds of your choice, chopped roughly (I had pumpkin seeds and cashews on hand - but I love it with pecans) 
1/2 cup shredded coconut unsweetened
1/2 cup dried fruit of your choice, chopped roughly (dried cherries, dates, etc.)

In a small pan, preferably cast iron, on medium heat, toast nuts and seeds. Stir often and keep close to the stove to prevent burning - maybe 2 minutes depending on how hot your burner gets. You should be able to smell the toasting. Remove to a medium bowl and set aside.
This is ready to burn.
Add coconut to the same pan over medium heat, stirring often. It can take as little as 30 seconds to get that nice browned color, and 40 seconds to burn.

Combine all three food groups in a bowl.

Third layer - coconut cream
3-4 tablespoons classic coconut milk
juice from 1/2 lemon
sweetener of your choice (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk coconut cream with lemon and sweetener until smooth.

Scoop 1/4 cup chia pudding into a medium glass. Top with granola. Pour coconut cream on top. Let it set in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Pie Virgin's Guide to Passable Crust

The crust on the last pie I made, the one for Thanksgiving, the high holy day of pies, broke the tines off a plastic fork. And this after working into every conversation how I had just baked a pie a day for a week. My just dessert was humble pie.

I know why it happened. I was rushed and distracted on Thanksgiving eve, decidedly un-chill. And if I learned anything this week it's that you need scads of chill to make a good crust. I'm hoping this never happens to you, so here are a few expert crust-making tips I learned over pie week.
  1. Remember it's just pie. It's not gene splicing or your first novel - imperfect pie is still pretty great. Why? Because it's pie!  Even roadside diner pie (think cumulus meringue) makes me a little happy. Even my friend who broke her plastic fork on my pumpkin pie crust ate the whole slice.
  2. Start chill. If the dough gets too warm before it bakes, the butter will melt into the flour, create a sticky glutenous mess, and toughen the dough. Some people go so far as to put all ingredients and all of their tools into the freezer - bowl, spoon, dough cutter, rolling pin, etc. Don't worry if this sounds like the actions of someone with a psychological disorder because, as Julia Childs said, when you are in the kitchen you are alone.
  3. Measure like a lab assistant. Baking is chemistry, which is why precision is key. The best bakers recommend weighing ingredients. For those of us without a digital scale, there's a technique to measuring, says my dear friend Laurie Smollett of the renowned gourmet cruise line, Eastern Star Yacht Charters. She says first, use dry measures; don't use a liquid cup measure with a spout. Then scoop the flour in the cup and level it with a knife. "Don't bang it down," she says, "no patting." Never spank your flour.
  4. Mix it up, say a few of my friends. Karen Levenberg, baker extraordinaire, suggests a butter to shortening ratio of 1:1. Lucy Saunders, author of the recent Dinner in the Beer Garden likes 3:1. Cook's Illustrated, arguably the grand high poobah of all things cooking, prescribes something in between (see recipe below.) Karen also likes to replace 1/4 cup of whole wheat flour for white flour. See the Big Fat Debate on Serious I've been playing around with flavoring the crust, as I did with the pumpkin pie by adding lemon zest, cardamom and grated ginger. (That crust came out well because it wasn't Thanksgiving.)
  5. Booze it up. After literally thousands of years of bakers making pie crusts pretty much the same way, in 2007 Cook's Illustrated came up with a revolutionary new idea: use vodka. There is scientific logic behind this tip. When water bonds with flour it forms gluten, and too much gluten can make a crust tough. But you need liquid to roll out the dough. Using vodka as the liquid serves the purpose of making the dough malleable (some say too wet), but the alcohol in the liquid will evaporate out during cooking. This minimizes gluten formation, maximizes flakiness. There is, unfortunately, no vodka after effect.
  6. Stay chill. After mixing, put your dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to relax the gluten, preventing it from overtaking your tender crust. Breads are high in gluten, pastries should be relatively less so. If the dough starts to warm up while you're handling it, give it a quick slip into the fridge. Cold also keeps the fat from melting until it is in the oven, where it will leave pockets of air = flakiness. I don't really understand all this, but if you are interested in reading things like, "remember that gluten forms once glutenin and gliadin are mixed with water..." you can find it on geek cooking sites like, the Food Lab, and Cook's Illustrated.
  7. Get the dough gracefully into the pie pan. Lucy and Karen again agree that you should roll out dough between parchment or wax paper to ease its transport from work station to pie pan. Others suggest gently folding the dough in quarters. Or rolling the dough up on your rolling pin, and unrolling it onto the pie pan.
  8. To avoid soggy-bottom crust. For custard, pumpkin, and fruit pies, you can moisture proof your crust by brushing with butter, apricot jam, or chocolate - then letting it set in the fridge for 15 minutes. If you're making a custard that's cooked, time it so that the blind-baked crust comes out of the oven hot at the same time as the custard is done. Placing the hot custard in the hot crust helps the custard set faster, lessening the chance of it absorbing into the crust.
  9. The best apple for apple pie is Northern Spy, according to my pal Paulette Peduzzi, Head of Kitchen at the North Country School
  10. For a pretty crust, Paulette continues, brush the top with milk and sprinkle with raw sugar before baking. I also like to cut out shapes from leftover dough - leaves, hearts, etc. Score the bottom lightly with a fork, brush with some milk or egg white, and place gently on the pie. 
For a great guide to pie crusts, I just ran across a great list of tips at

Here is the recipe from Cook's Illustrated:

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/4 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut in 2
2 tablespoons vodka
2 tablespoons cold water

Process 3/4 cup of flour, all of the salt and a,,ll of the sugar in the food processor until combined. Add the butter and shortening and process until it resembles cottage cheese curds and all of the flour is coated, about 10 seconds. Scrape down the side and even out the dough distribution. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse until the mass of dough breaks up. Remove to a separate bowl. Sprinkle the vodka and water over the mixture and fold into the dough until it sticks together. Flatten dough into 4-inch disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.  Roll out and refrigerate again for 30 minutes. Transfer to pie plate and refrigerate one more time for 15 minutes. Line crust with foil, fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate pie, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown and crisp.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 7: Thanksgiving Leftover Hand Pies for the Lazy Host or Helpful Guest

Good idea rom Pillsbury!

I had intended to make and post this yesterday, but I was away and visiting friends.

No one wants to cook after Thanksgiving, so if you have leftovers, this sounds like a super fast and awfully yum way of serving them. I hope your Thanksgiving was as warm and delicious as mine!

Thanksgiving Leftover Hand Pies 
Adapted from Pillsbury


Pillsbury Grands Biscuits (or equivalent)
Thanksgiving leftovers (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, etc.) all mixed together loosely, at room temperature
Gravy, heated through, for dipping
1 teaspoon oil for shallow baking pan (cookie sheet)

Prepare a lightly greased pan. Heat oven to 350.

Separate dough into 5 biscuits. One at a time, roll out to 8". Place 1/3 cup of mixed leftovers into the center of the dough. Fold over and seal by pressing the edges with a fork tine all the way around. Pop in the oven for 9-14 minutes, until puffy and lightly browned.

Serve with gravy and other side dishes.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day 6: Sweet Almond Moroccan Cigars in Orange Honey, for Hanukkah

Hanukkah + Pie Week = fried Jewish desserts. In my family, that would probably mean filled donuts, but I'm digging further back to my mother's Moroccan roots. And where I land is my aunt Clotilde's Moroccan 'cigars' - where the 'crust' is filo, and the filling is sweet almonds and cinnamon.  

If they'd been 20 years younger, my mother and her five North African Jewish sisters could have hosted a very entertaining reality cooking show. They were/are charismatic, a little outrageous, and rock stars in the kitchen - but Mom used to say Clotilde was the best cook of all. She had high cheekbones and a slight gap between her front teeth which I shared, a wry wit and an easy laugh - and made amazing desserts.

Orange and turquoise, so Moroccan.
I remember visiting her in Paris with my then-new husband on Rosh Hashanah. The table was set with a colorful mezze of small salads and a large roast - a typical Sephardic Jewish holiday meal. While helping in the kitchen I noticed little plates of desserts, particularly two things: a platter of pretzel-like fried dough and thin fried rolls drenched in honey and orange peel. I never asked her about it because the combination didn't appeal to me. But later, I had often wondered what they were. Tata Clotilde teased me about not trying her desserts (which, luckily, my husband devoured.)

Almonds should be blanched and peeled.
On the other hand, my mother adored all things sweetened and orange. Jars of both Bon Maman and Smucker's orange marmalade could be found somewhere in her fridge for slathering on bread with untempered hunks of butter with afternoon tea or coffee.

It's only now that I see this orange love as a throwback to the orange-based desserts that were probably ubiquitous along the Mediterranean coast of North Africa; my mother remembers orange groves in her native Algeria, and would reminisce about a confection her Spanish-Moroccan mother Miriam would make for Jewish holidays called "cigars". I now had a name for the mystery dessert.

Process until you get almond flour - keep your eye on it to keep the almonds from turning into butter.
Moroccon almond cigars are ground almonds and cinnamon rolled in filo like a cigar, then fried and dredged in honey and sesame seeds. If you fry it a tad too long, the ends get a little dark and it looks like a stubbed out stogie.
Suddenly, I am in love with the orange honey combo - and the whole cigar experience. The crunch of fried filo is echoed subtly by the almonds, and set off by the mellow honey and bright citrus. Wow. Rockets of happiness go off in my head! It's delicate and dense at the same time - so much going on. I'm happy to report that they got rave reviews from the husband and son who will find some packed in his lunch today. The tradition lives on.

With Hanukkah a few days away, this fried pie (who says they have to be round?) would be perfect for Day 6 of Pie Week. They keep well at room temperature for several days. You can also freeze them before frying, and defrost the day of. I'm making them in memory of my dear Tata Clotilde, whose birthday just passed, and who always made me laugh while we cooked.

Sweet Almond Moroccan Cigars in Orange Honey, for Hanukkah
Inspired by Tata Clotilde, adapted from Fatema Hal

Most of the sweet Moroccan cigar recipes out there are baked and follow the baklavah method of buttering the filo. But nothing short of frying will do for Hanukkah, when the whole symbolic point is to use oil. And besides, frying tastes oh-so much better.

I found a recipe in a book called Authentic Recipes from Morocco, by Fatema Hal, which you can see here. The author doesn't provide a syrup. The orange honey reduction I describe is based on my memory of Tata Clotilde's.

  • 12 sheets filo (cut into 5" X 7" rectangles)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten for sealing
  • Safflower or other high-heat oil
  • Toasted sesame seeds
Almond paste
  • 2 cups blanched, peeled almonds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water, or 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • yolk of one egg
Orange honey reduction
  • 1 cup wildflower honey
  • Juice of 3 oranges, about 1/2 cup
  • Rind of 1 orange sliced super thin, extra pith removed (but a little is okay!)
  • A few rounds of orange
  • Pinch of salt
Almond paste: In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, grind almonds to a flour consistency, but keep checking because you don't want to make almond butter (right now.) Mix almonds with sugar, cinnamon, orange flower water, egg, and butter. Knead briefly into a ball.

Orange reduction: Combine all ingredients and just barely simmer for at least an hour, longer if possible. The honey mixture shouldn't actually bubble but steam slightly and move around a bit, as though settling into the heat.

To assemble: Cut pastry sheets in 5" x 7" rectangles. I did this one sheet at a time with a pizza cutter to keep the remaining parchment from drying out (barely successfully.) Roll 3 teaspoons of almond paste into a cigar that's a little shorter than the parchment, about 6". If the mix is too crumbly add a little water or melted butter. With the long edge of the filo facing you, place the almond paste roll lengthwise, about 1 inch from the edge. Fold side edges in (using egg if needed to keep folds in place) and roll up like a cigar. Seal with beaten egg.

To fry: Heat oil over medium-high in a large saute pan; make sure there's at least 1/2 inch of oil in the pan. Test the oil with a candy thermometer (375 degrees) or by tossing a little filo in; if it cooks without burning too quickly you' re ready to add the cigars. Fry the cigars until golden - no more than 2 minutes each side - and drain on paper towels. If it takes longer than 2 minutes to color, turn up the heat slowly because you don't want to quick fry, not soak the cigars in oil. Roll each fried pastry in a dish of warm honey, then roll in toasted sesame seeds. Repeat with other cigars.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 5: Chuck's Set Yourself Free Lemon Tart

So I cued up the turntable, lit up some nag champa, and settled in for an hour of totally free baking. The result was this funkalicious gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free and vegan lemon tart.  Some might say it needs a makeover - and surely in more gifted hands it would look less like a pinch pot - but it's what's inside that counts, right? It is badass healthy. The crust is seed-based with a hint of cocoa, or cacao. The lemon filling is creamy and tart, using a combination of stevia and coconut sugar for just the right touch of sweet. I usually find stevia too bitter, but lemon carries it well.

This pursuit came out of a promise for a healthy desert recipe for our Thanksgiving host and dear friend, Chuck, who recently changed his diet.
That 70's Tart
Without the holy trinity of flour, butter, and sugar, I doubted I could pull off an edible pie. But I channeled my crunchy-granola-70s soul - or Chuck's - to find the right combo of tastes. This recipe is adapted from Hallie Klecker's excellent gluten-free and from a knock-off of the Hail Merry Lemon Tart filling from

For Thanksgiving, I might try to improve the looks by using mini cupcake forms - I'd press the crust mixture into a 1/4" base, fill the cups with the lemon cream, freeze them, then peel away an elegant looking dessert. But don't you think that would be false advertising?

Chuck's Set Yourself Free Lemon Tart
Adapted from and

  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup raw hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least one hour
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup full fat canned coconut milk (shake the can before you buy it; you should hear no sloshing)
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice, that's about 2-3 lemons depending on the size, and more to taste
  • 1/4 cup honey (or your favorite sweetener alternative; I used stevia and coconut sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract 
  • Grated zest of 2-3 lemons 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Lemon zest strips and coconut flakes for decoration

Dough will come together after adding liquid, and a few pulses
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Oil the wells of a muffin tins with coconut oil.

To make the crust: In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the sunflower seeds, coconut sugar, and cocoa powder until finely ground, about 45 seconds. Add coconut oil and maple sugar. Process about 15 seconds, just to combine. The mixture should stick when pinched. 

To achieve a pinch-pot look, cut out a strips parchment and press into each muffin well - this will be your hoisting device. I know this seems crazy, but it worked. Then take 2 1/3 tablespoons of dough and build up from the bottom to create a little pot. 

For a more elegant looking dessert: insert muffin liners, press dough into the bottom about 1/4" depth. 

To create a pie: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, divide dough in half, pat both into 8" circles. Bake dough for 10-15 minutes. Pat down any bubbles that form and let cool completely.

To make filling: Process all ingredients, except for lemon zest and coconut, until silky smooth - this will take at least 7 minutes. Be patient and keep checking. You don't want any hints of cashew. Taste to adjust sweetening or lemon. Beware that Stevia is very potent and a little goes a long way. Depending on your crust method, fill the cups or spread out onto the pie base. Refrigerate until set.

Like when you make brownies, line the muffin well with a strip of parchment for easy removal.

When the pinch pot tarts are ready, just ease them out using the parchment tabs. 

This was Chuck in his wild child days.
Now he has two semi-wild children and a wild wife of his own.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 4: Apple Mosaic Tart with Salted Caramel (from

Thank you, Mari Renwick, for the beautiful photograph.
Apples and salt caramel and puff pastry -- and it looks like this. I can hardly believe it came out of my oven. Please trust me when I say you can do this too.

This is Deb Perlman's Smitten Kitchen recipe, unadapted. I couldn't think of any reason to change it, except maybe hire her to do the mosaic. Mine has a rustic appeal but hers has the spiritual precision of Islamic Gihir tiles; you should check it out. She's a master. Nonetheless, as I cook I can't help Instagramming.

Apple mosaic tart with salted caramel                                                             

Reblogged almost verbatim from Smitten Kitchen

Tart base
14-ounce package puff pastry, defrosted
3 large or 4 medium apples (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits

Salted caramel glaze
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but then ease up on the sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (or half as much table salt)
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Heat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll out pastry dough to 10" x 15" and transfer it to the baking sheet. 

Peel the apples and cut them in half top-to-bottom. Remove the cores and stems (Deb Perlman likes to use a melon baller; I used a pairing knife). Slice the apples halves crosswise as thinly as you can with a knife (DP uses a mandolin, which I don't have)  to about 1/16-inch thickness. Leaving a 1/2-inch border, fan the apples around the tart in slightly overlapping concentric rectangles — each apple should overlap the one before so that only about 3/4-inch of the previous apple will be visible — until you reach the middle. Sprinkle the apples evenly with the first two tablespoons of sugar then dot with the first two tablespoons butter.

The world inside my oven.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are brown and the edges of the apples begin to take on some color. If you sliced your apples by hand and they were on the thicker side, you might need a little more baking time to cook them through. The apples should feel soft, but dry to the touch. 

About 20 minutes into the baking time, make your glaze. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, melt your last 1/4 cup sugar; this will take about 3 minutes. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice copper color, another minute or two. Off the heat, add the sea salt and butter and stir until the butter melts and is incorporated. Add the heavy cream and return to the stove over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until you have a lovely, bronzed caramel syrup, just another minute, two, tops. Set aside until needed. You may need to briefly rewarm it to thin the caramel before brushing it over the tart.

After the tart has baked, transfer it to a cooling rack, but leave the oven on. Using very short, gentle strokes, and brushing in the direction that the apples fan to mess up their design as little as possible, brush the entire tart, including the exposed pastry, with the salted caramel glaze

Return the apple tart to the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes, until the caramel glaze bubbles. Let tart cool complete before cutting into 12 squares. Serve plain, with coffee or tea, if you’re feeling grown-up or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  I do not recommend this, as the ice cream overwhelmed the tart's subtle flavor.

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.