Posts filed under ‘pie’

Cherry pie from scratch

Pie!(Warning: This is a long post, because I’m indulging in some pastry-geeking. Don’t let that deter you. The pie itself took much less time to make than to write about.)

I’m the kind of cook who sees no contradition between a love of the home-made and a love of expedient shortcuts. I’d rather spend an hour making an excellent risotto with boxed stock from the supermarket than spend an entire weekend simmering, straining and clarifying  soup bones and trimmings for a measely quart of home-made.

Or pie: While I’m perfectly capable of making a tender, flaky crust from scratch – hell, I learned it at my mother’s knee – I also think frozen supermarket pie crusts are one of the small miracles of modern life; they let me throw together a tasty pie or quiche on a whim, or on a busy evening, without dragging out the flour and fat and rolling pins.

So I’m here to tell you: If you want to make this pie with a refrigerator-case crust-inna-box, you go right ahead. The food police won’t show up on your door, and whoever you’re feeding likely won’t know the difference if you don’t tell them.

ON THE OTHER HAND … this from-scratch crust, which I’ve made several times without failure,  is good. Really, really good. Good enough to be more than just a container for the tart, juicy local  pie cherries I got  this week; I crisped up the trimmings with a light sprinkle of sugar and can’t stop nibbling them.

What makes it good – what makes any pie crust good – is the combination of a light hand and nice, cold fat – in this case, pure lard and high-quality unsalted butter. Trust me, pie crust is not the place to cut corners on fat. Yeah, you can make a pie crust with Crisco or vegetable oil (or even olive oil). But it will never be as shatteringly crisp and flaky and flavorful as one made from honest-to-god animal fat. And while I’ve tried a crust that purported to be fat-free, it was also free of flavor and texture; it might as well have been cardboard. If you absolutely cannot have fat, then skip the crust, bake the filling in a naked pie pan and call it a baked fruit compote.

Butter and lardI happen to have a quantity of first-rate leaf lard (the delicate white fat from around a hog’s kidneys) in the freezer, frozen in half-cup portions. I will admit to having gone all pioneer woman this spring: I bought five pounds of fat from Heritage Farms Northwest, cut it into chunks and simmered it all one afternoon in my stock pot to render out the pure lard, just to see if I could. You don’t have to go that far; rendered, packaged lard is available in most supermarkets  in the cooler where they keep the butter. Try it, either alone or in combination with butter. You won’t believe how much better your pie crusts taste.

Why is that? Well, for one thing, lard is all fat, unlike butter, which has a fairly high water content; an all-butter crust will taste great, but it will probably be tough, too, unless you go for a pate brisee-style short crust where the fat is more evenly blended into the flour.

As the sainted Harold McGee explains it:

“The methods for making American-style pie dough produce a crust that is both tender and flaky. They disperse some of the fat evenly into the dough, separating small particles from each other, and some coarsely, separating different layers of the dough from each other … the dough is rested in the refrigerator to rechill the fat and let the water become more evenly distributed, and then is rolled out. The rolling stretches the dough and thus develops some gluten, and flattens the fat chunks into thin sheets. The combination creates the layered texture … In the oven, the sheets of fat, trapped air and steam from the dough water … all help to separate the dough into layers and give it a flaky texture.”

– Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

The way my mom (and her mom, and generations of moms before them) achieved this was to use her fingertips to rub about half of the fat into the flour, and then two dinner knives to cut the rest into the mixture in pea-sized chunks. But mom was baking in a world without food processors. I use mine to achieve the same ends – and better, really, because the fat doesn’t get melted by the heat of my hands – by pulsing in half the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine corn meal, then adding the rest and pulsing just a few times to chop the fat  into pea-sized chunks.

Here’s the pie I’m feeding my friends this afternoon. I rose early yesterday to make the crust before the house got hot, then spent a pleasant half-hour on the shady front porch pitting cherries with my cheap little mechanical pitter; everything went into the fridge, and then I baked the pie early this morning. The crust is based on a recipe I found on Epicurious.com for the “Best-Ever Pie Crust” and they aren’t exaggerating. The filling is one I’ve improvised over the years to the point where I don’t need a recipe to make it, but I took the time to note amounts, etc. this time around so you can recreate it – or add your own personal touch.

Cherry Pie to Die For

Crust

Ingredients

For two crusts

  • 2 1/2 cups pastry flour*
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut in cubes
  • 1/2 cup chilled lard, cut in cubes
  • 5 Tbsp ice water (or more, as needed)

Method

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar and pulse to blend. Begin feeding cubes of butter and lard into the processor, pulsing on-and-off until about half the fat is incorporated and the mixture is beginning to look like coarse cornmeal. Add the rest of the fat and pulse just a few times to cut it into pea-sized chunks. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly distributed.

Dump the mixture into a bowl and, using a fork, begin to toss in the ice water a tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to clump together. Depending on the flour, the air temperature and the weather, it may take more than five tablespoons; if so, add more a teaspoon at a time; you want a dough you can form into a neat ball, but it shouldn’t be wet.

Divide dough in half, form into balls and flatten each half into a disk on a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate at least an hour (or up to three days in advance). If necessary, let rest at room temperature for a few minutes to soften before you roll it out.

Sprinkle a large cutting board or pastry cloth with a small amount of flour and roll each disk to about 1/8″ thickness.

Here’s a tip from Harold McGee: Let the dough rest for 20-15after rolling it out to allow the gluten sheets formed by rolling to relax; that makes it easier to shape the crust without stretching it, which in turn prevents the crust from shrinking when it bakes.

Transfer crust to a pyrex pie plate (the easy way is to roll the circle of dough up onto your rolling pin and then gently unroll it into the plate). Press gently into plate, trim and crimp the edges as you please (unless you’re making a two-crust pie, in which case see below). If your recipe calls for a prebaked crust (this one doesn’t), prick it all over with a fork before baking. and weight it down to prevent bubbles (a handful of dried beans on a piece of tinfoil is as good as expensive pie weights).

Use the second disc of dough to make a lid for your pie, or a second pie, or freeze it for later.

* Pastry flour has a lower protein  content than all-purpose or bread flour, but more than cake flour; that helps produce the tender, flaky result you want in a pie crust (or biscuit), as opposed to the chewiness you get in good bread. I used whole wheat pastry flour, grown and ground by Stalford Seed Farms in Shedd. This flour is ground fairly coursely, and the resulting dough was a bit crumbly, so I had to do some piecing to get it in the pan. And the strips for the lattice topping kept breaking – so rather than fuss with them and risk turning the dough tough, I just arranged them randomly on top of the filling. What the heck: It’s all about “more tasty crust,” and I’m not entering it in the county fair or anything.

Sour Cherry Filling

Ready to pit

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 3-6 Tbsp cornstarch (depending on how juicy your cherries are
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5-6 cups of fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted. You want enough to mound a bit in the pie crust, whether or not you’re going to put a top crust on. I like sour pie cherries, but feel free to use your favorite variety; just adjust the sugar and lemon juice to the level of sweetness/tartness you enjoy
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice (for tart cherries) to 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (for sweet cherries)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract OR almond extract, or 1/2 tsp of each
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 Tbsp milk, for glaze

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice and vanilla/almond extract; set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F.

If you haven’t yet done so, roll out one portion of pie crust and transfer to a pyrex pie pan (you can use the cheap metal ones, but they aren’t as deep and, I think, produce an inferior crust.)

Spoon the cherry mixture into the crust, mounding slightly in the center. Dot with butter. Now you can either

  • Roll out the second disk of dough, cut in strips and make a traditional lattice top crust (here’s a nice little  photographic how-to).
  • Do a standard top crust (don’t forget to cut some vents so the steam can escape)
  • Get creative – use a knife or cookie cutters to  cut shapes from the second sheet of pie crust and lay them on top
  • Leave it open-faced and freeze the other piece of dough for later.

If you do top the pie, finger-crimp the edges together for a tight seal. Brush the top (but not the edges) with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar if you like. To keep the edges from overcooking, I fold a long piece of foil into a narrow collar and wrap it loosely around the rim of the pie; remove it 10 minutes or so before the pie is done.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375F and bake until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, about 1 hour longer. Transfer to a rack (or an unused stove burner) and cool completely. Serve with vanilla (or lemon!) ice cream.

Tart-sweet, with a crisp, tender-flaky crust and the smooth sweetness of ice cream: It tastes like summer to me.

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July 10, 2010 at 10:37 am 2 comments

Christmas menu for one

Salted caramelsI’m spending Christmas the way I generally prefer to: By myself. Least I sound like a latter-day Scrooge or some sad shut-in, let me state for the record that I love the winter holidays, every single one of them, that I spend most of December in the company of friends, and that I always wind up with multiple invitations to other people’s Christmas dinners.

But my own family – down to just us four siblings now – has never made a Big Family Deal out of getting together for the holidays. Since we’re scattered all over the Western US, that spares us foul-weather travel at the busiest time of year. And because I have a play in production that closes the Sunday after Christmas, my sweetheart and I decided to do our celebrating together at New Year’s, when I’ll take the train north to Seattle for a long weekend together.

So really, at the cost of protesting too much, I love having Christmas to myself. It’s a chance to wind down a bit from the madcap seasonal socializing. I can sleep in, turn on some rock-and-roll, and indulge myself in the pleasures of cooking for one, which are quite different from the pleasures of cooking for a crowd (for one thing, there’s a lot less worry about getting everything to the table at once. For another, I can dine in my jammies if I want.)

This year’s menu is still coming together in my head, but it’s bound to be full of locally sourced goodness, thanks to the new Corvallis Local Foods online market and my own freezer, which is full of good things I put up all summer and fall.

Here’s what I’m planning, although it could change on a whim.

  • Roasted duck, probably spatchcocked and roasted at high heat with a glaze of apple cider* syrup (a simple reduction of apple cider in a wide pan until it’s thick and syrupy). I’m pondering the notion of adding either ground chipotles* or smoked paprika* to the glaze for some smokey heat.
  • Roasted fingerling potatoes* (or perhaps roasted pumpkin* – or both!) and leeks*
  • Something green. Probably just a simple salad of Romaine dressed lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a lot of pepper.
  • Pie. Because (a) there must be pie and (b) I have in the freezer five pounds of beautiful white lard* from ethically grown pigs, bought for the entire purpose of making the best pie crusts ever. I’m pondering a hazelnut pie, built on my canonical pecan pie recipe, since I also have a pound of lovely roasted filberts*. Maybe with the addition of chocolate and bourbon?
  • And, no doubt, I’ll sustain myself through the day  on more than a few of the buttery-sweet-and-salty sea-salt caramels I made this week for gift-giving.  Because what’s Christmas without a sugar buzz?

* Local ingredients (which, among other things, means I don’t have to throw out my filberts for fear of  salmonella, yay!)

And then on Saturday I’ll render off all that good duck fat for future cooking use** and use the leftover duck and the last of the chanterelles* to make a decidedly nonvegetarian version of my friend Whit’s amazingly good wild mushroom pie, with some chopped dried apples* and pears* in addition to the cranberries and sour cherries*.  That hearty, savory main-dish pie has become my post-Christmas staple, and it’ll feed me for a week. (If you’re meat-averse or feeding those who are tomorrow, consider the original version of this recipe. It’s a terrific vegetarian main course – even vegan if you use an oil-based crust.)

** New readers of this blog may be blinking at all this talk of animal fat. Isn’t that supposed to be bad for us? But I’m anything but a fat-o-phobe, and my primary motivation for eating close to the ground is neither health nor politics – it’s because I find locally grown, seasonal foods taste a whole lot better than most of what I can buy in the supermarket. And, as it turns out, the whole animal-fat-is-evil message is yet another of those overblown nutrition myths.  As in all things, moderation is a grand idea, but a slice of pie on a heavenly lard-based crust isn’t going to send you to the emergency room.

December 24, 2009 at 11:41 am Leave a comment

It’s been a rough summer

… but I’m slowly starting to get back my sense of smell. Having learned way more than I ever wanted to know about anosmia, I’m thankful that my doctor’s initial diagnosis – a lingering, low-grade sinus infection left over from an awful cold I had in April and May – appears to have been the right one.

It’s been very little fun being unable to smell – or, really, taste – much of anything. Takes the fun right out of eating and cooking, I tell you; I haven’t even bothered going to the market for the past month.

That said, I do have one just-in-time-for-the-season treat to recommend, courtesy of my friend Lisa, who blogged about it:

Smitten Kitchen’s take on tomato pie

Tomato Pie

Tomato pie

Since I still can’t cook by taste, as is my habit, I made this last week following the recipe to the letter (well, OK, I used my food processor on the biscuit crust, and I did follow the advice of some of her commenters and drained the tomato slices before putting them in the shell, with a layer of cheese on the bottom to help seal against sogginess).

And then I invited a friend over for dinner, because while I knew there was nothing about this recipe I shouldn’t like, and it certainly looked wonderful, I couldn’t tell if it tasted as good as it looked – although the biscuit crust was wonderfully flaky and crisp.

My dinner companion, however, deemed it “fabulous.” And had seconds.

(Don’t be put off by the mayonnaise – it merges with the tomato-corn mixture and – again, according to my friend – isn’t identifiable beyond “yum!”)


During the flavor hiatus, and particularly while on the antibiotics that appear to have killed off the sinus ick, I’ve found myself drinking a lot of Reed’s Extra Ginger Ginger Ale. I’m not much of a soda drinker, but ginger calms my stomach and stimulates my appetite, and Reed’s is pungent enough I could almost taste it.

However, it’s spendy, and the bottles aren’t refundable in Oregon. So I rummaged around my bookmarks and found a recipe for home-made gingerale that I’d been meaning to try.

Since one of the things I like about Reed’s is its citrusy base, I altered the recipe a little and came up with something pretty doggoned tasty, at a fraction of the cost of the bottled stuff. If you’re a ginger fancier, try it out. It’s very refreshing – and it also works as a great base for my favorite warm-weather adult beverage, the Gin Gin Mule.

Home-made Gingerale

Ingredients

  • 1 hand ginger, about 4 inches worth, sliced into 1/8″ disks
  • Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
  • pinch salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • Seltzer water

Combine ginger, lemon juice, salt and water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Stir in sugar until it dissolves; allow to cool. Pour into a glass jar and refrigerate.

When you want ginger ale, mix a standard shotglass of the ginger syrup with 1 cup seltzer; serve over ice.

I was a little short on ginger last time I made this, so I substituted an inch or so of galangal I had in my freezer, sliced. It adds a lovely floral zing to the syrup.

September 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

Thanksgiving sides

I don’t really enjoy cooking turkeys. My oven is too small, for one thing; for another, as a solo cook with diminishing upper-body strength, I find wrestling the heavy, slippery bird – out of its bag, in and out of the brine, on and off the roasting rack – difficult and fraught with peril. And then there’s the carcass problem: To make stock or not? If so, when? And given that I still have turkey stock in the freezer from last Thanksgiving, is there really any point?

So when my friend Ellen volunteered to roast a turkey for our three-couple Thanksgiving feed, I was delighted. It means my oven will be free on Thursday – and it means I get to cook side dishes. And honestly, for me, Thanksgiving is all about the sides: Dressing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, gravy – lots of gravy, please! – and an array of vegetables and relishes … all the lovely, rich, kitchen-intensive dishes I rarely bother with the rest of the year, when my cooking tends to one-dish meals with maybe a vegetable or salad on the side.

And when several cooks are pitching in, each bringing the dish without which it would not be Thanksgiving for them, the odds of discovering something new, or a new variation on something familiar, is high.

So. I’ve offered to make baked dressing (although Ellen will likely stuff the bird as well, but nobody objects to two varieties), sweet potatoes, smashed potatoes … and a pecan pie, because I need pecan pie on Thanksgiving, whether anyone else does or not.

The dressing and sweet potatoes will be variations on old favorites, tweaked just enough to have new interest without offending the tastes of anyone who’s got their heart set on the standards. And yes, containing local ingredients, from the final weekend of our farmers’ market, local farmstands and my garden: The yams, potatoes and onions, the herbs, the mushrooms, the eggs.

Cornbread dressing with sage and wild mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 6 cups cornbread (I like this flourless Epicurious recipe, which is solid and less sweet than my usual recipe. It makes about 12 cups; I halve the recipe.)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound fresh wild mushrooms (chanterelles), coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-3 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, minced, or 2 tsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced, or 1 tsp dried
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced, or 1 tsp dried
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2-2 cups low-salt chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper

Method

Bake cornbread the day before and allow it to cool completely. Cut into 1-inch cubes and place in a big mixing bowl.

Melt 1 stick of butter in a large skillet. Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and stir well to coat with butter. Sautee over medium heat until the onion and garlic are translucent and the mushrooms have shrunk and absorbed most of the butter. Remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 375F. Add the mushroom mixture – including any liquid in the pan – celery and minced herbs to the cornbread; use (clean) hands to toss well (I don’t know any other good way to do this). Taste; if salt is needed, add some now, along with a good deal of black pepper, and toss again.

Beat the eggs with a fork and add to the dressing, tossing again to coat. Melt the butter and drizzle it over the dressing, toss again. Finally, add stock, slowly, stirring to combine. You should wind up with a very moist mixture. Heap into a 9×13 baking dish or large casserole and bake until lightly browned and crisp around the edges, about 45 minutes. If the rest of the meal isn’t ready (does anyone actually manage to get everything ready to serve at once on Thanksgiving), cover loosely with foil, slash a vent in the top to let some of the steam escape and set aside until dinner is ready. If necessary, tuck it back in the oven to reheat while you carve the turkey.

Maple Sweet Potatoes with Candied Ginger

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds sweet potatoes (use canned if you must. But they won’t be as good)
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup (Tip: If you like a stronger maple flavor, see if you can find Grade B syrup)
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 3 Tbsp candied ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick) cut into pieces

Method

Preheat oven to 375F. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add sweet potatoes. Once water returns to a simmer, parboil for about 5 minutes. Drain.

In a small saucepan, combine maple syrup and allspice. Bring to a simmer.

Place sweet potatoes in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle candied ginger over the top. Pour on the hot maple syrup, and dot with butter. Bake for about 45 minutes, until yams are tender. Can be kept, covered, on the counter until ready to serve.

This is less sweet than the standard candied sweet potatoes, and the ginger and allspice add a nice zing. If you like it even less sweet and more zing-y, substitute chopped fresh ginger for the candied ginger. If you have a bigger sweet tooth than I do, try combining the candied ginger with an equal amount of chopped pecans, a couple of tablespoons of flour and a half cup of brown sugar and sprinkling that over the top for the last 15 minutes or so of cooking for a crunchy, streusel-like topping.

You’ll note that these two dishes call for the same oven temperature. The recipes I based mine on called for a 350-degree oven for the dressing and 400 for the sweet potatoes; I split the difference and adjusted the cooking times so I can bake these at the same time, one on the bottom oven rack and one on the top. Midway through cooking, I’ll swap racks so they cook evenly. Of such adjustments are big meals made.

The pie? I’ll bake that the day before. From my mom’s recipe – the one printed on the label of the Karo syrup bottle.

November 19, 2008 at 7:18 pm Leave a comment


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