Sunday, November 30, 2008

TWD: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

This week's assignment for "Tuesdays with Dorie" was the Thanksgiving Twofer Pie. Many thanks to Vibi of La Casserole Carrée for choosing it, and to our founder Laurie for extending the usual posting deadline so we could make it for Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is an important holiday in our household, even though it's just the two of us. I'm generally able to get off work that day (by agreeing to work Christmas Eve and New Year's Day). It's a day to cook, eat, and enjoy life before returning to work. Since I work for a large mail-order company (in the Internet division), work at this time of year means all the craziness of Cyber Monday and pre-holiday shopping. It's good to celebrate beforehand!

The thing is, we always have some sort of fruit pie for Thanksgiving. Neither of us likes pumpkin pie (it's just so...pumpkin-ey). Pecan pie is not bad, but generally much too sweet. I was pleased to discover that I like Dorie's pie better than either one. The creamy, spicy pumpkin filling on the bottom helps to balance out the sweet, gooey, nutty, crunchy pecan pie topping. Jim, however, was not as impressed. He's still complaining that he didn't get a fruit pie this Thanksgiving. (I'll bake him one for Christmas instead.)

I made some changes to Dorie's recipe. First, I used a Sweet Pastry Tart Dough crust rather than a Flaky Pie Dough crust. (It wasn't Dorie's recipe.) There were two reasons for this: 1) the pastry crust had been in the deep-freeze for almost a year, and it was time to use it up and 2) pastry crusts tend to get soggy more slowly than flaky crusts, and since there would be only two of us eating the pie, it would have to be stored for several days.

The other changes were: I reduced the light brown sugar in the pumpkin filling to 6 Tablespoons, used half heavy cream and half milk, and used half a whole egg in place of an egg yolk. (I used the other half egg in place of the egg yolk in the pecan portion.) I increased the spices in the pumpkin filling slightly and cooked the pumpkin puree, sugar, salt, and spices together (a hint from Rose Levy Beranbaum's pumpkin pie recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible.) I had to make an unplanned substitution as well -- I had scooped the pumpkin, sugar, etc into a pan when I suddenly suspected I'd been scooping from the salt container, not the sugar container. A quick taste confirmed it -- yuck! So that batch had to be tossed. I didn't have quite enough pumpkin puree left in the can, so I had to improvise. I pulled out some unsweetened, unflavored home-made apple butter from the fridge and used that to "top off" the pumpkin puree. It worked out just fine. In fact, I am considering making this pie just with apple butter next time! (I'd have to reduce the sugar, I suppose.)

For the pecan pie topping, I used Lyle's Golden Syrup instead of corn syrup (another idea from Rose), and reduced syrup to 6 Tablespoons and sugar to 3 Tablespoons. I managed to forget to add the melted butter, but remembered after I'd poured the filling on the pie -- so I quickly melted some butter in the microwave, poured it over the top, and did my best to mix it into just the pecan part of the pie. It seemed to work out in the end.

I prebaked the pie crust as Dorie directed, keeping the edges covered with foil the whole time. A number of folks had mentioned in the "Problems and Questions" area that they were having trouble with burning crusts and slow baking times for the filling, so I decided to adjust Dorie's baking instructions a bit. I started the filled pie off at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then turned the oven down to 325. I kept the edges covered with a pie shield the whole time. It took about 50 minutes, total, for the pie to bake that way.

Oh, one other thing I always do with pies -- I set a rack to one of the lower positions in the oven and put a round pizza stone on it before I preheat the oven. I set the pie right on the stone to bake (covering the stone with a sheet of aluminum foil if the pie is likely to bubble over). This helps to set the bottom crust and prevent soggy crust. Yet another Rose suggestion!

I really liked this pie! But since Jim wasn't a big fan, I'm not sure it will be returning to our household all that often. I may try a version with apple butter instead of pumpkin puree and see if he likes that any better. Meantime, see what the other TWD bakers did!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Bit of Foodie Heaven

Last week we found a bit of "foodie heaven" in Madison, Wisconsin. And as two of the three places we visited sell on the Web, too, I thought I'd post about it.

The Shorewood Hills Shopping Center on West University Avenue has become quite a foodie hot-spot. We stopped off to buy some spice jars at Penzeys Spices. Just walking into the place and smelling the smells is wonderful. And there are samples of everything in jars and bottles -- just open up and sniff. It's amazing to smell the different kinds of cinnamon or vanilla -- such a range of aromas!

While we were there, we walked down a few doors to Wisconsin Cutlery and Cooking Supply. A small place with a surprising array of cooking equipment and a wide array of wonderful chef's knives. Not to mention the impressive array of knife-sharpening equipment behind the counter. If you have a good knife that's been badly treated, this is plainly the place to bring it. (He'll sharpen it while you wait.)

A few more doors down and you come to Vom Fass. This translates more or less as "from the cask." Apparently there are quite a few Vom Fass stores in Europe, but this is the very first one in the USA. They sell all sorts of unusual and high-quality oils and vinegars -- all in bulk, decanted straight from gorgeous glass, pottery and wood containers into a bottle of your choosing. And once again, you can taste everything. We each tried a tiny drop of the most expensive balsamic vinegar. Wow! Amazingly complex, concentrated flavor! Next year, when our home-grown tomatoes are ripe, we're coming back for some of that stuff. For now, we settled for some excellent olive oil and a small bottle of unfiltered hazelnut oil.

Vom Fass plans to sell various wines and spirits from the cask as soon as they can arrange the import and sellers permits. Apparently it's complicated because wine is just not sold this way in the USA, and they're breaking new bureaucratic ground. (We all know how fast bureaucracies move.) In the meantime, they sell a selection of bottled wines. The cool part is that they have a open bottle of each type, so you can sample!

Also in the same shopping center are Lee's Oriental Grocery and Atlanta Bread Company. Whole Foods is right across the street. We didn't stop at any of those places on this trip -- although we did head off to other parts of town to shop at the Willy Street Co-op and Orange Tree Imports.

We feel very fortunate to live near a city where we can buy such a great variety of foods!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

TWD: Kugelhopf

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie challenge was Kugelhopf, chosen by Yolanda of The All-Purpose Girl. Definitely a challenge, especially since I was mixing it by hand! There were times I wanted to give up, but the final result was very tasty. For the recipe, see "Baking: From My Home to Yours," by Dorie Greenspan, or check out this link.

I'm not quite sure what Kugelhopf means -- or even how to pronounce it -- but it turns out I already had the pans to bake it. (I picked them up on sale at T. J. Maxx some time ago, thinking they would be good for smaller Bundt cakes. This was their first use!)

One of the reasons this recipe was a challenge for me was that I don't have a stand mixer. Dorie does say the recipe can be made by hand, so I went ahead and tried it. Stirring the eggs into the stiff, dry flour/milk/yeast mixture turned out to be difficult, to say the least. I ended up with a something that was more like a sticky batter than a dough. Then I had an idea -- what if I put on some disposable gloves and tried mixing/kneading the dough with my hands? All I can say is, "DON'T DO THIS!" Most of the dough stuck to my hands. Picture me looking upset and frustrated, holding out my strange-looking hands to my husband while he patiently scraped off most of the sticky, sticky dough and plopped it back in the bowl. It was quite a relief to pull off the sticky gloves and toss them in the trash.

I went back to mixing the dough with a silicone "spoonula." It was a lot of work. I wasn't sure I'd mixed it enough, but the dough did develop a texture that Caitlin of Engineer Baker aptly described as being "stringy like melted mozzarella." At that point I said, "I give up." My butter was well-softened, so stirring it in was not that hard. I mixed in my dried fruit, covered the whole thing with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place (the back of the stovetop) to rise. Then I went upstairs--I had to lie down for a while to recover from the stress of it all!

Oh, as far as changes to the recipe -- I used instant yeast but did not change the amount of yeast. I added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon of orange extract to the measuring cup, then added enough milk to make 1/3 cup total. I weighed my eggs since I buy medium rather than large eggs. (This recipe calls for 100 grams of whole egg and 19 grams of egg yolk.)

For fruit, I used 1/3 cup of dried blueberries, and 1/3 cup of dried cranberries. I heated them with 3 tablespoons of water, then flambéed them with 3 tablespoons of brandy, following the directions for flambéing raisins in Dorie's French Chocolate Brownies. Wow! That part was fun! (My husband was very nervous, but I managed to do it without burning anything. And what a spectacular show of blue flames!)

The dough rose very nicely in about the time Dorie specified. There was no way I could "slap" it down, though. It was still way too sticky for that. So I stirred/poked/squooshed it down with my trusty spoonula, and popped it into the refrigerator. I squooshed it down again after about half-an-hour, but then it was time to go to bed. I left the dough in the fridge for about two days, then took it out to bake it up.

The cold dough was easier to work with. I could actually handle it with lightly oiled bare hands without it sticking to me very much. I spooned out spoonfuls and squooshed them down into the bottom of my two half-size Kugelhopf pans. They only filled the pans about one-quarter full. Hope this works... By this point I had discovered that my electric oven has a "bread proofing" setting, so they went into the oven to proof. (Our new stove is wonderful, but sometimes I have trouble keeping track of everything it can do!) That really sped up the rise -- by 1 hour and 15 minutes, the dough had risen to at least twice its original volume and was looking quite bubbly. (On consulting my oven's manual -- yes, I actually kept the manual and even know where to find it! -- I discovered that the proofing temperature can be adjusted. I had left it at the default of 100 degrees F. Next time I'm setting it lower, to 85 degrees F.)

OK, preheat the oven and bake them. Tent with foil after 10 minutes. After about 12 minutes more they looked nice and brown. They rose a little bit more. I pulled one out and tested the center with a thermometer--190 degrees, yes, that's what Rose Levy Beranbaum recommends in her brioche recipe in The Bread Bible.

Pull the other loaf out, unmold it -- no problem! Go back to the first loaf to unmold it -- yikes, it's sticking to the pan. I had to run a small knife around the edges, which certainly did not improve the looks of the bread. Could the extra couple of minutes in the oven have made that difference? I guess so. Oh well, the crumbs were very tasty.

The verdict after cooling and slicing? Yum! Very light and fluffy. (Perhaps I should have used a little less yeast, since it was instant rather than dry yeast.) The dough came out oddly brown-colored, considering it was made with all white flour. I think the juices from the blueberries and cranberries bled into the dough. (And using twice the amount of berries turned out just fine.) The orange extract seemed a little strong -- next time I'd cut down on it or use orange zest. There were a few odd little white lumps in the bread which I think were remnants of the original flour/milk mixture that had never quite been incorporated, due to hand mixing.

I'm glad I persevered with this recipe! I'm not sure I'm going to make it again until I get a stand mixer, though. If I hand mix again, I think I will use a mixing method from Bernard Clayton's "New Complete Book of Bread" (brioche recipe) -- I'll start by mixing just half the flour with the milk, then beating in the eggs, then gradually beating in the rest of the flour, and then the butter. I think that might work better.

For more Kugelhopf, check out the rest of the adventurous Tuesdays with Dorie bakers!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

YWP: Shaker Lemon Tart, or "Pie is its own statement"

Some clever pie-baking bloggers have come up with the "You Want Pies With That?" blog event. For this month, the theme was "Pies as a Fashion Statement." When I read this to my husband, he frowned in disapproval and said, "Pie is its own statement." (This is the man who always asks for a pie on his birthday. He knows good pie!)

In keeping with that idea, I present the Shaker Meyer Lemon Tart. The simple, beautiful lines of Shaker furniture have "been their own statement" for many years. Shaker lemon pie is also very simple, uses every bit of the lemon, and is intensely and wonderfully lemon-flavored. My twist is to make it as an open-faced tart using Meyer lemons.

I first came across a Shaker lemon pie recipe in Bernard Clayton's "Complete Book of Pastry," then again in Rose Levy Beranbaum's "The Pie and Pastry Bible." (Two wonderful books, by the way.) Then I discovered Meyer lemons. Oh my, what a wonderful flavor! But here in Wisconsin, they are expensive, and available only during a limited season. I hated to waste even a bit of them -- aha! Shaker lemon pie! It uses the entire lemon, only the seeds are discarded.

I decided to make it as an open-faced tart instead, because the filling is very intense and is best in a thin layer. I was thrilled with myself for creating a new recipe! Imagine my chagrin when I discovered Martha Stewart and her crew had gotten there first. (Sigh.) Still, it's a great recipe and I have made it many times since.

Recipe for a 13 by 4-inch tart pan:

Filling (must be started at least 24 hours in advance):

In advance:
1 1/4 cups / 190 grams Meyer lemon slices
15 tablespoons / 188 grams granulated sugar (increase to 1 1/4 cup / 250 grams for regular lemons)
1/4 tsp salt
When ready to bake:
1 1/4 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch
2 1/2 large eggs (125 grams)

For a 9-inch round tart pan, use 1 1/2 cups lemon slices (228 gm), 1 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar (225 gm), 3/8 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 tsp. potato starch, 3 eggs (150 gm).

Start with two Meyer lemons, preferably organic, well washed to remove all wax coating. (Note, you may also use regular lemons, but be sure they are thin-skinned. The kinds with really thick skins will be too bitter.) Slice them in half from stem end to blossom end. With cut side down, cut off the stem end to reveal the flesh inside, then cut into extremely thin half-round slices until you reach the other end. Save the two end pieces that only have the rind and pith on them -- you can grate the peel off them to flavor your tart dough. Pick out all seeds from the slices with the tip of a knife and discard seeds. Place slices in measuring cup. Continue until you have the amount needed for the recipe.

In a non-reactive bowl, combine the lemon slices, sugar, and salt. Share or stir gently to distribute the sugar evenly over the slices. Cover and let macerate for 12 hours at cool room temperature, or in the refrigerator. After 12 hours at room temperature, refrigerate -- they will keep for at least a week. At this point, you may freeze the mixture for later use. (That's what I did for this tart.) The sugar will keep the lemons from getting too mushy when they thaw.

When you are ready to fill your crust (see below), scoop the lemon slices out with a slotted spoon and place in another bowl. Stir the lemon juice/sugar mixture until all sugar is dissolved. Pick out any seeds you may have missed (they will show up as you stir). Spoon out a tablespoon or so of the liquid and use it to dissolve the potato starch or corn starch, then stir the starch mixture back into the filling. Beat eggs until well mixed, then gently stir into filling. Leave lemon slices and filling in separate bowls.

The pastry crust is Rose Levy Beranbaum's Sweet Pastry Dough from "The Pie and Pastry Bible," or available here. I made only 3/4 of the recipe and flavored it with vanilla and grated Meyer Lemon peel.

Crust (for a 13x4 inch rectangular tart pan)
3 Tablespoons sugar (38 gm)
1/2 teaspoon grated Meyer lemon zest
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cool, cut into cubes (3 oz / 85 gm)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (75 gm)
1/2 cup unbleached pastry flour (75 gm)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg yolk (18.6 gm)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons heavy cream

Place sugar and lemon zest in food processor and process until sugar is very fine. Add butter and pulse until sugar disappears. Add flour and salt and pulse until mixture resembles crumbs. Turn into a bowl. Mix together egg yolk, vanilla and cream. Using fork, stir egg mixture into flour mixture just until it begins to come together. Bring mixture together with hands. Place on plastic wrap, pat into rectangle (or disk if you are using a round pan) and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Lightly grease the tart pan. Roll dough out on lightly floured surface to slightly larger than pan. Place in pan and ease down into pan (don't stretch). Trim edges of dough to about 1/4 inch beyond edges of pan, then fold them down inside to make a doubled edge. Press edges smooth with fingers. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 30 minutes to set dough and help prevent shrinking. (I froze mine for several weeks.)

When ready to bake, set rack to middle of oven and set a heavy baking pan or baking stone on the rack. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place buttered foil, or parchment paper on top of the tart dough. Leave edges of foil or paper hanging over the edge so you can use them to lift out the weights. Fill tart with pie weights or dry uncooked rice or beans. Set on top of preheated stone or pan, and turn oven down to 375 degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes, until it begins to turn slightly brown at the edges. Remove from oven and gently lift out the foil and weights. (If the dough sticks to the foil, it probably isn't baked enough. Put it back in the oven for a few more minutes.) Place empty tart shell back in oven for about 5 minutes, until bottom is slightly golden. Take out of the oven and brush very lightly with a mixture of 1 egg white whisked together with 1 tablespoon of water, to seal the dough.

Turn the oven down to 325 degrees.

Finish preparing the lemon filling, as above. Arrange the lemon slices over the bottom of the tart, neatly or randomly as you prefer. Pour the liquid over them. (If there is any extra liquid, place it in a small custard cup and bake it along with the tart.) Place in oven (still on top of stone) and cover loosely with a tent of foil.

Bake tart at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the filling has just set.

Let cool completely. Serve, perhaps with whipped cream and a twist of candied lemon peel -- or let it stand on its own!

By the way, here is a picture of my very first Shaker Lemon Pie. I made it about 5 years ago, -- regular lemons, filling recipe from Bernard Clayton's Shaker Lemon Pie, crust from Bernard Clayton's Half-and-Half Pie Crust. I reserved a bit of the egg/lemon juice/sugar from the filling to glaze the top crust and cut-outs.

TWD: Rugelach!

Drat. Once again I'm a member of the "Thursdays" with Dorie group.

So, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie project was Rugelach, chosen by Grace of Piggy’s Cooking Journal. For the recipe, check out the book or see this post. You can also find more information here, here, and here.

I love rugelach! They are one of the treats that destroy my self control. I can't stop eating them! I ate half-a-dozen pinwheels right out of the oven and the rest have vanished within a few days. These are dangerous cookies -- I have to ration how often I make them.

A confession -- I did not make Dorie's rugelach dough recipe because I already had dough stashed in the freezer down in the basement. I can't quite remember which recipe I used -- probably either Cooks' Illustrated or Rose Levy Beranbaum's from "Roses's Christmas Cookies." At any rate, both recipes are quite similar to Dorie's, although they make twice as much.

I'd formed the dough into small rectangles before freezing it, because I wanted to try "pinwheels" instead of crescents. So, I rolled out the dough into a rectangle about 9 by 12 inches, or a little smaller. I started with Dorie's filling proportions, using apricot preserves, walnuts, golden raisins, and no chocolate. I like Dorie's amount of jam, but ended up doubling the amounts of the nuts, raisins, and cinnamon sugar. Let's hear it for more filling!

One roll got rolled up along the long, 12-inch edge for a longer, thinner roll, and the other along the shorter, 9-inch edge for a shorter, fatter roll. I froze the rolled-up dough overnight, then sliced it to various thicknesses, rolled in Demerara sugar, and laid down on one of the cut sides to bake.

My conclusions -- I preferred the longer thinner rolls cut to 3/8 inch slices (they flatten out and spread as they bake). The half inch slices were too thick for my taste. The 1/4 inch slices of the fatter rolls would be my second choice -- they came out quite thin and wide, which was pretty. However, they tended to split around the outer edges.

I like the pinwheel shape for two reasons: first, you can store the filled roll of dough in the freezer easily, and bake up as needed. Shaped crescents take a lot more room in the freezer. Second, they avoid the "underbaked dough in the center" problem you sometimes get with crescents.

With the remaining dough I made a batch of crescents and another roll. Into the freezer they go, ready for my next rugelach binge!