Do Or Pie


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Salted Caramel Apple Pie

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Traveling to Brooklyn just for a slice of pie is kind of a big deal. Actually leaving the borough is always a bit disorienting. Firstly, the train goes UNDERWATER to leave the island (!!!). Secondly, it always seems to take a long time to travel out of Manhattan but this is actually just an illusion. It’s all so close we’re just spoiled. With a trusty smartphone to guide us through the frozen streets of Park Slope/Gowanus my sister and I successfully journeyed into Brooklyn to stuff our faces. Next door to an industrial-looking shop that brews craft beer (welcome to Brooklyn) is the much-celebrated pie shop, Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Those ladies make some fantastic pies. Rachael and I shared a slice of Chocolate Pecan (pretty sure it was the last slice… win!) and brought home some Caramel Apple pie. The crust was perfectly flaky, and the filling was a serious upgrade from the traditional version. We chose pretty conservative flavors but next time I’ll get more adventurous. Salty Honey? Grapefruit Custard? Yes and yes.

We had a few technical difficulties replicating the Four and Twenty Blackbirds recipe but who cares it was insanely delicious. The recipe here is in their new cookbook.

The problems:

Well, just the one problem. I’ve never made caramel before and it’s possible that about one hundred things went wrong. We didn’t use a thermometer (the recipe didn’t call for one); the sugar may not have dissolved enough before we added butter; the butter might have been too cold; the list could go on but I’ll spare you. I’m clearly a noob at caramel. Regardless, we ended up with a browned-butter syrup rather than browned caramel. It tasted excellent. The pie was a bit liquidy so next time I will try to perfect this. Don’t let this step scare you away! As long as you don’t burn your sugar/butter substance I am convinced it will enhance the flavor of your pie.

The successes:

Everything else. This crust recipe is perfection and I will certainly be using it for future pies. There was a great balance of apple to lemon and not too much spice. The caramel flavor made the pie much more special than your average apple pie. It’s definitely worth leaving the island for a slice.

Recipe Adapted from Four and Twenty Blackbirds

Dough
2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
8 to 10 tablespoons ice water mixed with 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch chunks

Salted Caramel
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon sea salt

Apple Filling
2 pounds of apples (I used Granny Smith)
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons flour

Make the dough:
In a Cuisinart, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Pulse to blend. Add the pieces of cold butter. Pulse until you see pea-sized chunks of butter. Don’t over mix! You want to keep chunks of butter because those little guys will melt and become the crusty flakes. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, pulse in 8 to 10 tablespoons of the ice water/vinegar mixture. Dough should just come together.* Remove from the Cuisinart and divide the dough into two equal pieces. Flatten with the heel of your hand on a cutting board (you should have two fat disks). Wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

*You can do all of this by hand with a pastry cutter, a fork, two knives, etc.

Make the caramel:
This takes kind of a long time so get it going as soon as you’re done with the crust. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine sugar and water until the sugar has dissolved. Add the butter and stir while it melts. Turn the heat down to medium-low and allow the mixture to brown. Don’t stir too often but keep the heat low to make sure it doesn’t burn. For me this step took about 45 minutes. Eventually you will get a golden mixture that smells of browned butter and is syrupy. Remove from heat as soon as it turns golden and quickly whisk in heavy cream and salt. Set aside.

Make the apple filling:
Slice 2 pounds of apples thinly. Toss with the juice of 2 lemons, then toss with sugar, cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, and flour.

Roll out your dough:
Once the dough has chilled, roll out one of the balls on a floured surface. It should be very thin. To place the dough into the pie pan I lightly flour the top of the flattened dough, fold it in half, and then carefully lift it, place it on the pie dish, and unfold it. Press down the edges neatly. Pierce the bottom and sides with a fork to allow air to escape from under the crust.

Put it all together:
Add half the apple filling to the crust, then add half the caramel. Add the rest of the apples, then the rest of the caramel. Don’t add all the apple/lemon juice because it will make the pie too watery.
Save a little bit of caramel to brush on top of the crust!

Roll out the second ball of dough just as thin as the first. Slice into 1 inch strips. Weave the strips gently to form a lattice on top of the pie. I lay all the strips vertically, then weave in the horizontal strips. Personal preference.

Brush the top with leftover caramel.

Place the pie on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Decrease temperature to 325 and bake for another 35 minutes.

Filling should be bubbling and crust should be browned. Allow pie to cool before serving. Serve warm.

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Cranberry Oat Squares

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There I was in the kitchen right after work, itching to bake, having done no prior shopping for specific ingredients. My go-to recipe and cure-all for unpreparedness has been raspberry squares for a few years. Well, since 2010 when my sister brought home the Mountain School Cookbook containing an arguably perfect recipe for this dessert. But this time would be different! I was armed with an abundance of frozen cranberries. I made my own cranberry filling which took a bit longer than using jam from the jar. And by “a bit longer” I mean 10 minutes longer which wasn’t a big deal but you know, more time than scooping jam someone else has made. By making my own filling I had more control over the sweetness. This could have gone disastrously wrong so I’m patting myself on the back for taking a risk with 2 cups of unsuspecting cranberries. The tart cranberries offset the sweet oat crust well. This version of an oat square requires an egg which makes the base just a bit cakey. Modifying the usual raspberry square recipe feels like kind of a big deal; it’s a grown-up version of a baked good I’ve been making for a long time. Since I’m just a few days away from my 25th birthday, at least a few life changes seem in order, right?

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Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking

Cranberry Filling
2 cups frozen cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons water

Oat-y Base
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups oats (instant oats should work too)

On medium heat, combine cranberries, sugar, and water. Stirring frequently for about 10 minutes, your mixture will go through various stages of liquid/bubbly-ness. After about 10 minutes you should have a thick, jammy cranberry substance. Turn off the heat and let that filling hang out until you’re ready to use it later.

In a mixer, combine butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture on low speed. When combined, add oats.

In a 9×9 buttered pan, pat down about 3/4 of the oat dough using your fingers (don’t pretend this isn’t fun). Spread cranberry filling all over. Sprinkle on the rest of the dough. It won’t really sprinkle so much as blob on. You get the idea.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Top should be slightly browned.


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Thanks, 2013

Happy New Year! 2013, you were nice. 2014, I expect great things.

While the pictures below are evidence of 2013’s yummy crusts, hard work, and some memorable fruit fillings, it’s really the fun of baking with friends and family that make these pictures good memories. Thanks for putting up with/participating in my baking addiction.

In honor of fresh starts, do-overs, and a new year, here’s an improvement on a cinnamon bun recipe I posted in November. The last batch were a bit drier than I would have liked. Perhaps the single rising was too good to be true. This recipe allots more time (2 risings) and the buns were moister and more flavorful. I also much prefer this cream cheese frosting to the simple confectioner’s sugar/milk mixture. Since I already posted a recipe for this I’ll just give you the link here and you can go forth and follow Deb’s advice. All I changed was the quantity (I halved the recipe to get 8 buns) and used a little less butter for the filling than she suggests.

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5 Comments

Carrot Cake

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Not so long ago, in the days before web clipping apps and saving-everything-important-as-an-email-draft, I made a really excellent carrot cake. Regrettably, I have no idea where the recipe came from. It might have been one of those generic crowd-sourced recipe websites (I think)? I wanted to make a lemon meringue pie the other day and, what do you know, I didn’t save that recipe either. In typical twenty-something fashion, I’ve learned something new that every real adult already knows: if you want to remember what you made, you have to actually save the recipe somewhere. I’m still working on this “real adult” thing.

Second lesson learned: weighing ingredients makes a lot of sense. I’m not an obsessively precise baker but I’ve been reading the Flour cookbook by Joanne Chang pretty closely and she is a huge supporter of adding ingredients by weight rather than volume. The reasoning actually makes sense. Ingredients are packed differently depending on the manufacturer, and 1 cup of flour might not be the same quantity as 1 cup of flour from a different bag. She says the difference can be as much as 1/4 cup (!!). While making Joanne Chang’s carrot cake I actually went for it and weighed some of my ingredients. I don’t know if it made a difference but at least I don’t feel the guilt of that 1/4 cup lost or gained. We’ll see how long the habit lasts.

This cake was really excellent. Moist, carroty, nutty, and a good ratio of cake to frosting. Definitely give it a try when you’re sick of Christmas cookies.

Happy holidays!

Adapted from the Flour Cookbook by Joanne Chang

Cake
2 eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup canola oil
3 tbs buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tbs (160 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 cups (260 grams) shredded carrots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Frosting
12 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 2/3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1. In a Cuisinart, shred carrots and set aside.

2. In a standing mixer, beat together sugars and eggs for about 4 minutes on a medium-high speed. Mixture should be thick and light-colored.

3. In a separate bowl, combine oil, butter milk, and vanilla. Add this mixture into the sugar/eggs and combine.

4. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Add dry ingredients into wet ingredients a little bit at a time. When combined, add shredded carrots and walnuts with a spatula and fold in.

5. Butter and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans. Add equal amounts of batter to each.

6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Check frequently for the top to be just spongey and for the cake to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let cakes cool for about 30 minutes before frosting.

To make the frosting:

In a mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add butter and combine. Add confectioners sugar. Frosting should be smooth and creamy.

Remove 1 cake from pan, frost top liberally. Add second cake on top, cover with remaining frosting.

You can add toasted walnuts to the top if you’re into that. Recruit your sister to do it artfully (she’s good at that sort of thing. Hi Rachael.)

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Almond Cherry Linzer Cookies

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Everyone should read this endearing article about making Christmas cookies.
Choice quote: “It’s cookies, not the Olympics.” So true.

I had a realization: I’ve been calling these “linzer tarts” when technically they are just “linzer cookies.” Did anyone else not know this? A linzer tart is cut into slices… you know, like a tart. A linzer cookie is the cookie version of the same dessert. I keep reciting that line in my head from When Harry Met Sally in Billy Crysal’s excellent bumbling New York accent: “What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means!” *  Ok maybe not a precise analogy, but a serious realization nonetheless.

* Harry on “Auld Lang Syne”: I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?

These cookies tasted wonderfully nutty and buttery. The cherry jam and almond cookie went together perfectly, although raspberry would have been equally delicious. The original recipe asked for hazelnuts in the dough but you can substitute almonds or walnuts.

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, 2005

2/3 cup whole almonds (3 oz) [I used whole roasted almonds]
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12 ounce jar cherry jam (or other fruit jam)

First toast the nuts on a baking sheet in the oven until they’re fragrant. In a food processor, combine the toasted nuts and 1/4 cup brown sugar until finely ground. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a standing mixer combine butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar until whipped and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. When combined, add the almond mixture. Then add the dry ingredients a little bit at a time.

Divide the dough in two balls and wrap each in plastic wrap. Flatten each into a thick disk.

Let sit in the refrigerator for about two hours. Dough should be cold and firm.

On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick (I prefer thinner cookies). Using a round cookie cutter create your cookies. Half the cookies should have a window in the center (of any shape, really!).

Bake for about 10 minutes at 350. Edges should be golden brown.

Let cookies cool, then cover the cookie halves (without windows) with jam. Create sandwiches.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar.


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Black and White Cookies

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I’ve lived in New York my whole life minus one year, and spent that one year dreaming about bagels. While charming in a million ways, Somerville and Cambridge, MA just don’t sell them. I don’t mean to criticize the area’s breakfast options; there’s no shortage of cozy coffee shops and bakeries. But I missed Absolute and H&H Midtown East more than is socially appropriate to admit. When traveling between New York and Boston I’d specifically carry a roomier bag so that I could bring back a fresh dozen leaving my clothes (and me) smelling like roasted garlic. Apologies to all the people who sat next to me on Bolt Bus. Well, maybe not since a lot of you smelled weird, too.

That bagel rant was really an excuse to talk about black and white cookies. I don’t think I ate one for nine consecutive months while in Boston and didn’t think twice about it. This sadly highlights my fixation on the bagel conundrum. Black and white cookies are so New Yorky and importantly: they are the only cookie to spread positive social messages. [1. See Seinfeld quote below]

A few years ago I tried making these and had no success. The icing tasted terrible (I don’t know how I messed up sugar and milk) and the cookie was a bit too lemony. This time I used a New York Times recipe and the results were much tastier. I should address one hiccup, not unique to this recipe: batter curdling. You know, when your batter looks… curdled? I am an impatient baker and never let my ingredients come to room temperature like you’re supposed to. Curdling happens and it looks gross and sad. Luckily there is an impatient person’s solution: just keep going. Add flour and your batter no longer appears unappetizing. I suppose I should learn to allow my ingredients to come to room temperature. I’ll stash that away as a New Year’s resolution.

1. Seinfeld Episode “The Dinner Party”:

Jerry: Uhm, see the key to eating a Black and White cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet still somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie — all our problems would be solved.

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Cookies in progress.

Recipe adapted from the New York Times on the occasion of Seinfeld’s final episode in 1998

Cookie Batter
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour [I didn’t have any cake flour and used only regular flour; this substitution worked fine]
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Icing
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Note: I halved this recipe and got 16 cookies. Each cookie was about 3 inches in diameter.

1. Beat together unsalted butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Add eggs, one at a time. Add milk. When combined, add vanilla and lemon extracts.

3. Add flour a litte bit at a time. Batter will be smooth and sticky.

4. On parchment lined baking sheets, dollop batter. Each cookie should be about 3 inches across, and 2 inches from its cookie neighbor.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. The edges should be just golden brown.

6. Make icing: Combine confectioner’s sugar, milk, and vanilla in a bowl. Make sure the consistency is spreadable and not too liquidy. This might require a bit of trial and error–keep adding sugar or milk until you get the consistency you like.

7. Melt chocolate chips. Add about 1/3 of the white frosting to the melted chocolate.

8. Spread white icing on half of each cookie. Let harden before spreading the other half with chocolate. You may have to wait about 20 minutes for the icing to harden. Keep your chocolate icing on the stove to prevent it from solidifying while you wait.

9. Look to the cookie.


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Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies

I found these brownies online entirely by accident and was curious as to why the world has Katharine Hepburn’s brownie recipe. After some snooping, I learned that the recipe came from a New York Times letter written by a woman whom Ms. Hepburn had once advised. The woman was thinking about dropping out of college in 1983 (to which Ms. Hepburn responded “‘What a damn stupid thing to do!”). Katharine Hepburn’s advice included these pearls of wisdom: “1. Never quit. 2. Be yourself. 3. Don’t put too much flour in your brownies.” Cheers to that.

I had yet to make brownies that were as good as the ones from the box (you know the ones with the fudgey packet?) until these. The box brownies are just so impossibly chocolatey and fudgey, they aren’t too cakey or dry, and they take 5 minutes to pull together. I was so pleased to finally have made a brownie that 1) tastes awesome in all the ways I like and 2) required minimal clean-up just like the box brownies. Chocolate craving: satisfied.

The original New York Times letter is worth a read.

Recipe adapted (only slightly) from Laurie Colwin and this New York Times letter

I added extra chocolate chips because I have no self control. Feel free to exert restraint. Actually, no why would you do that?

1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
A handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

In a pot on the stove, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring constantly over low heat. Be careful not to burn the chocolate. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla. When combined, add salt, then flour. Mix in walnuts.

Pour batter into an 8×8 buttered baking pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.

Bake for 40 minutes at 325 degrees. Insert something pointy to check for done-ness; should come out clean.

So few dishes to clean!

So few dishes to clean!