Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

“Easy as pie,” or so goes the saying. The thing about pie CRUST however, is that it is anything but easy. I learned to make pie from several remarkable women, including the baker at a café I worked at almost 20 years ago who said, “A baker’s best friend is her hands. Except for you…your hands are too hot.”

Heat is one enemy to the pie crust making process. So is over mixing. Another is time. You need time to make a good pie crust. And for many people, myself included, it can take a lot of time to learn how to make a good pie crust. In an effort to demystify pie making, I thought I’d once and for all write up my pie crust tips. And below is my favorite recipe for pie crust from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and a recipe for berry pie.

You can brush the top of the crust with an egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Make the pie crust ahead. When possible, I make pie crust in double batches and store them in the fridge for up to three days or in the freezer for up to two months. Making a pie takes long enough as it is, and having the crust step out of the way is a big time saver. Just flatten the dough into a disk, about 8-10 inches in diameter, before you refrigerate or freeze it.

Make the entire pie ahead. I like to make pies an entire day ahead of serving them. This helps the juices set. It’s not always possible, but if you have time, make the pie ahead.

Keep your ingredients cold. Start with cold butter (and shortening or lard if you are using it), measure out what you will need, but cut it into smaller chunks and then freeze it for a few minutes while you measure out the flour, salt and sugar. Some people store their flour and mixing bowl in the fridge or freezer…but that seems like overkill. Unless of course you live in the desert.

Vodka. Step one: Take a shot of vodka. Step two: Put a shot of vodka in the dough. In all seriousness, the use of vodka in the recipe below, from Cook’s Illustrated magazine below, is genius. Using too much water in pie dough can result in a tough crust. By using vodka, Cook’s Illustrated figured out that the alcohol would evaporate, so you could add more liquid to the dough – making it easier to handle and roll out – but not so much that you’d end up with a tough crust. Genius.

After you've cut the fat into the four, it should resemble cottage cheese.

Food processor vs by hand. I make my pie crust in the food processor. I KNOW! Yes, food processors generate heat. Yes, you can quickly overmix the dough. Having said those things though, I still think it’s worth the time savings to use a food processor. If you don’t have one, it’s easy to make pie crust with a pastry cutter. You won’t have to worry about overmixing if mixing by hand. You’ll probably get worn out before that happens. Oh, and this thing about cutting the fat (butter, shortening and/or lard) into the flour using two knives?! Really? I’ve tried it and think it’s complete bullshit. It’s like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon. You’d have to be really hungry.

Roll the dough between layers of plastic wrap. This can prove challenging for some people. The reason I like it though, is that I don’t have to keep adding more and more flour to the board. It also makes it easier to transfer the rolled out crust into a pie plate.

Use a French-style rolling pin. I love my heavy marble rolling pin, but find it a little too heavy and unwieldy when rolling out pie crust. A French-style one with tapered ends is lightweight and easier to maneuver.

Rolling the dough. If the dough has been in the freezer, thaw it overnight in the fridge. Once out of the fridge, set it out on the counter 20-30 minutes before you are ready to roll. To roll it out, start in the center and roll out towards the edges. Some people like to roll from the center to 12 o’clock and then rotate the disk with each roll. Both ways are fine – practice and see what you like. Just take care to not overroll. Like over mixing, this will result in a tough crust.

Crimp the edges. When you are putting the top crust on a double-crusted pie, first wet the edges of the bottom crust. When you place the top crust over the filling, tuck the edges that hang over under the edge of the bottom crust to create a tight seal. To crimp, take the forefinger and thumb of one hand and place on the inside edge of the pie. Then, take the forefinger of your other hand and press the dough between the fingers on the inside hand. Or, say ‘fuck it’ and crimp the edges with a fork.

Wrap it in foil. Fruit pies often overflow the pan as the fruit cooks and their juices begin to bubble. Avoid a sticky mess by wrapping foil under the bottom of the pan, up the sides and just over the edge of the crust. This will also protect the crust from overbrowning. I have tried those little metal edge protectors you can buy. They’re crap. Same goes for the little metal pan to put the pie plate on while you bake. Just use a rimmed cookie sheet.

Air vents. Cut 3-4 slits in the top of the pan to let air escape. They only need to be an inch or two long – they will stretch a little as the pie cooks.

Cutting into a fresh pie. There is a little trick to getting that first slice of pie out of the pan. Cut the first slice, then a slice on either side. This will make it easier to serve the first piece.


Foolproof Pie Dough
From Cook’s Illustrated magazine
Makes one double crust pie

2 ½ cups (12 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch slices
½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
¼ cup cold vodka
¼cup cold water

1. Process just 1 ½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

3. Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch think.  Roll dough loosely and rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side.  Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand.  Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Berry Pie Filling
From The Kingston Hotel Cafe Cookbook
Makes 1 double crusted pit

6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or a combo of the three
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cake flour
¾ cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons white sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare the pie crust and line a 9-inch pie pan with half the dough.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients except the butter. Pour into pastry-lined pie plate.  Dot the top of the fruit with the butter.

Roll out the top crust. Wet the rim of the bottom crust with ice water and place the top crust over the berries. Turn the edges under and crimp. Make little slits in the top of the crust to allow steam to escape while baking.

Plce the pit in the center of a piece of tin foil and fold over te top crust to prevent the edge from browning too fast. Place the pie on a cookie sheet to catch the juices that bubble over.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for about 45 minutes. Uncover the foil from the edges of the pie, then bake another 30 minutes.  The top crust will be golden and the juices will be tick and bubbling to the top.

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Happy Waffle Day! I know…it sneaks up on me every year too. This Swedish holiday coincides with the annunciation – that’s right, Christmas is exactly nine months away. What do waffles have to do with a virgin in the Middle East that got pregnant two thousand years ago? Nothing actually, other than they are spelled similarly in Swedish, which may be how the two got confused. Vårfrudagen is Our Lady’s Day and Våffeldagen is Waffle Day. Close enough for me.

I love any and all waffles, but these thin, heart-shaped waffles are the ones that I most associate with my Scandinavian roots and make year-round. I associate them more with Norway, where my relatives serve them with sweet, brown goat’s milk cheese, called gjetost, as a midday snack. Or with jam and cream for dessert after lunch or dinner.

Egg Waffles

120 grams (a scant cup) flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, separated
2 1/12 deciliters (1 cup) whole milk
50 grams (about 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

In a small bowl whisk together the flour and baking powder and set aside. With an electric or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until soft and foamy, nearly to the soft peak stage. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and milk together. Add flour/baking powder mixture and beat until smooth. Don’t over mix. A few little lumps are OK. Add the melted butter in a slow steady stream and mix until incorporated. Fold the egg whites into the batter until no more white appears. The trick is to not deflate too much of the air from the whites. Be gentle.

Using a heart-shaped waffle iron (like this one) cook the waffles until golden. Serve warm or cold, topped with jam & whipped cream. Or cheese.

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I came to the realization recently that I spend more on vanilla extract than I do on Bourbon. And I drink pretty good Bourbon.
The thing is, this vanilla extract is really delicious. You don’t really taste the difference in something like chocolate chip cookies, but in custards and caramels you definitely can tell. There is a smoothness to it that really pays off in more delicate desserts. I’ve always used pure vanilla extract, and have long used the Kirkland label one from Costco. It’s affordable, but lately I’ve noticed it has a metallic, bitter taste that a higher quality vanilla does not.

My mother-in-law gifted me this Nielsen-Massey vanilla in my Christmas stocking a few years ago and I’ve been buying it ever since. It’s not cheap, but it’s Madagascar Bourbon vanilla so I can kind of justify the cost. At least Bourbon is somehow involved. If you bake a lot, it’s worth getting the large 32-ounce bottle. It costs about $35, but since the 8-ounce bottle costs $16, the large bottle is a much better value. If you have a baker in your life – or don’t bake that often – the 8-ounce bottle is still worth the price, and makes a nice gift.

Admittedly I’ve spent much more than $35 on a bottle of Bourbon, but I’ve also discovered that most Bourbons I like fall within that price range. The only question that remains is which lasts longer?

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I am excited to be participating in an important fundraiser this Saturday, November 20th: Will Bake for Food. It’s a bake sale to benefit Northwest Harvest and you’re invited.

Bring non-perishable food and/or cash to University Congregational Church between 10am and 2pm. Your donation will score you tickets that you can exchange for baked goods. There will be breakfast pastries, pies, cookies, and more.

Started by a couple of local food bloggers, Will Bake for Food has united local food bloggers in the fight against hunger. As someone who writes about food, reads about food and enjoys food a great deal, this time of year always serves as an important reminder that not everyone is as fortunate, and that many in our area go to bed each night hungry.

What am I baking?  I wanted to bake something delicious but also something that could easily be individually-wrapped. It had to be something unique, since I didn’t want to duplicate anything another blogger would be bringing. And, it had to reflect my personality and blog. I decided on Choklad Biskvier. These are a Swedish cookie with an almond, macaron-style base, topped with chocolate buttercream and glazed with semisweet chocolate. If you can’t pronounce the name that is OK. You can just call them “Ridiculously Delicious Cookies” You won’t be the first!

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I am a big fan of road trips. I love prepping the car, packing snacks and diversions and mapping out the route. The mister and I are on vacation for the next week, on a trip from Seattle down to Northern California. We are going to hit some wineries, visit family and enjoy some of the sunshine that never seemed to make its to the Northwest this summer. We generally like to get from point A to point B, so instead of stopping for a meal en route we pack along lunch and find a good rest stop for a picnic along the way.

When we were in our 20s (and driving a 1976 VW camper van), road food was cheap and easy: hoagie rolls, pepperjack and cheddar cheeses and a bottle of Dijonaise. The Dijonaise was really the key ingredient. It elevated a simple cheese sandwich to something really special.

A few years ago, we got into wraps. Turkey, bacon, cheddar wraps with ranch dressing was the flavor of choice and they were, and still are great road food. More recently, we’ve been making calzones. The night or two before leaving on a road trip, we’d make homemade pizzas and then use up the leftover dough and all the remaining toppings to make a couple of calzones. These are an easy and filling road food that taste great cold and have the bonus of using up food in your fridge.

For this trip, I again wanted to use up food in our fridge. We didn’t have too many perishables left but there were eggs, cream, half an onion, and cheese. We also had some spinach and bacon in the freezer plus a small disc of tart dough.

Last week I bought a copy of “Around my French Table,” the latest cookbook from Dorie Greenspan. It is enormous and packed with typical French food without all the fuss and French names of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’ve had my nose buried in Dorie’s book all week so after assessing available ingredients, I knew I’d be making her spinach and bacon quiche.

Quiche is great any time of day, cold or at room temperature, which makes it great road food. I decided on making mini quiches since the mister doesn’t eat vegetables, so I could make two minis with the spinach and two minis without. Plus, making the quiches small would mean a greater crust-to-filling ratio and that my friends, is always a good thing.

Mini Quiches
(Adapted from Around my French Table, by Dorie Greenspan)

1 disc tart dough (see below)
1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed (optional)
3 strips bacon
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Tart dough (courtesy of Fine Cooking)
This is technically a galette dough, but it works well for the quiche and I am sure it would work fine for a pie as well.
11 1/4 ounces (2 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
5 ounces (about 2/3 cup) ice water
1-2 Tbsp unsalted butter

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. With a pastry cutter, cut in the chilled butter until the butter is evenly distributed but visible in small, pea-sized pieces. Add the chilled water all at once to the mixture. Mix the dough until it begins to come together. Gather the dough with your hands into two disks. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour. You can freeze the other disk for about a month well-wrapped in plastic and foil. If you are making a full-sized quiche, you likely need all the dough.

Prepare the filling:

Wrap the spinach in paper towels or a dish cloth and wring out as much excess moisture as possible. Chop finely and set aside. Dice the bacon and sauté in a non-stick skillet on medium-high until crisp, 5-8 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Pour off most of the bacon grease from the pan and wipe out any brown bits. Turn the heat to medium and add 1 Tbsp of butter and melt until the foam subsides. Add the diced onion and sauté until soft and lightly browned, 5-8 minutes.

Like Dorie, I like roll out my dough between two sheets of lightly floured wax paper or plastic wrap. Working from the center out, roll away from you and rotate the dough clockwise every 2-3 rolls. Roll out to about 1/8 thick and 12-14 inches in diameter. If you are making mini quiches, cut the dough in fourths.

Melt 1-2 Tbsp butter and brush it liberally on the insides of a 9-inch spring form pan, 8-inch pie plate or 4, 4-inch mini spring form pans. Even if your pans are nonstick, they need to be buttered. Transfer the dough to the pan(s) and gently press it into the edges and up the sides, taking care not to stretch it. Dorie says to trim the top edges evenly, but I like to leave them rustic-looking. Poke the bottom of the dough with a fork a few times. Place the pan or pans in the freezer for one hour, no less. Reserve any remaining melted butter for the foil.

When the pans have been in the freezer for about 40 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When one hour is up, it’s time to bake the crust. Use the remaining butter to butter one side of a sheet of foil (or 4 small sheets). Line the dough with buttered foil and press it into the edges. For mini pans, I find it easier to preform the foil around a cup or mug first. Fill with pie weights (dried beans or rice work fine, thought make them unusable in other way after that). Bake for 15-20 minutes (less for mini pans). Remove the foil and bake another 3-5 minutes until the crust is golden. You don’t want them completely cooked, since you’ll be baking them again when they are filled. Let the pan(s) and crusts cool completely.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper until well-blended.

Assemble the quiches:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Evenly distribute the bacon, onions, cheeses, and spinach in the pan or amongst the pans. If someone doesn’t like spinach (like someone I know), give them more bacon and cheese. Pour the egg mixture into the pan(s) slowly, allowing time for the liquid to seep into the crevices around the filling.

If using spring form pan(s), place them on a cookie sheet in case they leak.

Bake for 20-30 minutes (less for smaller pans), until the filling has risen slightly in the middle, doesn’t jiggle and is lightly golden.

Remove from the oven and let cool before either removing from the spring form pans or slicing and serving. My preference is to pack up the mini quiches or leftover slices of quiche and hit the road!

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Over the years, I have acquired some great kitchen appliances, pans and other gear from my Mom. And by acquired, I mean stolen. OK, not exactly. But she loans them to me and then I “store” them for her. My parents’ house is only five miles away from mine, so if she wants something back (or needs to “borrow” it from me) it isn’t a big deal. The bonus is that I have access to items I wouldn’t necessarily buy and am able to put them to good use if the mood strikes me.

This week, I was in the mood for bundt cake. OK – I was craving it. I must have spotted the bundt pan in the basement recently. Or maybe I was tempted by a piece of bundt cake at the coffee shop. Either way, I couldn’t stop thinking about bundt cake. After a quick inventory of my fridge, I realized I had some excess blueberries that needed to be used up. Blueberry bundt cake was in the cards.

I found an easy recipe by just doing a quick search on Epicurious. Side note: I have the Epicurious app on the iPad the Mister gave me for my birthday in May. This has become my constant cooking companion. I prop up my iPad on its little stand in the kitchen whenever I am cooking and have access to all the recipes I have bookmarked online or on the Epicurious app.)

I modified the recipe below only slightly. They called or orange zest, but I only had lemons. Blueberries and lemons seem like a better match to my palette anyways. I just used a little less than they called for, as noted below. I also glazed the cake with a simple icing rather than dusting it with powdered sugar like they suggested. I think it made a prettier cake in the end.

Blueberry Bundt Cake
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest, or 1 tablespoon orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh blueberries

½ cup powdered sugar
½-2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 10-inch-diameter Bundt pan. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 2/3 cups sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in orange peel and vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions. Fold in blueberries. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Make the glaze: Whisk ½ teaspoon of lemon juice into the powdered sugar. Add more lemon juice drop by drop until it is the consistency of thick syrup.

Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. Place a plan under the rack and the glaze over the top. Once it is done dripping and the glaze has hardened a little, transfer the cake to a plate and serve.

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Raincoast Crisps

Are you familiar with Raincoast Crisps yet? They are from Vancouver, B.C., from a company called Lesley Stowe Fine Foods. I don’t know any of their other products yet, which is probably a good thing. A box of those crisp, crunchy, flavorful crackers costs about $7. That was fine when I was getting a paycheck. Now? Not so much. I am thankful that I can still afford a splurge now and again, but alas I am now saving my money for the cheese not the crackers.

The thing is, I have been craving Raincoast Crisps something fierce. After a little searching online, I came across a recipe that damn near replicates the crisps. This week, I decided to give it a try.

I have made crackers a couple of times. I’ve made paper thin crunchy crackers and cheesy crackers. I know my way around a cracker recipe. They are generally pretty simple – 4 or 5 ingredients; mix; roll; bake. This recipe however is a little different. If you haven’t had Raincoast Crisps, you will probably think, “Why bother.” Well then, go on out and buy yourself a $7 box of crackers. If you develop a habit however, you may reconsider making your own.

Most ingredients you can find in the bulk food section of any well-stocked grocery store. The flax seed meal needs to be refrigerated, so you may need to look for it there. Just buy what you need for 1-2 batches, which will make these really affordable snacks.

You bake the thick, lumpy batter in a loaf pan and when it comes out of the oven it looks like a burnt loaf of bread. The next day however, when you slice up the loaf, all the treasures you mixed into the batter reveal themselves like little jewels. Sprinkle each slice with some kosher salt, then oven dry them for a couple of hours. Once cooled, they are ready to store. Or eat. I prefer to serve mine with a rich triple-cream brie, like Delice de Bourgogne.

Raincoast-type Crisps
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup pecans
2 Tablespoons flax seed meal
1 Tablespoon flax seed
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Kosher salt for sprinkling

Mix first 8 dry ingredients in large bowl. In measuring cup, mix buttermilk, honey, brown sugar, molasses, baking soda, and salt. Combine wet into dry ingredients. Pour batter into greased small loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool, wrap, and store overnight in the fridge.

The next day, thinly slice the loaf into 1/8-inch slices.

Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment; sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.
Oven dry at 200 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn off oven and leave to dry for about 2 hours. When completely cool, store airtight container.

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