Archive for the ‘Dessert’ 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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Quick & easy eggnog

The first time I tasted homemade eggnog, it changed me forever. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll drink the store bought stuff. And an eggnog latte?! Love it. Since learning how to make eggnog however, I almost drink it exclusively.

First, you need a good source of fresh eggs because you’ll be eating them raw. My regular egg supplier gives her hens a vacation in the winter. The shorter days and colder temperatures cause them to molt and nearly ceases their egg production. So, I buy eggs. I like to check out the Cornucopia Institute’s egg scorecard, which has led me to buy eggs from Wilcox farms. They’re available at most supermarkets, which makes them the most convenient option for me.

As much as I’d like to try Jess Thomson’s recipe, I always wimp out. The recipe I use is based on one by Alton Brown. It makes about nearly a half gallon of egg nog. His recipe calls for mixing in the Bourbon, which sounds like a fine idea to me but less so to my non-Bourbon drinker husband. Plus, if you do want to make an eggnog latte in the morning you’ll seem like less of an an alcoholic if there’s no booze in your ‘nog.  

4 egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (see Cook’s Note)
4 egg whites

In a medium bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the ⅓ cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whiles in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running, gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites into the mixture.

To Serve: Pour a shot of Bourbon or Rum – or even Kahlua – into a glass and add 1 cup or so of egg nog. Grate a dash of freshly grated nutmeg on top.

Cook’s Note: DO NOT buy ground nutmeg. For about 15 cents, you can buy a whole nutmeg that will last forever. You just need a Microplane zester. They are only $15 or so and also last forever and can be used to zest citrus or grate hard cheeses.

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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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For as long as I can remember, my mom and I have been making Choklad Biskvier at Christmastime. There is a Swedish Christmas tradition of making seven kinds of cookies – sju sorters kakor – and these cookies are one of the 7 (or 8 or 10) kinds of cookies we make every year. I have recently discovered though, that Choklad Biskvier are just as enjoyable the rest of the year as they are at Christmastime. It sounds kind of stupid to say I just “realized” this, I know, but do you ever make pumpkin pie in March? I didn’t think so.
Part of the reason I started making CBs year-round is because the recipe calls for three egg whites. You may remember that I love eggs and that I have a ongoing supply fresh chicken eggs. Since Gavin’s “new” favorite dessert is poundcake, I often have leftover egg whites to use up, and this recipe is perfect for using them up. These cookies also store well in the freezer, where they wait for you until you need them to serve guests, bring to a party or just eat by yourself while you lie on the couch watching reruns of 30 Rock with a glass of Malbec.
Since these cookies have been in heavy rotation, I have been spreading the love. I have brought them to meetings at work, exchanged them for the aforementioned fresh eggs and taken them to parties. Since Choklad Biskvier is not easy to remember or pronounce, my friend Robin just calls them “those ridiculously delicious cookies.” I often just refer to them as “those Swedish chocolate cookies.” If you can suggest a better name, I am accepting ideas.

I’ve been asked for the recipe dozens of times, but have always declined to share it because this is kind of graduate level baking. Consider yourself warned. Having said that, I have tried to provide as much detail (and photos) as possible into the recipe below. I even shot a little video. A video! Gavin warned me against posting it because it is one the geekier things I’ve done recently, so er…consider yourself warned, again.

Ridiculously Delicious Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees


3 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
4 oz. blanched, slivered almonds
3/4 cup bread crumbs (I use Progresso brand)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
8 oz. semi sweet chocolate – chips or chunks
6-8 Tbsp unsalted butter
Prepare and bake the cookie
Grind the almonds in a food processor until fine. Like so:

Whisk the egg whites for a minute in a stand mixer. Add sugar and whisk on high for 3-4 minutes, until a stiff meringue is formed. Like….so:

Stir in bread crumbs and almonds and let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes.

Smooth a mound of filling onto the flat side of each cookie. Place them in the freezer for 10 minutes or so while you prepare the glaze.

Make the glaze and…watch the video
In a double boiler melt the chocolate and 6 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Stir until smooth. It should be the consistency of Hershey’s syrup. If needed, add more butter. As you glaze the cookies, you may need to reheat the glaze if it begins to stiffen.

Drop tablespoon-sized mounds onto a cookie sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (I use a little dosing scooper for this). Bake for 10 minutes. Remove with a metal spatula so they don’t crumble and cool on a wire rack, flat side down.
Prepare the filling and frost the cookies
Sift powdered sugar and cocoa together onto a flexible mat or piece of wax paper. Cream the butter on high until lighter in color and smooth. On slow speed, add the sugar/cocoa mixture until combined. Add the vanilla and mix on medium until smooth.

The easiest way to apply the glaze is to dunk the chocolate half of the cookie into the pot of glaze. I can’t really describe in words how to do this so, as promised, there is a video demonstration. It’s over on my old blog – checkitout.

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Affogato is an simple Italian dessert of ice cream topped with a shot of espresso. Affogato actually means “drowned” and as you can see below, the ice cream is drowning in a pool of espresso.

I have been resisting the urge to eat ice cream morning, noon and night all week. It’s been hot here in Seattle. Really hot. Hotter than the hinges of hell, as my mother-in-law would say. With temps topping 100 degrees, I’ve kept myself cool with nonfat fruit and juice bars. But it’s Feasting Friday people. FF requires fat.

Tully’s Coffee is located near my office and they sell some pretty tasty soft-serve. It is a little on the sweet side, but works perfectly in an Affogato. You can take a small spoonful and dip it as much or as little into the espresso as you like to add the bitterness of the coffee to the sweetness of the ice cream. It takes some practice, but that is part of the fun.

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Last year we took an Italian cooking class from the chef at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. The chef’s famous lasagna was part of the curriculum and we were excited to learn his secrets. We had been making our own lasagna for some time, homemade noodles and all, but knew we could do better. The class was fine, albeit it a little unorganized, and the chef was very knowledgeable and friendly.

Something he said though bugged me and has stuck with me over since that time. When he was separating eggs for the pasta dough, he said “you know the difference between men and women, is that women separate eggs like this (transferring the yolk between two cracked halves of the shell) and men separate eggs like this (placing the yolk into his hand and letting the white drip down into the garbage can). This struck me as needlessly sexist. Maybe it wasn’t meant that way, but it still bugged the shit out of me.

Since then, every time I separate eggs I think about that. Recently, it dawned on me that women separate eggs that way because THEY SAVE THE EGG WHITES! Sure, many male cooks probably do too. And I can’t imagine that a restaurant would throw away valuable product. But I think many men just throw away the egg whites, whereas most women save them.

I am a big fan of eggs. I think they are brilliant whole, but the yolks and whites are also amazing when used separately. I make a lot of custards and egg-based sauces, so I often have saved egg whites in my fridge. Leftover egg whites are great if you can find a use for them. I understand you can freeze them too, but I haven’t tried that yet. If I have three egg whites, I save them for these Swedish cookies I often make. If I have one egg white, I generally mix it in with one or two whole eggs for scrambled eggs. If I have just two egg whites though, I got nothing.

Lately I’ve been making a lot of ice cream. The custard base calls for 5 egg yolks. So, I have had five egg whites to use up after: that’s t three for the cookies and two for…two for…grrr. What can I make with two eggs whites?!

I don’t know where I saw them recently (probably the food network), but I saw meringues and thought, “BINGO!” Meringues use egg whites and I have plenty of those. I did a quick search on the new Epicurious iPhone app and found a simple recipe. The only key really is to make sure you get the egg whites stiff enough.


2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 200°F. and butter and flour a large baking sheet, knocking off excess flour. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat whites until they hold soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, beating, and beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks. Drop heaping teaspoons (not measuring spoons) of meringue about 1 inch apart onto baking sheet and bake in middle of oven 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave meringues in oven 1 hour more. With a metal spatula transfer meringues to a rack to cool completely. Meringue kisses may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.

I don’t have a decent pastry bag, so I used a ziptop plastic bag and cut a small corner off and used it as an improvised pastry bag. The meringues are tasty enough, even if they look like little white turds.

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There was really only one place to go…

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