November 2010

Post-Thanksgiving Pie Bonanza (Part 2)

Moving back through the history of pies…we come to the “Test Kitchen Classic” – a pumpkin pie recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s more scientific and thought-out than granny’s pie recipe, but less “Pie Version 2.0” than the concoctions in my Baked cookbook. I should probably note as well that the crust for this recipe (and for the two which will follow shortly) was also from Cook’s Illustrated. Pie is a very curious food: it appears simple, and is often made with few ingredients, yet tiny tweaks to crust and filling can take a simply “good” pie to a whole new Blue Ribbon level.

Vodka Crust (Makes top and bottom crusts for a 9″ pie)
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 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.

Pumpkin Pie
Spicy Pumpkin Pie Filling:
2 cups (16 ounces) plain pumpkin puree, canned or fresh
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk
4 large eggs

Brandied Whipped Cream:
1 1/3 cups heavy cream, cold
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon brandy

1. Place a rolled-out crust in a pie pan and refrigerate for 20 minutes (or freeze for 5 minutes) to firm dough shell. Using a table fork, prick bottom and sides — including where they meet — at 1/2-inch intervals. Flatten a 12-inch square of aluminum foil inside shell, pressing it flush against corners, sides, and over rim. Prick foil bottom in about a dozen places with a fork. Chill shell for at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour or more), to allow dough to relax.
2. Adjust an oven rack to lowest position, and heat oven to 400 degrees. (Start preparing filling when you put shell into oven.) Bake 15 minutes, pressing down on foil with mitt-protected hands to flatten any puffs. Remove foil and bake shell for 8 to 10 minutes longer, or until interior just begins to color.
3. For filling, blend the first 7 ingredients in a 3-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring the mixture to a sputtering simmer over medium-high heat. Cook pumpkin, stirring constantly, until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. As soon as pie shell comes out of oven, whisk heavy cream and milk into pumpkin and bring to a bare simmer. Process eggs in food processor until whites and yolks are mixed, about 5 seconds. With motor running, slowly pour about half of hot pumpkin mixture through feed tube. Stop machine and scrape in remaining pumpkin. Process 30 seconds longer.
4. Immediately pour warm filling into hot pie shell. (Ladle any excess filling into pie after it has baked for 5 minutes or so — by this time filling will have settled.) Bake until filling is puffed, dry-looking, and lightly cracked around edges, and center wiggles like gelatin when pie is gently shaken, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour.

For Brandied Whipped Cream (optional):
Beat cream at medium speed to soft peaks; gradually add confectioners’ sugar then brandy. Beat to stiff peaks. Accompany each wedge of pie with a dollop of whipped cream.

Post-Thanksgiving Pie Bonanza (Part 1)

I always do the pies for my family’s Thanksgiving. This year we had a smaller dinner on the actual holiday, and a big party on Friday – the unofficial American holiday “Turkey Leftovers/Mass Consumerism Day.”  I chose to do a kind of “Pie Time Machine” approach, starting out with a fresh modern approach to pie on Thursday and getting more and more rustic on Friday.  The starting point for this progression was, of course, taken from my current cookbook obsession: Baked Explorations.  An awesome, awesome friend with publishing connections got me a free copy and I went straight for this book, and for its autumnal tart recipes in particular, when my parents called up asking what pies I was making.  So…Pie #1 (the 21st century pie): Whiskey Pear Tart!

Whiskey-Pear Tart (Makes one 11-inch round tart or one 14-by-4-inch rectangular tart)

For the pears and poaching liquid
1 (15-oz) can pear halves in heavy syrup, about 6 halves
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. whiskey
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract

For the basic sweet tart dough
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten

For the almond cream filling:
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cool but not cold
4 1/2 oz. almond paste
1 large egg
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tbsp. whiskey (I used bourbon)

For the pear glaze
Reserved syrup and reserved “poaching” liquid from pears
1 tsp. whiskey
3/4 tsp. cornstarch

Baked Note (this is by the cookbook author): At first, I was hesitant to use canned fruit for this tart, but if you find the right brand (with all natural ingredients), you will get a consistent and wonderful tart every time. If you happen to come across excellent fresh pears at a farmers’ market, poach away, using the traditional method on the opposite page. This is a two day project so make sure you read through all the steps before getting started.

Make the pears and poaching liquid
1. Strain the pears and reserve the heavy syrup (for the glaze) in a small, covered bowl or cup in the refrigerator.
2. In a medium, nonreactive bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, whiskey, sugar, and vanilla. Toss the pears with the liquid, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Make the sweet tart dough
1. Put the sugar, flour, and salt in a food processor and pulse until combined.
2. Add the butter and pulse until sandy (about 6 to 10 quick pulses).
3. Add the egg and pulse just until the dough begins to form a mass.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic, and refrigerate it overnight (or for at least 1 hour).

Bake the crust
1. Dust a work surface with a sprinkling of flour. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick into either a rectangle about 15 inches long or into a round about 12 inches in diameter. (Note: The dough will be sticky. Make sure to turn it with a bench knife or offset spatula as needed and keep the working surface floured. Some people find it easier to roll dough between two layers of plastic wrap. This can ease transfer and be a bit less messy.)
2. Ever so gently, guide the dough into the tart pan, without pulling it, and lightly press it into place. Roll the rolling pin over the pan to trim off excess dough. Place the tart pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
4. Line the tart shell with aluminum foil and fill it three-quarters full with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake for another 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. Leave the oven on.

Make the almond cream filling
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and almond paste on medium speed until the mixture is light, fluffy, and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
2. Add the egg and beat until combined. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the filling and turn the mixer to low.
3. Drizzle in the whiskey and beat until it is combined. Spread the almond cream filling evenly over the cooled tart shell.
4. Drain the pear halves, reserving the soaking liquid, and arrange them decoratively on top of the almond cream.
5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up and sets and the crust turns golden brown. Let the tart cool on a wire rack while you make the glaze.

Make the pear glaze
1. Place the syrup and soaking liquid in a medium pan over medium heat and gently boil until the liquid is reduced to about 3/4 cup.
2. Remove it from the heat and whisk quickly and continuously for 1 minute to speed cooling. Add the whiskey and cornstarch and whisk to combine.
3. Set the pan over medium-high heat, bring the glaze to a boil, and cook it for 1 minute. Use a pastry brush to apply the glaze gently to the tart.
4. Remove the tart from the pan and serve it as soon as possible. The tart will keep at room temperature, covered, for up to 3 days, but the crust will turn slightly soggy after the first day.

I chose not to do this and my tart came out great, but the folks at Baked provide directions for poaching pears if you so choose…

How to poach your own pears:

Suffice it to say, there are many, many ways to poach your own pears. You can use a variety of liquids (water, wine, half water/half wine, diluted fruit juice), and you can tweak the liquid according to your mood (add spices, other fruits, vanilla, and sugars). It is a recipe with endless possibilities, and I suggest you modify the below ingredients at will. This quick poaching method is only a roadmap, so feel free to throw your personality in the poaching pot:

4 firm and ripe pears
1 cup sugar
1 bottle of cheap and cheerful sweet dry wine
Zest and juice of 1 orange

1. Peel the pears, core them, and cut them in half. Set aside.
2. In a large saucepan set over low heat, stir together the sugar and the wine until dissolved.
3. Stir in the orange zest and juice, increase the heat to medium, and wait for the liquid to simmer.
4. Once the liquid reaches a low boil, add the pears and simmer for 15-30 minutes. During the poaching process it is important to make sure the liquid covers the pears the entire time.
5. The pears are done when a sharp knife inserted into the bulbous end of the pear slides in and out easily. Check your pears every few minutes after the 15-minute mark, as cooking time is determined by the size and ripeness of your pears.
6. Remove the pears and let cool if you are using in a recipe, or serve warm with any accompaniment (ice cream, whipped cream, etc.). The poaching liquid can be reused. Store the poaching liquid in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Offally Good: [Leftover] Liver Dumpling Soup

So, I remembered after Soup #1 why I don’t usually buy liver even though I really enjoy it…stores sell liver by the pint. They, really, really just want to foist as much of it off on someone else for a marginal profit, so they make it super cheap and let you buy three-quarters of a pound minimum.

I didn’t have the energy to tackle something that would require a lot of extra ingredients (like pate), so I settled on another soup – one I’d seen in Ed Harris Heth’s Country Kitchen Cook Book. The book has a section titled “The Winter Soup Pot” and filled with hearty Midwestern stews designed to keep you warm and your house smelling cheery at times when “the snowplow does not arrive for three or four days.”  I’m sure you’ll be seeing more of these soups soon – especially the German Beer Soup which the author’s grandmother was fond of serving with “a little fried blood sausage.”

I love Heth’s narrative way of setting recipes out so I’m copying this verbatim instead of putting it into a numbered list of steps…

Chicken Liver Dumplings (Serves 2-3)

“Grind very fine 1/2 lb. chicken livers and mix with a beaten egg yolk, a slice of bread soaked in milk and squeezed dry, 2 T butter, 1 t each of chopped parsley and grated onion, 1/2 t salt, fresh pepper, 1 T flour and 1/4 t each of ground nutmeg and ginger.  Fold in a stiffly beaten egg white, chill, shape into very small balls and boil about 5 minutes in the broth, uncovered.  A little parsley fried in butter is also good in the soup with these.”

A few notes on this recipe…First, this is one dish where I decided to cut down on butter: liver is already high in cholesterol and the butter didn’t seem really necessary to bind the dumplings (that’s what the egg is for), so I just omitted it.  I also made this soup into a full meal by pouring the dumplings and the quart of chicken stock in which I boiled them over some veggies.  I prefer my veggies to be non-mushy and a little caramelized, so instead of boiling them in the stock I braised them in a pan while making dumplings.  Very good call, if I may say so myself.

Offally Good: Cream of Giblet Soup New England Style

I just pressed an organ – a liver, to be specific – through a sieve.

How did I wind up as some poor chicken’s Hannibal Lecter, you ask? Well, a couple of days ago I decided I wanted soup. It’s getting chilly and I was looking for something (other than bourbon) to warm my tummy. I was flipping through The Gold Cook Book this weekend for Sunday Tips when I came across “Cream of Giblet Soup New England Style.” This recipe had 3 things which appealed to me: 1) an easy way to take on offal, 2) a reminder of home (there is nothing quite like hot soup on a cold New England night), and 3) this intro from Chef De Pouy: “This soup is very good and very inexpensive. It is an excellent imitation of mock turtle soup.” I was intrigued by the especial blessing the Chef gave this recipe, and by the fact that it’s an imitation of an imitation.

Today I finally made it to Whole Foods, where I thought I’d be able to find liver and giblets, the two “specialty meat” ingredients for this soup. Sadly, the store did not sell the latter ingredient separate from whole birds – so I got some chicken necks to flavor my stock and contented myself with making this experiment more about liver than giblets.

Offal seems quintessentially vintage to me, so I was really excited to cook up some liver – even if it is kind of “offal lite.” I love reading The Nasty Bits at Serious Eats, so I was happy to take on some organ meats myself. A lot of vintage cookbooks have great offal recipes to make efficient use of expensive proteins. I’ll never be vegetarian, so I try to be a conscientious omnivore by being really willing to use as much of an animal as possible.

This recipe was super-tasty – it had a lot of the same flavors as chopped liver, which I also love, and it was hearty and filling. It was also, as Chef De Pouy pointed out, very inexpensive. I’ll definitely be hunting some gizzards down and trying this again!

Cream of Giblet Soup (Serves 2)

1 small turnip
1 small carrot
1 small onion
2 chicken gizzards (or 1 turkey gizzard)**
1 tbsp. flour
1 qt. boiling water
2 chicken livers (or 1 turkey liver)
1/2 tbsp. butter
2 hardboiled eggs, chopped
1 tbsp. chopped parsley (this isn’t in the original recipe but it adds a lovely bit of freshness)

1. Wash, pat dry, and chop the gizzards and set them aside. Chop the carrot, turnip, and onion and saute in a medium saucepan (the 3 qt. one I used worked perfectly). When the vegetables start to brown a little, add the gizzards and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp. flour, mix well, and add the boiling water.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot partially, and simmer for 2 1/2 hours, until the gizzards are tender.**
3. Toward the end of simmering time, press the livers through a fine sieve to yield a kind of liver paste. Make a light brown roux with the 1/2 tbsp. butter and the second 1/2 tbsp. of flour.
4. When simmering is done, add the liver paste and roux to the soup and cook, stirring well, for about 3 minutes.
5. Pour into serving bowls, sprinkle with the egg and parsley, and serve with freshly toasted bread.

**As above – I used 2 chicken necks instead of gizzards. These yielded a nice stock after 1/2 an hour of simmering, instead of 2 1/2 hours. I took out the necks after simmering, ran them under cold water to cool, and pulled off what meat I could to add it back into the soup.

Family Recipes: Fruit Cake

An easy, tasty yellow cake is essential to any home baker’s repertoire. An easy, tasty yellow cake with fruitis even better. My grandmother often made an amazing fruit cake – usually with plums – when we visited. This is the best kind of family recipe: there’s nothing really revolutionary, no proprietary secrets or weird ingredients – just a really, really good classic recipe that floored people every time my grandmother brought it out, and has done the same whenever I’ve made it. This recipe is the kind that I hope to rediscover every time I try something new out of one of my old cookbooks.

Grandma Viv’s Open Fruit Cake (Makes one 8″x8″ pan)

1/2 c. sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla (or other liquor)
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Cinnamon sugar
Berries, apples, pears, or stone fruit**

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift the dry ingredients together.
3. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth.
4. Add the flour and baking powder mixture and blend well. The batter will  be pretty thick.
5. Spread it into a buttered or sprayed pan (8×8 works, as does a 9″ pie plate).  The batter will probably be spread pretty thin, but don’t worry – it rises a lot.
6. Press fruit into the batter, leaving about a 1/2 an inch between pieces, and sprinkle the top of the cake with cinnamon sugar.
7. Bake 35 – 40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Be warned – if you use especially juicy fruit (like plums), the cake might remain pretty moist in the center.  In that case, just try to gauge whether you’re pulling out more juice or batter on the toothpick, and watch the edges of your cake for over-browning.

**The cake pictured above is a double recipe, baked in a 9″x13″ pan. I used 2 pears, and I mixed 1/4 c. chopped candied ginger into the batter before putting it in the pan.

Sunday Tips: Butter

“There is no substitute for butter in important food elements, notwithstanding statements to the contrary.  Butter should on no account be dispensed with in an economy diet.” – The Gold Cook Book, by Master Chef Louis P. De Gouy

Master Chef De Gouy’s 1947 classic cookbook is, as you might expect, quite liberal in mandates for use of butter.  De Gouy was a French-trained chef who practiced his art mainly in mid-century grand hotels (the preface to the 15th anniversary edition I have was penned by Oscar of the Waldorf).

Many of the books I collect reflect the growing influence of [highly butter-based] French cuisine in American kitchens.  The books which fill the rest of my shelves – baking books – are obviously equally fat-centric.  Very often, I give up on fat amounts entirely and just focus on going from lard to butter.

Equally often, however, I just give in and use whatever the recipe calls for.  I have friends who cut butter in cakes and cookies with wonderful results – but I like my sweets and cooking adventures to be treats – exceptional, not-every-day.  So, you may have noticed I keep my baking to once a week or so (and give away many of the products) and that I try healthier main course recipes more often than I do full-cream, roux-based, pork-filled concoctions.  However alluring those dishes might be.  I try to keep things to 21st century health levels most of the time…so when I go to the other extreme I go all the way.  On that note…I’m going to go look through the Gold Cook Book’s sauce section…and pick out the next in line.

Originality (Part 1). And brownies.

These brownies are not a vintage recipe. They are, in fact, on the cutting edge of brownie-making. I am, however, reading an article on originality for my favorite class (a super-geeky intellectual property seminar), so I figured this would be an optimal time to do that post I promised on cooking and creativity.

Baked, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, produces amazing, well-crafted baked goods. I’m more than a little obsessed with their apricot-rosemary bars – they’re really good streusel-topped fruit bars, and Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito had the excellent idea of baking rosemary into the shortbread crust to really make the fruit pop. They also came up with a recipe for black hole-like brownie – dense and dark, with irresistible pull. In 2008, they were kind enough to publish this recipe in their first cookbook. Of course, the recipe is now all over the internet.

Recipes are not copyrighted, so Matt and Renato can do nothing about this. Yet, they followed that first cookbook up with a second last month. The above-mentioned apricot bars are included in this compilation, and I’ve already found that recipe posted online. There was talk this summer among mixologists about copyright protection for cocktail creations; this is not really legally feasible for a whole slew of reasons but, perhaps more importantly, it seems to cut against cooking culture and tradition.

The article I read this week proposes varying levels of copyright protection keyed to the level of a work’s originality. Recipes, by their nature, would very, very rarely reach the level of originality required under this rubric for strong protection. Even something really exciting and “new” like the Baked rosemary-apricot bars build on an underlying recipe and rework it by adding a single new ingredient. The Baked Brownie is new and different – but brownies themselves are old hat. But how different is this recipe from the 1960s Tennessee brownie recipe I posted a few weeks ago? Come to think, how far is the Roman fish dish I wrote about from the scrambled eggs and lox you can find at most diners?

I took the Baked Brownie and substituted bourbon for vanilla (as I always do with chocolate recipes). Smitten Kitchen (linked above) added chipotle chili powder. The process of tweaking goes on, and the communal nature of cooking and food is reinforced by copying. And those are enough thoughts for today…more coming soon…

For now, have some pretty pictures and the superb (and easy) recipe I’ve been nattering on about for several paragraphs now:

I actually made 2 pans. Because I am constitutionally incapable of making non-massive quantities of food. The profile view:

And, finally, the recipe:

The Baked Brownie (Makes 24)

1. Use a dark cocoa powder, like Valrhona. A pale, light-colored cocoa does not have enough depth.
2. Make sure your eggs are room temperature and do not overbeat them into the batter.
3. Make sure you check your brownies often while baking. Once the brownies have been overbaked slightly, they have reached the point of no return.

1 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. dark cocoa powder
11 oz. quality dark chocolate (60-72%), chopped coarsely
8 oz. butter (2 sticks), cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tsp. instant espresso powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract (or bourbon!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal pan 9x13x2 pan.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the salt, and cocoa powder.
4. Configure a large sized double boiler. Place the chocolate, the butter, and the instant espresso powder in the bowl of the double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined.
5. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars. Whisk the sugars until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. Mixture should be room temperature.
6. Add three eggs to the chocolate/butter mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over-beat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey.
7. Sprinkle the flour/cocoa/salt mix over the chocolate. Using a spatula (DO NOT USE A WHISK) fold the dry into the wet until there is just a trace amount of the flour/cocoa mix visible.
8. Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth the top with your spatula. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes (rotate the pan half-way through baking) and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan (seriously – mine finished in 28 minutes). The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
9. I know it’s tough but…Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.