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Pie Spiked Maple Cakes

15 Nov

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The Privilege of Helping

My name is Emily and I am a chronic helper.  Anyone who has been the recipient of my gestures can attest – I am well intentioned, but I am an eager, enthusiastic helper who though genuine, can run the risk of over-helping.  Back in grade school, it was a minor holiday for me when the teacher would introduce a new student.  My mind would start racing with all the things I could help with and I’d make a beeline for them as soon as they were released from the teacher’s protective side.  I hadn’t known them 30 seconds before I had dreams of showing them around the playground and making friendship bracelets at sleepovers.  My adult self finds that same excitement every time I see a meet-and-greet put on my calendar at work for a new employee.  I mean, you never know when you’ll find your next friend!

When you are a helper by nature, it’s important to stay grounded in what helping really is; a privilege.  Continue reading

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Crust or bust: A ridiculously detailed tutorial for those who are scared to make crust

17 Nov

“I could never make crust.” That is the #1 reason people give for not making pie. The prepping, making filling and the baking all pale in comparison to how worried people are about making crust. No judgment here – I totally get it. Crust was the bane of my existence for easily the first six months of my year of pie. I poured over books, scoured the internet, and ate more chewy crust than most people do in a lifetime.

I’ve found crust to be more forgiving than most cookbooks make it out to be if you stick to some simple intuitive guidelines. So here is my best shot at giving you some blog-induced courage to go make yourself some crust this Thanksgiving.  You can find my recipe on the main page where it says “crust recipe” or click here.

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Black and Blue Pie

30 Jun

I have a change addiction.  Not change like shiny quarters and pennies, but actual change, as in the verb.  I find myself always working towards the next big thing.  In my 20’s it was easy.  Change came around every year or so.  A new apartment, a new job, an engagement, a wedding – I was reveling in what life had to offer and embracing new adventures annually.  Once we were married, changing partners was off the table, so it was a change of scene.  We bought our first house and a year later we bought our second house.  It was such a high counting down the days until the landscape of my life shifted dramatically.

Once we moved into the second house, the market plummeted and house-hopping was no longer a responsible thing to do.  So what would the next year bring?  Babies.  Changing it up every year was easy – get pregnant, raise the kid, get pregnant again, raise two kids.  Most people would feel perfectly content at this point, but nooo, not us.  Off to get a new house….again.

I take full responsibility for most decisions in our life.  My husband is always on board, but I push us off each cliff.  I can feel it coming and before I know it, I’ve uncovered something new for us to start working towards.  I started to panic after we were settled in this last house.  I loved my job, I loved our new house, the boys were great…now what?  Obviously a dog.  A year after the dog, I got the itch again and convinced myself (and my husband) that we needed a third child.  And off we went, getting pregnant.  It wasn’t until we lost that pregnancy that my change addiction caught up with me.  We were sad – we truly were excited and had embraced the idea of a third child.  But as we walked out of the doctor’s office, a strange feeling of relief came over me.   It was like the universe had stopped me in my tracks and gave me an out – pushed me back a step and told me to sit tight.  So I did what any reasonable woman would do in that situation – told my husband to get a vasectomy.  And he did what any reasonable man would  – he got one.

I thought that was the grand finale of my change addiction.  I started baking pies, and was content.  Until a year passed and I felt that familiar feeling – I was on the cliff and so I jumped into a new job.  Not four months had passed after starting my new job and I was on the edge again, laying down on the ground hanging my head over searching for exciting things below.  I tried to get us on board with adoption – I even sat in on a webinar about adopting from the Ukraine.  But my husband had the sense to draw the line and not give in to my pleas for an international baby.  As a compromise, he resurrected an idea that we had years ago to start hosting exchange students when the boys were old enough.  Sold!  I threw myself into researching the process and I kid you not, we were matched with a 15 year old girl from Germany within one week.  She’s coming in a month and we are so excited. What a fun adventure we are all in for!

About 12 years have passed since I first took notice of my addiction to change.  Looking back over what I have acquired through jumping off cliffs, I am grateful for it all.  I think it’s time to reframe this addiction I have.  Rather than feeling like it’s unhealthy to always be seeking change, I’m going to regard my life as a constant state of forward motion.  A forward motion that propels us to to the next adventure and uncovers excitement, joy and shapes what is the life we call ours.  If the past 12 years have brought 6 pregnancies, 3 houses, 3 jobs, 2 kids, 1 dog and 1 exchange student, I cannot wait to see what the next 12 have to offer.

One thing that has not changed?  Pie.  And boy do I have a good pie to share with you.

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Cherry Pie Bites

17 Mar

I dread baking during the work week for one simple reason – dishes.  I love the baking part, but the aftermath is just so overwhelming when all I want to do is call it a night and go to bed. My M.O. each time I’m in the kitchen is to use as few utensils and cookware as humanly possible.  That ceramic ramekin?  It only had grapes in it – clean.  The stainless steel mixing bowl?  It only had some batter in it for like 30 seconds – quick rinse and it’s clean.  The spoons – shoot, they just stirred for all of 10 seconds – swipe them under the faucet and they’re as good as new.  No dishpan hands here.

This week was one where I had a double dose of pie-making during the work week.   Early in the week I needed to make these pielets for my friend – it was her daughter’s birthday on Pi day, so of course she needed to take these pies to her kindergarten class!  Then I signed up for the bake sale at work to raise money for a Liver Walk.  I’m all for healthy livers, so to show my support I of course offered up some more pies.

With a little planning, making pie during a busy work week can be pretty easy and the dishes can be managed in stages – not ending in one big heap at 10pm destined to sit there until Saturday.  Here’s a timeline for how to make these pielets and wow anyone, anytime:

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As American As They Come Apple Pie

23 Jan

What better to commemorate National Pie Day then a big, deep-dish,  double-crust, packed to the brim, all-American apple pie?  And a darn right perfect one at that!  Yep, let’s just skip to the end – I did it and it was awesome.

Week after week, I sit here behind my keyboard and espouse my latest pietifications.  I’ve conquered fruit pies, lattice crusts, mini pies and butter crusts. Cream pies and custard pies – shoot, they ain’t got nothin’ on me.  Crimped edges?  Crispy bottom crust?  Bring it.  But there is one pie I have steered clear of.  One pie that threatens to topple all of the pie skills I have acquired over this past year.  The one, the only… DOUBLE CRUST APPLE PIE.  As if getting one crust right isn’t hard enough, this monstrosity demands perfection on the top and bottom!  I haven’t had the courage to take it on until now.  But a pie holiday calls for the most serious pie I can make.

This recipe is the collision of Grandma Ople’s tried and true and the America’s Test Kitchen 2006 scientific experiment.  I figured old school meets new school would be a good mash up.  Grandma Ople’s Apple Pie is one of the highest rated on Allrecipes.com.  If you know me, then you know that I swear by the four and five star recipes on that site.  On the rare occasion that I cook, you can pretty much bet that I found it on Allrecipes.  I also LOVE America’s Test Kitchen because really, why do your own experimenting when someone has already done it for you?

From Grandma Ople, I adopted her technique of making a caramel sauce to toss with the apples instead of the usual sugar/brown sugar mixture.  I also adopted the suggestion of saving some of that sauce and brushing the top crust with it.  America’s Test Kitchen confirmed what I had begun to notice about apple pie – cooking the apples first ensures that they don’t shrink away from the top crust and that you minimize the moisture that threatens to make your bottom crust soggy.  Voila – my perfect apple pie!

As American As They Come Apple Pie

Ingredients

1 double crust recipe of Best of Both Worlds pie crust.  Follow this link for the recipe and instructions.  Refrigerate the discs of dough for at least one hour or up to two days.

10 apples or about 5 pounds (6 Granny Smith, 4 Braeburn or Fuji)

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

3 Tablespoons flour

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 egg white, slightly beaten (for bottom crust)

Directions

Roll one disc of dough into a 13 inch circle.  Place into a 91/2 inch deep dish pie plate.  Trim dough to leave a 1/2 inch overhang.  Return to refrigerator to chill.  Next, roll the other disc of dough into a 13 inch circle and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and return to the refrigerator.

Place a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven.  Preheat oven to 425 (or 400 convection).

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

 

Peel and slice apples into 1/4 inch thick slices.  You can cut some of the slices in half so that the apples lay more compactly.  Toss with sugar/spice mixture and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.  Place in a large dutch oven (or large skillet) and cook, covered, over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  Stir often and remove from heat when apples are soft but still hold their shape.  Place apples into a colander over a bowl to remove excess moisture.  Let cool to room temperature.

While apples are cooling, prepare caramel sauce.  In a medium saucepan, melt 4 Tablespoons of butter.  Once melted, add the flour and cornstarch to make a paste.  Add water, 1/2 cup brown sugar and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture reaches a boil, lower the heat and simmer for three minutes.  Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Toss apples with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice then add 2/3 of the caramel mixture.  Reserve some of the sauce to glaze the top crust.  Remove pie plate from refrigerator and brush bottom crust with slightly beaten egg white.  Pour apples into chilled pie shell and arrange so that they lay compactly.

I could have used more apples!

Cover gently with the top crust and trim the edges to 1/2 inch overhang.  To achieve an even edge, fold the edge of the top crust and tuck it under the edge of the bottom crust so that the smooth, folded edge is flush with the pie plate.  Create a decorative edge and then use a knife to cut four vents into the top.  Brush crust lightly with reserved caramel sauce and sprinkle with turbinado sugar if desired.

Place pie on baking sheet and bake for 35 – 45 minutes or until golden brown and juices bubble.

Use a pie shield or foil if crust begins to brown before pie is done.  Enjoy with ice cream, by itself, for breakfast, for a snack or all of the above!

 

 

Caramel Apple Pie Bites

11 Dec

Do you ever have those weeks where you feel like you’re trying way too hard?  For some reason, you have deliberately complicated your days with too many tasks and too many commitments all in the name of proving to yourself you can do it all? That was my week.

I blame it on kindergarten.  If they were grading me, my report card would be full of “NI” (Needs Improvement).  I keep hearing my husband’s words when I suggested that I’d rather feed my kids cereal for dinner than buy Market Day fundraiser food.   “We can’t be THOSE parents.  We have to be involved.” Look, I’m a joiner.  I’m a helper.  Need something?  I’m your girl.  I’m Miss Involvement….usually.

I made the rookie mistake of agreeing to the very first thing the PTO asked me to do.  It was going to be nearly impossible with such short notice, but my husband’s words were haunting me.  I was asked to bake a breakfast casserole and provide muffins and bread for a teacher appreciation breakfast and deliver them to the coordinator’s home that night.  Here’s what I was up against: I had to work late, my husband had to work late, and my kids (and dog) were being dropped at my in-laws until I could go get them.  Somewhere in there I had to make  breakfast casserole, get some muffins and bread and deliver them at a reasonable hour. Oh, and put my kids to bed.

So I did what any hard working, multitasking Mom would do…totally forgot I was supposed to do it.

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Cranberry Apple Holiday Pie

4 Dec

The calendar need only read December 1st and visions of orange zest, nutmeg, clove and spice start swirling in my head.  How quickly I break up with pumpkin pie and move on to the warm, intoxicating smells of the winter holidays.

December is a month that I spend in my kitchen trying to recreate the traditions that made my childhood holidays so special.  My Hungarian Grandma Foris would arrive at our house for Christmas with tins of Kiflis (Kee-Flees), nut roll and poppy seed roll. My Grandpa Brandeberry would spend weeks making candy to give as gifts. I can still see the white boxes with red bows piled high on top of his washer and dryer in the back room.  If I came to his house on the right day, he would let me sit at his kitchen table and squish mounds of caramel between pecans while he dipped them in chocolate.

I like to think that my love of baking comes from a long line of proud cooks.  I usually wear my Grandma’s apron and think about what life in the kitchen was like for her and her mother when they were in Hungary.

My Grandma Foris (R) with her younger sister Marika

Me (L) and my younger sister, Elizabeth channeling our inner Hungarian and attmpeting some of our first Kiflis

I think about my Grandfather and how, like me, he loved to give away what he made and how happy people were to receive the special candy crafted by hand just for them.  But my Grandfather had more baking experience then I realized.  My Dad came across this picture taken when my Grandfather was in the Army during World War II.  He was a Master Sargent with the Artillery in the Philippines, but apparently he had some kitchen duty too!

This picture hangs in my kitchen with the ones above.  Now I have some company watching over me when I make my pies. I also have some inspiration to find whatever genetic link I have to baking so I can make the best pie ever!

My Grandpa Brandeberry baking in the Army

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Caramel Pecan Handpies

6 Nov

I don’t have a lot of enthusiasm in my heart for the other big “P” of the Thanksgiving table.  Pecan pie.  I’ve always put it into the category of Stuff My Dad Eats: Pickled beets, spinach with vinegar, chicken livers, cole slaw… food that I’m convinced takes a heavy dose of testosterone to palate.  I usually put it in the corner with the other marginal food, and leave it to be eaten by the grown men.

But this year I’m having a change of heart.  It’s not you dear pecan, it’s that Karo Syrup you insist on hanging out with.  Why are you so intent on burying your best qualities  in a sea of gelatinous, sugary mess?  Can’t you get some new friends like caramel, chocolate and espresso?  Yes he can. And oh yes, I did.

Enter Caramel Pecan Hand Pies.  I was inspired to try these by an article in this month’s Food and Wine magazine.  They scoured the country for Fall’s best pies and one of the features was a Caramel Pecan Hand Pie from Seattle’s High 5 Pie shop.  Like the pumpkin pie recipe from last week, the addition of homemade caramel made me think twice, and the crust to filling ratio of a hand pie was much better than the overload of pecan filling in a pie.

But, the recipe sill seemed to rely too much on corn syrup, so I made some adjustments including infusing a little Dorie Greenspan and adding some bittersweet chocolate, espresso powder and subbing brown sugar for the corn syrup.  The results?  This is not your Father’s pecan pie!  You MUST try this – they are worth the time and will blow your mind!

Caramel Pecan Hand Pies (adapted from High 5 Pie)

All butter pastry crust

4 cups all purpose flour (cold!)

2 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons sugar

4 sticks unsalted butter cut into cubes (frozen)

3/4 cup ice water

If you have a 12-cup food processor, you can do this recipe all at once.  If you’re like me and have a smaller one, then you will need to half it and make two smaller recipes of dough.

Place dry ingredients into food processor and pulse a few times to distribute the salt and sugar.  Scatter frozen cubes of butter on top of the flour.

I slice the entire stick into fours and then cube it

Pulse in processor for about 1 second each time until the mixture looks like coarse meal.  You can take a knife and fluff it around to be sure no large chunks are under the blade.  This should be about 7-9 pulses.  I learned the hard way that you need to be sure the butter is small – you want flecks, but not large chunks or you’ll have a pool of butter on the baking sheet.  Once the butter is cut in, add the ice water through the chute about a tablespoon at a time while you continue short pulses.  The mixture will not look like cookie dough – it will probably look a little crumbly.  Periodically check to see if the dough pinches together.  When the dough begins to hold together, turn it out onto saran wrap, form into a ball, wrap and press it into a disc.  If you did one large batch, separate the dough into two discs.  Refrigerate for an hour or up to two days.

Filling

1 1/2 cups pecans (6 oz)

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

5 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup half and half

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2 teaspoons instant espresso powder

Salt

3/4 cup brown sugar

4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 375. Toast pecans on a baking sheet for 8 minutes until brown and fragrant.  Coarsely chop them (not too fine – chunks are good).

Make your caramel.  In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, place one cup of sugar and 1/2 cup water.  Cook on the stove until is begins to thicken and caramelize.  When the mixture begins to turn color, swirl it occasionally and stand guard until it is a light to medium amber color.

Just starting to thicken and color - needs a little longer

CAUTION – this step is easy to mess up.  I did and had to start over.

When the caramel has reached the right color, reduce the heat to low and add the butter while whisking.  As soon as the butter is incorporated, add the half and half a little bit at a time, then 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and a pinch of salt.  Whisk until smooth.  Remove from heat and pour 1 cup of the caramel and set the rest aside.

OOPS. Removed from heat and added it to the half and half and butter all at once.

Second try. Much better - a creamy caramel sauce.

Let the sauce cool for a few minutes and then add the chocolate, espresso powder, brown sugar, corn syrup and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Once incorporated, add the eggs and whisk until smooth.  Fold in pecans and a pinch of salt.

Coat a 9 x 13 baking pan with non-stick spray.  Spread the pecan mixture into the pan and bake at 375 for about 25 minutes or until puffed and set.  Gently stir to recombine and pour in additional caramel sauce. Cool completely in the refrigerator.

Looks like my Grandma's date pudding

While the filling is cooling, remove dough from fridge and let rest for about 5 minutes.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough as you would for a pie – about 1/8 inch thick.  Using a 5 inch round cutter (can, glass…), cut circles and place on parchment lined baking sheets.  Return to the refrigerator until filling is cool.

Assembly

Remove dough circles from fridge and lightly brush with a beaten egg.  Place about 2-3T of filling in the middle of each circle.  Experiment to see how much you can put in without a disaster.  Fold the circle in half and seal edges with the tines of a fork.  Place in the freezer while you do the other tray.  When both trays have been filled and chilled again, lightly brush each hand pie with beaten egg.  Cut a slit in each one to vent and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown in the middle and lower third of the oven.  Rotate baking sheets half way through.  Cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy warm with a cup of coffee.  Will keep in the refrigerator for three days and you can warm before eating.

No one puts baby in a corner anymore!

Caramel Pumpkin Pie

31 Oct

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There is a distinct rank and file to my Thanksgiving table:

1. Pumpkin Pie

2.  Pumpkin Pie

3. Oyster dressing

4. Turkey

Nothing upstages pumpkin pie in my book.  About three weeks before Thanksgiving, I find myself drawn to every magazine at the grocery store.  “Your best Thanksgiving Ever!” (Yes!)  “A Pumpkin Pie to Wow Them!” (Of course!) “The Best of the Best Pie Recipes for Your Table!” (This is the one!).  And every year I set out to find the best pumpkin pie recipe – one that people will talk about for years to come.  It never fails, the chosen recipe tastes like, well…pumpkin pie.  I was starting to feel like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to come, each year hoping that the recipe Gods would pick me as the most sincere baker of all.  That is until last year when Dorie Greenspan and her Caramel Pumpkin Pie entered my life.

If you own only one baking cookbook, I say it should be Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.  She’s the author of Baking With Julia (yes, Julia Child) and knows her stuff.  Her technique of caramelizing a portion of the sugar before adding it to the pumpkin mixture gives this pie a depth of flavor that will knock your socks off.  It’s like a pumpkin pie has hit puberty – that soft, sweet, creamy pastry grows up to be a deeper, darker, more mature dessert that means business.  If you’re like me and always looking for that next best thing – this is your year!!  Continue reading

King Arthur vs. Queen of Food Blogs vs. Pie Princess: One Big Dough Experiment

20 Oct

“You’re taking something that’s perfect and trying to make it more perfect” said my friend Kelly.  I was trying to convince her that the mini pies she took home a couple of weeks ago were some of my worst – a chocolate pudding pie experiment gone wrong.

And she got me thinking – is there such thing as perfect pie?  Pie elicits such an emotional response in people.  It takes them back to memories of a slice of time when the world was right.  The feelings captured in that memory infuse the taste of the pie they remember, making it nothing short of perfect.  For me, it’s sitting at my Grandmother’s kitchen table eating strawberry rhubarb pie.  In my memory, the pie was amazing and something I would never be able to replicate.  Then I made it and you know what – the crust was awful.  It was a strange recipe that made a soft, cake like crust that was bland and tasteless.  And there were no actual strawberries!  Just rhubarb with strawberry Jell-O.  That was surely not the pie I so fondly remembered, was it?  It was.

What made that pie perfect was our whole family crammed into my Grandparents’ tiny efficiency apartment.  Nowhere to sit but the kitchen table where a spread of pie, kiflis (Key-Fleas), muffins and cookies helped you pass the time until Grandpa took you down the hall to play pool or outside to play shuffleboard.  What made that pie perfect was my Grandmother who in her Hungarian tradition, fed us until we loaded back into our car for the two hour ride home, settling in against our pillows drenched in the smells of meat, potatoes and most importantly…pie.

I am aware that there is no such thing as perfect pie.  But I’m going to make MY perfect pie and I still have some work to do.  I went full steam ahead with a three-way dough experiment this week.  Continue reading