Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Rave Reviews!"

Photo by Vicki
Heavenly Cake Walk Blog

For people who make dessert once a week (more or less), we all seem to be powerful afraid of too much sugar.  What Vicki had in mind when she made this pecan chocolate  (mud) pie were the many "overly sweet pecan pies [we've eaten] in our lifetime, smiling through gritted teeth at our Thanksgiving host."  But the "flavor profile" of this pie threw her "completely off guard," with the eggs and cream adding richness but not "cloying" sweetness.  And Vicki has her own secret anti-sucrose weapon:  Kahlua, which she swears will  "break through" any feeling of too much sweetness.  By the way, Vicki served the "mud" on the side.  No turtles for her.

Aimee, who must like to tell stories as much as she likes to bake, had a charming story about a turtle named Michael who ran away from home, and another turtle named Michael, who must also have run away from home.  The two Michaels found good homes, and you may not be totally surprised to learn that one of the Michaels was not, perhaps, appropriately named.  And neither Michael got a piece of Mud Turtle Pie--for their own good, you understand.  But they do get a "delicious" pie named after them--the Mud Turtle Pie is the Russian Turtle Pie in Aimee's house.

For Kim, it was the chocolate-pecan combo that made the pie too sweet; she found the pecan filling alone, even with its one-too punch of Muscovado-Lyle's syrup, "ethereal" in its undeniable sweetness.  Just a little too much with the chocolate addition, even thought she acknowledged that "lots of people love" this combination of flavors.  Kim is still swearing by (not at) her decision to make the pie crust by hand.  She is so convincing that she has almost made me decide to give it a try next time.  We'll see.

I don't know if Orin made the pie crust by hand.  I do know that she's confident enough in her newfound prowess at pie-baking that she veered from the recommended brand of butter and instead tried "golden butter from a local dairy farm where they churn their butter from Guernsey and Jersey cream (oh, it's so delicious!).  She was rewarded by comments that the crust's flavor was "unlike anything tasted before."  Overall, a "messy" but "utterly divine" mud turtle pie.

Kristina made two pies.  She says that one of our group recently said that it wasn't much more work to make two pies than one.  (I know who didn't say it).  Then the sainted Kristina left one pie at home for her husband while she was gone and took one into the office, to thank the person who just brought in a rhubarb custard pie.  I so want to work at Kristina's office!  Or I guess what I really want is to have lunch at Kristina's office.  To top it (them) off, Kristina made two cute little chocolate turtles:  one for each pie!

"Many layers of deliciousness" is how Rachel aptly describes this pie.  Rachel also made a lovely little pecan turtle.  Or rather, her daughter made it.  And it's not exactly a pecan turtle--it's a peanut turtle, since Rachel's daughter didn't know where the pecans were but located the peanuts.  No matter. Not only does the peanut turtle display her ingenuity, it also makes a fine-looking turtle.  Rachel is one of many who commented on how the taste of Lyle's syrup really makes the pecan filling sing!
Are we all in love with Lyle's?

And finally, Milagritos, who baked the Un-Mud-Turtle Pie.  Not that she had anything against chocolate.  She just didn't have any on hand--not the good stuff, anyway, not the "type of chocolate that's worthy of a Rose recipe."  She almost didn't blog about this pie since she was missing a key component, but then decided she could use this opportunity to announce how great the Mud Turtle pie is sans mud.  She increased both the nuts and the sauce (because she wasn't going to have the chocolate layer), added some whiskey (always a good idea), and ran out of pecans so substituted walnuts for some of the pecans.  Although she would have preferred a little more salt, she still thought the pie was "so, so very good."  And her final words of warning:  "Don't let this pie hang around the house or you will eat it all (I'm dead serious)."

Next up:  Something completely different--the Banana Split Chiffon Cake.  It's a light and lovely cake with a real burst of banana flavor.  Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mud Turtle Pie

There are all sorts of recipes, blogs, and cookbooks along the lines of "ooey, gooey, sticky, yummy, messy, chewy," and I always look at them with a little disdain, thinking, "do we really have to be children with out desserts?"  I'll admit, however, that this pie pretty much fits all those adjectives that I don't much like, and yet I do like this dessert."

When Jim saw that the recipe gave a choice between dark chocolate and milk chocolate ganache, he said, "you're going to make the dark chocolate, right?"  (He's kind of a food snob himself by now).  I said I was not.  He said, "Don't you think it'll be too sweet?"  I told him not to worry.  I put a little extra cream in the ganache to make it a more spreadable consistency; then I put it aside, and went on to the pie crust.

Cutting the edges off the circle before putting it in the pie pan has been a real help to me.  I could never roll out anything like a circle in the past, so I'd always be trying to put a jaggedy uneven oblong (or even rectangular) crust on top of the round pie plate.  And I'd inevitably end up with spots where the crust didn't come all the way up to the top and spots where I had a massive hangover of thick dough.

Much better now!  And lest you think that this is a paid advertisement for Rose's pie collection--her pastry mat, rolling pin, and pie plate--it took me a while to get used to all of them, so I wasn't an instant convert.  But now I'm sold.

This is the plastic bag where I put any pie scraps and then immediately put it back in the freezer.  I'm hoping that by the time we get to the Rolly Pollies I'll have enough pie scraps for this old-fashioned, kids' favorite, use-up-the-leftovers treat.

I bought these weights from King Arthur, and Woody gave me a big stack of urn-sized coffee filters.  He knew I wouldn't have any and would be too cheap and/or lazy to go out and buy some.

Some crust shrinkage, but the crust still keeps its shape, thanks to Rose's pie plate.

All good things go into this pie--pecans, golden syrup, Muscovado sugar, butter, cream, and vanilla.  And eggs too, although they're not quite in the same category.  That is, they're not ooey, gooey, sticky, yummy, or chewy.  They can be a bit messy, though.

I really prefer the texture of the ganache with extra cream for this pie topping.  If it were going on a cake, you'd need less cream so it would stay on the cake as frosting, but as a topping for this pie, I like the more glaze-y consistency.

I made a design with caramelized pecans.  It's not as cute as the mud turtle, but it'll do.  With the consistency of my ganache, it was going to be hard to shape a turtle that didn't look like road kill.

Here's a picture of my pie when I made it for beta bakers.  As you'll notice, the shape of the crust is just not very pretty.  The ganache I made for this year's pie is shinier and creamier, although the one from a few years back did make a turtle that didn't resemble a turtle that'd met with bad fortune on a highway.

Aesthetics aside, I loved this pie both times.  And so did Jim, who admitted that the ganache was not at all too sweet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Sweet and Moist...Bon Appetit!"

Photo by Hanaâ
Hanaâ's Kitchen

Another winner from the Rosewood Kitchen.  The big question seemed to be "Is it too sweet?"  And the answer was, pretty overwhelmingly, "Are you kidding?  It's delicious."

Hanaa made this cake a year ago, when the recipe was published by NPR, and just posted it now.  Her husband loved it, although he noted that it was "a bit on the sweet side."  (See, there's the mini-controversy).  Hanaa liked it too, with its "complex flavor profile."  She made a half-recipe of this big cake, and still had a good-sized cake, just the right amount to fill the small tube pan she picked up in Morocco.

Faithy also made this cake last year.  Like Hanaa, she feared the sweetness, and reduced the sugar a bit.  Although the cake was still a little sweet for her taste, she recognized that it was supposed to be sweet, a harbinger of the sweet year to come, much like the obligatory sweet candied fruits for a Chinese New Year's celebration.  Faithy herself can't quite remember why, but she used four Nespresso pods instead of one, so her "honey cake" tasted like "coffee cake."  Anyway, "it's meant to be sweet, so no one should complain how sweet it is."  

A number of people referenced the NPR story on honey cake that called it the "Jewish Fruitcake," and described it as traditionally "sweet and stodgy."  That's pretty much what Orin used to think of honey cake.  "Quite heavy, dry, and overly sweet."  But Rose's recipe, based on Marcy Goldman's, had some "genius idea[s]," especially the full cup of strong coffee, which made a "moist cake," and the combination of honey and sugar "created an interesting depth of flavor, very caramel-like."  All told, a cake that Orin "will be proud to serve to friends and family for years to come."

Jen  served her honey cake to friends and family this year, and they were very appreciative.  In a short, but to-the-point post, her review boiled down to three great things about this cake:  1)  "mixing the cake took seconds," 2) "the orange-whiskey-coffee-vanilla aromas made us dream of delicious cocktails," and 3) "we love this cake."

Milagritos's summary was even more pithy:  "What a great cake!"  And hers was even the "streamlined" version.  What is the streamlined version of a Rose recipe, you ask?  Especially one that's not too difficult to begin with?  Well, you don't bother to bring out your mixer--you just stir it up.  And you cut the recipe in half, so you don't have to mess with a tube pan--and besides, using a loaf pan can "fool [yourself] into thinking this cake is suitable for breakfast."  Then you make a few changes based on what you have in the house, because it's not very streamlined to make a run to the grocery store.  Then, because you've saved all that time, you add an almond-caramel glaze, which looks scrumptious!

Catherine is back after being down for the count for a few weeks, but apparently still feeling a bit giddy, as she entitled her post "Honey, honey, doo doo, doo doo, doo doo, sugar, sugar...."  She described the cake as being "moist and soft, sweet, aromatic and spicy," and said it was a "wild success at work."  She got so much praise that she felt "somewhat of a fraud since [she] was just following someone else's ... recipe.  So Rose, please take a bow."

You might think it odd that someone who dislikes honey would bake a honey cake, but you'd be forgetting what a trouper Vicki is.  And her reward for trying it was that she discovered that the cake "has so many flavors that honey is but a faint note in the background."  Her conclusion:  "I like this cake.  It seems old fashioned and homey, just the sort of cake for a special family holiday."  So maybe in addition to being a Rosh Hashanah cake, this will become a Thanksgiving dessert, or a Father's dessert, or ...?

Mendy advises you to "imagine all of the sweetness, good and blessing you want in for the upcoming year.  OK, now put it in the bowl."  A great idea.  He also explained that "the custom is to ask for a piece of honey cake at the end of the pre-fast meal as a sign that this should be the only time you have to beg this year."  That is an excellent idea.  Mendy used apple cider instead of orange juice, because he couldn't quite see anything as astringent as orange juice in this sweet cake.  And that is an intriguing idea.  Mendy is just full of ideas.

Rachel loved the "complexity" that the mix of spices brought to the cake.  She's had other honey cakes in the past that were more like a one-note spice cake.  And "just enough cocoa" to "darken the cake and add a deep flavor note without any detectable chocolate flavor."  Not that chocolate flavor is a bad thing, but this is more of a spice cake than a chocolate cake.  And she embellished it with whipped cream rather than the suggested creme fraiche because that's what her family is "partial to."  Me too, Rachel, for the same reason.

I think that I've mentioned before how much I like Aimee's short summaries at the beginning of her post:  they always manage to get right to the heart of the matter.  This week, she says, "a unique combination of flavors ensures that butter isn't missed.  Moist and better the next day when the flavors meld."  She also made adorable little bundt cakes (and a loaf cake too--lots of batter!) She likes to give away individual cakes instead of slices so they don't look so much like leftovers.  (Don't worry--she knows she's an "odd person.")

Cookie maven Kim went for this cake in a big way.  Or maybe I should say in a small way, because she decided--too late--that her bundt pan was too small for all that batter.  But it turned out all right, because even though the batter rose above the top of the pan and dripped down the tube while it was baking, it settled down and baked through in the appointed time.  Kim admits to making a few mistakes because she "threw the cake together," but maybe her mistakes (Grand Marnier instead of orange juice, for example) were really marks of genius.  And the cake forgave her errors and distractions; she "really liked it--all of it."

Remember how Kristina helped raise money for Movember for auctioning off a whole year of monthly baked treats?  And her friend Gilad was the highest bidder?  Gilad has already received great value for his bid, and Kristina thought the honey cake might be a good selection for this month.  Gilad was all for it.  He was even more for it after he tasted it:  "OMG!  Best honey cake ever."  The only disadvantage of giving something away is that you only get what tastes you can sneak from the crumbs or from the parts you might shave off.  So Kristina is going to have to make this one again.  All for herself.

Next on the agenda:  Mud Turtle Pie.  Rich and chocolatey.  And I keep forgetting to tell you, but now I am:  don't forget to save and freeze your pie crust scraps.  We'll eventually make cookies from all the scraps.  (Of course, if you forget, you can always make a new batch of pie crust, but I like an occasional nod to frugality).

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Honey Cake For a Sweet New Year

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this cake, even after eating it.  As far as I know, I've never tasted a honey cake before, and honey is so sweet that it kind of makes me shiver just to think about the idea of all that honey.  Honey is so sweet--too sweet for my taste, except in very small doses, like a drizzle on top of fruit and yogurt.  Maybe if I'd had a lifetime of Grandma's Honey Cake, I'd be very enthusiastic about this one, but while I certainly didn't hate it, it also didn't make me want to make it again next weekend.  (My own grandmother used to make something called Old-Fashioned Cream Pie, which contained, I believe, only cream, brown sugar, and white sugar.  I loved it then.  It sounds horrifying now).

Not hard to make but lots of ingredients.  I confess that I made a few substitutions that made this cake inauthentic--one by accident, and one deliberately.  There's a can of Lyle's Golden Syrup hiding behind the honey.  I just couldn't bear the thought of a full cup of honey.  (There's that honey shudder again).  And I ran out of canola oil, so I melted enough butter to get the liquid shortening up to 215 grams.

My one and only angel food cake pan is not nonstick, and it doesn't have legs on it, which appalled Woody when he was here.  (Hey Woody--remember how you were going to send me this big care package, with many items including a respectable angel food cake pan?  Just wondering).  The cake strips kind of flopped around over the bundt pan, but I eventually criss-crossed them so they effectively covered most of the pan.

It was a very peculiar-looking batter.  There were so many liquid ingredients that, even with the sugars and honey added in, it looked like some weird broth.  A witches' brew, even.

Adding the flour and other dry ingredients turned it from broth into an unappetizing brown puree, so I had to try to stop thinking of it as soup.

In the mixing bowl, the batter seemed of such enormously large quantity that I didn't think it would fill the pan, but to my surprise, there was still plenty of room.  It did rise almost to the top while it was baking (I turned on the oven light to check its progress, because I wasn't at all sure that it was behaving appropriately for a honey cake.

At 45 minutes plus 15 minutes, it was looking a little over-browned on top, and a tester came out clean, so out it came.  (Don't worry--the cake didn't start to shrink from the sides of the pans until after it was on the wire rack.  I've become obsessive about that since I'm now convinced that any problems I've ever had with dry cakes stem solely from the cake being in the oven just 2 minutes too long).

It's not really a beautiful cake, and the texture is moist, but just a little gummy.  But Jim loved it, and JJ (to my surprise) asked for more (with ice cream, of course).  On my first bite, I thought that the orange was too predominant a flavor, and I couldn't taste the coffee at all.  I thought that the cake was better on the second day.  I used whipped cream (and ice cream for JJ), but creme fraiche, with its tanginess, would have been a better foil.

I'm not sure I'd make this cake again, mostly because I don't think people would know what to make of it.  But if I'm ever asked to a Rosh Hashanah potluck, I know what I'll bring.  And I'd use all honey and no butter.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Worth the Wait!"

Photo by Rachel
Cooking and Thinking

Although Rachel thinks that saying "pepparkakor" three times fast makes her sound "like a parrot," that didn't stop her from enjoying these little gingersnap cookies--made even better by waiting overnight for them while they were in the freezer.  Rachel also had one of the best ideas of the week:  she happened to be making granola while she was baking the cookies, and she discovered that crumbled pepparkakor make a wonderful addition to granola!  What a great discovery!

Kim paid these cookies the highest of compliments, in my opinion--she compared them to a bottle of memorable wine.  Not just any wine:  "a wine ... that has personality--something that doesn't sit on the fence--something that isn't medium about anything."  A memorable wine and a memorable cookie.  Kim, like others in the group, noted that this would be an excellent Christmas cookie.  (But as I said, I can't assign two months of cookies--there would be mass mutiny!)

Tony liked these cookies so much--both as a plain cookie and a cookie-and-goat-cheese appetizer--that he's adding them to his baking line.  He's still experimenting with the thickness and with his own blend of spices, but he'll surely have them perfected by Christmas!

Baking these pepparkakors was a trip down memory lane for Vicki, reminding her of a trip she took to a California town called Kingsburg, a "cute little town with Swedish origins," sporting a water tower shaped like a Swedish coffee pot, and selling apfelskiver and "pepper cookies," which turned out to be, of course, pepparkakor.  See you in the "Christmas cookie lineup," pepparkakor!

A trip down memory lane for another reason for Michele, or at least for Smitty, her husband.  When Smitty was a little boy, and was probably not called Smitty, his mother baked molasses cookies, which were called "Rabbit Cookies," because of the rabbit on the Br'er Rabbit Molasses bottle.  And Smitty called these particular cookies "Jacked Rabbit Cookes," because they were hacked up not only with black pepper, but also with cayenne.  (One version of Michele's was sprinkled with sugar and cayenne--a real sweet/savoury blend).  

Aimee compared these cookies to kourambiethes--not because of their taste, obviously, but because they are cookies "(a) I have never had, and (b) would never think of making."  (Also, they're both hard to pronounce).  But that is a thing of the past.  From now on, when she gets a request for gingersnaps, she'll make these "tasty, upscale, and Scandinavian" version.

Faithful Faithy baked these cookies even though:  1) she was feeling under the weather, 2) the annual Indonesian haze is making the air in Singapore unbreathable; and 3) the cookie instructions seemed very "laychay" (fussy).  And she continued even though it was so hot the cookies, even direct from the freezer, started to melt and the dough was extremely unsightly.  But she was rewarded with cookies that are "wonderfully delicious."  And the next time she makes them, she won't even complain.

Poor Jenn!  Her summer has been so busy she's only had a chance to blog a few times, and both times it was about something heavily molasses-flavored, which happens to be a flavor that she does not like at all.  But she made them anyway because she was helping Rose test high-altitude baking for her Craftsy class--so she deserves credit for making cookies she must have been pretty sure she wasn't going to like.  Fortunately, there is no molasses in the immediate future, so the coast is clear--at least until we get to the Molasses Sugar Butter Cookies.

Kristina had an easier time saying what these were not than what they were:  "definitely not pepernoten.  It's definitely not speculaas.  It's definitely not gingerbread," although it's "quite gingery, with the other spieces fading a bit into the background as supporting actors."  Whatever they are, she likes them, and so does husband Jay.  The only thing....her beater blade broke in her marathon cooking baking.  Not with these, but with chocolate chip cookie dough.  But Rose stepped in, and told her just to contact the maker, and they'd replace it, since they don't warn you not to use it for heavy doughs (like chocolate chip cookies).

Joan generously made up a basket of these cookies to take to her feline vet, since her newest kitten has been ailing (not really ailing, I guess--running a temp but looking and acting perfectly healthy).  Another good idea:  always have some of this cookie dough in your freezer, since it takes only a "half hour to make them from freezer position."  And wouldn't people think you were amazing if you could always serve them these cookies fresh from the oven?

Milagritos knew she had a very busy week ahead of her, so she decided in advance to "take as many shortcuts as possible with this recipe."  When I read that, I was very curious to see what shortcuts she'd take.  And here they are:  1)  Don't bother with a mixer, just use a fork (she has the pictures to prove it can be done); 2) Never mind the tubing.  just use a cookie scoop, press the dough down, and flatten it with a coffee tamper (I don't have one either); and 3) Forget about freezing the dough for 12 hours.  We don't have a side-by-side comparison, but Milagritos thought the shortcut Pepparkakors were "delicious and very moreish," and her husband ate them standing up, "always a good sign." 

I know there are some other cookies waiting to be posted, but it's Thursday night, and I want to go read a book, so it's time to post.

And for next week:  A Honey Cake for a Sweet New Year.  Some of you have probably already made this for a holiday dinner.  Honey cakes are not part of my tradition, so I'm curious to see what this one will be like.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pepparkakors: A Baking Adventure With Woody

These cookies are the final treat that Woody baked for the Broomball Retreat.  Taking the cookies to the retreat was a way to intermingle Woody's three loves:  baking, t'ai chi (the source of the recipe), and broomball.  It's a versatile recipe too because it can be a dessert, a snack, and an appetizer.  I think that he quadrupled the recipe, which yielded roughly a billion cookies.  (Four times sixty equals a billion, right?)

I had already promised Woody that I had everything he needed for the pepparkakors, including a vast quantity of paper towel and toilet paper cardboard rolls.  But when I went through my spice jars, I realized that I had only whole cloves.  "Don't worry, I'll just grind them up."  I got out my coffee mill/spice grinder.  You may not know this, but grinding whole cloves makes a terrible racket.  It's also not very successful.

"Don't worry, I'll just put them through a sieve."  Meanwhile, Rose had been consulted.  She said, "Tell Marie the grinder won't get them fine enough."  Woody told Rose that Marie was sometimes brighter than she appeared.  Well, I don't really know what he said because I was concentrating on the cloves.

If you look very closely, you can see specks of some dark spice, but it's more likely black pepper, which was ground in a pepper mill, than the cloves.  We opted to make the "Hot Nick Pepparkakor" variation, which, now that I've tried it, I like better than the non-cayenne version, especially if you're using some of the cookies as a base for appetizers.

Rose's recipe is from a traditional Norwegian recipe, although my research says that the Norwegian spelling is "pepperkaker," and the Swedish version is spelled "pepparkakor."  Both versions are spice cookies (some Americans call them gingerbread cookies, although not all recipes contain ginger), and they vary in the specifics, but they all contain pepper (or peppar).    My pepper grinder is the tall brass thing, which I got in Greece years ago.

I think all the recipes also contain molasses.  This is when Woody told me that I really should have light molasses because full-flavored would be too strong.  Although light molasses is specified in the Molasses Crumb Cakelets, which I actually baked after these, this recipe only says "molasses," and that's what I had.  We decided that we'd use Lyle's Golden Syrup as a partial substitute--I prefer that flavor anyway.

We made four 5-inch by 4-inch rectangles.  I don't think Woody even measured these, but he assured me he's made these so many times he doesn't have to measure.  (Don't try this at home, kids--you should measure).

Woody cleverly uses the pepper mill to tamp down the cookie dough.  That is not my hairy hand.

We let the dough logs freeze overnight, and we rewarded ourselves for all our hard work with beer (Woody and Jim) and wine (me).  We got pretty jolly.  But we got serious again the next day because we were going to cut and bake the billion cookies.  I think I must have exaggerated; it was not quite a million.

Sprinkling the cookies with Demerara sugar is the most fun part of making these cookies, even more fun than squishing them in the tubes with the pepper grinder.  

Even though they didn't look perfectly uniform going into the oven, they seemed better after they'd flattened out a bit, and even looked a little more circular.

All packed up to go to Brainerd, the home of Paul Bunyan.  Unless you say that Bemidji is the home of Paul Bunyan.  There's a bitter rivalry here, with each town having its own statute and claiming to be the original.  If you go to either city, don't say, "People, Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox, Babe, are legends!  They didn't really exist!  You can't be home to them."  I can kind of see why you'd want to claim Babe, though--you don't see a blue ox every day.

To my surprise, Woody brought quite a few cookies back home.  A few dozen anyway.  I used almost all of them as appetizers, spread with goat cheese and topped with fig jam.  This is a very good, very simple appetizer, and if you freeze some, you can bring them out at a moment's notice--if you also happen to have goat cheese and fig jam on hand, which is not totally out of the question.

Since I first got this recipe as a Beta Baker, I've made these often enough that I always have a stash of cardboard rolls.  They make a good addition to the holiday cookie plate, although you may want to stay away from the cayenne if you're serving to the faint of palate.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "More Than Marvelous"

Photo by Joan
Alpha Baker Joan Blog

For a long time, I thought I was the only person who had pie problems.  But then I realized that I wasn't.  So I asked myself what was there about all these wonderful bakers who thought nothing of making the most complicated cake decorations and who still quivered at the thought of pie.  I finally decided it was because there are so many things that can go wrong with a pie, and each of these things can cause complete ruination.

I found a little article in Huffington Post called "Twelve Ways to Avoid Messing Up Your Pies This Summer."  Well, that's the optimistic way of putting it.  Another title might be "Twelve Terrible Things that Can Go Wrong With Your Pies."  And each of these things can make your pie inedible:  tough crust, burned crust, soggy bottom, mushy filling.  Ugh.  No wonder people--with some notable exceptions--eye the pie with some trepidation.

It was only because she had all of Rose's pie-making equipment that Joan found the courage to bake this pie.  And then she discovered that she "had very little problem...actually no problem at all in baking a wonderful-looking apple pie."  Even her cat agrees.

And Rachel's "cream cheese crust making technique is definitely improving."  It turned into a "pretty good-looking dough." She had "pie for breakfast."  (That's really no worse than having an apple danish, is it?)  Whatever meal it was served at, it was "very tasty."

As usual, Kim is determined to make her pastry by hand rather than use her food processor--no short cuts for her!  Well, she did use a pastry cutter, so maybe it's only electric appliances that she's opposed to.  (For herself, that is--there is no hint of a lecture for the lazier ones among us--or maybe there's just one lazy one.  Naming no names).  To say she was happy with the result is putting it mildly:  "This was the best apple pie I've ever had.  It was intense, juicy, and delicious.  The pastry was great.  Hands down, the best apple pie I ever had.  The best."

Nancy, joining us again this week, posted about the apple pie she made way back in November, as a Thanksgiving alternative to pecan or pumpkin.  Modest Nancy claims she's not the "greatest at pie pastry making," but "this one was still reasonably flaky despite my skill level with it."  And the filling was "indeed luscious."

Rose's pie had heavy competition in Milagritos's since apple pie is one of their favorite desserts, and Milagritos has a favorite (it's really an amalgamation of a number of favorite recipes).  Did the Luscious pie measure up?  It sounds like the answer is "almost," although both Milagritos and her husband prefer apple pies where the apples are cooked a little longer and have a little softer texture.  (I should mention that this was really the only complaint that I can remember reading--not a unanimous complaint by any means, but some people said the apples could have been cooked longer).  I wonder if the fruit could be pre-cooked a bit, since the juices are cooked in order to reduce them.  Anyway, the texture grew on Milagritos, and her husband?  Well, let's just say "the more pie he eats, the rosier his outlook."

Katya made the pie, but hasn't blogged about it since she's also moving.  Here's a link to a Facebook post, which may or may not work.  (It worked for me).  Her mother reports that "the innards are better than the crust," which I guess is one vote for the not-so-soft apple filling.

Jen, who suffers from Rose's "Fear of Pie-ing" almost as much as I do, but you wouldn't know it to look at the gorgeous finished product.  Oh, maybe there was a little complaining about the pie being an all-day affair, but in the end, "once the pie is baked, and the heavenly aroma of applies and cinnamon fill the house, the all-day pie project seems totally worth it."  "We are in love with this pie."

Everything seemed fine with Vicki's pie until she put it in the oven.  Then it sort of stopped.  She "baked and baked and baked"--"a full hour after Rose's time," but the juices were still not bubbling through the cracks.  She was afraid the cornstarch wouldn't get hot enough to thicken, and, sure enough, she ended up with "apple pie soup."  It was very good pie soup ("amazing" even), (and the apples were definitely done), but "it doesn't exactly look pretty."  It looks pretty before it was sliced, Vicki, and pie that smells and tastes this good doesn't need to be beautiful.

Orin's previous ventures into apple pie baking had been of the "soggy bottom" variety (see above for all the things that can go wrong with pie), so she pretty much stayed away.  Now that she's made Rose's pie crust a few times, she's started to gain confidence so she decided to give it a go.  Maybe a little too much confidence?  Whatever the cause, she completely forgot to add the cider.  Of the people who tasted the pie, no one said, "This pie would be a lot better if it had some cider in it."  No, they said "this is absolutely the only apple pie that I'm eating," and encouraged her to give them more.  She's going to make it again for the upcoming holidays, so perhaps she'll report on whether the cider addition improves on perfection.

Now Faithy is not afraid of pie.  If you'll remember, she's the one who brought two perfect pies to a church get-together and caused everyone to line up at her pie booth instead of saving dessert for last.  And, of course, her pie looks beautiful, with her heart cut-outs, flaky crust, and sugary top.  But she wasn't happy because the apples were still a bit "crunchy"  she figured she should have baked it for 10 minutes longer.  Also, the church social must have done her in because when she saw that apple pie was next up, she said to herself, "Oh no, not pie again!"  But it looks very tempting.

Aimee got her blog post done just under the wire because she took a "semi-spontaneous" trip to Cape Cod last weekend, and tried, but failed, to complete her post at the motel.  (When I first read her post, I thought she'd said she had tried to bake the pie at the motel, and I was astounded!)  She picked up a "display mini-pie maker" for a song, and so, of course, had to make mini pies.  She said the gadget (I remind you that it was dirt-cheap) wasn't really made for homemade pie crust, which is more fragile than the refrigerated stuff, and you only bake the mini-pies for 10 minutes, so the apples were still crunchy.  Still, "the pies were really good!  And very cute."  Yes and yes.

Next week:  Woody's famous pepparkakors.  (I recommend the variation with added cayenne).  I think of these as Christmas cookies, but I decided there would be a mass rebellion if I assigned cookies throughout November and December, and I've tried to have only one cookie recipe a month.  But these are fun to make and will taste good in the first cool days of autumn.


Monday, September 7, 2015

Luscious Apple Pie

I was hanging out with a friend on Sunday afternoon, and I told her I had to get home to bake a pie.  She, knowing I usually bake something on the weekend, asked if it was for my blog, and, if so, what was there about the recipe that made it special enough to be in this cookbook.  What made it something other than a plain old apple pie.

How to explain a Rose recipe to a non-baker?  I didn't even go into the crust--how it had been fine-tuned so that it was the best of all pie crust recipes, including all the crust recipes in The Pie and Pastry Bible.  I didn't explain about freezing the dry ingredients and the butter cubes.  I didn't explain about kneading in the plastic bag or the refrigerating for so many hours before rolling it out, or the cake pan trick.  So I just explained that it was extra flavorful and saucy because it used cider and reduced, almost caramelized apple juices.  She looked doubtful.  But I knew, although I couldn't really explain why, that this pie would be the best of all possible apple pies.  It would be, at least, the best possible pie that I am capable of turning out.

As it turned out, this was true.  It was the best and most beautiful apple pie that I've ever made.  And I'm not going to utter one word of complaint about making the pie crust because it didn't stick, tear, shrink, fall apart, or any of the other ills that pie crust is heir to.  Thanks in no small part to my new Rose pie kit, AKA Rose's Magic Rolling Pin and Pie Mat.  Now I just plunk down the disc of pie crust dough in the center of the mat, and roll it out from the center until it's just past the 12-inch mark.  Then I cut off the excess until I have a perfect 12-inch circle.

It behaves so beautifully that I don't even have to use the cake pan trick, but don't tell Rose.

This is a Zestar apple (or Zestar!, as they insist on calling it).  It's another University of Minnesota/Minnesota Landscape Arboretum apples, like Haralson and Honeycrisp, that have been so successful, and have brought more money to the University of Minnesota than all the sports teams combined.  (I just made that part up).  Anyway, despite the dumb exclamation mark, it's a good early apple.  Juicy and crisp, as you can see.

2 pounds of apples is a lot of apples.  It takes me a long time to cut, core, peel, and slice them.  Maybe the melon baller method would take less time, but it would have taken me more since I don't have a melon baller and so I would have had to go find someplace that sells melon ballers and by this time it was 7:00 on Sunday evening.

The top crust went on as easily as the bottom crust.  After I covered the fruit with the top crust, I could see that the apples were a bit lumpy, but that's as close as I'm going to come to complaining that the pie wasn't perfect.

Carefully cutting five slits for steam to escape and dusting the crust with a bit of sugar.  I wish I'd thought about using my French lame knife that I use for making slits in bread.  But a sharp paring knife worked fine.

Just out of the oven.  It looks a little darker in the picture than it actually was.  There was nothing that came close to being a piece of burned pie crust.  I omitted the step of refrigerating the pie for at least an hour because it was already getting close to my bed time.  Even without that step, the crust was flaky and it didn't shrink.

Because I wanted to taste the pie before I went to bed, I didn't let it cool for at least 4 hours.  More like 2 hours.  And that's probably why there's so much juice.  But if you were very careful, and got a bite that contained crust, filling, ice cream and juice, it made for one glorious bite of luscious apple pie.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Midweek Roundup: These Scones "Get a Tick of Approval"

Photo by Nicola
She Bakes the Cake

I think these scones got "ticks of approval" from everyone, although there was a lot of discussion about what constitutes a proper scone and the difference between English, Australian, New Zealand, and American scones.  

For Nicola, a proper scone was one made by her grandmother, who made great scones simply by virtue of making a lot of scones, all the time.  She lived on a farm and had a "big family and random workers to feed.  Scones were always on the 'menu' for soup lunches, post dinner dessert and smoko for the shearing crews and other farm workers."  Although Nicola's grandmother might have tut-tutted at the cream cheese, cream, and dried blueberries, Nicola herself was not tutting.

Although Vicki has English ancestors, scones weren't a tradition in her family.  Biscuits ('breakfast biscuits") and tea with plenty of milk and sugar--that's her family's style.  So she had a "long history of scone envy," which she can now get rid of because she can make scones with the best of them.  And she even added the optional raspberry caramel sauce (which I will include as an option with the Irish Cream scones, whenever they come around).  That sounds over the top, but delicious.

Rachel didn't mention a family scone tradition, but she might be starting a new one.  She likes having some "grab and go" food on hand for her teenagers, who started school this week but who hate getting up in the morning.  (Of course they do, but they probably loved waking up and crying at 5:00 a.m. when they were babies).  I used to bribe my daughter with doughnuts to get her to the school bus on time.  I used to think I'd never be the kind of mother who would bribe her child with sweets.  Not that Rachel was bribing her kids.  Two more things about Rachel's scones:  she uses lemon oil instead of rind so she doesn't have to endure the "guilt-inducing sight of zested lemons slowly drying in my fruit drawer."  And, in the interests of science, she bought a scone from a coffee shop to see if it was better than Rose's scone.  Guess what?  It wasn't.

Jen thought the scones were not merely better than coffee shop scones--they were the "best ever."  "Tender and flaky and buttery and utterly delicious."  Her only complaint--the recipe should have made more scones.  Maybe just a few too many steps for just eight scones.  "Clearly I think a scone recipe either needs to be one bowl and take ten minutes to make or I need a multi step scone recipe to yield a thousand scones."  Do you realize that if you made a thousand scones and froze 999, you could have a scone for breakfast (or tea) every day for nearly three years?  It's a tantalizing thought.

Catherine's first reaction to a lemon blueberry scone was to say, "that's not a scone!"  It turns out that it is, though.  With an authentic "sconny (sconey?)" texture.  She used lemon rind and dried cranberries in these, and loved them, but warns you not to tell people about the ingredient list when you offer them a scone.  She has plans to make a passel of those (probably not a thousand) for an upcoming fundraiser, where she will label them "American Scones."  She anticipates a sellout.

Patricia gave us a freebie--she not only blogged about the scones--"delightful--soft, billowy, and full of wonderful flavor," but she also told us how to make homemade clotted cream.  Have you ever had it?  I ate it every day when I was in England and Scotland this spring (I seem to have a thing about eating scones every single day) and it was single-handedly responsible for the five pounds I gained over two weeks.  I can't say that I regret being FPO, though, and Patricia gives a very do-able, step-by-step explanation of how to make it yourself.  Thank you!

Tony was so taken with this recipe that he made it absolutely as written, which may be a first.  Tony served these to guests, and he heard someone comment, "Looks like Starbucks."  Not knowing whether to take that as a compliment or a complaint, he announced to all that they should enjoy his "HOMEMADE SCONES."  Whereupon they quickly vanished.  None left for the hopeful person who texted Tony the next day to ask whether any were left.  

And welcome back to Nancy, who, as she promised she would, still bakes along occasionally.  Nancy's changes were to bake the scones as squares, not as triangles or circles, and grate frozen butter to make for easier mixing.  Nancy thought these scones were "wonderful," even after they'd been frozen.

Orin most definitely did not have any kind of family scone tradition.  In fact, she had never tasted one until she came to the U.S.  She found it to be "dry and flavorless" and never tried it again until this week's assignment (thanks for giving it a try!).  No dry and flavorless scones in this cookbook--these were "soft, moist and flavorful."  And they were "super easy and fast to make, no tea or clotted cream needed here as the scones are divine just as is."  (But if you ever feel the need to add clotted cream, you know where to find a recipe).

Kristina was a bit vague about these scones, except to say that they were indeed quick and easy.  For some reason, the scones seemed to disappear from her home.  Jay said he only tasted one, and it's simply a mystery where the rest could have gone.  The only thing I can think of is that there's a scone cat burglar in the neighborhood, and you'll have to do a better job of hiding them next time you make them.

Faithy says everything there is to say about these scones in the first paragraph of her blog:  "These are very good.  With crisp flaky crust and yet tender on insides.  I love them!  Everyone in my family said these are so good.  Plus they are so easy to make."   Yes.  Now I want to make them every day.  

Back with us again after a several-week hiatus in which she tended to a bed-ridden husband, made macarons for 250 people, and found a new home for her noisy rooster, Milagritos made it unanimous for these scones:  she found them "delightful, tender, and aromatic."  Perhaps not as good as the miracle scones her mother-in-law with the magic touch makes, but very good.  Milagritos also explained some of the differences between Australian and American scones.  "Australian scones tend to be less flaky and more cakey but very moist.  The good ones just melt in your mouth.  The also tend to be round, [see Catherine's] plainer and are meant to be served alongside some cream and preserves.

So now we know.

Next week:  Luscious Apple Pie.  I've made it, and yes, it is luscious.  Like so many of Rose's recipes, it calls for lengthy periods of refrigeration, so plan accordingly.  (I didn't, and it was still good).  It is made with the cream cheese pie crust recipe.  Someone once asked me if Rose or Woody owned stock in a plastic wrap company.  I'm beginning to ask myself the same question with regard to a cream cheese company.  Not that I'm complaining.

REMINDER:  There's a "secret" Facebook page for the Alpha Bakers--if you're on Facebook and want to join the Alpha Bakers FB group, let me know and I'll invite you to join.  You won't be able to see it unless you're a member.