Friday, December 27, 2013

Rounding the Corner, Headed for Home

I did it! Kinda. In 24 weeks, I made 18 out of the 20 pies listed by the New York Times as the "Twenty Pies to Make this Summer."

It's no longer summer. But not all of them were pies. I'd say that evens things out a bit.
Between Midpoint Pie and now I made three last desserts:

Butter Pie

A Butter Pie, to which I added cranberries, chocolate chips, and pecans. This was taken to a Friendsgiving at Sarah's house, which was super delicious. It would very sugary and rich, to no one's surprise. But I rocked the crust out!

A Pear-Pomegranate Pie. This got made twice, because it was THAT good. The crisp pears and the pomegranate molasses was consumed at two additional Thanksgiving celebrations. I used the Smitten Kitchen's All-Butter Crust for this recipe, and made a lattice top. It was beautiful - probably the crown jewel in my quest.

I was all proud of myself for making 18 pies, but while coming up with this post realized I'm a dummy who can't count - I had missed the Mixed Berry Almond Crunch Crumble! So on December 23 I scraped together everything I had in my kitchen and came up with this dessert, which was very, very good- and got eaten in a bar during a concert. A tip: drain frozen fruit before you bake it. Why didn't I do this before?!

Two pies remain: an Apricot and Almond Tart, and a Rose-Scented Berry Tart with Almond-Shortbread Crust. But screw those pies. No way. I'm done.

Pear Pomegranate Pie
Why I am not making the last two pies:

1. They are not pies. they are tarts.
2  They will collectively take over 8 hours to make (including chill time)
3. French butter, apricots, frangipan is expensive
4. Pretty sure I’ve gained five pounds and eating pie has contributed to this
5. My last two pies were easily some of the tastiest and had the prettiest/best crusts. Mission accomplished.
6. I DO WHAT I WANT, NEW YORK TIMES. I refuse to be guilted into completing a faux contract filled with desserts that weren’t even pies to begin with.

Top 10 best pie moments:

1. Deep frying peach pies for my streetcar friends
2. Pie-stravaganza!
3. Diner - en - Blanc tart - most complicated and super pretty - I couldn’t believe that not only did it turn out, I didn’t drop it on the way to the picnic
4. Grandpa’s pie - probably one of the last desserts he got to enjoy before he died. Also, sister bonding time is awesome.
5. PIENADO. most fun group outing. 
6. Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler/Lumenocity was fun to share with strangers and the easiest/tastiest to make
7. Giving away berry crumble at a rock concert the day before Christmas Eve.
8. The first crust I made that didn't fall apart - Plum Crostada
9. The alone time I got to spend working out complicated recipes
10. Spreading sweet dessert goodness amongst lots of friends, family, and strangers. 

Pie Superlatives:

Best pie-eating spot: Washington Park
Worst pie: Lazy Sonker. Not a pie.
Healthiest pie: Pear Ginger Crumble
Farthest-away pie: Cherry-almond crumble (sang happy birthday to Katy in England)
Least healthy pie: toss up between Butter pie (added chocolate chips) and tarts (SO MUCH BUTTER)
Total pounds of butter used: 6
Total pounds of sugar used: 5
Pie participants: over 50
Best filling: Plumb Chutney Crumb Pie/Peach Pie
Prettiest Pie: Fruit Tart/Raspberry Hazelnut Tart
Ugliest pie: Pear Ginger crumble

What Did I learn?

Patience. Planning. How to roll out a great crust (keep it cold, use lots of flour). Adding savory herbs to fruit is really tasty. Pears are hard to find ripe. French butter is a thing that exists. Recipes are annoying but sometimes necessary. Dessert is best when eaten with friends. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cincinnati: You can happen here

This is an encouragement - to anyone who's ever wanted to make a difference. 
You can do it here. Chase your dream. Tell us about it - we'll help you achieve it - every step of the way.

Four years ago today, I was a wide-eyed college senior experiencing her first taste of activism. Issue 9 loomed over Cincinnati's future, and I joined a group of people overflowing with passion and optimism about our city's future. We phone banked. We knocked on doors. We wrote blog posts, tweeted, and explained to anyone who would listen that Cincinnati's future depends on an interconnected transit system - that we deserve to step up as a city and start the process of rail transit in town. I met people that night who've led to some of my most lasting friendships. We ran all over town, celebrating a new Mayor, a new Council, and a victory at the polls. Two years later, we did it again.

When given the opportunity, I'll gladly talk til I'm hoarse about the reasons why Cincinnati is amazing. It goes so far beyond the chili and the ice cream, the silly rivalries and local culture. The secret to the city is this: if you're willing to roll up your sleeves, you can create amazing things here. I can't think of many other big cities where I can chat up my government leaders at the local coffee shop. I've watched friends run for office, open bars and restaurants and breweries and companies, create amazing events and experiences from not much but connections and hard work - because in Cincy, we're small enough to make a difference, but big and connected enough to help you reach your dream.

I've been pretty quiet this election season about candidates, issues and opinions. This is because I'm lucky enough to be serving as the treasurer for Cincinnatians for Progress - the issues PAC that formed to defeat the crazy rail ballot amendments four years ago. We're not allowed to publicly endorse candidates - and since my name is all over the mailers and radio ads showing up in mailboxes and airwaves informing the city about the Streetcar project, I haven't felt super comfortable posting a list.

But I will say this: tomorrow I'm voting for the people I know will continue to listen and work for the good of all my fellow Cincinnatians. Those who have worked together, who've put out big, bold plans to keep Cincy moving forward, and who aren't afraid to take stances on tough issues. Obviously, supporting the streetcar doesn't hurt. The ballot issues this year are to help out the Library and the Zoo, two of our greatest assets. (The streetcar will eventually connect these two places!) There's another one (Issue 4), designed to dismantle the city's pension system.

Voting may not seem like a big deal to some, but it's our right (AMURIKA), and our duty as informed and engaged citizens. And unlike big elections where you might feel your vote is minuscule, local election turnout is low - your vote and voice really will count here. So go ahead - find out where you vote - and please, please, go do it!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mid Pie Music Festival

Maybe you noticed, but it's been a minute since I posted about pie. After sailing through number fourteen, I realized that maybe all the butter and sugar was getting to me, and took a break. A ten day break. And by break, I mean cleanse. By cleanse, I mean I did the Advocare 10-Day Challenge with my gym (the best ladies gym in the Cincinnati area. Go check out Bella Forza Fitness! No, I'm not getting paid to tell you about this!)

These meal was super healthy, easy, and cleanse-friendly!
The Advocare system is a series of various weight loss supplements and workout enhancers. I figured I could use the challenge, and so for 10 days I had no sugar, no processed food, no alcohol (!), no mushrooms, fried food, or dairy. I ate five small meals consisting of complex carbs, fruit, veggies, lean meats, and nuts and beans. I kicked up the workouts - using the Spark supplement helped a lot, especially because I don't ingest much caffeine. Deprivation kinda sucked... but the feeling of accomplishment after was worth it.

 For me, it wasn't about losing weight, but about trying something new. I'm looking forward to continuing to tone up and push myself during workouts - ESPECIALLY because there are four pies left to my personal baking challenge!

Coincidentally, the last day of the cleanse was the first night of MidPoint Music Festival. It was fantastic timing. How did I celebrate? Pie is definitely the right answer. Surprisingly, the Pear Ginger Crumble was relatively healthy - very little sugar and (relatively) small amounts of butter - AND it's gluten free!

Larry and His Flask was the best performance I saw all weekend.
The crumble topping is made with quinoa. It was just sweet enough, and the candied ginger gave the pears a balanced kick. My sister came down for Friday and Saturday of the festival, and we enjoyed pie in between sets, alongside some fantastic Bakersfield tacos and pre-concert drinks.

The festival this year didn't have as many headliners, but we managed to find some really fun bands to jam out to. Great weather, fun friends, and the freedom to roam made for an incredible weekend experience.

Pear Ginger Crumble - adapted from this recipe

Takes about an hour to make
Serves eight

it tasted better than it looked. Promise.
Here's what you need:

  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds pears (about 5 large ones), peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons raw brown (demera) sugar, preferably organic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger (or 1/3 cup, if you like a kick)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, or the seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot

1 batch quinoa-oat crumble topping

Here's what you do with it:
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 2- or 2 1/2-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, mix together the pears, sugar, lemon juice, candied ginger, vanilla extract or seeds, and cornstarch or arrowroot.
  • Scrape the fruit and all of the juice in the bowl into the baking dish. Set the baking dish on a baking sheet for easier handling, and place in the oven. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the liquid syrupy. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool if desired.
  • About 30 minutes before serving, spread the crumble topping over the pear mixture in an even layer. Bake 20 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is nicely browned. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Here's how to make the topping:

Put this in the food processor and pulse until ground - 
  • 1 1/4 cups gluten-free rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flour (grind quinoa in a spice mill to make the flour)
  • 1/3 cup unrefined turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste)
Add 6 TBS cold butter, cut into pieces and pulse until crumbly. Spread it on a baking sheet and put in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes. Store in the freezer-  is great warmed up over raspberries.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - MPMF '13!

There are two weekends in Over the Rhine that are not to be missed. The first is Bockfest, the spring beer festival. The second is MidPoint Music Festival - a three day musical extravaganza that sends thousands of people running all over the 45202 to catch smaller, indie acts before they get big.

These events bring the city to life, and show the possibilities of what could be in store for our downtown with eventual repopulation. People stream from bar to bar, venue to venue. Armed with an all access three day pass, gangs of friends roam from show to show to try and uncover the best act of each night. We drink beer and dance our faces off. We tweet inappropriate things to make them show up on the big screen in the Grammar's parking lot. Then we go to bed and do it again. And again. It's an energy that is hard to explain, but absolutely intoxicating.

I'm lucky to have some great musical guru friends who do a lot of research and help tune me in to bands I might not recognize. The weekend before MidPoint I sit down with my computer and go through friends' recommendations, Spotify, and the funny, descriptive rundown of each band from CityBeat (Low Cut Connie sounds like The Black Keys and Ben Folds hit the road in a van that runs on bourbon and expired pork barbecue? I'M SO THERE) to develop a working schedule for the weekend.

This year MPMF put together an interactive schedule - you can go through the lineup and select bands you want to see, and it will save it into a printable/saveable/shareable format. Super fun - go check it out at - you can check out my picks for the weekend if you need inspiration. I tend to gravitate towards upbeat, danceable music that sounds like it would be a more fun live show over beautiful (slower) music. I've got a Spotify playlist with my anticipated bands for your listening pleasure as well.

Here are my tips for an epic MPMF weekend:

  • Use Twitter - the #mpmf hashtag not only allows you to search and see what bands are blowing up, at capacity/sold out, or lame, but you can also send tweets using the hashtag and they'll show up projected at venues around the festival. Pretty fun!
  • Check out the MidWay - Even if you're not feeling down to drop $70 on a three-day pass, you can still participate in MidPoint fun. 12th Street will be blocked off and have free bands and cool stuff in pop up trucks (collaborating with ArtWorks!), as well as food trucks and beer vendors. Also, Washington Park will be loud enough to project beyond the barrier they put up, if you don't mind not seeing the performances.
  • Ride your bike! There is, very sadly, no shuttle traveling around to venues this year - which sucks especially because there are some really good bands playing at out of the way (comparatively) venues like the Taft and Mainstay Rock Bar. If you have lights and access to a bike (or $15 to drop on a nightly rental), biking (on the street! going the correct way!) is a much better alternative to walking. 
  • Have some backup bands - If a show is super popular, you might not get in to the venue if you get there a little late. Also, despite your best efforts, after drinking a few beers, walking ALL THE WAY to a certain venue might seem like a daunting task. 
  • And above all - Go with the flow! Sometimes it rains. Sometimes the band you thought for sure you were going to see is already at capacity. The beauty of the pass is that you can go to ANY of the venues. Relax your expectations, and you will be guaranteed a great show and a fun experience no matter where you end up - which is the most fun part of all. 

T minus 3 days and counting! I'll see you out there!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

There's Always Pie

New life motto.
This year, the changing of the seasons seemed to bring a gust of contentiousness alongside dropping temperatures and turning leaves. Ugly rants from people on all sides - blaming liberals, conservatives, entitled Gen Y-ers, Baby Boomers, poor people, rich people, Republicans, Democrats. Racism. Shootings. Even locally an embattled local race for mayor and City Council riles up neighbors and co-workers, each of us convinced we are right. Hell, in OTR it feels like Main Street versus Vine Street. East and West. New and old. Poor and Rich. Right and wrong?

It's exhausting. Reading story after story, comment after comment filled with bitter, angry words. Hatefulness directed towards our fellow humans. Participating in it makes me sad and tired and doubting humanity. Enough is enough. I beat a retreat from the buzz and bustle of an OTR weekend and got back to basics. Friday was spent solitarily chopping veggies; my kitchen's been blessed this summer by the fruits of my guy's family garden.

Homemade butternut squash ravioli with
brown butter, hazelnuts, and homemade sauce. 
There is nothing more cathartic than Dylan on vinyl, red wine in the glass, and the simple monotony of vegetable prep. Ripe, bursting tomatoes simmered slowly into sauce. Six little butternut squashes were carefully peeled, scooped, and chopped into a dice, frozen for future soups and stews. The worries of the world fall away in the kitchen.

I packed up and headed back to Indiana to see family on Saturday and Sunday. Introduced my sister and her roommate to John Prine and the complexities of homemade ravioli. Together we made a pie to bring to dinner with my grandparents the next day.

I spent Sunday morning learning the intricacies of canning applesauce from my mother. The smell of cooking apples and the rattle of the pressure cooker were an integral part of childhood - I don't even remember what Mott's tastes like. There are
There's ALWAYS pie. 
many paths to adulthood; my final step (marriage, babies, and home ownership notwithstanding) was learning how to can applesauce. I returned to Cincy with a small pressure cooker and my great-grandmother's Foley Food Mill. She ran her applesauce "for company" through twice, and loaded it up with extra sugar. Pure bliss tastes like superfine applesauce - and she was happy to see her grandbabies running around like banshees hopped up on liquid candy.

When you've grown up riding combines, taking back roads to Grandma's and other details of life in or near the country, the Rye Pecan Pie we unveiled for my grandfather Sunday afternoon tastes like home. Two sticks of butter and enough brown sugar, molasses and corn syrup to sink a ship envelope the tastebuds like a soft, billowy-bosomed hug from Grandma herself. It's adapted from Diner, a restaurant known for their fried chicken, in Brooklyn. It called for a springform pan, but that wasn't available in my sister's college kitchen - an 8x8 cake pan worked just as well. It took a while to make - but I'm learning that these good things do. Katy, Kayleigh and I sat up, talking and playing cards, waiting patiently through all the steps of the pie.

Love you, Grandpa.
Grandpa loves pecans. He always has a bag of them and shells them on Sundays when he's cheering on (or verbally lambasting) his football teams. Before I left for college we had Sunday dinner every week at their place without fail for the better part of ten years. He's been an important part of my life - instilled  in me a love of trains and respect for hard work and doing things right at an early age. He's not doing so well as of late -  coming home and seeing him was definitely the right call. I returned to Cincinnati with a slightly sunnier outlook. If worse comes to worse, I'll blow up my tv, throw away my paper, move to the country, and build me a home. 

Rye Pecan Pie, from this recipe.

Serves about 12
Takes 2-4 hours.

Here's what you need:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
  • 1/2 cup ice water, more as needed
  • About 5 cups dried beans (for baking)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup molasses, dark or unsulfured
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons rye or bourbon, not more than 90 proof
  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 2 1/2 cups pecan halves

Here's what you do with it:
  • Make the crust: In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, salt and white sugar at low speed. I used the food processor. Add butter and mix until pea-size lumps form. Raise the speed to medium-low and add 1/2 cup ice water in a slow, steady stream, mixing just until dough holds together. To test, pinch a small amount of dough. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time. Shape dough into a ball and wrap it loosely in plastic, then roll it into a disk. Refrigerate at least one hour, or up to 3 days, before rolling. (Dough can be frozen for up to a month.)
  • Open a 10-inch springform pan, flip the bottom over so the outside surface faces in, then close. This will make removing the pie easier when it is done, by preventing the dough from sinking into the pan’s crease. OR use an 8x8 cake pan, well greased with non stick spray. On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough into a circle 16 inches in diameter. Lift it and let it settle into pan, fitting the dough down into the edges. Press the sides firmly against pan and pinch around the top rim. Trim dough with kitchen scissors so it hangs over the rim by one inch, reserving excess. Refrigerate in pan until very cold and firm, at least 45 minutes.
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prick bottom of dough with a fork. Lay a piece of parchment or wax paper in pan, then a piece of aluminum foil. Fill foil lining with dried beans to top of pan. Bake 15 to 25 minutes, until the sides of the crust have set and turned a light golden brown. Remove from oven and lift out the beans, foil and parchment. Patch any holes with reserved dough, pressing firmly. Bake 10 to 15 minutes more, until golden brown. Let cool at least 30 minutes before filling.
  • Fill the pie: Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and rye or bourbon. Place baked pie shell, still in the pan, on a sheet pan. Gently pour in the filling. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over surface. Working from outside in, arrange pecan halves in concentric circles, without overlapping, until entire surface is covered. (Use only as many as needed.)
  • Bake 50 to 60 minutes, just until filling is firm and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into center. (Do not worry if the overhanging crust becomes very dark brown.) Let cool completely. Use a serrated knife to saw off all overhanging pie crust. Carefully remove outer ring of pan. Slice with a large, very sharp knife and serve with whipped cream.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diner-en-Blanc 2: Electric Bugaloo. Some things are worth the effort.

food, bubbles, friends. check check check. 
The excitement that ran high this weekend is finally slowed enough to wrap my head around. Slowly, the apartment is getting put back together after the frenzy of activity had bits and pieces strewn from one end to the other. Dresses and pants washed and put away. Champagne flutes stored for the next special occasion. They never mention whether Cinderella had a giant pumpkin guts and mouse-horse mess to clean up when she returned from the ball, but I feel her pain.

The Dinner in White returned to Cincinnati for a second year. This time around we were much better prepared. Combining efforts in a group of six helped make for a more streamlined, less harried process. Best of all, the friends we gathered were genuinely excited about the event, and put time, money and effort into preparation. Liz and Kelly sewed chair covers. Dana created exquisite table arrangements. Ali came from Indianapolis. Keith splurged on champagne. We had a pre-planning meeting, divvying up tasks and food preparation and discussing hairstyles. I haven't put this much work into an evening since Duct Tape Prom back in 2004.

Our hard work paid off. Despite the annoyance of walking our stuff PAST the event location to get to the meeting spot (and then turning around and going right back), once the table was set up and the first bottle of bubbly popped, I couldn't imagine a more magical night. Balloons and jazz music floated gently through the trees, and as the sun went down, candles and twinkly lights lit the scene.

For Keith to spend his last evening in Cincinnati in Washington Park - the crown jewel of the neighborhood we both love so much (and have spent years living, working, and playing in) with good food, friends, and dancing was a pretty great send-off. At the end of the night we all felt really lucky to have been able to partake of it.

Freakin tart. You are So FRANCH!
Obviously I had to make a pie for this enchanting evening. I picked the fussiest, French-est one on the list - Raspberry Hazlenut Tart. It required French butter (did you know that's a thing? apparently it has a higher melting point), hazelnut flour, yet another Loose Bottomed Tart Pan (thanks to my friend Margaret now I have one of my own!) and two days of preparation. I was nervous I was going to mess it up - or drop it en route to the picnic - but neither happened.
This pie is seriously ridiculous. If you don't wish to try it out, readers, I don't blame you. First you make the pâte sablée  then refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Everything must be sifted, and measured out with a digital scale. Using special butter, making a hazelnut cream, pre-baking the shell, even down to finding fresh raspberries in September - who would bother with such an undertaking? Is it worth it?

And maybe, this is the question that everyone is ultimately asking of Diner-en-Blanc. It is easy to stand back and ridicule. To scoff at the pretentiousness of those with the ability, means and desire to pay for the privilege to drag their own stuff to the middle of a park. There are many examples of people spending money on something that seems ridiculous. Skiing, manicures, and football games, to name a few. 

Gatsby-style. With dirty feet. 
Should I feel bad about spending my time and money in this way? I wish some of the proceeds for DeB went to charity, but after chatting with a friend who helped put it on, I know that no one is making a profit on it. It's really expensive to rent facilities, purchase insurance and security, lights, sparklers, and more. I budgeted in a big way for the night - borrowed and combined costs where I could, found my dress at a thrift store, made things by hand. I wonder if it's as much of a "show off your wedding china" society-type event in other countries. We Americans tend to make things more complicated than necessary.
Color me naiive, but maybe the goal of this event was simply to create a magical evening. That's what it was for me and mine. Lifted up on good music, bubbles, and the exhilaration of a shared experience with people I love, the night is one of my favorites in recent memory.

It's obviously not for everyone - but that's how it works sometimes. Not every event, new bar, restaurant, or the like is going to appeal to every person - but it's important for the vitality of a city to have a healthy mix of all things. I don't spend a lot of time at Mixx or Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill - but I am glad they exist, if for no other reason than to bring people in. Maybe we can all take a page from Sly and the Family Stone - different strokes for different folks.

Check out more pictures!

Raspberry Hazelnut Tart - from this recipe

Takes about 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 24 to 48 hours’ chilling. (It took me longer than this, but I am no French pastry master.)

This is what you need:

  • 290 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 1/3 cups), plus more for dusting
  • 35 grams hazelnut flour (about 1/3 rounded cup)
  • 110 grams confectioners’ sugar (about 1 cup)
  • 175 grams French-style 82 percent fat butter, such as Plugrà (6 ounces), plus more for greasing pan, at room temperature (I found 7 oz of Presidente at Dean's Imports)
  • 3 grams fine sea salt (about rounded 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 3 grams vanilla extract (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 80 grams egg yolk (about 5 yolks)
  • 30 grams whole hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (about 1/4 cup)
  • 70 grams hazelnut flour (about 3/4 cup) (couldn't find hazelnut, had to sub chestnut)
  • 70 grams confectioners’ sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 grams cornstarch (about 3/4 teaspoon)
  • 2 grams cake flour (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 70 grams French-style 82 percent fat butter, such as Plugrà (2 1/2 ounces), at room temperature
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 grams vanilla extract or paste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 12 grams dark rum (about 1 tablespoon), optional
  • 150 grams good quality raspberry jam (about 1/2 cup)
  • 250 grams raspberries (9 ounces or about 2 cups)
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
This is what you do with it: 
  • Make the pâte sablée: Sift flour, 35 grams hazelnut flour and 110 grams confectioners’ sugar into separate bowls. Place 175 grams butter, 3 grams salt and sifted all-purpose flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until flour and butter just come together. Add sifted hazelnut flour and confectioners’ sugar and mix on low until ingredients are just incorporated. Add vanilla extract and egg yolks and mix on medium just until ingredients come together. Scrape dough out of bowl and press into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangular block. Wrap airtight in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  • Unwrap dough and cut into two equal pieces. Wrap one piece and refrigerate or freeze for use in another tart.
  • Butter a 9-inch metal tart pan with a removable bottom very lightly and evenly. (If you can see the butter you have used too much.) Place parchment paper or a Silpat on a work surface and dust lightly with flour. Tap on the dough with a rolling pin to make it pliable. Roll dough out gently to about 1/4-inch thickness, frequently rotating it a quarter turn clockwise. Work quickly so dough doesn’t warm up and become sticky.
  • Cut a circle that is 1 1/2 inches larger in diameter than tart pan. (An easy way to do this is to use a larger pan or ring as a guide; set it on top of the dough and cut around it.) Very lightly dust dough with flour; use a pastry brush to remove any excess flour. Wrap dough loosely around rolling pin to lift it up from work surface, then immediately unroll it onto tart pan. Gently guide dough down the sides of the pan, making sure that dough leaves no gap between the bottom edge of the sides of the pan and the bottom. Using a paring knife, trim away excess dough hanging over edges. Refrigerate tart shell, uncovered, for at least 1 hour and preferably overnight.
  • Assemble the tart: Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a sheet pan lined with parchment and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for 15 minutes and place in a bag. Seal bag and gently roll over nuts with a rolling pin, just to crush them into halves. Set aside.
  • Sift together 70 grams hazelnut flour, 70 grams confectioners’ sugar, the cornstarch and the cake flour.
  • Place 70 grams butter, pinch of salt and the vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Turn off machine, scrape down sides of bowl and add hazelnut flour mixture. Mix at medium speed for 1 minute. Gradually add egg and mix at medium speed until incorporated, no more than 2 minutes. Add rum, if using, and mix until incorporated.
  • Remove tart shell from refrigerator. With a fork, poke holes in the dough, 1 inch apart. Spoon or pipe hazelnut cream into bottom of shell. Using a small offset spatula, spread in a smooth, even layer.
  • Bake tart for 40 minutes, until cream and crust are golden brown and the tip of a paring knife comes out clean when inserted. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.
  • Remove tart from the ring and, with a small offset spatula, spread raspberry jam over surface in an even layer. (If jam is too stiff to spread easily, place it in a small saucepan and warm it slightly first on top of the stove.) Arrange fresh raspberries on jam. Just before serving, distribute roasted hazelnuts among the raspberries and dust with powdered sugar. The tart is best when eaten the day it is made, but can be refrigerated for a day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


We have some catching up to do. Two weeks ago I made a delicious Jumbleberry Grunt, but due to Final Friday activities (and a last minute call to action), none of my friends made it to my apartment to partake with me. More like a GRUMBLEberry grunt. So I put it away and went out with friends, and Liz and I ate it over the next few days for breakfast. Sucks to your ass-mar.

Last week was a special occasion that called to pull out ALL the stops. My fella Keith got a new job in a different city. He's sampled nearly every pie I've made, and I didn't want him to miss out on too many... so this weekend I made four pies. Three for a going away shindig; the last one we'll talk about another time.

It doesn't really get better than friends and pie. Unless it's friends and THREE pies. True to form, the pie recipes took a bit of work, but the results were definitely worth the effort.

Rhubarb Raspberry Cobbler with Cornmeal Biscuits was the easiest. I threw it together last and it cooked up easily. Finding myself without cornmeal, I subbed in instant grits (ground in the food processor to make them a little finer). They worked out splendidly. Normally one thinks of strawberries and rhubarb, but the raspberries added a nice twist.

Lemon Confit Shortbread Tart lived up to its name. The confit itself could've used some more sugar, but the crust was buttery and sweet, and adding a little whipped cream toned down the pucker a little. I'd never made confit before, and was surprised that the peel candied so well. Be prepared - the sour will sucker punch a little, but it's really delicious.

The last pie was my favorite. Every fruit pie made so far could easily be created sans crust for an incredible ice cream topping, or just eaten alone- and I could eat a pint of this filling all by myself. Plum Chutney Crumb Pie got started two days early. Boiling down plums with rosemary, black pepper (yup!), star anise, and cinnamon stick created a complex chutney that was unexpectedly tasty. I was nervous it would be too savory, but the balance worked. Well done, New York Times.

The kitchen was a disaster zone, but the Neon's courtyard was perfectly peaceful for a late summer evening. Lots of people came by for well wishing, and by the end of the night all the pies were pawned off.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Of Desserts and Disaster Movies

*jaws theme here*
pie for everyone at Rhinehaus!
 Last week we discovered the comically bad made-for-TV movie Sharknado returned to the small screen. There was only one option for Thursday Pie, and it was bloody delicious. Perhaps you've heard of Sharknado? A freak storm sweeps over LA, and a few brave souls (and their myriad of weapons) are the only ones who can save the city from being destroyed by thousands of flying sharks. Sounds bad? It was terrible.

Some movies are so corny and ridiculous they must be celebrated. Sharknado falls into this category. The Sour Cherry Pie was a perfect fit, and was a great use for the GIANT jar of sour cherries purchased at the Meditteranean store at Findlay Market. It was also an actual pie - with a double crust and everything. Slowly but surely my pie-making skills are improving.

I gave myself enough time to let the dough chill - Liz and I went to go give blood (only appropriate - and it's really easy at Hoxworth!) before putting it all together. I briefly considered making little sharks and people out of the crust, but the final result made great use of the negative space. A quick and easy hour in the oven, and it was time to head to the bar for our own personal feeding frenzy.

My buddy Jack owns the local hipster sports bar, and Sharknado viewing fell after a 1pm Reds game and a slow soccer day. As I don't have cable, watching in public was our only option (and a fun one at that!) We ordered pizzas, let the pie cool, and turned on the closed captioning to better experience the terrible dialogue in the bar.

There's only one way to successfully get through a bad movie, and that is with a drinking game. We would NEVER drink to excess, but with some local brews and reasons to watch this silly movie, by the time it was over the entire bar was getting into the spirit of the game and shouting out whenever there was a newscast, someone got killed (not by a shark), or Tara Reid was being belligerent (which happened more often than you'd think.)

The pie was good. Really, really good. The crust held the filling well, it wasn't mushy or spilling juicy cherries everywhere, and it served a good thirteen or so of us. The sour cherries were just tart enough. This was maybe the best pie yet.

If the movie ever comes back to TV, gather some friends, pie, and brews - you'll be in for a really fun night.

Special Sharknado Shot and Official Rules
Sharknado Drinking Rules (for those responsible and of legal age):

Yell loudly and take a sip every time...
  • The camera angle is from the Shark's Point of View
  • There is a news broadcast
  • Someone is killed mid-sentence
  • There is stock footage
  • There is terrible CGI
  • Someone is killed, not by a shark
  • A shark is killed with something that's not normally a weapon
  • There is a bad pun
  • Tara Reid is belligerent
Take the Sharknado Shot in memory of the Rather Young and Fit Elders in the Nursing Home who get Sharks Rained Upon Them (spoiler, sorry...)
  • Blue Curacao
  • Sour Mix
  • Absolut Citron
  • Grenadine Floater
Sharknado Sour Cherry Pie - adapted from this recipe
takes 1 hour 45 minutes, plus chill time for dough
serves 10-12

This is what you need:
  •  1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, more for rolling out dough
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 15 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons tapioca starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 pounds sour cherries (about 6 cups), rinsed and pitted - one 54 oz jar works nicely. Drain most of the juice. 
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling.
This is what you do with it:
  •  To make dough: in bowl of a food processor pulse together flour and salt just to combine. Add butter and pulse until chickpea-size pieces form. Add 3 to 6 tablespoons ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until mixture just comes together. Separate dough into 2 disks, one using 2/3 dough, the other using the remaining. Wrap disks in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour (and up to 3 days) before rolling out and baking.
  • Heat oven to 425 degrees. Place larger dough disk on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 12-inch circle, about 3/8-inch thick. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate (sprayed with non-stick cooking spray). Line dough with foil and weigh it down with pie weights. Bake until crust is light golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  • While pie crust is baking, prepare filling. Place cherries in a bowl and add sugar and tapioca starch - more tapioca = firmer filling. Drizzle in brandy and toss gently to combine.
  • When pie crust is ready, transfer it to a wire rack to cool slightly and reduce heat to 375 degrees. Remove foil and weights. Scrape cherry filling into pie crust.
  • Place smaller disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it 3/8-inch thick. Use a round cookie cutter (or several round cookie cutters of different sizes) to cut out circles of dough. Arrange circles on top of cherry filling in a pattern of your choice. like, say, the mouth of a shark.
  • Brush top crust with cream and sprinkle generously with Demerara sugar. Bake until crust is dark golden brown and filling begins to bubble, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer pie to a wire rack to cool for at least 2 hours, allowing filling to set before serving. Goes well with disaster movies.          

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Lazy Sonker is the worst name for a pie. Ever.

Everything about this pie recipe is a lie. First off, New York Times, what the freakin' heck is a sonker? It sounds vaguely onomatopoeic, like a noise a sad, stuffed up goose might make. Definitely not a pie (as we discussed last week.) A Way With Words defines it as such:

Is this a sonker? Only because I said so. 
 sonker n. a type of berry pie or cobbler. Editorial Note: This appears to be specific to the area near Mount Airy, N.C. Etymological Note: Perh. fr. Sc./Brit. Eng. songlesingillsingle, ‘a handful of grain or gleanings,’ or from Sc. sonker ‘to simmer, to boil slightly.’

A quick search reveals that the NYT is pretty into sonkers, but no one else is, really. Because I had no basis for comparison, I can't be sure I did this recipe correctly. I will tell you one thing - ain't nothing lazy about this sonker. I ended up using 4 different pans to whip this up, one of which got scorched and is STILL soaking in my kitchen sink days later. There's a lot of butter in the dish, and the final result looks nothing like Serious Eat's version of a Peach Sonker. It also took MUCH longer than the prescribed 35 minutes- I finally took it out of the oven after an hour and it was still a little wobbly in the middle.

the tiniest pie eater weighs in.
It was very well received at Bluegrass in the Park, and we made some new friends - specifically a super cute little girl who was determined to scale the picnic basket, Rob's knees, and anything else more than a foot off the ground, anchored or not. We shared the sonker with her folks and had a nice time listening to Hickory Robot. If you haven't had a chance to check out Washington Park's Bluegrass Thursdays, do it before the season is over!

Lazy Sonker- adapted from this recipe
Takes an hour - this is a lie. It takes the better part of an hour and a half.
Serves 8-10

Here's what you need:
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
  • 4 heaping cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) hulled strawberries (halved if large) or pitted cherries
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons self-rising flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Here's what you do with it:
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put 5 tablespoons butter in a 9-by-12-inch baking pan, and place in oven; remove when melted.
  • In a large saucepan, combine fruit, vanilla, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 cup water. Place over low heat and simmer until fruit is slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Drain fruit, reserving liquid and fruit separately; there should be about 1 cup liquid.
  • In a small saucepan, combine remaining 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons of the sugar and 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place over medium heat and stir until butter melts and mixture is well blended and thickened, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the liquid from the fruit, and whisk until smooth. Add another 1/2 cup liquid and whisk again. Add mixture to fruit, combining well. - do this quick or risk scorching the bottom of your pan. 
  • In a medium bowl, combine milk, remaining 1 cup flour, the salt and remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Whisk to consistency of pancake batter. So I don't know about ya'all, but my pancake batter is generally a little runny. Maybe this was a problem? It drizzled funny and sunk under the fruit. Not sure if this was the intended result, but it was a little weird. 
  • Pour fruit mixture into the pan with the melted butter. Carefully pour batter over fruit, taking care to spread it so it touches the edge of the pan. There will be some bare spots. Bake until crust is golden, about 35 minutes.             

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Takes One Hour, Largely Unattended.

Rhubarb Crisp
Not only is that the story of my life, it's also the best byline in a recipe EVER- and happened to be in this week's dessert.

I have a hard time with recipes. My mind moves quickly, and sometimes (most of the time), it's more interesting to use the strict set of guidelines and measurements - well intentioned though they may be-  as a structural skeleton, or sorts. Guidelines, even.

For this project I've been trying hard to follow the recipes as written- within reason (didn't buy a loose-bottomed tart pan.) There's a fine line between a good modification and an overzealous idea gone horribly wrong. This week, for instance, I pan fried some zucchini and threw together a breading for it without tasting the mixture. One of the spice mixes I put in was mostly salt. The finished zucchini was so salty it was nearly bitter; I could feel my veins crusting over in the first bite. It was an utterly over-seasoned failure.

My most recent pie, I'm proud to say, was not quite so terrible. I made a few additions to the original recipe - and they turned out quite nicely. After buying oranges and lemons specifically for the pie, I was disappointed reading it only called for a few tablespoons of zest and juice... so I increased them. I also had some fresh rosemary left over from the Lumenocity picnic, so I sprinkled it on top of the rhubarb mixture, and like the plum crostata, the herbs brought out new flavors in the fruit. Recipe additions will be italicized below.

Just as recipe following and improv is a delicate balance, so also is the definition of "pie," apparently. I have a beef with the New York Times. When deciding to do this 20 Pies in 20 Weeks thing, I was under the impression that the desserts I'd be making would all have at least one crust, if not two, and be an exercise in creating pastry. Imagine my surprise when nearly half of the recipes listed in "20 Pies You Should Make This Summer" were not pastry crusted pies at all but instead crumbles, crisps, sonkers, and grunts? (Yeah, those last two are actually words for dessert.) When I tell people about the project and start listing the ones already made, they immediately object and rightly point out that a crostada is not a pie. You're really ruining my crediblity, NYT. Come on!


Last week I brought this Rhubarb Crisp along to a cookout with some new friends out in the burbs. The crickets chirped, the burgers sizzled right off the grill, and everyone was excited to try rhubarb. My mom's neighbor has an incredible garden, and each year harvests more rhubarb than she can handle. Mom blanched and froze three quarts for me, which really sped up the process. The crisp is an easy, delicious recipe. The topping comes together really quickly (and tastes a lot like oatmeal cookie dough), and my additions help distinguish this from your run-of-the-mill fruit crisp.

Rhubarb Crisp - modified from this recipe
Serves 8
Takes about one hour, largely unattended.

Here's what you need:

  • 6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing pan
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 to 6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • Juice and zest from one lemon and one orange - can be lest if you don't want it to be as citrusy
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup pecans.

Here's what you do with it:

  • Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking or gratin dish with a little butter. Toss rhubarb with white sugar, orange or lemon juice and zest, and spread in baking dish. Top with rosemary leaves.
  • Put the 6 tablespoons butter in a food processor along with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt, and pulse for about 20 or 30 seconds, until it looks like small peas and just begins to clump together. Add oats and pecans and pulse just a few times to combine.
  • Crumble the topping over rhubarb and bake until golden and beginning to brown, 45 to 50 minutes.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Krispy Kremes and 8-bit Queens

I just completed a neat little side project I wanted to share with you today. Jennifer Jolley is a rockin' local composer whose modern opera "Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens" - a musical riff on Paula Deen - has performed across the country to rave reviews. (I'm not just saying that; I got to see it performed during the Fringe Festival this year! Check it.)

We met up in April so I could help her with a logo redesign. Jennifer is inspired by urban form and 80's nostalgia. I took some time and created a shared Pinterest board so we could collaborate on initial inspirations.

I sketched out a few options, but was really jazzed by the Space Invader urban art I saw in Europe last summer. The 8-bit pixel style was right up her alley, and the fact it was used in the cityscape made it a perfect fit.


Jennifer has a great picture on her Facebook profile of her being silly in a Brunhilde style hat (oh, you remember that cartoon...). It's pretty iconic, so I went with it. It was fun to learn how do create pixel art in Illustrator, and after a few tweaks we came up with a fun, recognizable brandmark that she can use on her website, her business cards, and even on her music! I also helped with some font selection so that her work has a more consistent look and feel to it. We ended up choosing Pompiere for title fonts and Futura for body copy.

I love coming up with creative solutions for creative people.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Portable Pie Preparation - Tips for Packing Phenomenal Picnics

Yoda definitely had it right. Do or do not, there is no try. I generally live my life with this philosophy in mind. It tends to lead to me going a little overboard when it comes to costumes, events, and especially food. Being awesome takes a little more work, but I've never regretted putting in extra effort. This weekend was no different.

Due to a conference on Thursday, this week's pie got pushed back to Saturday, and was definitely worth the wait. This weekend marked an extraordinary event in my neighborhood - a musical light show projected on the facade of one of the most majestic buildings in America. Lumenocity. A jumble of humanity - tens of thousands of us- crowded together in Washington Park to enjoy each other's company and world class entertainment from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Ballet, and May Festival Chorus. Liz had a solo as part of May fest, and we asked our moms to come down and enjoy the evening with us and some friends.

Music Hall was all lit up!

We decided a picnic dinner was in order, as we needed to arrive early (3 hours early!) to get a good seat on the lawn. Such a spectacular event demanded a spectacular spread. Liz and I spent Friday afternoon brainstorming food ideas that would be easy to eat, not terribly messy, not especially necessary to keep warm or cold, and of course delicious. Friends contributed to the spread, and we ended up with a portable feast, with pie and homemade ice cream (You guys, Jeff made me my own ice cream. Because he is amazing.) as the pièce de résistance before the show.

a feast!
The evening's menu was as follows: zucchini, sun-dried tomato and roasted red pepper asiago scones with salami and goat cheese, shrimp spring rolls with two dipping sauces, fancy soaked fruit, heirloom tomato salad with pomegranate molasses and sumac, chips and homemade guacamole, mango iced tea. And the pie? Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler. Friends brought tabbouleh, dolmas, melon and serrano ham. We stuffed our faces and cleaned up in time for the music to start.

Eat ALL the pie!
It seems like a lot. Okay... it was a lot. But there were a few things that made execution and clean-up easy and enjoyable. I'll let you in on a few secrets to having easy-peasy picnics.

so much food. 
1. Foldable blankets are key. - I got a fold up blanket as a high school graduation gift and it's been used hundreds of times. It zips up into a little tote with a strap and a pocket - super convenient for keeping keys and such, and easy to take anywhere. I have no idea where it came from, but Zip and Go makes a similar style - you can even get it monogrammed. My mom brought homemade quillows - quilts that fold into pillows - these set our picnic stage and kept us comfy and dry.

2. Trash bags and paper towels - seems like a no brainer, but keep one plastic bag handy for trash, and the other to keep used dishes and silverware. We brought disposable bowls for pie, but had plastic cups, plates, and silverware. Gotta stay green! Paper towels are essential for the inevitable spills that happen when many adults are grouped close together on blankets.

3. Lukewarm food that isn't red. - food that isn't super crumbly, prone to spill or stain, or go bad if it sits for a minute. We really liked the spring rolls we brought - using rice paper was a fun way to get in snackable, crunchy veggies.

4. Separate your baskets if there are a lot of people. - For the crew of nearly 10, we brought one basket that just had utensils, one that held the food, and a rolling cooler with ice, ice cream, and drinks. Seems like a lot? Yeah. But it worked really well.

Oh yeah, this is supposed to be a pie post. Oops.

 If anyone is still reading at this point, I did make a pie. It was super easy to put together - easily the easiest so far. You could probably sub in nearly any fruit, though the local Indiana peaches from Madison's really hit the spot!

Brown Butter Nectarine Cobbler - modified from this recipe

I upped the recipe 1.5x, it served 12!
Takes about an hour and a half unless you're quick.

Here's what you need:
  • 3 cups peaches or nectarines, sliced (about a pound)
  • 5 ounces sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces flour (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds or almond meal
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons Demerara sugar. - which is like sugar in the raw, or cane sugar. 
Here's what you do with it:
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the fruit slices, 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a simmer, then take the pan off the heat.
  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until it smells very nutty, turns golden, and flecks of dark brown appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the brown butter into an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape the batter on top of the brown butter, use a spatula to even out the batter but be careful not to mix it into the butter. Scatter the nectarine slices and juice on top of the batter without stirring. Sprinkle with the almonds, nutmeg and Demerara sugar. Bake until golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Plum's the Word

friends are cute.
It's Friday, and I'm struggling for clever post titles. Blame the sunshine and absolutely gorgeous weather we've been graced with this week. Work and screens keep me inside - I've tried to go outside and play as much as I can, but it gets harder as we get older. Ya know?

Got the pie back on track with a Thursday baking. This will shock no one, but I didn't read the recipe thoroughly beforehand and did not allow the dough to chill for two-plus hours. Ain't nobody got time for that! The bigger mistake made was loosely squishing the dough between a Sil-Pat mat instead of wrapping it in plastic, and it dried out a little. A lot. I broke a sweat rolling out the dough. Also, I took my food processor blade in to get sharpened, so I made the dough by hand with a pastry cutter and it worked just fine.

I upped the recipe to 1.5 times because I wasn't sure how many people would come partake with me. I'm glad I did - I had a little filling leftover, but lots of room to make sure the crostata wrapped up prettily. It took a little bit of searching to find lemon thyme, but I highly recommend it - the flavor with the plums was really tasty.

I've been heading to Findlay Market for their Findlay After 4 events- as an exercise to convince vendors to stay open later, the Market is attempting to drive more traffic for their shops. Take some time on your Thursday (between 4 -6pm) and come down and shop! So far I've bought pie ingredients at Daisy Mae's Market, Dean's Mediterranean Imports, Madison's, Saigon Market, and Colonel De's Spices. I'm pretty sure the local ingredients and small business purchases make the pies taste even better.

Liz and I snagged our pie, some snacks and blankets, and met friends up in Mount Adams for an impromptu picnic and a screening of Singin' in the Rain in the Seasongood Pavilion. It's been really rewarding to share my treats with different groups of people- and saves me from eating entire pies alone (though, let's be real... it was all gone before bedtime. Just that good.)

Crostatas are peasant pies - perfect circles are not the aim of the game. Roll your dough in (mostly) a circle, and pile the fruit filling in the middle, leaving plenty of room to fold the crust over. I pressed down the fruit and dough after it was all folded up to spread it out, and it worked beautifully. Don't be afraid of the thyme!

Rustic Plum Crostata With Lemon Thyme, adapted from this recipe
serves 8-10
takes about an hour, hour an a half to put together, plus two hours for chill time, unless you're me.

Here's what you need:
  • 1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (40 grams) whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) plus 1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) plus a pinch fine sea salt
  • 1 large egg
  • Heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3 cups sliced and pitted ripe red and black plums (about 1 1/2 pounds before pitting)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) cornstarch
  • 2 tsp dried lemon thyme, or a small bunch of leaves if you can find it. In which case, lucky you because I looked everywhere!
Here's what you do with it:
  • In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse together the flours, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt until blended. In a measuring cup, lightly beat the egg, and add just enough cream to get to 1/3 cup. Lightly whisk the egg and cream together.
  • Add the butter to the flour mixture and pulse to break up the butter. Do not over-process; you need lima-bean-size chunks of butter. Drizzle the egg mixture over the dough and pulse until it just starts to come together but is still mostly large crumbs.
  • Put the dough on the counter and knead to make one uniform piece. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for 2 hours or up to 3 days. (I chilled mine for about 30 minutes while I made the filling and it was fine. Be sure to wrap it, though!)
  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough out to a 12-inch round (it can be ragged). Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and chill while preparing the filling.
  • Toss together the plums, all but a tablespoon of the remaining sugar, a pinch of salt and the cornstarch. Pile fruit on the dough circle, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Gently fold the pastry over the fruit, pleating to hold it in (sloppy is fine). Sprinkle remaining sugar on top, with the thyme.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender. Cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Remove the thyme branches (some leaves will cling; you want this). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Zen and the Art of Cherry Cobbler

There's something soothing about the precision in baking. I'm not normally a exacting person in the kitchen. Eight times out of ten my experiments work out well - the other two times it's generally a quasi-inedible disaster. It's a good ratio, but the other problem with 'a little of this, a little of that, oh what's this random thing I have in the fridge, that would be really good with this other random thing' - is that it's nearly impossible to replicate. Constant reinvention keeps me fresh, but I really need to be better about writing down my successes if I ever want to eat them more than once.
What did you do to those poor cherries?!

Following the recipes from the New York Times page (well, mostly...) is an exercise in mindfulness and stretching my fine motor skills - being more precise, leveling off the dry ingredients, triple checking the wet. Getting fingers and countertops sticky in the process of creation is a wonderful respite from my extremely screen-focused life. And while my previous efforts were solo, this go-round I had help from my fantastic roommate Liz. She pitted two and a half pounds of cherries, surrendering her porcelain fingers to a hue more appropriate for a crazed serial killer.

In honor of my younger sister's 22nd birthday last Thursday I asked her to choose which pie to make this time around. She's had an aversion to birthday cake for about ten years, and consequently always has a pie on her day. I felt it was only appropriate. She picked Cherry Cobbler with Almond-Buttermilk Topping. Which isn't technically a pie. Take it up with the Times, they're the ones who picked the recipes.

This recipe was relatively healthy (considering it's a pie). I appreciated the mix of flours - the almond meal was excellent and contributed to the texture. I didn't have any almond extract, so the trusty bourbon vanilla was substituted. Make some bourbon vanilla, ya'll. Two vanilla beans in a jar filled with bourbon. Let it sit for two weeks. I use it ALL THE TIME and it's so delicious.

At any rate, the cherries were pitted, the topping came together like a dream, and several friends gathered in my apartment to try it out. Though it was late in London (Katy is overseas for the summer as an au pair), I called her on FaceTime and we sang her Happy Birthday from across the pond. There's one serving of the dish sitting in my freezer, awaiting her return. She's pretty incredible and deserves some yummy pie when she gets home from her adventures. It was really delicious. So delicious that I forgot to get a picture of the finished result. 5chw4r7z snapped a pic of the decimated dish.

Okay, here we go.

Cherry Cobbler with Almond-Buttermilk Topping - adapted from this recipe

takes about an hour, depending on how fast you can pit cherries (if you have someone else pitting cherries while you make the topping, then it comes together quickly!)
can be prepared ahead of time and re-warmed later
serves about 8. it could easily be doubled - everyone definitely wanted seconds!

Here's what you need:

(For Filling)
  • 1 1/2 pounds cherries, stemmed and pitted (about 5 cups)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract - or bourbon vanilla. And if it's vanilla, up it to a tablespoon.
(For Topping)
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup almond meal, also called almond flour or almond powder (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk - I used 2/3 of a cup of milk with 3 tablespoons of lemon juice added. Because who buys buttermilk on purpose? Not this guy.
Here's what you do with it:
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Place the cherries in a large bowl, and add the sugar, lemon juice and all-purpose flour. Carefully mix them together with a rubber spatula or a large spoon until the sugar and flour have dissolved into the liquids. Transfer to the baking dish, making sure to scrape out all of the liquid in the bowl.
  • Sift all of the dry ingredients for the topping. (If you can't find your sifter, just put it all in the food processor because it's going to basically sift it for you.) Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and pulse a few times. Add the butter, and pulse to cut in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Turn on the food processor, and pour in the buttermilk with the machine running. As soon as the dough comes together, stop the machine.
  • Spoon the topping over the cherries by the heaped tablespoon. The cherries should be just about covered but may peek out here and there. Place in the oven, and bake 35 to 40 minutes until the top is nicely browned and the cherries are bubbling. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool to warm before serving. Serve warm (heat in a low oven for 15 minutes if necessary before serving).