Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blue Blue Blueberry Pie

Omg. This pie was amazing. Beautiful colour, yummy fresh berries (handpicked!), fabulous pie crust... what could be better? :)

Some friends and I went to pick blueberries just north of Houston last week and in about 4 hrs of picking, 4 of us combined diligent effort and ended up with approximately 53lbs of berries. It was crazy. So now I'm back in Dallas with about 35lbs stashed in the freezer and fridge. What is a girl to do with all of that? Make PIE!

No-Fail Flaky Pie Crust

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
2 TB white sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp fresh lemon juice (zest first for filling)
4-6 TB ice water*
1/2 c. shortening**
1/4 c. butter, very cold
1 large egg or 2 TB heavy cream for brushing on top

Makes double crust for regular 9" pie plate.
*This really needs to be ICE water, not just cold. Use those ice cubes you stashed away.
**Some people say shortening needs to be really cold but I don't have room in my fridge to stash the shortening can so I just use room temp (gasp!) shortening. Just make sure the butter is seriously cold. Oh and measure the shortening with a dry measure cup covered in plastic wrap so you don't have to clean off the grease afterwards.

Cut the butter into small dice and put on a small plate in the freezer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. While you're in the freezer, grab a few ice cubes and throw them in a small bowl with about 1/2 c of cold water.

In a large bowl, put the flour, salt, and sugar. Stir with a fork to combine. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture (mash it up with the fork, not stir) with the fork until you have small flaky pieces about the size of large peas. This doesn't have to be precise. Stash the bowl in the fridge while you prepare the liquid ingredients and set the fork aside (not in the sink, you'll use this later).

In a small bowl or measuring cup, lightly beat the egg. Add the lemon juice and about 3 TB of the ice water and mix together.

WORK FAST: Take the large bowl from the fridge with the flour mixture and the plate of butter from the freezer. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with either 2 knives, a pastry blender, or use your fingertips. Work until the butter is about the size of small peas. Sprinkle half of the egg mixture over the dry mixture. Fold lightly a few times with the fork and sprinkle in the remaining liquid. Toss a few times and if there are still bits at the bottom that don't look like they've been hydrated yet, sprinkle another TB of ice water over those dry bits. You may use a couple extra TB of ice water but you want to make sure all the dry bits become loose clumps. Lightly squeeze a handful and if it holds together, you're good to go.

Dump out about 60% of the clumps onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and the other 40% onto another piece. Form each pile into a rough disc and wrap tightly in the plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 mins and up to 2 days.

Blueberry Pie Filling

5 c. fresh or frozen blueberries, divided
3-4 TB cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 c. cold water*
1 c. white sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced (use the one from the crust)
2 TB butter, cut in pieces, optional

*If you want a stiff filling, use 4TB, for a looser, juicier filling, use 3 or 3.5

In a 3qt (nonreactive) pot, place 2 1/2 c. blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and cornstarch and cook over medium to medium high heat until thickened, stirring continuously. Let cool for awhile while you roll out the crusts.

ASSEMBLING: Preheat oven to 400F. Roll out the bottom crust (larger portion of dough) so that you have a 1-inch overhang around the pie plate. Spray the plate well before folding the crust in quarters and lining the plate. Don't push the crust into place but pick it up and lay it in to fit so that there won't be as much shrinkage. If making a lattice, go ahead and roll out the dough (as if making a top crust) and then cut into 1-inch strips and put the laid out strips in the fridge until the final moment.

If using a top crust, fold the remaining 2 1/2 c. berries into the cooled filling and pour into the crust-lined plate. Dot with optional butter and place top crust over and crimp to seal. Brush with egg wash or heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar (so it looks pretty) and cut 4-5 steam vents.

If using a lattice, fold 2 c. berries into the cooled filling and pour into crust-lined plate. Sprinkle the last 1/2 c. berries over the top of the filling and lay down the vertical lattice strips (remember you're using every other one so you have even numbers of short vs. long strips going horizontally and vertically). Quickly fold every other vertical strip halfway down (ie. 1, 3, 5) and lay a long horizontal strip down and fold those strips back up. Fold the other vertical strips down (ie. 2, 4) to meet the horizontal strip you just put down and lay another horizontal strip. From the bottom, fold those same vertical strips (2, 4) up and lay a horizontal strip and fold them back down. Then fold the first set of strips (1,3,5) up and lay the last horizontal strip. Trim the ends of the strips if they are too long and crimp the edges to seal. Brush with egg wash or heavy cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Dot the open spaces with the optional butter if using.

Bake pie at 400F for 20 mins, on the next to bottom rack then reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 20-30 mins until filling is bubbly and crust is browned. If crust is browning too fast, you can tent foil over the top.

Friday, August 28, 2009


So, you've probably wondered why I haven't blogged in a long time.  Well, I have new photos and recipes to blog about from July, but hadn't gotten around to it yet.  I meant to, I really did! Except that life pretty much went to hell in the beginning of August, and I'm finally starting to get back on my feet again.

I put the BBA Challenge on hold for now, as the other challengers have already been informed from our groups forum.  I'm hoping to jump back in later, after life sort of settles down a little bit and I'm able to recoup a bit.

The short version of life in hell is as follows:

I rent a condo through a property management company.  This company does not have anyone onsite at the actual condo complex, since I think my condo is the only property they manage in the entire complex.  I paid my rent at the end of July, for the month of August.  

On August 8, I went home to get some music for my best friend and lo and behold, I am locked out of my own home and there are notices on my door of "abandoned property" and "notice of intent to lockout"!!! Oh but it gets so much better.  My blinds are pulled up and these notices are taped to the insides of the french patio doors that are my front doors.  I can clearly see into my house, and the lights are on and everything is completely ransacked and alot of things are missing or trashed.

What the hell is going on?! Well apparently, the old owner of the condo sold it and I was never told about the sale closing.  The new owner claimed he didn't know I lived there and had sent his representatives to clear it out: ie treat my home and property like their own personal homestore and take whatever they wanted before throwing out everything else.

All of my books, cds, sheet music, are still missing to this date.  I managed to recover some of my kitchen stuff (All-Clad, Calphalon, my KitchenAid stand mixer, baking sheets, etc) from the property manager's (new owner's representative) condo in the same complex.  I also found my clothing, makeup, office supplies, and more kitchen stuff in her closets and cabinets!

The loss of my entire music library and solo sheet music library is heartbreaking.  Many of the cds are discontinued and out of production, nearly impossible to find.  The sheet music contains markings from many teachers and masterclasses, plus those of my own make.  How can I possibly replace the work of over a decade?? I can't.  Short and simple, I can't.

So, I have a law firm (several, actually) willing to take my case on complete contingency, and I'll be going after some kind of restitution.  Life just sucks in the meantime.  I went through a week or two of not really sleeping or eating, so there was definitely no baking or cooking going on. I'm almost embarrassed to admit it, but I lived on half a can of Chef Boyardee and sometimes ramen, each day.  But it really was only because that was all I even wanted to eat, when I was ever even in the mood for food.

The unpacking and cleaning process, and documenting, continues.  I'm still missing loads of kitchen items that I don't know yet how to replace, or how I might possibly cover the prohibitive cost of replacing the items, not to mention all the other books, music, and clothing that are still missing! Alas, my entire Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series and Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series are completely gone.  And all my cookbooks.  No more Alton Brown or Julia Child.

I'll blog again once I calm my heart down.  I promise.  It's a work in progress.

Happily, DF made a lovely Chicken with Walnut Sauce recipe for dinner tonight.  If I remember to take a picture of it tomorrow, I'll try to blog about it :)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chocolate Almond Braid

Ok this guy was amazing.  I started drooling when this came out of the oven, and had to remind myself to wait until DF got to the apt.  Chocolate and Almond Filling rolled inside a delicious, flaky, buttery crust?? The house smelled incredible.

Definitely use semisweet chocolate, as the bittersweet was actually a little too bitter? Strange, I know.  There's no sugar in the puff pastry, and only a little sprinkled on top.  I thought the sugar in the Almond Filling would balance it out, but I was also trying to not overwhelm the chocolate with the almond (the filling needed to be tweaked a little, it had too much extract in it) so I didn't put a super ton of filling in this.

Puff Pastry recipe is found under the Pinwheels post, as is the Almond Filling, and all I did was sprinkle about 1-1 1/2 c bittersweet chips underneath, and crumble the AF on top of that.

Roll half of the recipe of Puff into a rough rectangle about 10x12.  Spread the filling ingredients (you can use jam, make something savoury, cheesy, fruity, whatever you want) in the center of the rectangle, leaving a border about 2-3 inches along each long side, and 2 inches on each short side.  Cut diagonal strips (about 3/4 inch, doesn't have to be exact) from the corners of the short side in towards the filling, stopping at the edge of the filling, and keeping an even number of strips on each side.  You should have what looks like a trapezoid at the top and bottom of the rectangle (short sides), with the short side of the trapezoid bordered by the filling.

Brush the unfilled border with egg wash (or egg white wash) and fold the top trapezoid downa and the bottom trapezoid up, and tuck the corners down into the filling.  Fold the first strip (pick a side, say the right) down over the filling, slightly diagonal angling down (like a braid....) and then fold the opposite strip (on the left side) slightly diagonal angling down over that.  Continue alternating strips in this fashion until you run out of strips, and don't worry about that last strip hanging loose on top - no one will notice once it's baked.

Brush the entire braid with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar, or not, and/or sprinkle with nuts if you've used nuts inside the filling (so people know what is inside).  Bake about 20-25 mins at 375F or until the top and bottom are golden brown.

Pinwheel Pastries

I can't stop eating this.  It's ridiculous! While it's not nearly as bad as gnawing a stick of butter, sometimes I almost feel like I should just do exactly that :) Ok maybe not, but it'd be darned good!

King Arthur Flour came up with a really interesting recipe for Blitz Puff Pastry recently that I tried and really really enjoyed... Enough to make it twice in the past few days and eat it all!! It's again, just really pathetic, how little willpower I have against a puffy, flaky, buttery pastry.  You put it in your mouth and you just can't stop.  Especially with homemade jam, some almond cream (frangipane) and you're just in heaven!

Oh and genius tip from Cooks Illustrated that I carried over into this - If you hate scraping things like shortening out of a measuring cup, wrap the cup in a piece of plastic wrap, and then it just pops right out with no cleanup.  I tried this with the sour cream and it worked really nicely.

Blitz Puff Pastry
adapted from KAF

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. cold butter, cut in chunks
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c. sour cream, cold

Oven: 400F, about 1hr to prepare
about 12-16 pastries, depending on size and shape

Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor (you can do this in a stand mixer too) and pulse a couple times to aerate and combine.  Add the chunks of cold butter and pulse about 2-3 times, until some of the chunks have been broken up, but fairly large pieces remain.  Add the sour cream and pulse another 2-3 times until the dough looks like a bunch of curds that doesn't look like it will hold together - it will! Trust me on this.  Squeeze a handful (don't cut your finger - I already did that for you) and it should hold together.  If not, add a tablespoon of ice water, but again, you should not need this.

Dump the dough out onto a floured counter or board, and pat and press together into roughly an 8x11 rectangle - the size of a sheet of paper.  You can use a bench scraper to help you do this next part if you're worried about stickage or crumbling.

With a short end of the dough facing you, fold the top third down over the middle, brush the excess flour off of it, then fold the bottom third up so that it looks like a tri-fold letter.  This is Turn 1.  Roll the dough back out (keep scooting it around in the flour to make sure it doesn't stick) to the 8x10, and do Turn 2 in the same manner.  If your dough is still cool enough that it's still not sticking too much, quickly do Turn 3 - otherwise, refrigerate for about 10 mins, then do Turn 3.  I can generally do all 3 turns in one go, but I'm moving pretty quick about it.  Don't forget to brush off excess flour between the layers.

After 3 turns have been completed, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins while you prepare whatever filling you want to use - jam, chocolate, almond filling (recipe follows), etc.

After 30 mins, unwrap the dough and cut it in half so you have 2 pieces, roughly the shape of a square.  Rewrap one half and put it back in the fridge while you work with the other half.  Roll it to a rectangle about 10x14.  With a sharp knife or pizza cutter (it works surprisingly well and it's fast!), trim the edges so that they're straight.  Save the scraps for sprinkling with sugar and making sugar straws, or cheese for cheese straws.

Divide the dough into squares (generally 4" for me, and about 6 per sheet, for 12 total) and relocate onto a parchment-lined sheet pan.  Place a tablespoon of fruit filling in the center of a square, and a tablespoon of almond filling on top.  Make diagonal cuts from the corners into the edge of the filling in the center, and fold every other (alternating) corner into the center, pinching the ends in the center to form the pinwheel.  You can also use an egg wash (or egg white wash, whatever you have on hand) to seal the corners together.  Brush the tops of the pastries with the wash and sprinkle coarse sugar on top for some sparkle.  Bake about 15mins at 400F or until the tops and bottoms are golden brown.

You can also make other shapes such as packets, turnovers, a simple open ended burrito style, or fold in the edges to make a square nest.  I've even rolled into croissants and filled with chocolate and almond.  It's rough puff pastry - easy, fast, and options are endless.  Works also very well for savoury fillings and topping a chicken pot pie or other dishes :)

Almond Cream Filling (Frangipane)
adapted from Baking with Julia

1 c sliced or slivered almonds
1/2 stick butter, soft
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 tb cornstarch
1/2 tsp almond extract

Place the almonds, butter, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor (you don't have to wash this out if you've just made the puff pastry inside it) and process until it forms a smooth paste. Add the cornstarch and extract, and pulse again to combine.  Use immediately if using for danishes (while it's still soft), or refrigerate until ready to mold for croissants or other filled pastries.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

BBA Challenge #7 Ciabatta

So for the purposes of this challenge, I'm doing everything by the book and as it's written.  I'm not tinkering, even when I really really want to fix something.  I did the poolish version out of the book, and I've made ciabattas before, so I knew pretty much what I was looking for. Having read several threads on TFL in the past when I was looking for recipes and research, I knew that this version was going to be tricky.

The poolish version has a very low hydration for a ciabatta, which usually has hydrations of at least 80% and upwards.  The last ciabatta I'd made used a 95% hydration which was crazy wet but also tasted and looked amazing.  PR's poolish ciabatta only has a hydration of 72% in comparison! It's more like a baguette dough than a ciabatta, in that sense. The biga version is a little better, but not by a whole lot (78-79%, I believe).  Why do we want high hydration? So we get those nice big holes inside that are the mark of a well handled dough.

Knowing all this, I was absurdly gentle when I handled the dough.  I made sure to flour the board (we don't have enough counter room) really really well, and then I lined my couche with parchment that I sprayed oil on and then floured so the flour would stick.  I didn't want to take any chances of stickage with this, and the parchment made transferring into the oven very easy: slide on peel, stretch a little, and slide right onto stone.

I did add a tiny bit of olive oil, as in the side notes, but not the full 1/4.  I think I only added about 1TB and when I cut it open to taste, it was awesome.  The crust had softened a bit so that it was still a little chewy, but not tough and leathery, and the crumb was again nice and chewy, but a little more tender from the touch of oil.  I really enjoyed the taste of this, but I'll continue pushing the hydration higher too.

BBA Challenge #6 Challah

Note to self: do NOT get distracted in the middle of braiding loaves! Hence the funny looking skinny spot in the middle of the 6-strand braid.  My bad.  I was juggling the Casatiello, Challah, and the Ciabattas at the same time and got lost in a blizzard of dough. That's how I'm justifying it.

I couldn't decide if I liked this one or not.  I gifted the 3-strand braid to a friend at the local dive shop, and she said she and her husband ate half of the loaf in one sitting! Everyone at the shop was shocked (and you have to wonder why!) that I made the loaf.  The dough did colour very nicely in the oven, with just the egg white wash.  I cheated and brushed the loaves with milk straight out of the oven to try to soften the crust.

It wasn't as light as my regular challah recipe, but it did have less oil in it.  What bothered me the most was the eggs.  If you know me, you know I hate wasting ingredients.  Recipes that call for adding just one yolk, and discarding the white, or using a cup of poolish and chucking the rest, it irritates me.  I invariably wind up saving whatever the thing is and trying to figure out a way to use it.  I hate waste.  So having to add 2 egg yolks, and knowing that 2 egg whites was going to be way too much for glazing, was irritating. (There's still a white floating around in the fridge)

Whenever I make braided loaves, I usually do at least one that is a 6-strand braid.  But I do this so infrequently that I always forget what the order of braiding is.  Strands are numbered 1-6 from Right to Left.  Pinch all the tops together, with #6 on the bottom, and tuck them underneath the bundle by folding under and pushing them up (let gravity help you here) so that they stretch up and pretending like you're trying to poke them through (but don't really).

The pattern is pretty easy: Cross #6 over #1 (so that it becomes #1).  **Cross #2 over #6 (so it becomes #6).  #1 over #3, then #5 over #1, then #6 over #4** Repeat everything between the ** until you run out of dough, and pinch the ends together and tuck underneath again, pushing them up into the braid to secure them.
6 - 1
2 - 6
1 - 3
5 - 1
6 - 4

Challah does make fabulous french toast, bread pudding, and is a nice all-around bread.  I do have to give this recipe points for browning up beautifully in the oven.  The loaves also had huge spring!

BBA Challenge #5 Casatiello

I LOVED this bread! I'd been waiting and waiting for this one to arrive in the lineup, and it lived up to the dream.  Light and fluffy, so buttery but packed with flavour.  I used pastrami and sharp cheddar (can we get a T for Tillamook!), and because I was only doing a half recipe, I baked it in a 6" cake round, and added a tall parchment collar.  Thank goodness I did, because this baby rose so high it was crazy!! The part of the crust that looks paler is because that's the part that was covered by the round :)

When I started the dough for this, it looked really dry to me, but I fought the urge to add water to it, knowing that the addition of the butter was going to loosen it way up.  The dough felt really wonderful, so velvety smooth and supple - I almost hated to add the mixin's into it! I'm betting this dough will work well with almost anything you can think of adding, sweet or savory.

It made awesome roast beef sandwiches and One-Eyed-Jack (Egg in a Basket or Nest, same thing).  I actually couldn't really stop myself from slicing and eating it while it was warm.