Thursday, December 30, 2010

White Turkey Chili

This is one of those recipes that you look at the list of ingredients and think you know how it's going to taste, but you don''s so much better!

And for that I'm very happy because even though I've been remiss in regular posting, Marthe still let me pick the recipe for Craving Ellie in My Belly this week! For inspiration, I turned to the Food Network website, and this recipe was one of Ellie Krieger's 10 most highly rated recipes. When I saw hominy, I almost kept going. But then I read some of the reviews and to say they are overwhelmingly positive is an understatement. People LOVED this recipe. Like me, many had never cooked with hominy. I didn't even know what it was...I thought hominy was a can of solidified grits. Really. After consulting Wikipedia, I still wasn't sure what it was. Wikipedia says:

"Hominy or nixtamal is dried maize kernels which have been treated with an alkali in a process called nixtamalization."

Well, OK.

The recipe calls for a mirepoix of celery, onion and poblano peppers, some spices, ground turkey, white beans, broth and the canned hominy. I opened the can like there was an alien underneath the lid, and regarded the hominy with suspicion before rinsing it and tossing it in the pot. I needn't have worried. The hominy gave the chili a subtle corn flavor.

This was an easy recipe that made tons of chili, and I thought it was delicious. In fact, I wish I still had some to have for lunch today! I hope my fellow CEiMB cooks liked it as much as I did. If you'd like to make it, you can find the recipe in So Easy, below or here. I plan to make it again, but adapt it for my slow cooker.

White Turkey Chili

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium poblano peppers (about 4 ounces each), seeded and white ribs removed, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more to taste
1 pound ground white meat turkey
2 (15.5-ounce) cans white beans such as cannelini, drained and rinsed
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (15.5-ounce) can hominy, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges

Heat the oil in large pot or Dutch oven over moderate heat. Add the onion, celery, poblanos, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the ground turkey and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until the meat is no longer pink about 2 minutes. Add the white beans, broth and oregano. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes.

Add the hominy and salt and more cayenne pepper, to taste, and continue cooking, partially covered, 10 minutes longer. Ladle into individual bowls and top each serving with 1 tablespoon of yogurt and 1 1/2 teaspoons of cilantro. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Serves 6

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pecan Honey Sticky Buns

Before we start thinking about the new year, and returning to a modicum of restraint in the butter and sugar department, behold:

Nothing healthy about these babies. Loads of butter and sugar and oh-so-delicious as a result.

I had planned to make the Brioche Raisin Snails for the Tuesdays with Dorie rewind this week, but I ran out of time and made these instead. I still have 1/2 recipe of Dorie's brioche in the freezer, so the snails may make an appearance soon.

I made these over a couple of days: the brioche dough on Saturday, rolled them out and made the topping Monday night, and rose and baked them Tuesday morning. There weren't many people at work today, so there were just enough to go around. Warm, soft, ooey gooey with honeyed pecans clinging to them, these could be the best part of my work week!

This is a great do-ahead recipe. You could even make the glaze, roll and cut the rolls and freeze them in the pan ready to proof. Perfect when you want to make a little something special for breakfast, or to reward yourself for all the closets you plan to clean out on January 1st.

Lots of TWD bakers are making recipes they've missed or really loved this week. Check out what they made here.

Monday, December 27, 2010


The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

I love being a Daring Baker, and one of the things I love most about it is we make recipes that might seem daunting but usually are broken up into steps that are totally doable. I didn't know what a stollen was, so this was a fun recipe for me to tackle. I love making bread, and this is just a fancier loaf of bread.

Penny very kindly gave us suggestions for making our own candied zest, but I just didn't have the time, so I bought dreadful citron at Safeway. Ugh. I'm sure bakers who made their own (and I know there will be many) will have a much tastier stollen than I. Later, I thought of substituting crystallized ginger for the citron, and I may go back and try it with that. 

Stollen is a lot of fun to make. The recipe Penny shared with us was detailed and easy to follow. After my dough stayed in the fridge overnight, it took more than the specified 2 hours to be malleable, so I gave it an extra hour. It rolled up like a champ, and I loved her suggestion of forming it around a bowl. When mine went into the oven, it was a perfect circle as a result, but it grew so much in the oven that the sheet pan's sides confined it and it ended up shaped more like an ellipse.

See, gorgeous going into the oven...

...not so gorgeous out of the oven

I gave it one coating of melted butter and powdered sugar, and after it cooled, I wrapped it in foil for the next day.

This was a hit at work, and for a change, there was enough for everyone who wanted a piece. Redolent of orange, it was dense but fluffy at the same time. Everyone loved how it smelled. It was so good, and pretty easy, so I started thinking about other versions...I haven't had time to make them but I've been bitten by the stollen bug.

If you'd like to try your hand at stollen, here's the recipe Penny shared with us with my modifications. Penny very generously gave us permission to use her photos, some of which I've included if I think it will help you conceptualize what the recipe is asking for.

Stollen Wreath

Makes one large wreath. Serves 10+ people

¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast (I used 3 1/2 teaspoons of instant yeast)
1 cup (240 ml) milk
10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first - then sift- plus extra for dusting)
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) orange extract
¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel
1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed golden raisins
3 tablespoons (45ml) orange juice
1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) sliced almonds
Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the orange juice and set aside.
To make the dough
Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.
In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium - low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.
Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add orange and vanilla extracts.
In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.
Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.
Add in the mixed peel, soaked raisins and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. 
Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn't enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.
Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath
1. Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.
Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.
Daring Baker's  Stollen
Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.
Daring Baker's  Stollen
This was before I pinched it together
Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough.
Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Let cool at least an hour before serving. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cardamom Crumb Cake

Two days ago, it hit me.

This is not the last week of the month.

I know, I know, at this time of the year it's kind of a "duh!" that I don't have a better grasp of the calendar, but I don't celebrate Christmas so I don't have that great an awareness that the clock is ticking down to Saturday. I thought this week was the week we could do a rewind for Tuesdays with Dorie, and I looked forward to the relaxed posting deadline for the...that I plan to make. No, I'm not telling you what it is. You'll have to come back next week.

Two days ago, I was checking the TWD website and was startled to see the P&Q for Cardamom Crumb Cake. What?!? Oh yeah, it's NOT the last week of the year. Bummer.

Frankly, the recipe didn't thrill me. Cardamom, walnuts, coffee and orange are all things I like, but I couldn't imagine how they would work together. But I trust Dorie and I know she has a terrific palate, so I went with it. And I expanded the panoply of flavors by using some leftover crumb topping from this fruit crumble. That crumb topping is decidedly cinnamon, but cinnamon plays well with the other flavors. Plus, I'm lazy. But you already knew that.

Fortunately, this is a really easy recipe to throw together, and Dorie has thoughtfully arranged it in such a way to minimize dirty dishes. I added chopped walnuts to my leftover crumb topping and sprinkled it over the batter. Dorie gives perhaps the best piece of advice about crumb toppings that I've even seen: lightly press the crumbs into the batter. Brilliant! No more crumbless crumb cake.

Please excuse my iPhone photo. We've had practically zero natural light in the Bay area recently as a series of storms marches through, and I couldn't wait any longer to head into work this morning.

This cake was liked by my tasters, but wasn't wildly popular. I thought the flavor combination was interesting and tasty, and a crumb topping is hard to beat. It was fun to be able to throw it together at the last minute.

Our host this week was Jill of Jill's Blog. I love Jill, she is unusually funny and still visits me even if I can't visit her, like for the past month while I've been trying to get over tendonitis in my right wrist. Jill has the recipe for you here.

Find out how the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers liked this one, too. You can find them here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cinnamon Cookies for Grown Ups

The best cookie exchange you can do is with dear friends, and that's what makes this one so special.

Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook conceived this cookie exchange among several of us who Twitter bake. We often wish we lived closer: I live in California and Marthe lives in the Netherlands, and the rest of the bakers live in between (Di will post a round up in a few days). Yet we often get together virtually and bake and share notes through our tweets.

Normally, I would have selected another recipe but I'm still hampered by tendonitis in my right wrist, so chopping was out of the question. Inspired by a recent post by Katrina, I revamped this recipe to include cinnamon chips. Brown butter + cinnamon = delicious. Perhaps not as delicious as brown butter served by itself, but still yummy.

Cinnamon Cookies for Grown Ups
Printer friendly recipe

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 cups cinnamon chips

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. 

2.  Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

3. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a deep 10-inch skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma and the milk solids are very brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large, deep heatproof bowl. Immediately stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

4. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in cinnamon chips and give dough a final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

5. Portion out dough: 1 tablespoon will give you 2" cookies and 2 tablespoons of dough yields 3-3 1/2" cookies. Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

6. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 9 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Makes about 3 dozen 2" cookies

Thanks, Di, for coming up with this fun idea. You're the best! XOXO

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Translucent Maple Tuiles

I have a tenacious case of tendonitis in my wrist, which has brought my blogging, commenting and tweeting to a screeching halt. Fortunately, I made these tuiles before the doctor knew how much my wrist hurt (I deliberately waited to see the doctor until after Thanksgiving). I would have been so sad to miss them since they're delicious and were picked by my blogging friend, Clivia of Bubie's Little Baker. Tasty, beautiful and easy, all in one delicate cookie.

The only tricky part of this recipe (other than not eating all of them by myself) could be scraping them off the sheet pan and transferring them to your rolling pin. I baked them in small batches so they wouldn't cool too much to flex on the rolling pin. Then I got lazy and decreed the rest would be flat. None of my tasters seemed to care if they were flat or curved because they're so amazingly yummy.

Thanks, Clivia, for picking a real winner. If you'd like to see what the other Tuesdays with Dorie bakers did with this one, you'll find them here. And Clivia has the recipe for you here.

You only have a few days left to enter my giveaway! BlogHer and Ghirardelli chocolate teamed up and they're offering a $100 Visa gift card to one lucky person who leaves a comment here. And maybe less enticing than a $100 gift card is my recipe for double chocolate scones. In a word...dangerous. Check them out while you're entering the giveaway.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Porcini Ravioli Spinach Soup

After the excesses of Thanksgiving, this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was a welcome return of sanity to the dinner table. Like many Americans, I had leftover turkey from the big dinner, and I had porcini cheese ravioli in the freezer. So like so many of Ellie's recipes, it had morphed greatly by the time it hit my dinner table.

Try this delicious soup, but do make it your own. I don't usually have a leftover turkey breast in the fridge, but I could just as easily have used rotisserie chicken, tofu or canned beans.

Many thanks to Bri of Yoshimi vs. Motherhood for picking this week's recipe. You can find the original recipe on her post.

Porcini Ravioli Spinach Soup (adapted from So Easy)
Printer friendly recipe

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced (1 1/2 cups)
2 ribs celery, sliced (1 cup)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
3 ounces baby spinach, sliced into ribbons (3 cups)
1 package fresh store-bought porcini ravioli (2 cups)
6 ounces cooked turkey breast, cubed or shredded
1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the onions are translucent and the garlic is softened, another 3 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, oregano, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until softened, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with their juices and the broth and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the tortellini and cook until the tortellini are almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the turkey breast (if using) and the spinach. Cook for another minute or two. Squeeze the lemon and stir the juice into the soup, season to taste and serve with the parmesan cheese.

Serves 4

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Devilish Shortcakes

Last year (or was it earlier this year?) the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers made the Tender Shortcakes, and I remember their extraordinary lightness and addictive flavor. It was a recipe that surprised me with its simplicity and yumminess.

This recipe, selected by Tania of Love Big, Bake Often, turns the volume up a notch. It lacks some of the tenderness but more than makes up for it with a punch of chocolate flavor, thanks to a respectable ratio of cocoa. I doubled the recipe as I made these for a bittersweet occasion at work. One of my coworkers is leaving to go to work at a university closer to her home (cutting 2 1/2 hours from her daily commute) and I wanted to make something especially for her. These devilish shortcakes seemed to combine the two qualities she wanted in a dessert...chocolate or fruit, or both. I served these with the last strawberries of the season, sweetened with a little sugar and served on a puff of freshly whipped cream. They were sweet and nice, the perfect gift for a coworker who is as sweet and kind as she is smart. 

If you'd like the recipe, Tania has it for you here. And you can see what the other TWD bakers thought about it here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Plum Crostata

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date! And that date is the monthly posting for Daring Bakers. I put off this ridiculously easy recipe until the day after it was supposed to be posted. As I was making it, it was so easy I wondered why I waited so long.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

I had never had a crostata but I knew I wanted to make gingered plum preserves for it. The only problem was that in November, plums are pretty much gone from the markets, unless they've been picked green and transported from another continent. That's what I ended up with, and the preserves weren't as great as they normally are but they were still better than store bought. 

The crust is fairly simple to put together and work with, and rolling it out was a snap. I cut out some little hearts from the scraps instead of doing the lattice because it was 8 PM. My crostata baked for 29 minutes and cooled completely before we cut it. It was good, but I wasn't wowed by it. That could have been because it came after the many desserts during the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanks, Simona, for hosting this month and for picking something easy! If you'd like the recipe, Simona has it for you here.

And now for some shameless self promotion...have you entered my giveaway yet? BlogHer has graciously offered a $100 Visa gift card. You can enter here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hidden Plum Berry Torte

This is the first rewind week for Tuesdays with Dorie in a long time. I was so excited, and then it hit me.

I'd have to decide on a recipe from the ones that were made in the 9 months before I joined. And that is not an easy thing, but I finally decided on Dorie's Hidden Berry Torte.

I used homemade gingered plum raspberry preserves (recipe here) and added cinnamon and ginger to the cheese filling. My torte looked great after 40 minutes in the oven, but at 57 minutes, the top was browned and cracked. It was still jiggly, so I tented it and baked it for a few more minutes. Once cooled to room temperature, the torte was refrigerated overnight. I let it warm up slightly before removing the side of the springform pan.

The verdict? It was good, but could have been better. My Twitter buddy Nancy fine-tuned it by adding more jam (the 1/3 cup the recipe called for wasn't enough to make an impression on the taste buds) and covering loosely with foil from the very beginning. Nancy's torte was snow white on the top, definitely better than my browned top. The filling was creamy and luscious, the crust sandy like a sable cookie. It was devoured quickly at work, which is all a baker can ask for!

Check out what the other TWD members made this week. You can find them here. And make sure you check out my giveaway...YOU could win a $100 Visa gift card (and get my recipe for double chocolate scones)! Just leave a comment on this post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cranberry Lime Galette, Sort Of

This sad object resembles a broken dam more than it does a tempting dessert, and for that I'm truly sorry. It all boiled down to one thing:

Operator error.

Yes, that means me. I forgot to add a very important component. The one that soaks up the juices and makes this recipe a luscious slice of fall:

Yup, I forgot to add the bread crumbs and ground nuts, and the juices ran out of the crust, all over and under the parchment paper and then they burned while it baked.

I can report that cranberry caramel is tasty. The burned parts, not so much.

I used my easy all-butter pie crust (you can find it here) and we did break off parts of it to enjoy. That part was good.

What did I learn:
  • Read the recipe through before making it. No really, I think this would help.
  • Make sure you scrape all of the sugar out of the mixing bowl. Between the cranberries and the lime, this dessert is plenty tart, and it needs all of the sugar the recipe calls for.
  • I supported the sides of my galette with empty ramekins before putting it in the oven, with the exception of one side that looked fine. That was the one that flopped over and let all the juices run away. Oops.
  • I used a full bag of cranberries and a diced apple, and that was way too much filling for my galette. Follow your instincts: if it looks like too much filling, it probably is.

Our host this week for Tuesdays with Dorie was the blogging family of Sarah, Rachael, Whitney, Lizzie and April who are behind Celestial Confections. I'm telling you, if I had sisters and sisters-in-law who were willing to cook and write about it on my blog, I'd be posting a lot more. Or I'd be posting less but there'd be more content. Anyway, they make the most amazing creations. They picked the cranberry lime galette and they'll have the recipe for you here. I wish mine had turned out better, but sometimes it's OK to have a fail, as long as they're funny stories, right?

By the way, have you entered my giveaway? Ghirardelli and BlogHer have teamed up for a wonderful promotion and YOU can win a $100 Visa gift card! You can enter here. You'll also find a killer double chocolate scone recipe I dreamed up just for the occasion. Let's just say these were so good, they didn't make it to work.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Easy All-Butter Pie Crust

I've been cooking and baking since I was 10 years old. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer (her second time) and it was up to me to feed my stepfather and his two sons. It wasn't pretty, but I learned to cook, more trial by fire than anything, and not even my abysmal failures discouraged me from going back in the kitchen and trying again.

My mother recovered but I kept cooking and baking. Still with mixed results but heck, I was a self taught ten year-old, so they cut me a lot of slack. My mom hated to cook and was thrilled that I liked to. I cooked mostly by trial and error at that age. The years passed and I became a decent cook, but there were certain things I couldn't master, and pie crust was at the top of the list. Until one day, thumbing through cookbooks at the Doubleday bookstore at Bal Harbour Shops in Miami Beach, I found this book:

In it was the pie crust recipe, nay, technique, that would change my life. And that's what I have for you today, a recipe with a technique that will give you the flakiest all-butter pie crust you've ever dreamed of.

Here's how it works (recipe and tips below):

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and freeze for 15 minutes.

Add chunks of butter (just toss them in) and freeze for an additional 15 minutes.

Toss the whole mess on your (clean) counter.

Roll over the mess with your rolling pin, scraping the pile of flour and chunks to the center and roll over it.

Do this until a lot of the butter is in thin flat sheets.

Gather it up and toss it back in the bowl, then pour over a mixture of cold water, cider vinegar and kosher salt.

Lightly flour your counter. Toss the mixture on the counter and roll out (the dough will be a mess so don't worry!)

Gather into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, roll your rolling pin over it a couple of times and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough in half and roll out the two halves. Congratulations, you've just made pie crust!

When I'm making pie crust for Thanksgiving, I have two mixing bowls going at the same time, one goes in the freezer when the other one comes out, so I can mass produce multiple batches of dough in less time. I find that it makes sense to make extra batches (if I'm messing up my counter, I might as well put some extra batches in the freezer.)

Here are a few tips:
  • Always clean your counter first. Even though your crust will bake and the oven's heat will kill any cooties, crumbs from your morning toast or an errant raisin aren't nice additions to your pristine pie crust.
  • If you own pets, change your shirt. Nobody loves cat hair in their pie. Not even the cat's owner.
  • If the butter chunks seem easy to roll into the flour, your dough is too warm. Gather it back up and put it in the freezer until it firms up a bit.
  • Pie crust scraps can be saved to make decorative embellishments for the top. I usually re-roll mine and make jam tarts. Or sometimes I toss them on a sheet pan, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake until lightly browned. Nobody needs to know you have this little will be our secret!
  • If you leave the flour/butter in the freezer too long and your butter chunks are solid, leave the bowl out on the counter for a few minutes.
  • When rolling your pie crust, roll from the center to the edge, then rotate. I prefer flouring the counter and rolling on that, but you can sandwich the crust between two pieces of plastic wrap, just be careful to reposition the plastic wrap so it doesn't become embedded in the dough.

Easy All-Butter Pie Crust (adapted from Baking with Jim Dodge)
Makes one 9" double crust or two 9" single crusts

2 cups/280 grams all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons cold water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Put the 2 cups of flour in a mixing bowl and place in the freezer. After 15 minutes, cut butter into 1" chunks and toss into bowl with flour. Combine the water, salt and vinegar, stirring until the salt is dissolved, and put mixture in the fridge.

After 15 minutes, dump flour mixture on your counter and roll over it with a rolling pin. Keep sweeping the pile into the center with a bench scraper or your hand. Keep rolling until all of the butter is in large flakes two to three inches long (or longer). The dough will stick to your rolling pin so scrape it back onto your board and keep rolling. 

Once your butter is in large flakes, gather the whole mess and put it back in the mixing bowl. Pour the water mixture over it, and press it together lightly with a spatula. Lightly flour your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough out, then using your bench scraper, fold it in half and roll it out to approximately a 9x14" rectangle, fold the two sides in like a letter, and roll out to approximately 8x9". Fold dough in half (it will be crumbly). Carefully wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling out for your pie.

Divide dough in half and keep the other half wrapped in plastic while you roll the first half. On a well floured counter or board, sprinkle a little flour in the top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Shape the dough into a roundish, 6" patty with your hands before you start rolling (you can roll the crust between pieces of plastic wrap if you like-you won't need to add additional flour this way). Roll from the middle of the dough out to the edge, turn the dough 90 degrees, roll from the center of the dough to the edge, and repeat the turning and rolling until your dough measures approximately 12" across (or about an inch larger for the top crust of a double crust pie). If the dough sticks to the counter while you're rolling it out, sprinkle a little flour underneath. The goal is to use just enough flour to roll it out without sticking. Don't add flour unless you're sticking.

Measure if you've rolled the dough out enough by holding the pie pan over it - it should be a couple inches larger than the pie pan

Brush off any excess flour, gently fold the dough in half, then in half again, and lay it in a buttered 9" pie pan. Unfold the dough and fit it into the pie pan, easing it into the corners gently, trim the excess hanging over the edge of the rim (or fluting the rim if you're so inclined; I'm not a fluter-sorry).

If you're making a two crust pie, you can seal the two crusts together by applying an egg wash to the rim of the bottom crust before you top with the top crust.

I used a glass pie plate here, and flipped pie plate with dough inside over a buttered second pie plate before blind (pre-) baking

To partially bake the crust, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter the OUTSIDE of another pan of the same size. Invert the empty pan on a baking sheet, and put the pan with the pie crust face down on the inverted pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then press down on the pan to force out any air pockets that may have formed. Bake for another 10 minutes, flip over both pie pans and remove the one you placed inside your pie crust. Continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Cool on a rack and precede with your pie recipe.

I hope you'll conquer your pie crust fears as I did. Nothing beats a freshly-made pie.

BTW, I'm having a giveaway - you can win a $100 Visa gift card courtesy of BlogHer. You can find it here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Whole Wheat Pasta with Walnuts and Goat Cheese

In my mind, for a recipe to be great it has to be both adaptable and idiot proof. And this week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe was just such a recipe.

It was chosen by my friend Kayte at Grandma's Kitchen Table. Kayte has more energy than any three people I know. It's not unusual for her to decide she wants to make all the breads in, say a whole section of a cookbook, and have it done in three days. She amazes me!

It's been a while since I posted for CEiMB, though I have made some of the recipes, and it being Kayte's week to pick was just the incentive I needed to get back in the swing.

This was supposed to be a pasta salad, and use feta and walnut oil. I decided I wanted a hot pasta dinner, so I adapted this. I don't like feta so I used goat cheese. I thought I had walnut oil in the fridge but didn't, so I used hazelnut oil. I thought I had hazelnuts to complement the hazelnut oil, but I didn't so I went with walnuts. I was too lazy to dice the red onion so I left it out.

And you know, it was really great! The warm pasta is like a sponge for the dressing, so I did add a little more to the pasta. But all of the flavors combined very well and made it a delightful light dinner. I made this after a full day of making pie dough for the freezer (for National Pie Day, aka Thanksgiving) and it was a comforting and easy meal, successful in spite of my relentless tweaking of the recipe.

Thanks, Kayte, for a great pick! If you'd like the recipe, you can find it here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cranberry Shortbread "Cake"

I never, ever, ever would have made this "cake" if it wasn't for my esteemed blogging buddy Jessica of A Singleton in the Kitchen. And that would have been a real shame. Jessica, who will be faced with renaming her blog next year when she and beau Dudley get married, chose Dorie Greenspan's Not-Just-For-Thanksgiving Cranberry Shortbread Cake as this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection.

I had a VERY hard time forcing myself to make this "cake." First, there's no photo in the book and I just couldn't wrap my head around how it would look. Second, although I like cranberries, I don't wake up in the morning and think "Gee, what can I make with cranberries today?" And last, the dough sounded finicky and difficult to work with. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A shortbread "cake" (I keep using quotes because it's all crust to me) surrounds a jam you make with cranberries and orange supremes. I went with a Texas pink grapefruit, both in honor of Jessica and, well, because it was what I had available. I made the super easy jam several days before I made the "cake" and tucked it away in the fridge. Last night, I checked Jessica's post (you can find it here) hoping for a photo of the completed "cake" to inspire me to make it. Yes and yes! So this morning I got up at five and started on the "cake." Surprise of surprises, I LOVED working with the dough. In fact, I plan to try this as a tart crust because I love it so much.

This recipe, except for my procrastination, was completely uneventful. Here's what I learned:
  • Knowing my natural proclivity for not evenly measuring two dough halves, I weighed them on my scale.
  • Jessica's "cake" looked as though she left a small border around the jam and pressed the crust closed around the jam. I liked that idea so I did the same.
  • Tracey tweeted that she measured the top crust to get it the right size. I didn't do that, although I did use the ring of the springform pan to gauge it. My top crust ended up a tiny bit bigger than I wanted, so I pushed down the excess.
  • Although I didn't do it this time, I am currently enamored with adding ginger to many of my recipes. I think some diced fresh ginger would make a great addition to the jam.
  • I sprinkled Demerara sugar on top of the "cake" before baking.
In case you think I'm on the fence about this one, au contraire. I loved it. The tartness of the cranberries played perfectly against the sweet, crunchy pastry. It will be hard to share this one.

Jessica, thanks for a fantastic pick. I heart you, and not just because you chose this TART.

If you'd like the recipe, I have one thing to the book already! It's the best baking book, period. But if it's not in the budget this week, Jessica has the recipe for you, as well as a tasty apple version. And there are hundreds of us baking through Baking From My Home to Yours. You can find out what the other bakers thought here.

Check back next week...I'll have something exciting for you!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

TWD - Peanuttiest Blondies

This isn't a nice way to begin, but I'm not a huge blondie fan. You have to add large amounts of something I like for me to get enthused about them. So I was a bit ambivalent when the November Tuesday with Dorie recipes were announced. Or maybe my ambivalence was because I learned what the recipes while we were here

...and knowing I would be home and not eating macarons (and having so many Deep Discussions about favorite ones) by the time I made them. I was going to make them Sunday, but I was having too much fun reconnecting with some of my Twitter buddies and one of them give me excellent advice on sourdough starters (thanks, Di!)

Monday morning, I woke up and I WANTED to bake. And it occurred to me, I'd missed my peeps. My dear coworkers, who eat anything and everything I bring in, regardless of how presentable or tasty it is (or isn't). I missed them. And though I wasn't exactly bubbling with joy about going back to work, I missed having an enthusiastic group of people who like eating what I bake.

None of this really matters. What does matter is that Nicole of Bakologie picked these blondies, and they were what helped me get my baking groove back. They were simple (except can I tell you how much I dislike chopping nuts that roll around? It's a lot.) Dorie's instructions were perfect as usual (does anyone else miss Dorie's careful, detailed instructions when baking other cookbooks?) A few observations:
  • I have a gigantic jar of smooth peanut butter from Costco so I used that instead of chunky. I added a few more chopped peanuts to compensate.
  • I recently came into a windfall of chocolate related to a future promotion (you're going to want to check back in a few weeks for that one), so I used some milk chocolate chips from my stash.
  • Dorie says to bake these in a pan lined with foil, which you butter, and I resisted the urge to use parchment instead, which doesn't require buttering. This would be the perfect use for nonstick foil (I used heavy duty, since the foil also acts as a sling). You want the foil to extend far enough over the sides for you to lift the blondies out.
  • Cut these into tiny bars as they are very rich. That won't stop some people from taking two, but one really is enough. Unless you're coming back to work after a two week vacation. Then it's OK to have two.
They were good! Not as good as my favorite brown butter blondies, but definitely not the usual boring blondie. I would make these again, happily, and maybe even do some substitutions to make it interesting.

Thanks, Nicole, for a tasty and easy pick. If you'd like the recipe, Nicole has it for you here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

CwF - Molten Chocolate Orange Madeleines

What? That wasn't the recipe we were supposed to make? Oops.

Julie of A Little Bit of Everything is our fearless leader for Chocolate with Francois. Julie selected chocolate honey madeleines for the group to make this month. It's an easy recipe for us, given that the group has conquered multi-step, multi-day recipes of late. Even easier, the batter is made and rested for up to three days in the fridge before baking. I made these pre-vacation, when I was working tons and feeling stressed. That's my excuse for my seeming disregard of the recipe.

When the recipe said to add the grated zest of half an orange, I figured more was better. When Payard said that you would use two madeleine pans, and get 24 madeleines, I looked at my single madeleine pan and thought "I can put the rest in a mini muffin pan" and then promptly forgot there would be a "rest" to do that with. Instead, I overfilled 19 of the molds, ran out of batter and figured I was good to go. Big mistake. Although my madeleines rose nicely, no matter how many minutes extra I baked them, they never cooked on the inside.

As nice as a molten chocolate cake can be, it's not a good concept for madeleines. These were still good, and the smaller, less gooey ones were delicious, with a nice punch of orange and a very subtle tang of honey.

If you'd like the recipe, and promise to follow the instructions, Julie will have it for you here. And thanks, Julie, for picking something easy and fun!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daring Bakers - Cake and Yeast Donuts

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Donuts are one of those dangerous foods that are suppposed to taste better when you make them at home. I really don't need for them to taste better than they already do, but I missed last month's Daring Bakers challenge and I didn't want to miss another one.

My plan was to only make one recipe. My coworkers were almost evenly divided between yeast donut lovers and cake donut lovers. I did a poll and the yeast donut lovers won out, but I decided to make both kinds because, well, I'm insane. I made the dough for the yeast donuts the night before and stuck it in the fridge, planning to roll it out and cut out the donuts the next morning. But a peek in the fridge confirmed the dough was staging a coup and the middle shelf would soon be history. So at 11:00 PM, I rolled out the dough for the yeast donuts, cut them out and froze them on sheet pans. At 5:20 the next morning, after I staggered out to turn on the coffee maker, I pulled the donuts out of the freezer and and put the sheet pans on the counter to defrost. Meanwhile, I made the dough for the cake donuts.

Following Alton Brown's suggestion to use chop sticks when retrieving the fried donuts from the hot oil, I used them to transfer the donuts into the hot oil saving me from getting too many burns. It was hard to know when they were done, so some were very brown and some weren't, but they seemed to benefit from carryover cooking, which I should have taken into consideration.

The donut holes were tough little devils to fry. They didn't want their pale undersides to flip in the oil, and they wriggled every which way to avoid it. It took me twice as long to fry the donut holes as the donuts. Next time I'd skip making donut holes entirely.

When I said "staggered" and "coffee," my regular readers probably registered a silent "Uh oh." I don't do well on not enough sleep combined with before-dawn baking, and this was no exception. After I finished frying the donuts, I found this lurking in the mayhem I used to call my kitchen:

No wonder the cake donuts were hard to roll into a cohesive mass. Eggs would have helped.

I wanted glazed donuts and had settled on Alton Brown's plain and chocolate glazes. I didn't have time to strain the powdered sugar, and my glazes did have a few lumps.

The normal reaction when I take baked goods to work is quite a few emails praising the brownie, tart, etc. People will stop me in the hall and say how much they liked it, ask me where I find the time (when normal people are sleeping or working out), or request the recipe.

This time, silence.

I must admit I was perplexed. I tasted the donuts at home and the yeast donuts were truly amazing.  Light, with an imperceptible hint of flavor from the nutmeg, I finally understood why people were willing to make their kitchen look like this

to make them at home. I expected a lot more reaction from my coworkers. So I stopped by the break room to sample one for myself. What a difference two hours made. It was leaden, dense and not as flavorful as the one I sampled at home. The only thing that saved it was the chocolate glaze.

After this experience, there are a few things I learned:
  • Pick one kind of donuts to make. Don't make both. At least not at 5 AM.
  • Golden brown means...GOLDEN. BROWN.  Not dark brown, not chocolate brown, not medium brown. I was so worried about raw middles that I completely overcooked them.
  • 86 the donut holes. They aren't worth the precious time they consume.
  • Serve the donuts immediately. If it means handing them out car to car at all the lights on the way to work, send them out into the world while they're still appealing.
  • Have the glaze made before frying your donuts. It holds well, unlike donuts.

Maybe it doesn't sound like it, but I was so excited to make this recipe. I tripped myself up, and I hope I learned a valuable lesson. In trying to please everyone, it's possible to please no one. Next time, I'll make a small batch of these for us to enjoy at home.

Egg-free cake donuts