Sweet Potato Pie with Maple Meringue

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie begins with one of my favorite types of crust… the press in crust. I’ll be honest, making and rolling out traditional pie dough IMG_7999induces anxiety and nightmares of ruined desserts; so logically, I try to avoid them when I can. This crust is the result of toasted pecans, graham crackers, fresh ginger, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and melted butter taking a spin in a food processor before being pressed into a pie plate. After baking in the oven for 25 minutes you’ve got yourself a delicious pie crust without any tears, curses, or tell tale signs of patchwork.

The filling is very similar to pumpkin pie, but made with roasted sweet potatoes, along with eggs, cream, brown sugar, and a splash of bourbon to round everything out. After baking in the oven, then cooling, the pie could very easily (and tastily) be served with a dollop of whipped cream. However, I highly recommend you spend an extra 10 minutes to push this pie over the top. Blanket it with a heaping cloud of maple syrup meringue and pop it under the broiler for mere seconds to achieve a golden blush. Your family and friends will thank you. You will thank you.

Another plus for this recipe, especially when entertaining, is that it can be broken down into tasks over the course of a couple of days. For example, on day 1 make the crust, roast the sweet potatoes and puree the flesh. Cover tightly and refrigerate. On day 2, prepare the filling and bake. Allow the pie to cool, then whip up the meringue, top the pie and brown. The pie can be served immediately, or covered and tucked in the fridge overnight before making its big debut on your table.

IMG_8062There are a number of ways you could have fun with this recipe if you’re up for experimenting. Simply swap:

walnuts for pecans
rum for bourbon
pumpkin for sweet potato
gluten free graham crackers for regular graham crackers

The original meringue recipe from Food & Wine calls for quite a bit of simple syrup and tastes cloyingly sweet to me, without doing much to enhance the seasonal tastes of the pie. Instead of simple syrup, I use maple syrup (less than half the amount of syrup called for in the original) to make the meringue which pairs beautifully with the fall flavors of the sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and ginger. I also reduce the amount of sugar in the crust, as the graham crackers already have plenty of sugar in them.

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie and Apple Cream Pie will be on our dessert table this Thanksgiving and possibly even Christmas… what will be on yours?

Sweet Potato Pie with Maple Meringue

Sweet Potato Meringue Pie

  • Servings: 8-10
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*adapted from a recipe Chef Andrew Carmellini contributed to Food & Wine

Ingredients:
For the crust:
1 cup (4 ounces) pecan halves
11 whole graham crackers, broken (gluten free, if needed)
4 teaspoons minced ginger
1 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
32 ounces of sweet potatoes (about 3 large sweet potatoes)
½ cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 Tablespoons bourbon
½ cup heavy cream

For the meringue:
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
3 large egg whites
pinch of salt

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a pie plate, toast the pecans for about 10 minutes or until fragrant and browned. Let the nuts cool completely.

In a food processor, combine the pecans, graham crackers, ginger, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon; pulse until crumbs form. Add melted butter and process until incorporated. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool. Keep the oven on.

Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork and cook in a microwave oven for 10 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to the 325°F oven and roast for 10 minutes longer, or until soft. Let cool, then scrape out the flesh; you should have about 2¼ cups.

Transfer the sweet potato to the food processor and puree until smooth. Add the brown sugar, eggs, and bourbon and process until blended. Add the heavy cream and process until incorporated. Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 50 minutes, or until set; cover the crust edges with foil if they darken. Let the pie cool completely.

In a small saucepan, bring maple syrup to a boil. Cook over high heat until a candy thermometer inserted in the syrup registers 240°F, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form. With the machine running, carefully and slowly drizzle in the hot syrup and beat at high speed until the whites are stiff, glossy, and warm to the touch, about 3 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Mound the meringue over the sweet potato filling, swirling it decoratively. Broil the pie 4-6 inches from the heat for 30 seconds, or until lightly browned- do NOT look away(!), it can burn very quickly.

Cut into wedges and enjoy!

*Pie can be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.

Pie crust ingredients ready to go into the food processor: pecans, graham crackers, ginger, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter.
In a food processor, combine pecans, graham crackers, ginger, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and melted butter.
Pecan and graham cracker crust
Press processed ingredients into deep dish pie plate. Bake at 325°F for 25 minutes.
Pecan and Graham Cracker Crust
Let the pie crust cool while you make the filling.
Roasted sweet potatoes cooling.
Microwave the sweet potatoes for 10 minutes, then finish roasting in the oven for an additional 10 minutes, or until soft. Allow to rest until cool enough to handle, then scoop out flesh and puree in the food processor. You should have 2 1/4 cups puree.
Sweet potato puree, brown sugar, eggs, bourbon, and heavy cream on cutting board.
Sweet potato puree, brown sugar, eggs, bourbon, and heavy cream are ready to combine in the processor.
Sweet potato pie filling in the processor
The sweet potato pie filling is ready to go into the pie crust.
Unbaked sweet potato pie
Bake at 325°F for 50 minutes or until set.
Baked sweet potato pie is cooling.
Filling is set and pie is cooling.
Maple syrup in saucepan.
Let’s make the meringue! Boil maple syrup until thermometer reads 240°F.
Soft peak egg whites on whisk.
At medium speed, beat the egg whites and salt to soft peak stage.
Pouring hot syrup into beaten egg whites.
With mixer going at high speed, pour the syrup in a slow steady stream.
Stiff peak egg whites on whisk
Continue beating egg white/syrup mixture until eggs are glossy and stiff peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.
Mound of maple syrup meringue in center of pie.
Mound maple syrup meringue in center of the pie and swirl decoratively.
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie
Place pie under broiler for 30 seconds or until lightly brown. Do NOT walk away from oven… it will quickly go from brown to burned. Watch it carefully!
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie
Sweet Potato Meringue Pie with Pecan Graham Cracker Crust

Apple Cream Pie

Apple Cream Pie

I love this time of year! The weather, color, gatherings with friends and family,Braeburn and golden delicious apples in a bowl. and the food! Thanksgiving in the US is just a few weeks out and menu planning at White House Red Door is well underway. Truth be told, the planning is not too difficult, as the menu has pretty much remained unchanged since my childhood. It’s not that my parents, siblings, or my own family don’t like to try new foods, or experiment; Christmas dinners, Easter brunches, and other traditional meals vary from year to year, but Thanksgiving has always remained the same, well at least the main dish and sides. There would be a “coup de cuisine” if candied yams weren’t on the table. That said, desserts are an entirely different story. We are far more flexible in our after dinner fare thinking. Friends often join us for dessert, bringing their favorite treats, creating a beautiful cornucopia of desserts.

One pie that has made appearances off and on through the years is my mom’s Apple Cream Pie. Quite unlike a traditional double crust apple pie, Tarte Tatin, or apple crisp, which have all shown up to the party over the years, this pie features tender slices of apples nestled in a bed of creamy custard. Traditional enough for the purists but outside the box enough for those wanting something new or different. For reasons unknown, this pie has not been in attendance for some time, and I’ve never made it myself. Curious to give it a go, I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered and should be included on the menu this year. Without a doubt, it was and will be.

Women's Day Encyclopedia of CookeryConversations with mom revealed that the original recipe came from a long out of print encyclopedia like set of cookbooks from Women’s Day, actually called Encyclopedia of Cookery. My mom still has her set and found an identical set at a tag sale years ago that she gave to me as a gift. It turns out the recipe for this wonderful pie has been sitting in the vintage set of cookbooks, in my own house, for years.

The pie is simply elegant, with few ingredients, quite light and perfect after a heavy meal. I’ve taken the original recipe and updated it somewhat by adding a cinnamon stick, star anise, and cardamom pod to the stewing liquid. These additions infuse the simple syrup, and eventually the cream, with classic flavors and aromas that pair well with the apples. After making the cream pie for dessert this week and receiving all round approval, it will now regularly appear not only on our holiday tables, but throughout the fall and winter.

What desserts will show up on your table this year? Are you a traditionalist serving the same menu each year, or do you like to mix it up?

Apple Cream Pie

Apple Cream Pie

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients:
5 cooking apples, peeled and sliced into eighths
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 anise star
1 cardamom pod
Pastry for one 9” pie crust, unbaked
1 egg
½ cup heavy cream

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put apples in a saucepan with sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until apples are tender, about 10 minutes. While apples are simmering, line a 9” pie plate with crust, decoratively crimping edges and place in freezer until needed.

When apples are tender, remove and place them in a strainer set over a bowl to catch any juices. Continue to simmer syrup left in saucepan until reduced to approximately ½ cup. To that add any syrup caught from draining apples.

After apples have cooled slightly, place in the pie pan lined with pastry. Beat egg and cream together and stir in reserved syrup. Pour over apples. Transfer to oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until custard is set- the center will be slightly jiggly, but will continue to firm up as it cools. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Peeled apples, cut into eighths.
Peel the apples and cut them into eighths.
Apples with sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod in a saucepan.
Add sugar, water, cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod.
Simmering apples in sugar syrup with cinnamon stick, anise star, and cardamom pod.
Simmer apples until tender, about 10 minutes.
Apple syrup in measuring cup, with apples draining in sieve.
Drain apples, reserving any syrup, you should have about 1/2 cup of apple syrup.
Apples placed in the bottom of a pie plate lined with pastry.
After apples have cooled slightly, place them in the bottom of a pie plate line with pastry.
Egg, cream and syrup mixture poured over the apples.
Egg, cream, and syrup mixture is poured over the apples. Bake for 30-45 minutes in a 350°F oven until custard is set.
Apple Cream Pie cooling on a wire rack.
When the custard is set, remove the pie and place on a wire rack for cooling.
Apple Cream Pie dusted with powdered sugar.
If desired, dust the Apple Cream Pie with powdered sugar before serving.

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread sliced on cutting board.

Fall Container The sounds and smells of fall are predictably familiar and comforting. I’ve known them all my life, hearing the chorus of geese honking to one another as they head south, smelling the smoke from a pile of leaves drifting from a backyard, and feeling the crispness in the air as a child trick or treating or walking to school. Even as an adult the pattern continues, the leaves still crunch underfoot, rustling and swirling in the breeze stirred up as I walk my own children to the bus stop each morning. We often talk about taste memories, but it is the echoes, scents, and displays of fall that bring me right back to childhood each year.

That is not to say that the tastes of autumn go by the wayside. Flavors are warmer, spicier, and richer, adding life to both sweet and savory dishes. On these cool days I crave baking- wanting to fill the kitchen with the colors, flavors, and aromas of fall.

This pumpkin bread recipe fits the bill. Many pumpkin bread recipes call for oil as the fat of choice while this recipe uses butter, which I prefer. The original calls for water or orange juice as the liquid, but I swap in cider, as it seems a better complement to the pumpkin. Another addition is nutmeg, to partner with the cinnamon and cloves. I’ve reduced the sugar, which hasn’t done any harm (and no one notices). Finally, the raisins are completely eliminated instead I occasionally add walnuts.

This makes two large loaves of pumpkin bread, one to enjoy now, one to freeze for another day down the road as we march towards winter.

Pumpkin bread slices on cutting board

Pumpkin Bread

  • Servings: 2 large loaves
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*adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook, Collected Recipes for Everyday

Ingredients:
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at room temperature
3 Tablespoons molasses
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
2/3 cup cider
2 cups pumpkin puree, homemade or canned
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ginger
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans.

With an electric mixer, cream butter, molasses, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Beat until light. Add cider and pumpkin purée and mix well.

Sift dry ingredients together into a large bowl, and add the pumpkin mixture, stirring well with a wooden spoon to thoroughly combine. If using the nuts, add them now, folding them carefully into the batter.

Divide evenly into prepared pans. Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto racks to cool.

*This recipe is easily multiplied and freezes well.

Creaming butter, molasses, and sugar until light and fluffy.
Cream butter, molasses, and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at time to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well before adding the next.
Add the eggs one at time, beating well before adding the next.
Butter, sugar, molasses, and egg mixture is light.
Butter, sugar, molasses, and egg mixture is light and creamy.
Adding the pumpkin purée and cider to butter, sugar, and egg mixture.
Add the pumpkin purée and cider and mix well.
Curdled looking mixture... not to worry.
Don’t worry! It looks terrible, but it will be ok!
Combining the wet and dry ingredients well with a wooden spoon.
Add the sifted dry ingredients, combining well with a wooden spoon.
Batter in greased loaf pan.
Divide batter evenly into greased loaf pans.
Pumpkin bread in loaf pan
Pumpkin bread is done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

IMG_7458

 

Homemade Ricotta

Homemade ricotta with herbs

Borough MarketThis summer, we had a phenomenal family trip to London and Ireland.
While we explored the British Museum, Hyde Park, the Churchill War Rooms and the Tower of London, observed the Changing of the Horse Guard and took a spin on the London Eye, my thoughts were never too far from food. In fact, we kicked our trip off with a tour of Borough Market (I highly recommend Context Travel).

Tasting our way down the counter...
Tasting our way down the counter…

Celebrating and tasting your way through artisanal British and Irish cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy is a wonderful beginning to any day.  Meeting and sharing ideas with farmers, spice vendors, and even a tea importer helped us connect to London in a very real way. Continuing the unofficial theme of local foods, we planned our dinners at restaurants that embrace a farm to table philosophy, locally sourcing their products based on seasonal availability. We enjoyed delicious meals at St. John, The Harwood Arms, and Tom’s Kitchen. An absolute standout at Tom’s Kitchen was the “Homemade Ricotta [with] balsamic glaze, dried herbs, grilled sourdough.” Oh. My. Goodness. This ricotta was so incredibly luscious, smooth, and creamy- yet light and airy, that only the fear of public humiliation kept me from stealing the entire dish, huddling in a remote corner, and licking the bowl clean.

Homemade ricotta with bread from Tom's Kitchen.
The inspiration- Homemade Ricotta starter from Tom’s Kitchen.

Since our return home, that ricotta has been on my mind. We have a fairly wide selection of ricotta cheese at the grocery store, but it seems unfair to compare them to what I had in London. Even the best that I can get here is good, but not Tom’s Kitchen Homemade Ricotta good. What to do? The kitchen gods spoke. Challenged accepted. I learned to make my own.

It turns out, homemade ricotta is not hard to make. In 30 minutes you can be sitting down with your own bowl of lusciousness, ready to devour, spoon in hand. Even better, you control the ingredients. No fillers, thickeners, or stabilizers needed, just four simple ingredients- milk, cream, white vinegar and salt. It’s a bit like a science experiment, so if you have kids they are going to love this. But please don’t let “science experiment” intimidate you.  My nine year old is now making the ricotta on a weekly basis.

The final texture depends on how long you leave the ricotta to drain. Ten minutes yields warm, soft curds perfect for enjoying by the spoonful; twenty minutes yields still soft but slightly more spreadable ricotta, while thirty minutes or more will leave you with a firmer, drier, ricotta that holds it shape. Between 10-20 minutes of draining is my favorite for spreading on grilled bread- savory with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle of fresh herbs and a pinch of salt, or sweet with a drizzle of honey and topping of sliced berries. The ricotta that sits longer is perfect to dollop on warm pasta or pizza, either before or after it comes out of the oven.

PS- What about the whey? From 4 cups of milk/cream you will have about 1 cup of ricotta and 3 cups of whey. That is a lot of whey. Before you toss it down the drain you could…
• Replace the water with whey in pizza or bread dough recipes
• Add the whey to soups and stews
• Feed it to your chickens, pigs, etc.

Homemade ricotta with herbs

 

 

Homemade Ricotta

  • Servings: 1 cup
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*recipe inspired by several sources including Serious Eats, The Kitchn and Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:
3 ½ cups whole milk (NOT Ultra High–Temperature (UHT) pasteurized)
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup white vinegar
½ teaspoon salt

Instructions:
Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine milk and heavy cream in a saucepan. Gently warm the milk mixture over medium heat until it reaches 180°. Remove from heat.

Add the white vinegar and salt, stirring gently once or twice to distribute evenly. Leave the milk mixture undisturbed for 10 minutes while the curds and whey form.

After 10 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the curds to the cheesecloth lined sieve. Once the larger curds have been placed in the sieve, carefully pour the remaining curds/whey into the sieve. Let drain for at least 10 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached. The longer the ricotta drains, the firmer it will be.

Transfer to storage container and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Enjoy as you would any ricotta, savory or sweet… in lasagna, ziti, cannoli, atop grilled bread, or just by the spoonful from the bowl!

Milk and cream heating on the stove until it reaches 180°.
Heat the milk and cream mixture to 180°.
The milk/cream mixture is curdling.
After adding the vinegar gently stir once or twice. Leave undisturbed for 10 minutes while the curds develop.
Removing the curds with a slotted spoon.
After 10 minutes the vinegar has worked its magic. You have curds and whey!
Fresh ricotta draining in a fine meshed sieve.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth lined sieve. Leave to drain for at least 10 minutes. The longer you leave the ricotta, the firmer it will be.
Fresh ricotta after 20 minutes of straining.
20 minutes later…
Fresh ricotta after a few pulses in a food processor.
*Completely optional step*  You could stop after draining the ricotta and enjoy as is, or for an extra creamy texture, give your freshly strained ricotta a very brief spin in a food processor.
Freshly whipped ricotta
Freshly whipped ricotta
Basil, oregano and thyme sprigs
Snip a few herbs to sprinkle on top of the whipped ricotta. Serve with slices of grilled bread for an easy appetizer or lunch.
Homemade whipped ricotta sprinkled with herbs and served with grilled ciabatta.
Lunch
Strawberries and Ricotta on Toast
Breakfast the next day…

Ice Cream ‘Wiches and Affogatos

Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream 'Wich with Rainbow Sprinkles

This time of year is absolutely glorious! Lazy, hazy dog days of summer complete with ice cold lemonade, warm sand between your toes, and the echoes of “Marco… Polo” filling the air as you read the latest best seller. Dinners are easier; spontaneous invites for backyard barbeques are extended and accepted. It’s not hard to quickly pull a beautiful simple summer meal together; throw something on the grill and add a delicious salad of farm fresh vegetables on the side. Then your thoughts turn to dessert, but don’t panic! If spontaneity fueled the dinner, time to create a completely from scratch dessert is probably non-existent. Ice cream is a safe bet, cookies as well, but add some sprinkles and now you’ve got a party! Remember chipwiches? Those chocolate chip cookie sandwiches rolled in chocolate chips? Make your own and get the kids (and grownups) involved!

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
Ice Cream ‘Wiches

For this night, I used store bought oatmeal raisin cookies and vanilla ice cream and rolled them in rainbow sprinkles. But don’t stick to that script. The cookie and ice cream combinations are absolutely endless. Choose flavor combinations based on what you like! Here are some ideas to get you started…

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies + Vanilla Ice Cream + Sprinkles
Chocolate Chip Cookies + Vanilla Ice Cream + Sprinkles
Peanut Butter Cookies + Banana Ice Cream + Mini Chocolate Chips
Peanut Butter Cookies + Vanilla Ice Cream + Crushed Candied Peanuts
Molasses Cookies + Cinnamon Ice Cream + Crushed Walnuts
Chocolate Cookies + Coffee Ice Cream + Crushed Hazelnuts
Gingersnap Cookies + Pumpkin Ice Cream + Crushed Pecans

To be honest, more hands-on research is necessary… it’s going to be tough, but I promise to report back after time spent in the field taste testing. Who wants to help??

Another incredibly delicious and easy dessert to make on the fly is an affogato. Literally and figuratively, affogato in Italian means, “drowned.” In this case, a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream is drowned in a shot of espresso. The hot espresso immediately begins melting the gelato, creating the most perfect “coffee ice cream” ever. As I sit typing, I’m already imagining that a dash of Frangelico or Amaretto would be a sophisticated twist. Two (or three) ingredients and you are done! It doesn’t get any easier.

Play around with the flavor combinations of both desserts, and let me know how it goes!

Ice Cream ‘Wiches

  • Servings: 6 sandwiches
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Ingredients:
12 cookies (your favorite- homemade or store bought)
1 container ice cream (your favorite)
sprinkles, crushed nuts, or mini chocolate chips

Instructions:
Soften frozen ice cream at room temperature for approximately 10 minutes. Be sure to check, you don’t want soup, just soft enough to scoop easily and “sandwich” between the cookies.

While ice cream is softening, line a cookie sheet with wax paper and set aside.

Pour sprinkles, crushed nuts, or mini chocolate chips into a wide shallow bowl or container.

When ice cream is soft enough to work with, place a scoop of ice cream onto the flat-bottomed side of a cookie. Top with another cookie, flat-bottomed side down. Press gently together to ensure that ice cream reaches edges of cookie.

Roll the sides of the cookie in the sprinkles, crushed nuts, or mini chocolate chips so that they adhere to the ice cream sides.

Place on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining cookies and immediately place in the freezer until firm, approximately 30-45 minutes.

*Make ahead- when firm, transfer to a freezer bag, separating the sandwiches with wax paper, or individually wrapping them.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies with Vanilla Ice Cream
Sandwich softened ice cream between two cookies.
Rolling Ice Cream 'Wich in Rainbow Sprinkles
Roll the sides in sprinkles, crushed nuts, mini chocolate chips or whatever suits you.
Ice Cream 'Wiches on Lined Cookie Sheet
Place the ice cream ‘wiches on a lined cookie sheet and immediately place in freezer.
Oatmeal Raisin Ice Cream 'Wich with Rainbow Sprinkles
After firming up in the freezer this ‘wich is ready to enjoy!

Affogato

  • Servings: 1
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Ingredients:
1 generous scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream
1 shot of freshly brewed espresso or strong hot coffee

Instructions:
Put one generous scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream into a serving dish. Pour hot espresso directly on top. Serve immediately and enjoy.

Espresso and Gelato
Brew a shot of espresso or very strong coffee. While your espresso is brewing, place a generous scoop of vanilla gelato or ice-cream in a serving dish.
Affogato
Pour the freshly brewed espresso on top of the gelato. Serve immediately.
Affogato
Buon Appetito!

Mixed Berry Crostata

Mixed-Berry-Crostata

Mixed-Berry-Crostata

Happy 4th of July! Time to get your red, white and blue on…

If you read my Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Balsamic Glaze post, you already know that making pie crust causes me incredible anxiety. From the vague instructions- add ice cold water by the thimbleful until the dough just comes together- not too wet or too sticky (what does that look like? feel like?) to the actual chilling, rolling, transferring to a pie plate, and please don’t forget the decorative crimping or lattice work. And that’s only if I even get to that point. Usually in my case things start going wrong almost immediately, beginning with adding too much or too little water. After chilling, the dough rarely rolls out smoothly and evenly. The edges are dry and cracking or the center is tearing or, more often than not, I’m trying to manage both crises simultaneously! The crust becomes a patchwork quilt of botched attempts at repairs. Then the transfer, have you seen how the experts roll up their pie crust around their rolling pins, then neatly unroll the crust into the pie plate? Are you kidding me? In my kitchen it’s all hands on deck, one person lifting the pie crust (still on the wax paper on which it was rolled), another helper quickly sliding the pie plate under the elevated dough, while a third person tries to flip the wax paper over and “release” the pie crust so that it flops into the pie plate. Which undoubtedly leads to more repairs. It’s enough to make me want to eat cake. Well, maybe almost enough. I really do prefer pie, especially in the summer with all the luscious ripe fruit that is available.

raspberries-and-blackberries

Like the Mascarpone Tart, the Crostata is another user friendly dessert with crust. This crust has the added benefit of an egg, which makes rolling out a breeze. Even better, you roll directly onto your parchment paper or silicone liner. No transferring necessary; you don’t even need a pie tin! As for decorative crimping or lattice- not with a crostata, all you need to do is fold an inch of crust over the edge of your fruit. In honor of the 4th, this filling is made up of raspberries and blackberries to represent red and blue, while the white comes from vanilla ice cream served on the side. Feel free to use any fruit you want… depending on what’s in the fridge I’ve tossed strawberries and blueberries into the mix; peaches and raspberries are a classic combination, or go monochromatic and pick one of your favorite seasonal fruits to use. This recipe is so easy that experimenting is fun and delicious!

Mixed-Berry-Crostata-with-Ice-Cream

Mixed Berry Crostata

  • Servings: 6-8
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*from Country Living

Ingredients:
1 ¼ cups plus 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup raspberries
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon turbinado sugar

Instructions:
Make the dough: Combine 1 ¼ cups flour, ¼ cup sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Form a well in center of the dry ingredients and place the butter and 1 lightly beaten egg in the well. Using your hands, mix the ingredients into a soft, pliable dough. Form it into a 4-inch disk and place it on a lightly flour parchment paper. Lightly dust the dough with flour and roll it into a 10-inch circle. Place the dough with parchment on a baking sheet, cover the dough with plastic wrap, and chill for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°.

Make the crostata: In a small bowl, mix remaining flour and sugar and set aside. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and evenly spread the flour and sugar mixture on the dough, leaving a 1-inch-wide border around the edge. Place berries on top of the mixture and sprinkle with lemon juice. Fold the 1-inch border over the top of the berries to form a 9-inch crostata.

Bake the crostata: Lightly beat the remaining egg. Brush the top of the crostata dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake on the middle rack of the oven- about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and slide crostata with the parchment paper onto a wire rack. Cool for 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Dry-ingredients-with-egg-and-butter
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the softened butter and one lightly beaten egg.
Crostata-mixing-dry-and-wet-ingredients
Use your fingers to mix the dry and wet ingredients together.
Crostata-dough-is-ready-to-roll
The dough has come together and is ready to roll.
Crostata-dough-on-floured-surface
Lightly flour your parchment paper or silicone liner, as well as the dough.
crostata-10-inch-crostata-crust
Roll the dough into a 10-inch round.
Crostata-berries-on-crust
Scatter berries on top of flour/sugar mixture.
Crostata-edges-folded-over
Fold a 1-inch border over the berry filling.
Crostata-edges-brushed-with-egg-and-sugar
Brush the crostata edges with lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.
Crostata-cooling-on-a-wire-rack
Transfer the crostata to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Chocolate-Chunk-Cookies

Chocolate-Chunk-Cookies

What more can you say about chocolate chip cookies? They have been around for over 75 years, invented by Ruth Wakefield who owned and operated the Toll House restaurant in Whitman, MA. If you’re interested in learning more, please see this New Yorker article for an interesting history of one of America’s most iconic sweets.

Today there are an infinite number of chocolate chip cookie recipes, but your  hunt for the best is over. Chocolate Chunk Cookies stand apart from the competition because of the chunks, not just any chunks, but coarsely chopped or broken pieces of bittersweet chocolate. The size of the larger pieces combined with bittersweet chocolate make all the difference. A very smart friend mentioned another bonus- these cookies are better for you because of all the antioxidants in the dark chocolate. So pour a glass of red wine milk and enjoy.

Making Chocolate Chunk Cookies is pretty straightforward. Cream butter and sugar, add an egg, some flour, baking soda, salt, vanilla, and most importantly the bittersweet chocolate. The best part is “coarsely chopping” the chocolate. And by coarsely chopping I mean whacking the wrapped bars against the countertop.  Multiple times. Of course, if you want to chop, go right ahead. But smashing those chocolate bars does feel pretty good.

After repeatedly whacking the chocolate, carefully unwrap to reveal your chunks.
After repeatedly whacking the chocolate, carefully unwrap to reveal your chunks.
Use your fingers to break any larger pieces of chocolate into more
Use your fingers to break any larger sections of chocolate into more “bite sized” pieces.

My favorite tool to use for scooping cookie dough, muffin or cupcake batters is an ice-cream scoop. Everything comes out perfectly uniform and I don’t have to spend time scraping spoons to get the dough or batter to drop.

Use an ice-cream scoop to drop perfectly portioned and even cookie dough rounds.
Use an ice-cream scoop to drop perfectly formed and portioned cookie dough rounds.

The other tool I get quite a bit of use out of is a reusable silicone liner. Nothing sticks- from candied nuts to cookies. Parchment paper works just as well, though cannot be reused.

Cookie dough about to go into the oven.
Cookie dough about to go into the oven.
Fresh out of the oven and cooling on a wire rack.
Fresh out of the oven and cooling on a wire rack.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

  • Servings: approximately 30 cookies
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*adapted from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 Tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts**
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (such as Ghiradelli or Guittard), coarsely chopped or broken

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375°.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugars until smooth, about 4 minutes. Add the egg and mix well. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the vanilla, then fold in the nuts and chocolate chunks.

Drop in 2 Tablespoon clumps onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving several inches between for expansion.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Let cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheet, then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat with remaining batter until used up.

**The walnuts are terrific, adding even more chunks (and antioxidants) to this delicious cookie.  However, because this particular batch was for a school function the cookies had to be nut free, and were just as tasty without them.

Serve with milk... or red wine... or even whiskey according to the New Yorker article.
Serve with milk… or red wine… or even whiskey according to the New Yorker article.

Devil’s Food Cake with Marshmallow Frosting

You can’t have a birthday without a cake! Though no one knows for sure, there is some consensus among food historians about how our current tradition of celebrating birthdays with a candle topped cake evolved through the millennia.

It all began with the Ancient Egyptians who believed that a pharaoh’s coronation marked his “birth” as a god, and he should be honored as such. The Ancient Greeks continued the tradition of honoring gods and goddesses, offering moon shaped cakes glowing with candles to Artemis, the goddess of the moon. The burning candles symbolized the luminosity of both the moon and Artemis’ beauty. The Ancient Romans joined the party when they decided that mere mortals should also be honored, as long as the mortals were male. Friends’ and family members’ birthdays were acknowledged, while the government even created holidays to commemorate its most famous citizens’ birthdays. By the 18th century, Germans were celebrating Kinderfest, a birthday party for children. A cake would be topped with one candle for each year of life, plus one more for the next year. The candles were lit, a wish made and the candles blown out. Perhaps the smoke carried the guest of honor’s wish or prayer to Heaven? This German tradition of observing children’s birthdays made it to America by the late 1890s, with the “icing on the cake” arriving around 1910 in the form of a song still sung today, “Happy Birthday to You…”

A huge cake for a two year old!  And those flowers!
A huge cake for a two year old! And those flowers!

Flash forward to the 1970s and birthdays in my childhood home. The oldest of four, my youngest sibling was born when I was 6yrs old. My parents had 4 children in 6 years- needless to say, life was busy! Birthdays were always celebrated with parties. As an infant or toddler, it meant just family, but by nursery school it meant having friends to our house for cake and party games… think BINGO, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and Hide and Seek. Mom did it all, but usually outsourced the cake. For my sister and me, a buttercream frosted confection covered with pink flowers was ordered from an Italian bakery. For my brothers, a Carvel ice cream cake was arranged. Carvel could turn Fudgie the Whale into anything, Santa, a leprechaun, or for my youngest brother, a very memorable “Jaws” cake.

Demonstrating knife skills at an early age.
Demonstrating knife skills at an early age.

One bakery cake that often graced our table was an absolute stunner! Its only downfall, the sides coated in sliced almonds. Not exactly standard party fare for the elementary school set that was more accustomed to Duncan Hines cake with coordinating Duncan Hines frosting. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I confessed to my mom that I had never really liked the almond covered cake, and instead had dreamed of boxed cake mix and frosting from a tub. That is until one year when I actually did a not so scientific side-by-side comparison- boxed vs homemade and in a blind taste test, everyone (including me) chose homemade.

Ahh, the cake with the fancy almond coated sides.
Ahh, the cake with the fancy almond coated sides. My expression says it all.

Today, birthdays mean getting together with family and friends, as well as the honoree deciding the birthday dinner and dessert. Everyone has his or her favorites… ice cream pie to ice cream cake to traditional cake, even cheesecake. Whatever the birthday person wants, I will happily make. Recently in our house, we celebrated a 13th birthday. My son went back and forth planning the perfect menu for himself, finally deciding on take out from our favorite Mexican place followed by Chocolate Cake with Marshmallow Frosting for dessert. This chocolate cake has been a hit for years! Sometimes slathered in cream cheese frosting, but more often than not, swoopy fluffy Marshmallow Frosting is the request. The chocolate cake is moist, tender, and deep flavored. The frosting isn’t really made from marshmallows, it’s actually a Seven Minute Frosting, but the taste and look is so reminiscent of a marshmallow that’s what my kids have named it. And don’t just save this cake for birthdays- it is excellent any time!

Happy 13th Birthday!
Happy 13th Birthday!

Devil’s Food Cake

  • Servings: 12-16
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*adapted from Kathleen’s Bake Shop by Kathleen King

Ingredients:
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
3 eggs
3 squares (3 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, melted
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9-inch pans or three 8-inch round pans.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.

In another large bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in melted chocolate.

Beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the butter mixture in three stages. Add boiling water and vanilla. Mix well, but don’t overmix. The batter will be very thin and soupy at this point; don’t be alarmed!

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 30 minutes, or until a cake tester (toothpick or bamboo skewer) inserted in center comes out clean. Remove pans to wire rack. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before removing cake from pans; finish cooling on rack.

Frost or dust with confectioners sugar and serve with ice-cream.

Makes one 9-inch, 2 layer cake or one 8-inch, 3-layer cake.

Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!

Marshmallow Frosting

  • Servings: enough to frost one 9-inch layer cake
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*adapted from The Martha Stewart Cookbook by Martha Stewart

Ingredients:
3 egg whites
1 ¾ cups of sugar
5 Tablespoons cold water
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:
Place egg whites, sugar, water, and cream of tartar in the top of a double boiler over but not touching rapidly boiling water.

Beat with an electric hand mixer for 7 minutes. Remove from heat, add the vanilla, and continue beating until fluffy and glossy.

Spread the frosting between the layers and over the exterior of the cake with an off set spatula or knife.

This frosting is best served the day it is made.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Balsamic Glaze

IMG_5168I adore fruit desserts. I like cake, cookies, and bars of all types too, but if given the choice between a slice of fruit filled pie or a slice of chocolate cake- the pie is always going to win. However, as much as I’m smitten with fruit filled confections, I become panic stricken at the thought of making pie. Well, not the whole pie; it’s the crust that produces anxiety, specifically getting that crumbly mass of flour, fat, and ice cold water to come together in such a way that I can roll it out and successfully transfer it to a pie plate. And then, even if I do get the crust in the tin, there is the decorative crimping, braiding, and/or latticing business that has to be worked out! More than one pre-Thanksgiving prep day has resulted in me cursing the pastry gods, followed by a run to the store to buy a premade pie crust that I magically unfurl into the pie tin of my choice.

Homemade pie crust just stumps me. With plenty of practice, patience and loads of flour, shortening or butter and ice water I know I’ll figure it out. But for now, when the fruit at the market or farm stand is begging to be brought home, I rely on desserts that do not have a roll out, transfer to a pie plate component. Think cobblers, crostadas (free form crust) and tarts. Yes, tarts! With a tart, you just dump your crumbly dough in the pan and press it into place- no rolling or transferring required. And tarts are gorgeous. Pans with a removable bottom allow you to see their beautifully formed golden sides. You’ll look like a pastry pro!

This particular tart recipe also has the benefit of a no bake filling, a quick whisk of mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla and salt. Topping the tart are perfectly juicy strawberries, the result of a short and sweet mingle with granulated sugar. The tart is absolutely delicious left at that. However, a drizzle of balsamic glaze that has been enhanced with a bit of strawberry juice (product of the previously mentioned mingle) really pushes this dessert over the top.  If your eaters are slightly skeptical of mixing balsamic vinegar with their sweets, serve it in a pretty pitcher on the side. Encourage a try, just a drop or two. I promise they will be converted.

Enjoy!

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Balsamic Glaze


*adapted from Gourmet
April 2009IMG_5169

For Tart Shell:

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
rounded ¼ tsp salt
7 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into ½” pieces
1 large egg yolk
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
3 Tbsp cold water

For Filling:

1 ½ lb strawberries, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 lb mascarpone (about 2 cups)
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp lemon zest
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract

Equipment: 9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom; pie weights, dried beans or raw rice

Make tart shell:

Blend together flour, sugar, salt and butter in a bowl with a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest and water with a fork, then drizzle over flour mixture and stir with fork (or pulse) until mixture begins to come together.

Knead with floured hands on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms, then gently knead 4 or 5 times. Press into a 5-inch disk. Place in center of tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers and bottom of a flat-bottomed measuring cup, spread and push dough to evenly cover bottom and side of pan. Prick bottom of tart shell all over with a fork and freeze until firm, at least 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 375° with rack in middle. Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans or raw rice. Bake until side is set and edge is pale golden, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue to bake until shell is deep golden all over, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan, about 45 minutes.

Make Filling While Tart Shell Cools:

Stir together strawberries and granulated sugar in a bowl and let stand, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Strain in a sieve set over a small saucepan, reserving berries. Add balsamic vinegar to liquid in saucepan and boil until reduced to about ¼ cup, 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together mascarpone, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until stiff. Cover and keep chilled in refrigerator until ready to use.

Assemble Tart:

Spread mascarpone mixture evenly in cooled tart shell, then top with strawberries. Drizzle balsamic glaze all over tart. Alternatively, drizzle on individual slices as desired.

Here we go!

Using a pastry blender cut butter into the flour mixture.  You can also use a food processor for this step.
Using a pastry blender cut butter into the flour mixture. You can also use a food processor for this step.
The butter has been cut in, leaving the flour mixture crumbly with a few pea sized pieces of butter.
The butter has been cut in, leaving the flour mixture crumbly with a few pea sized pieces of butter.
Whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and water together.
Whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and water together.
Using a fork, mix the egg yolk mixture into the flour.
Using a fork, mix the egg yolk mixture into the flour.
Take a small handful of dough and squeeze. If it holds together, the dough is ready to form.
Ready to go!
Ready to go!
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
With lightly floured hands, knead the dough 4 or 5 times until it comes together.  Form into a 5 inch disk.
With lightly floured hands, knead the dough 4 or 5 times until it comes together.  Form into a 5 inch disk
Place the disk in tart pan.  Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap.
Place the disk in tart pan. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap.
Using your fingers and the bottom of a flat bottomed measuring cup, press the dough evenly to cover bottom and sides of tart pan.
Using your fingers and the bottom of a flat bottomed measuring cup, press the dough evenly to cover bottom and sides of tart pan.
Using a fork, prick all over the bottom of the tart.
Using a fork, prick all over the bottom of the tart. Place in freezer to chill for at least 10 minutes.
After an hour in the freezer...
After an hour in the freezer…
Line frozen tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans or raw rice.
Line frozen tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights, dried beans or raw rice. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the foil and weights and continue to bake until golden- approximately 20 more minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the foil and weights and continue to bake until golden- approximately 20 more minutes.
20 minutes later.  A little too brown, but it will be ok.  Lesson- keep an eye on the tart shell while it's baking!
20 minutes later. A little too brown, but it will be ok. Lesson- keep an eye on the tart shell while it’s baking!
Toss the strawberries and sugar together.  Leave for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Toss the strawberries and sugar together. Leave for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Whisk together mascarpone, powdered sugar, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla.
Whisk together mascarpone, powdered sugar, lemon juice, zest,  vanilla, and pinch of salt.
Using a sieve, strain the strawberries over a small saucepan to catch any juice they've released.
Using a sieve, strain the strawberries over a small saucepan to catch any juice they’ve released.
Add balsamic vinegar to strawberry liquid.  Boil until reduced in half (about 15 minutes).  Set aside to cool.
Add balsamic vinegar to strawberry liquid. Boil until reduced in half (about 15 minutes). Set aside to cool.
Tart shell has cooled for at least 30 minutes.  Ready to assemble
Tart shell has cooled for at least 30 minutes. Ready to assemble!
Spread mascarpone evenly across bottom of tart shell.
Spread mascarpone evenly across bottom of tart shell.
Place strawberries on top of filling.
Place strawberries on top of filling.
Serve with balsamic glaze on the side.
Serve with balsamic glaze on the side.