Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Thanksgiving Pies...

For the week leading up to Thanksgiving, I would ask Jamie every day, “What are you thankful for today?”  His responses were mostly silly but sometimes sweet, reminding me of something I’m thankful for every day – someone who can always make me smile.

During a time when I’m working so hard to try to make certain dreams come true – such as my bakery business – it’s easy to get caught up in my hopes of the things I wish I had, but there are so many other things to be thankful for already.  I have a job that pays my bills, with enough room for extras.  I have wonderful friends.  I have people who love me.  I have my health and my mind.  I have Jamie.  I have our future together to look forward to…

We did save the wishbone from the turkey and wish to win the lottery tonight, when it climbed to over $500 million.  It snapped into 3 or 4 pieces, though, with the bone fragments scattering around the kitchen, but with both of us wishing for the same thing, surely that would ensure we’d win anyway, right?  Silly little wishbone.  It reminds me of the episode of Friends when they all bought tickets together and wished on a wishbone to win the lottery, but they dropped their tickets out the window and ended up winning just $6 with one of the ones they picked up.  And as it turned out, Joey gave up his lottery wish for a wish that Chandler would get the job he wanted.  I sure miss Friends!

With my parents just having moved back to the East coast, and not enough vacation days accrued (on my part) to travel to visit our families, we stayed in town, and spent the day with a few friends.  And since my friend’s dad who was at their house visiting is on a gluten-free diet, I challenged myself to make only gluten-free food that he would be able to eat, too.

First I made Cranberry Orange Compote, naturally gluten-free, so that wasn’t a problem.  I love this compote – the tart whole berries with a hint of orange and spices are so much better than the canned, jellied sauce that I grew up eating.

My next dish was the Sweet Potato Casserole with Brown Sugar Pecan Streusel – I commissioned Jamie to make this since I was busy making pies, and everyone raved about how good it was.  This was a simple adjustment, since the only gluten is in the flour for the streusel topping, and it’s not crucial to the structure of the dish, so a basic swap with a gluten-free flour blend was easy and tasted just as good.

The real challenge was going to be the pies, though.  I wanted to make a tart, with an almond crust filled with chocolate pastry cream, sprinkled with a little sea salt and sliced almonds, and garnished with whipped cream.  For my other pie, I had in mind a mixed berry Holiday Pie with cranberries, cherries and blueberries.

For the tart crust, I used just almond meal, swapping it out for the all-purpose flour in my favorite shortbread tart crust recipe.  It wasn’t an easy swap, though, since the almond meal contained more moisture, and I had to add quite a bit more, and it still ended up pretty sticky and impossible to roll out and transfer in one piece to the pan, so I pressed the scraps into the pan instead.  It even stuck to the parchment paper I rolled it out on, something I didn’t even think was possible!

I made a silky and creamy dark chocolate pastry cream, which was naturally gluten-free since it contained corn starch but no flour.  Other than the difficulty of the stickiness of the dough, it also seemed to want to stay stuck to the pan when I tried to take off the removable sides after baking.  After trying, unsuccessfully, I wiggled a knife down the sides of the pan and managed to get the tart out without breaking it to pieces.  I was pretty happy with the result, especially since it was my first attempt at making a gluten-free crust of any kind.  And according to everyone at the party, it tasted amazing!  Now, I will admit, that personally I prefer my shortbread tart crust made with flour, or a few finely chopped nuts with the flour for an almond or pecan shortbread, but for a gluten-free option, it was pretty good.

My next project was the gluten-free pie crust for the pie.  I hoped to find a gluten-free pie crust mix of some kind, but after ending up at Whole Foods, which I figured had the best selection, and not finding anything, I settled for an all-purpose blend of tapioca, potato and bean flours/starches.  I’ve read articles on gluten-free baking, but really didn’t have the time (or room) to buy 5 or 6 different flours, plus xanthan gum, to make my own perfect blend.  If I did more of this in the future, though, then it would be interesting to experiment.

I substituted the gluten-free flour equally for the flour in my all-butter pie crust recipe, adding an egg yolk to help it bind, but my problem here was just that the dough was very crumbly and absolutely refused to stick together.  Here again, I ended up pressing the dough into the pan, sealing up all the little scraps.  My pie crust leaves on top turned out very pretty, though.  In spite of the trouble with getting the crust into the pan, it baked very nicely, and the filling had a wonderful slightly tart, slightly sweet flavor from the combination of berries and spices.  I did miss the flakiness that my pie crust usually has, and the gluten-free version was more crumbly than flaky, but was still good.

Besides the pies I brought to the party, I also baked an Apple Pie for another friend, and made that one with my own little twist on a lattice top.  Instead of overlapping long strips of dough, I cut the dough into squares, and then just arranged all the squares on top, with a few leaves here and there.  I thought the result was striking, and definitely original!

All in all, I’d say my gluten-free experience was a success, and it taught me a little lesson in the science involved in baking.  To this day, I’ve taken the binding properties of gluten completely for granted, but now I know better.

I haven’t quite satisfied my pie-baking urges for the season, though, so hopefully I’ll be able to share a few more recipes before Christmas…

Chocolate Cream Almond Tart
printable recipe

Almond shortbread crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered or confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  • Tart pan, with a removable bottom

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, powdered sugar and salt.  Scatter the cold butter pieces over the flour, and using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs (about 1-2 minutes).  Add the egg yolk, a little at a time, stirring into the flour and butter with your fingers.  Working quickly, work the dough with your fingers to incorporate the moisture into the flour.  (The dough will appear very dry, and you might think it doesn't have enough liquid, but don't worry, it will come together.)  After 2-3 minutes of working the dough, it should start to hold together enough so that you can gather it into a ball.  During the last minute of working the dough, sprinkle in the almonds.

Grease your tart pan very thoroughly with butter or cooking spray.  Take half the dough and press evenly into the bottom of the tart pan, all the way to the edges.  Take the other half of the dough, and press evenly around the sides of the pan.  Freeze crust in pan for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a piece of foil, and press the foil, greased side down, against the bottom and sides of the crust.  Fill the foil with dry beans or pie weights.  Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until browned.  Cool completely.

Cook's Note: For a gluten free option, substitute finely ground almond meal for the flour, or a combination of almond meal and a gluten free flour blend.

Chocolate Pastry Cream:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  • Sliced almonds
  • Coarse sea salt

To make the pastry cream, pour the milk into a saucepan.  Bring to a gentle simmer, just until the milk starts to steam, over medium low heat.  In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, corn starch and cocoa powder; it will be very thick.  Ladle about a cup of the hot milk into the mixture, whisking to incorporate.  Scrape the mixture into the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thick like pudding, then remove from the heat.

Whisk in chocolate and butter, a little at a time until melted, and the vanilla.  Pour the pastry cream through a fine mesh strainer to remove any bits of cooked egg.  Cover with plastic, resting the plastic directly against the cream, and cool in the refrigerator for two hours.  Uncover, whisk the cream and spread into the cooled crust.  Chill for several more hours.

To garnish, whip the whipping cream and powdered sugar until as stiff as you like; pipe or spread onto the tart.  Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and the sliced almonds.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Holiday Berry Pie
printable recipe
  • 2 prepared pie crusts (my recipe for All Butter Perfect Pie Crust)
  • 12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • 12 ounces blueberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • 12 ounces pitted sweet black cherries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 egg, plus 1 teaspoon water
  • coarse Turbinado sugar
  • decorative pie crust cutters

Prepare the pie dough and refrigerate until ready to use, taking it out of the fridge about 10-15 minutes before you need to roll it out.

In a large sauce pan, combine the cranberries, blueberries, cherries, brown sugar, corn starch, orange juice, orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.  Simmer over medium low heat until juicy, stirring occasionally.  Raise heat to medium and bring to a boil, stirring constantly; once it boils, boil for 1-2 minutes until thick enough to coat a spoon.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Set aside to cool for 30 minutes to an hour, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Roll out one disk of pie dough so that it can fit into a deep-dish pie pan with one inch overhang.  Sprinkle the bottom of the dough with a tablespoon of flour (to prevent a soggy crust).  Spoon the warm filling into the dough.  If desired, dot the filling with a few tablespoons of diced butter.  Trim the edges of the dough with a knife and crimp the edge with your fingers.

Roll out the other disk of dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Using a decorative pie crust cutter (or small cookie cutter), cut shapes and place all over the top of the fruit filling, leaving some gaps so that steam can escape.  Beat the egg and water together with a fork, then use a pastry brush to brush the egg wash over the dough cutouts and the edge (to help it brown).  Sprinkle the dough with a little coarse Turbinado sugar, so it sparkles.

Place the pie pan on the foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.   Halfway through baking, check the crust and cover with foil, if needed, to prevent overbrowning.  Cool pie on a wire rack at room temperature for at least 5-6 hours, or overnight, before cutting, to ensure filling is completely set.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Monday, November 26, 2012

a Winter Wonderland Birthday Party

Our friends, Katie and Dave, had a baby girl last year, just after Thanksgiving.  She's grown so much in her first year and is now busy crawling after the cats in their new house and trying to figure out how to take her first steps.  Macy just celebrated her first Thanksgiving, watching the Macy's parade for the first time.  I wonder if she's going to think that the parade was named in honor of her birthday?

For her first birthday last weekend, Katie planned a "Winter One-derland" party for Macy and asked me to bake a few treats for the party.  First there was the birthday cake, a strawberry and vanilla, pink and white ombre cake, with a smaller cake on top that Katie could photograph Macy with later for the official "cake smash".  A chocolate snowflake graced the top of the cake.  I can't wait to see Katie's photos of the party since she's a professional photographer.

Then I made snowman cupcakes, complete with ruffly striped scarves and candy hats.  I decorated a special cupcake just for Macy, which she was a little shy about tasting at first, but after a few bites, she just stuffed the whole thing in her face!  I think she even had frosting inside her nose after she was finished.

There was barbecue and lemonade (labeled as "Melted Snowman") for everyone, gingerbread peeps and other candy and treats, and lots of adorable presents to open.  Macy loved pulling everything out of their boxes and gift bags.

Happy First Birthday, Macy!

Pink and White Two-Tiered Ombre Cake
printable recipe
  • Two 8-inch layers of cake
  • Two 6-inch layers of cake
  • White buttercream, vanilla or flavored (this technique uses a LOT of buttercream, in addition to this being a big cake - to use my recipe, multiply it by 9 or 10x)
  • pink food coloring (or other color) - I used Americolor "Soft Pink"
  • piping bags
  • open star tip (Wilton # 22)
Assembly and Decorating Instructions:
  1.  Cool the cakes completely, and level the tops, if needed.
  2. (If keeping the cake tiers separated, as in the picture, you'll need to frost each separately, on their own cake boards, and then support the smaller cake on wooden skewers or cake separators.  If you have no need of keeping the top tier separate, simply stack all the cakes and frost on one cake board.)
  3. Place one 8-inch cake on a 10-inch cake board.  Frost the top of the cake with a 1/4 inch layer of buttercream.  Repeat with the 2nd 8-inch cake.  Repeat with the 6-inch cake layers.
  4. Frost the cake all over with a very crumb coat layer of buttercream; refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  5. Fill a piping bag fitted with the star tip with buttercream (at this point, you have not added any food coloring yet).  Starting at the top, pipe a swirl of frosting in the center of the cake.  Pipe swirls all over the top of the cake, then pipe one row of swirls around the top edge of the cake.  Fill in any gaps with smaller swirls or stars.  Squeeze out any remaining buttercream back into the bowl.
  6. Add a drop of food coloring to the bowl and mix it in; the frosting should be tinted a very pale shade.  Fill the piping bag again, and pipe another row of swirls under the first row.  Squeeze out any remaining buttercream back into the bowl.
  7. Add another drop of food coloring to the bowl and fix it in; the frosting should be every so slightly darker than before.  Repeat this process, piping a row and then tinting the frosting gradually darker until you've reached the bottom of the cake.  There should be a graduation of color from the top to the bottom.
  8. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then cover and store at room temperature until ready to serve.

Design by Curly Girl Kitchen

Snowman Cupcakes
printable recipe

  • 12 cupcakes, any flavor
  • 2 cups white buttercream, flavored vanilla or coconut
  • 24 marshmallows
  • 12 toothpicks
  • 12 peppermint striped Hershey's kisses, chocolate peppermint bells, M&Ms, or other candy, to make the hats
  • white sparkling decorative sugar
  • piping bags, piping tips and food coloring (I used the following tips: Wilton round tips #1, 3, 4, star tip # 18, and rose tip # 101)
Decorating Instructions:
  1. Frost each of the cupcakes with a thin layer of buttercream.  Place one of the marshmallows in the center of each cupcake.  Top the marshmallow with a dot of buttercream, insert the toothpick in the middle and place the other marshmallow on top.  (If you use a stiffer frosting, such as royal buttercream, the toothpick probably isn't necessary, but since I used a soft buttercream, I wanted to make sure the marshmallows didn't topple over so I used toothpicks.)
  2. Using the star tip, pipe stars around the edge of each cupcake.  Sprinkle with the sparkling sugar.
  3. Tint very small amounts of the buttercream orange, blue and pink (or other colors of your choice).  Using the round tips, pipe the eyes (#3) , buttons (#4), nose (#3) and mouth (#1).  To make the carrot nose, squeeze the frosting with the tip against the marshmallow, then slowly pull away, while continuing to squeeze; push back a little, then pull further away, pushing and pulling to create the ridges, until the carrot gets smaller at the tip and then pull the tip off.
  4. To make the ruffled scarf, fit a piping bag with the rose tip.  Dip a small paint brush in food color of your choice, and paint a thin stripe of color along the inside of the bag.  Make sure the narrow side of the rose tip is lined up with the stripe.  Scoop the buttercream, either colored or white, into the piping bag and squeeze until you start to see the stripe of color.  Pipe the scarf by placing the wide side of the tip against the "seam" (where the two marshmallows meet) and the narrow side facing out, so that the stripe shows.  Pipe a ruffle around the neck of the snowman, then pipe two ruffles down the side of his chest, to create the tails of the scarf.
  5. Using the round tips again, pipe the ear muffs.  Lastly, squeeze a dot of frosting on top of the snowman's head and finish with a candy hat.
  6. Refrigerate for an hour to firm up the frosting, then cover and keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Yields 12 cupcakes

Design by Curly Girl Kitchen

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cranberry Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins

After a few snowstorms over the past few weeks and the disappearance of most of the pretty fall leaves still lingering sparsely on the trees, it's really starting to feel like winter, although we've had a pretty warm Thanksgiving week this week. I wish fall lasted longer, because while I love a little chill in the air and every excuse possible to wear boots, I really don't like being cold all the time, driving on icy roads and having to leave the warmth of the house to go out into the freezing air.

But with winter comes the holidays, which I love, so there's always something to be excited about even when the weather isn't cooperating.

I've managed to resist buying any new Christmas decorations, although I wander the seasonal aisles at Hobby Lobby and Michael's whenever I happen to stop there for something else. There are so many cute things that we absolutely don't have room for in our condo - it's hard enough to find a spot for the tree where it's not blocking something - but even so, I could talk myself into thinking that there's always room for a little snow village or something equally adorable.

My mom's snow village was always my favorite decoration to put out, the little lighted houses strategically placed on their field of white fabric stuffing sprinkled with silver glitter, tiny skaters arranged on an oval mirror in the middle of the village, and snow-dusted trees scattered here and there.  One of these Christmases, I will have to invest in my own pretty snow village.

To get into the holiday spirit of baking, I baked a batch of muffins, pretty with red cranberry polka dots, studded with dark chocolate chips, and a hint of tangy orange throughout.  Cranberries and chocolate chips are the perfect complement for each other, slightly sour and a little sweet, so they balance each other nicely.

With our Sunday morning breakfast of muffins, we also ate Greek yogurt, topped with oranges, sliced almonds and a sprinkling of nutmeg.  Cranberry orange compote, which I've started making this time of year for the past few years (no more canned, jellied cranberry sauce) was delicious on the muffins, too.

We spent a wonderful Thanksgiving day yesterday with some friends, and I have a few new pie recipes to share soon.  This morning I made turkey soup with some of our leftovers, and the rich broth simmering on the stove permeated the house with its delicious aroma.  Tonight, after the house is clean and the laundry is done, I'm so looking forward to relaxing with a warm bowl of soup for dinner and no more cooking today...

Chocolate Chip Cranberry Orange Muffins

  • 1/2 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350.  Line a muffin pan with 12 paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, orange juice, orange zest, sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cranberries and chocolate chips.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until moistened.

Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling them ¾ full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then serve warm or room temperature.

Yields 12 muffins.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen