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

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