Saturday, November 14, 2009

Hello, World! Have a pie ....have four!

Hello, World! I'm the much-alluded-to little brother. Though Neen has mentioned me here and there, she has finally convinced me to contribute something more to the blog than a grateful stomach. So here I am, the collegiate portion of the Post-Collegiate Cooking blog. You may call me ...Spuds.

If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's this: I stress-bake. When the going gets rough, I believe the rough make pastries. When I realize I am in my last year in college and have completely overcommitted my time, I need to ask myself: Cake, or Death?

Cake, clearly. With a little wine.

This past weekend was one such time. I went into it knowing that would have a manic, half-crazed cooking extravaganza. The tip-off was when I caught myself about to make some fresh bread at 4am Saturday morning. Fortunately, Neen, Do and I had gutted a few cooking magazines a few weeks back, so I didn't have to angst the night/morning away leafing through recipes. After getting some sleep, the products of my day were as follows: two raspberry-blackberry upside-down cakes, a Huguenot torte, a fresh pear pie with dried cherries and brown sugar streusel, and a ginger-spice cranberry-apple streusel pie. Oh yeah, also made some candied ginger, onion soup, and Do's creamy tomato pasta sauce. I mentioned the 'stress' part, yes?

I won't claim any credit for the upside-down cakes: I got the recipe from Giz & Psychgrad's blog, Equal Opportunity Kitchen. You can find the recipe listed under Strawberry & Blueberry Upside-down Cake. This is really the perfect cake: light, fluffy, and the berries on top seem like a divine touch in the cold autumn days. Yes, I did switch the type of berries (for the sake of experimentation), but it works for any sweet, not-tart fruit. I also like to add a little extra citrus just to give it a tad more zing, but that's a personal preference. As I said, this cake is divine.

The Huguenot torte (recipe on the New York Times website) is a bit of a curious beast. Mind-numbingly simple to throw together and requiring only the simplest of baking ingredients (plus some apples and pecans), what comes out is a sweet, coarse, and completely shapeless thing. No points for presentation, but full credit for texture. The outside is deeply-browned and slightly crispy, while in the torte, the sugar and apples have combined to create something of a viscous syrup -- the texture of which is mitigated by the pecans. As you can see from the pictures, after a few days there is almost nothing left of this one, making it the most popular item. Definitely something I'm going to have to make again.

Regarding the pies, I have to confess: I wasn't really thinking about the fillings. Don't get me wrong, they sound spectacular -- and have a taste to match -- I just wasn't particularly intrigued by what went in the pie. That was merely an excuse to experiment with pie crusts. Crusts, like breads, intimidate me. I'm not sure why, but I suspect it's a family thing. Neen makes a challah for which I would gladly sacrifice one of my limbs. Our father regularly bakes various kinds of bread, from sourdough to bagels to cinnamon rolls. And our mother! Well, let's just say there's a reason we have called her SuperMom. Like her mother before her, she can throw together virtually any miracle dish (with emphasis on its miracle taste) with less effort than I could make a bowl of oatmeal. That includes, namely, pie crusts.

So, in an effort to uphold the tradition of making baked goods better than any supermarket, I have latched on to (who else?) Mark Bittman. I like this guy. Not only does he provide cooking videos on the New York Times (with possibly the most absurd/amazing intro ever), he has the charmingly-understated audacity to have written a cookbook entitled "How to Cook Everything." In it, I found a recipe for a "Flaky Pie Crust." I have made it a few times now and have been very happy each time. Spoiled as I have been by my family's breads, that's saying something.

Mark Bittman's Flaky Pie Crust

1 cup + 2 Tbs flour (plus more for rolling)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
8 Tbs butter (cut into about 8 pieces)
3 Tbs ice water (more if necessary)

Combined the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor, pulsing once or twice (or by hand). Add the butter and process until the mixture looks like cornmeal -- about 10sec.
Put the mixture into a bowl and add ice water. Mix with your hands until you can work the dough into a ball (be patient; you may have to work the dough for a little while. If it's really giving you trouble, add a little more water). Wrap it in plastic and freeze for 10min or refrigerate for 30min. You can keep the dough refrigerated for up to a couple of days, or frozen for a few weeks.
Sprinkle a clean counter-top with flour. Put the dough on it and sprinkle it with flour as well. Use a rolling pin to roll with light pressure from the center outwards. If it's too hard, let it rest a few minutes. If it's soggy, add some flour. If the edges develop tears, you can repair them with a touch of water and a piece of dough from elsewhere in the crust.
When the diameter of the dough is about 2 inches greater than the pie plate, drape it over your rolling pin and transfer it to the plate. Press it down firmly and refrigerate for an hour before filling (or freeze for 30min or so).
Trim the extra dough, and tuck the edges under itself, decorating them as you see fit. You can fill it now, but I recommend prebaking it first. To do so, prick it all over with a fork, cover with buttered aluminum foil, and weigh down the foil with uncooked rice, beans, pie weights, etc. Bake it for 12min at 450 degrees. Remove the weights and the foil, lower the heat to 350 degrees, and continue to bake for another 10min or so.

And after the crusts are ready, there's little left to do but fill them.

Fresh Pear Pie with dried cherries and brown sugar streusel

for the streusel:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 Tbs butter

for the filling:
5-6 medium pears /* peeled, cored, and chopped */
1,1/2 Tbs lemon juice
2/3 sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup dried cherries /* cranberries will do in a pinch */

Make the streusel: Combine all the ingredients together, blending the butter in with your fingers.
Make the filling: Toss the pears with the lemon juice. Whisk the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Combine the two, and add the cherries. Mound the filling into the crust, and sprinkle the top with the streusel. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-65, or until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling is bubbling viscously at the edges. Tada!

Ginger-Spice Cranberry-Appple Streusel Pie

for the streusel:
1 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbs butter

for the filling:
4 tart baking apples /* peeled, cored, and chopped into rectangles */
1, 3/4 cups cranberries
1 cup sugar
3, 1/2 Tbs flour
1 Tbs finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Make the streusel: Combine all the ingredients together, blending the butter in with your fingers. Set aside.
Make the filling: In a food processor (or not), pulse the cranberries with 3/4 cup of the sugar until coarsely chopped. In a large bowl, combine the remaining sugar with the flour, ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. Toss in the apples and cranberries. Mound the filling into the crust, sprinkle on the streusel. Bake at 350 degrees for 65-75 minutes, or until the streusel is deeply browned and the filling is bubbling vigorously. Remove, cool, devour.

PS: If you didn't get the "Cake or Death?" reference, you should watch more Eddie Izzard. It's another acceptable to deal with stress.


mums said...

Super mom is incredibly honored and wanting a slice of pie NOW! This sounds like a promising family holiday season!

Ray Bennett said...
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Jay said...
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Psychgrad said...

Wow - I'm slow to comment. Sorry about that.

WELCOME SPUDS! Like the name. That sounds like quite the cooking day! Hope it helped in the stress department (unless it was just a procrastination ploy, which is often the motive for my baking <-- only a momentary fix, since the task doesn't usually go away). I seem to recall Neen being a late night cooker -- must be in the family.

I thought that first pie looked familiar. :) So glad you liked it. I think I added lemon to it too -- or at least lemon zest.

I love pie with streusel topping.

giz said...

You're hysterical !!! Next time you're feeling the stress, call me, I'll let you use my kitchen and will even supply the ingredients. What great outcomes :)

Neen said...

Gah! Just tried to make the Huguenot torte to bring to class, and I underestimate how high it would grow. Note to self: when the NYT says 9x9 plate with at least 2 inches in height, use either the deepest pie plate you have or a rectangular cake pan. I've got exploded Huguenot tort all over the inside of my oven!!

P.s. Spuds, I hope this is the first of many posts. You crack me up!