Happy holidays from the FoodieTots fam to yours.
We hope you’ve made many happy & delicious memories
this holiday season.
What is it about baking a pie that strikes fear into the heart of even accomplished home cooks and, ahem, food bloggers alike? A flaky pie crust is a lovely showcase for summer’s ripest berries and fruit, but it’s that pesky crust that seems to spoil the best pie-making intentions. I’m guilty myself of scrapping plans for a pie to make a cobbler or crisp instead. Even if you have a trusty crust recipe on hand, a pie must be planned for — with the requirement to chill the dough before rolling it out, it simply cannot be left to the last minute. (And then you’re supposed to let it cool before serving — rather than immediately spooning it out and scooping a spoonful of vanilla ice cream on top.)
I dragged lured the whole family out to the Bloomingdale Farmers Market on Sunday to secure the elusive sour cherries* for pie baking. (Reid’s Orchard at the market is one of my favorite sources of summer berries and fruits.) Seriously, the mad rush for sour cherries at the more trafficked DC markets is even to put anyone off baking. Not so at Bloomingdale, where the boy observed the modest line at the berry stand and said, “Let’s come back to this one,” before continuing down to pick an array of summer squashes from Garner’s. We selected hot dogs from Truck Patch for grilling, pastries from Panorama Bakery to consume right there (with iced coffee drinks from Big Bear Cafe next door), and some cheese from Keswick Creamery (and chocolate pudding … for the husband). After cooling down on Big Bear’s patio — where the boy joined several other children in planting himself under the mister — we picked up a pint of Dolcezza gelato to go as well.
But back to the pie… Pie crust is nothing complicated — butter (or lard), salt, sugar, flour, water. Use cold butter and work quickly, and chill the dough thoroughly before rolling it out. Rolling a pie crust is an essential skill for any child to learn, so sprinkle a generous amount of flour onto your clean counter or cutting board and put them to work — and then, should it turn out less photogenic than you’d hoped, you can just inform your guests that your little one made the crust.
Now the good thing about pie is that once you conquer your fears of crust-making, the filling is endlessly adaptable. A couple (~4) cups of berries or fruit, 2 tablespoons corn starch, 1/2-cup or so of sugar, squeeze of lemon juice and pinch of fresh herbs or spices. (I like nutmeg with cherries, a tiny bit of rosemary or thyme with peaches, and of course, cinnamon with apples.) Toss them together and pour into the prepared shell, dot the top with butter and arrange your top crust — or strips, latticed if you want to get fancy — over. Crimp the edges (again, no need to get fancy — a quick pinch will do), cut a few slices for venting, and bake. (400 degrees for about an hour, covering edges with a strip of foil to prevent over-browning.) Voila! Now just try to resist slicing into it until it’s cooled.
When pie baking plans go awry (read: kids or life in general get in the way of baking time), here’s a fall-back strategy: pit the cherries (or otherwise wash/prep the fruit you have on hand), toss them with the cornstarch/sugar/spices, and pour into a gallon-sized freezer bag. Stick it in the freezer until another day… and enjoy almost-instant pie.
* Wondering what else to do with sour cherries? Try homemade bourbon cherries (for the grown ups, of course), or pickle them for a wonderful accompaniment to cheese. If time is less of an issue for you, here’s a recipe to put up sour cherry pie filling for winter, via the domestic guru Mrs. Wheelbarrow.
Don’t be surprised if you reach for the molasses and your child starts talking about the Battle of Manassas
(especially if one of his best friends is a budding Civil War buff).
Don’t expect your child to heed your warnings about eating raw cookie dough after he catches you nibbling on it.
(But do buy your eggs from a trusted local farmer.)
Don’t expect to have your child spread flour on the cutting board without it also winding up on the wall, floor and his hair.
Don’t hope for traditional Christmas cookie shapes when you have Star Wars cookie cutters and a four-year-old boy in the house.
Don’t set out bowls of frosting and expect little fingers not to be promptly plunged in them.
Don’t arrange sprinkles in easy-to-access little cups and not expect two pinches to be consumed for every one sprinkled on cookies.
Don’t decorate cookies at 9 pm and expect your child to fall asleep before midnight,
or before he runs 10 laps through the living room and around the tree.
Gingerbread (Clone War) Cookies
Source: The Gourmet Cookie Book
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves*
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 egg
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice*
Instructions: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. In the bowl of a mixer, or other large mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add brown sugar, molasses, butter and allspice and beat on medium low speed until well combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low until flour is incorporated. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Divide dough into smaller portions and roll out on a lightly floured cutting board to 1/3-inch thick. Dip cookie cutters in flour before cutting out desired shapes. Gently transfer to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, watching closely to ensure they only slightly begin to brown. Let cool on baking sheet for a couple minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before decorating.
To decorate, we just mixed up a simple powdered sugar glaze and tinted it various colors. For more elaborate designs, use royal icing.
Notes: The recipe calls for 6-inch gingerbread men and 12 minute cooking time. With more standard 3-inch cookies, you’ll need much less time. I did not have cloves or allspice, so I omitted the cloves and used nutmeg in place of allspice.
Like many others around DC, I turned to baking to stave off boredom during the Snowmageddon/Snowpocalypse blizzards of 2010. And with all that time on my hands, I decided to take the plunge and bake the bagels I’d skipped over in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge. You see, the book goes alphabetically and there was no way I felt ready to tackle bagels on just my third attempt! Especially not when I’m married to a New Yorker with rather high bagel expectations.
These bagels were much more labor intensive than my previous breads. The dough quickly becomes stiff and tough to mix, so much so that my KitchenAid gave up before the final addition of flour. I mixed the remainder in by hand and began to knead, but it was so stiff that I ignored the warnings of other BBA bloggers and put it back in my KitchenAid … when the motor began to smoke three minutes later, it was back to kneading by hand. I probably kneaded about 15 minutes in total, letting it rest for several minutes midway through. After letting the balls of dough rest, I shaped them into bagel shapes and let them rest again. After 20 minutes, you’re supposed to plop them in a bowl of water and hope they float. Mine did not. Not after another 20 minutes, and not an hour plus later. I gave up and stuck the bagels out in the (non-heated) sunroom over night — our fridge was a little too full with blizzard supplies.
The next day, they didn’t seem to have risen at all. I let them sit on the dining room table for a couple hours, tried the float test again, and they still failed. I wasn’t going to give up at this point, so I went ahead and put a large pot of water on to boil and preheated the oven. This time they finally floated (I’m sure the boiling helped) and after boiling 1 minute on each side I placed them back on their trays to be topped. Of course, I discovered then I was out of poppy seeds, so I used a sea salt, sesame seed and garlic powder blend for most of them. I added caraway seeds to a couple, and cinnamon sugar on the last three. Then they bake in the oven, at 500 degrees, for 10 minutes. Now this is probably obvious to most people, but 500 degrees is HOT. I had to put my husband’s ove-glove (he’s a sucker for infomercials) on under my oven mitt to handle the trays while I transferred the bagels to the cooling rack.
We had the first round for lunch, topped with cream cheese and my mayo-free salmon salad. A little lettuce and tomato would’ve been nice, but, well, we were running low on fresh produce. (See aforementioned Snowmageddon. And, being February, I would’ve passed on those bland winter tomatoes anyway.)
Next time I might boil a little longer for a chewier crust, but these were pretty darn close to the real deal. My Jew-from-Flushing husband, who had skeptically asked if I wanted him to be honest or polite when he tasted them, actually liked them! I doubt we’ll stop going to Slim’s when we’re in New York, but these are a pretty good substitute … as long as you have a few hours to devote to baking them. I do want to try them again in the summer to top with fresh tomatoes and lox.
And as you can tell, the boy was perfectly content with his (with a hearty schmear of cream cheese, hold the fish!):
Shared with Friday’s Feast on Momtrends – go check it out!
I haven’t had much time in the kitchen lately, as you might have guessed by my lack of posting. After a long and stressful month, I desparately needed some therapeutic time in the kitchen, breathing in the sweet fragrance of butter and sugar creaming in the KitchenAid. So I was thrilled when I heard there was snow in the forecast for the weekend, and sent the boy and husband to brave the mass hysteria at the grocery store Friday night to stock up on all the snowstorm-in-DC essentials: butter, sugar, flour, orange juice. I didn’t realize just how much snow was in the forecast until I finally paid attention to the weatherman Friday evening, and heard the predictions of a foot or two of snow. Thus far in my son’s three years, he’s seen maybe a cumulative six inches over his lifetime. Clearly, this was going to be the perfect weekend for quality baking and family time.
Sure enough, we woke to quite a bit of snow Saturday morning, with steady snowfall throughout the day. The boy was so excited he ran out in a t-shirt and his Uggs (a.k.a. “cozy boots”) to start shoveling off the porch. I lured him back inside with the promise of breakfast cake, and started my weekend of baking with this sweet banana pecan coffee cake. Perfect fuel for a day of shoveling, snow ball tossing and snow angel making. (And stay tuned to see what else we baked.)
Recipe: Banana Pecan Coffee Cake
adapted from That’s My Home
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup mashed bananas (2-3 bananas)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon milk
Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a Bundt pan and set aside. In a food processor, chop pecans with sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. In mixer bowl, cream sugar and butter until smooth. Add eggs, mashed bananas and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and sour cream, mix until well combined. In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add to mixer bowl and mix on low until just blended. Spread a light layer of the nut mixture in the bottom of the pan. Add 1/2 of the batter, spreading evenly over the nuts. Sprinkle remaining nut mixture over the batter, then top with remaining batter. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until top is lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then invert pan and place cake on a cooling rack. Whisk together powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract and milk until smooth (add more milk if needed to make a thin glaze). Use a spoon to drizzle glaze over cake. Let stand a few minutes for the glaze to set, and enjoy!