Pie R Squared

Sunday, August 30, 2015
Let’s be honest. You didn’t expect another pie on my blog this week, did you?

After last week’s attempt, which admittedly turned into a delicious tart, you probably thought I was done with pies, at least for a while. But it’s fresh fruit season, and as much as I love working with frozen fruit through the winter, there’s nothing like a pie (crisp/crumble/buckle/anything at all, really) made with fresh fruit that makes my heart sing.

A few of my friends told me after last week's post that they struggle with some pastry recipes, and excel with others. I know what they mean, yet it's hard to understand why. A pastry recipe should be a certain combination of flour + fat + liquid, and the result should always be the same, right? Like a math equation that always gives the same answer. 

But it doesn't work that way, and I thought about the one pastry recipe I've actually had success with. What if I tried it again, but with a different filling? Specifically, what if I tried it with the plums I've been seeing in the farmers' markets?


Result: the pastry was a success, and the pie was terrific!

And just like I thought, it all came down to a formula. It's been a while since I've studied math, but if: 

A = awesomeness and 
R = resilience, then 
A = Pie R2

Never give up.

(Next week's post: solving E = mc2, when E is eggplant and mc is manchego cheese. I don't have a recipe yet, but it sounds delicious.)

Plum and Marzipan Crumble Pie
(filling adapted from Eats Well With Others, with this pastry recipe)

Note: This pastry recipe yields two crusts, and you only need one for this pie. Roll out the second crust, put it in the freezer and wrap it well. Now you’re all set the next time you want to make a pie!

For the pastry:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening
9 – 12 Tbsp ice water

For the pie dust:

1 tsp sugar
1 tsp flour

For the filling:

2 pounds plums, pitted and cut into 1/2” thick slices
3/4 cups sugar (first amount)
1/2 cup sugar (second amount)
6 Tbsp cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp sugar (third amount)

For the marzipan crumble:

10 ounces almond paste
1/3 cup almond flour
2 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, diced
2 Tbsp sugar

To make the pastry:

Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 3 Tbsp sugar, and kosher salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter and shortening until they are the size of peanuts. Stir in ice water 3 Tbsp at a time (dough shouldn’t be sticky). Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes before using.

On lightly floured surface, roll half the dough into a 12” circle about 1/8” thick. Transfer to a 9” plate. (Since this recipe yields two crusts, do the same with the second half of the dough. You can put it in the freezer, well-wrapped, until the next time you make a single-crust pie.)

To make the pie:

Combine 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp flour in a small bowl for the pie dust. Set aside.

Put half the plums and 3/4 cup sugar into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the fruit is bubbly and has released much of its juices, about 10 minutes.

Stir the raw plum slices into the cooked plums. Stir in another 1/2 cup sugar. Stir in the cornstarch and let cool to room temperature.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the bottom of the crust with the pie dust. You probably won’t need all of it – you just want enough to barely coat the bottom, to keep the crust from getting soggy from the fruit.

Place the plums in a colander over a medium bowl. Place the drained plums into the crust, and pour the liquid filling over top. Brush the edges of the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle 1 tsp sugar over the whole pie.

Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges start to brown.

In the meantime, make the marzipan crumble. Combine the almond paste and almond flour in a bowl and cut together until marzipan is in small pieces. Add the butter and sugar, and continue cutting together until almond paste and butter are in pea-sized pieces.

After 30 minutes, remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle the marzipan crumble over the top. Bake for an additional 35 – 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden and crunchy and the filling is bubbling. (I covered my pie with foil, and removed it 10 minutes before it was done baking.


Let the pie cool completely before serving.

Peaches

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Every summer, there’s one kind of fresh produce that I can’t get enough of. One kind of fruit or vegetable that leaves me scouring my cookbooks for recipes that feature it, so I have an excuse to have it on hand all season long. In the past it’s been blueberries, green beans, and raspberries, among others.

This year it’s peaches.

Ever since the first peach popped up at the farmer’s market, there hasn’t been a day that my kitchen has been without at least one. I’ve eaten many of them fresh, either sliced into a bowl or eaten right from the basket. I’ve made this salad and this pavlova, and we’ll be enjoying this cobbler for dinner tonight. But if you're ranking overall enjoyment, it’s hard to beat the perfect peach pie.

In my case, the word ‘perfect’ is relative. Certainly the inspiration was ideal. I opened the New York Times magazine early in July to find a recipe for peach pie, accompanied by a photo that was gorgeous enough to haunt my dreams. I was going to make that pie.

Unfortunately, I was stymied by the pastry. My struggles with making a good pastry are fairly well-documented, but this one demonstrated a basic inability to hold together, at all. It was surely doomed.

But I refused to call it a day. Undaunted, I pressed half the dough into the bottom and sides of a tart pan, followed it up with the peach mixture, and covered it with a crumble topping. What followed was the perfect peach tart – the tart of my dreams. No matter what kind of produce I fall in love with next summer, it’s a safe bet I’ll be making this one again.


The Perfect Peach Tart
(inspired by this recipe)

Ingredients:

Pastry:
Your favourite recipe for tart dough (enough for one crust)

Filling:
5 cups of peeled, sliced peaches
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (first amount)
pinch ground nutmeg

Topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (second amount)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Prepare tart dough according to the recipe, flatten it into a 6” disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for up to one hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

To make the pie filling, combine sliced peaches, lemon juice, sugar and 1/4 cup flour and gently mix to combine. Set aside.

Whisk together 3/4 cup flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Mix with the melted butter. Set aside.

Press the tart dough into the bottom and sides of a tart pan with removable sides. Add the peaches and sprinkle with ground nutmeg. Crumble the topping over the top of the tart. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375. Cook until peaches bubble and pastry is golden, an additional 45 minutes to one hour.

(If you're a great pastry maker, check out the original recipe from the New York Times. And invite me over for a slice!)


The Fallback

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I have a habit of falling in love with a recipe so much that I make it over and over again. In the past, I've called it a rut, but that's far too negative a word for something so terrific. Let's call it a fallback instead - a dish that I make again as soon as it's finished because I love it so much. And that's exactly what this wonderful salad has been for me this summer.

It all started when I met my friend Patty for dinner. We hadn't seen each other in three years, and had a lot to catch up on. She brought a shopping bag to the restaurant and I just assumed she'd stopped in a store on the way there. But late in the meal she handed it to me, saying, "You'll laugh when you see what's inside." I did, when I saw it was a Tupperware container that I'd given her at least three years earlier, probably filled with cookies. She went one better than that, and filled it with fresh cherries when she gave it back.

I'd been eyeing this salad recipe anyhow, and once I had the cherries, I had everything I needed to make it. I've enjoyed it many times over the last month, but there's no chance this fallback recipe will turn into a rut for me. The season for fresh cherries and peaches is almost over, and then it'll be another eleven months until this salad is part of my daily routine again. Why don't you try it too, and see if it becomes a fallback for you?


Sweet Corn, Peaches and Cherry Salad with Creamy Goat Cheese
(adapted from Flourishing Foodie)

1 cob corn
1 small peach, sliced
1/2 cup cherries, de-pitted
6 cups of your favourite greens (I used arugula)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 ounces soft goat cheese

Boil or grill 1 cob of corn. Once cooked, remove the kernels with a knife.

Slice the peach; cut the cherries in half and remove the pits.

Combine the olive oil and white wine vinegar and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the greens, corn, peaches and cherries. Drizzle with dressing. Plate the salad and crumble goat cheese over the top.

First World Problems

Sunday, August 9, 2015
The minute I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it. Locally-grown green beans, served in season and topped with a savoury sabayon. It had 'classic' written all over it.

The ingredients were easy to find, and I had almost everything I needed. But I hesitated when I got to champagne vinegar. With all the vinegar I had in my cupboard, at least one had to be champagne vinegar, right?

And how many bottles of vinegar did I have in that cupboard, anyhow?

I'm mortified to say that I counted them and found 11 (eleven). Several were repeats, so it's not like I owned eleven different varieties. But still - eleven?

And how many of those eleven bottles do you think were made from champagne? You'd be right if you guessed a number that rhymes with hero. But the only hero I wanted to see was one bearing an apron instead of a cape, and a bottle of champagne vinegar tucked under an arm.

I like to think I'm a person of restraint, and the idea of going out and buying a twelfth bottle was more than I could bear. So I took a chance on the white-wine vinegar that nestled halfway back in that cupboard, and was amply rewarded with this wonderful side dish. Don't let its simplicity fool you - this is one of the loveliest ways I've ever eaten green beans. And if you're anything like my family, you'll eat them faster than a speeding bullet. Super(hero) food, indeed.


Green Beans with Tarragon-Lemon Sabayon
(from The Broad Fork, by Hugh Acheson)

kosher salt
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 cup sparkling wine
1 Tbsp champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 Tbsp chopped fresh chives

Prepare an ice water bath and place it near the stove. Bring 2 quarts of water to a vigorous boil in a pot, and add enough kosher salt to make it pleasantly salty.

Add the beans to the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, plunge the beans into the ice bath to stop the cooking, and then transfer the cooled beans to a plate lined with a paper towel.

In a medium bowl, whip the cream to form soft peaks, and set aside.

Find a medium metal bowl that can nestle into a saucepan or double boiler. Pour 2 inches of water into the saucepan and heat it over medium heat until it steams. Put the egg yolks, lemon zest, sparkling wine, vinegar, and a generous pinch of kosher salt in the metal bowl and place it on the saucepan, making sure the bowl doesn't directly touch the water. Whisk vigorously until the liquid foams and then thickens into a custard, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and continue whisking. Cool the custard in the fridge, lightly covered, and then remove from the fridge, and fold in the whipped cream and the tarragon.

Arrange the beans on a platter and top with the sabayon, parsley and chives. Serve immediately.

The middle of the summer

Sunday, August 2, 2015
It's the middle of the summer, and the girls are at home for a long weekend. Like last year, they're working as staff at the camp they've each attended since they were eight, which means they're home only three times from mid-June to the end of August. And those days off pass very quickly. They have sleep to catch up on (both slept in the car on the way home), places to go and friends to see. This weekend was particularly busy: my older daughter interviewed for a part-time school-year job, and my younger daughter played DJ on radio station CIUT with Andrew, as the fulfilment of a Christmas gift!

Luckily, there's still time for family. I celebrated their homecoming with meringues served with fresh peaches and berries that I picked up at the market earlier that day. I can't imagine a more perfect beginning of August dessert than pavlova served with whipped cream and fruit. Because for me, fresh fruit is the second best thing about the middle of summer.


Peach, Raspberry and Amaretto Pavlovas
(adapted slightly from Chatelaine magazine)

For the meringues:

4 egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
2 Tbsp icing sugar
3 Tbsp amaretto
3 Tbsp brown sugar
3 (or more) ripe peaches, cut into thin wedges
170 gram container raspberries

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat egg whites in a large bowl, using an electric mixer on high, until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in granulated sugar, 1 Tbsp at a time, until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 2 more minutes. Beat in cornstarch, vinegar and vanilla until combined. Spoon meringue onto prepared sheet in 6 large dollops, dividing evenly. Using the back of a spoon, spread meringue into 4 1/2" circles and indent the middles while pushing up the edges so they resemble nests. (Note: these meringues are pretty big, and you could easily get 8 nests.)

Bake until tops are crisp and dry but still white, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off oven and let them dry in oven for 1 more hour. Leave meringues on baking sheet until completely cool.

Beat cream with icing sugar in a medium bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high, until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted. Set aside.

Stir amaretto with brown sugar in a medium bowl until sugar has dissolved. Gently stir in peach wedges and raspberries until just coated. 

To assemble, spoon whipped cream onto meringues. Top with peaches and raspberries. Drizzle with remaining juices.

On air at CIUT!


Brunch

Sunday, July 26, 2015

I love brunch. I love going out to a restaurant on a weekend morning, and chatting over an Eggs Benedict or a Huevos Rancheros. I've enjoyed some wonderful brunches over the years, from Commander's Palace in New Orleans to Hell's Kitchen in Minneapolis, from Beauty and Essex in New York to Toronto's Farmhouse Tavern.

But as it happens, I get out to brunch far less often than I'd like. On Saturday mornings we’re running errands, and on Sunday mornings we’re in church. Going to brunch isn’t something that often works for us.

Which is why it’s great to find a cookbook that lets me enjoy it in my own house. Mildred Pierce Restaurant (which has since become Mildred’s Temple Restaurant) was named for the Joan Crawford movie Mildred Pierce. The cookbook that it inspired, Out To Brunch, has page after page of great recipes, including a few that are named for characters in the movie. (Remind you of anyone who has a series of recipes inspired by her favourite musicals?) 

I couldn’t resist trying one of those recipes, Mrs. Biederhof’s Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, so named for the “other woman” in the movie, who might have cooked them to lure Mildred’s husband away. The pancakes were wonderful: tall, fluffy and stuffed with juicy berries, and served with extra berries on the side. I can’t speak for either Mrs. Biederhof or Mr. Pierce, but I was seduced by these delicious pancakes - and so was Mr. Pollock.


Mrs. Biederhof’s Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes
(from Out to Brunch at Mildred Pierce Restaurant, by Donna Dooher and Claire Stubbs) 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup fresh blueberries, plus extra for serving
unsalted butter to grease the skillet
maple syrup, for serving

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

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the buttermilk and melted butter.

Using a spatula, combine the dry and wet ingredients to make a thick, lumpy batter, taking care not to overmix.

In a nonstick skillet, melt some butter over medium-high heat. Ladle 1/3 cup of batter into the hot skillet and sprinkle with blueberries. Take care not to overcrowd the skillet, since the pancakes will puff up as they cook.

When bubbles appear on the surface of the pancakes and the edges begin to brown, flip the pancakes and cook the other side. It should take about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Serve with maple syrup and extra blueberries.

Byblos in my kitchen

Monday, July 20, 2015
I wanted to try this recipe as soon as I discovered it. Having enjoyed the fabulous Middle Eastern desserts at Toronto's Byblos restaurant, I couldn't wait to try something similar in my own kitchen. Everything about the recipe seemed perfect, from the sweetened labneh (a creamy, yogurt-like cheese) to the roasted fruit. And best of all, it didn't look like a lot of work. A handful of ingredients, and less than half an hour from beginning to end, most of that being time in the oven.

I might never have tried it, though, if it wasn't for the grappa. I didn't want to buy a whole bottle for this recipe. But the very next night, I was at a church dinner when one of my friends mentioned that a mutual friend mistook the grappa in her fridge for white wine. (Not a mistake you'd make beyond the first sip.) "We have so much grappa," she said, "I don't know what to do with it."

I offered to take some off her hands. We were both happy. And now it would be a cinch getting the rest of the ingredients!

Perhaps not.

The labneh was the next barrier. I called every grocery store and specialty food store in the area. No one even knew what labneh was, and they certainly didn't carry it. I found it by accident - at one of the stores I'd called - when I was looking for ricotta cheese for another recipe. (Of course, I was so excited to find the labneh, I forgot the ricotta. But that's a story for another day.)

I rushed home to make the dessert, only to find someone had eaten all the grapes.

When I came back with a new bunch of grapes, I wasn't going to leave anything to chance. It may have been the middle of the afternoon, but I was making this dessert before anything else went missing. And I had a near miss, when I reached for the honey and found it suspiciously light. I'd like to thank whoever in my family knew I needed exactly one tablespoon of honey, and left it thoughtfully around the sides of the jar.

After all that prep work, I realized I'd been right: the recipe was indeed both easy to make and wonderfully delicious. The sweet grapes married perfectly with the velvety labneh, and the buttery shortbread was a firm counterpoint to both. I've since made it again, and I'll keep making it. At least until the grappa runs out.

Roasted Fruit with Sweet Labneh
(adapted slightly from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady)

For the labneh:

Zest from 1/2 orange, finely grated
1/4 cup packed Demerara sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 cups labneh

For the fruit:

1 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp grappa
1 pound seedless grapes (the first time I made this, I just used grapes. The second time I included pineapple and fresh figs. They were both fantastic!)

For serving:

Shortbread or amaretti cookies

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To make the labneh, rub the orange zest into the Demerara sugar. Fold it into the labneh until lightly mixed. (Note: if the labneh isn't firm, carefully scrape it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl, then cover and refrigerate until it is stable enough to form a peak.) Spread the labneh in ripples on an ovenproof plate. Sprinkle with more Demerara.

To prepare the grapes, thin the honey with the grappa in a large bowl. Snip the grapes into clusters and add to the bowl. (If using other fruit, add it here too.) Turn the fruit in the syrup then transfer to a roasting pan with a shallow rim.

Place both sides side by side in the oven and roast for 12 to 15 minutes. Carefully set the fruit atop the labneh and spoon any collected pan juices over all. Serve with cookies, crushed or whole.