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22
Raspberry Clafouti


There are few things that could get me to turn on the oven in the middle of this oppressive heat wave.  However, much to the dismay of my panting dog, clafouti is one of them.

Unlike almost everyone else in the country right now, the red and golden raspberries in our garden are adoring the heat.  They have just started to really take off, offering up several pints a week.  (That is, those that aren't stolen when I'm not looking, right off the thorny branches, by aforementioned panting dog).

Clafouti ("klau-foo-tee") is a both rustic and elegant dessert, with a ridiculously fun to say name, that originated in the Limousin region in the southwest of France.  It was traditionally made with cherries, as they had an abundance they had to figure out what to do with each summer, poor things.  I learned of it from my well-loved, dog-eared copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and was in love from the start.  Further investigation revealed that when made with any other fruit other than the traditional cherries, it is actually not called Clafouti, but "Flaugnarde".  Are you kidding me?  I feel like those rogue Limousinians just came up with the most clumsy sounding word they could to shame the rest of the world into strict adherence to their recipe.  My fancy, summer, whatever-berry-filled french dessert will be called clafouti, so there.

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19
Garlic Scape and Herb Pancake


 

Move over scallions.  I may have to cheat on you.

My love affair with dim sum scallion pancakes is no secret.  There are few times I can think of when they don't appeal to me.  (or make me start to go all Pavlovian as I even type the words.)  Though green and doing very well, the scallions planted in my garden are still about the size of glorified dental floss and won't be serving up any exotic savories for a few weeks.

However, we do have garlic scapes!  And herbs!  Lots of both!

Scallions?  Who needs scallions?

While not exactly a necessity, (more of an insatiable craving), mother invention shone down and offered up this bright, summery, mildly garlicky, herby, southeast Asian-inspired perfection on a greasy paper towel.  There is a tremendous (and tremendously cheap) hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop in NYC's Chinatown, to which I make frequent pilgrimages.  Alongside their dumplings, they have a monstrous cast iron pan in which they make a very similar sesame pancake.  You can get a pizza-slice-sized wedge "stuffed with veggies" for $1.25, which is split laterally and crammed with shredded carrot and chopped cilantro leaves and stems.  There was definitely some inspiration from there in this as well.

Give these a try, using all that summer is offering up right now.  Shredded zucchini, carrot or beet, torn squash blossoms, thyme, sage, thinly sliced chard could all be welcome additions.  Fried dough + farm fresh herbs and produce = What could possibly be bad?

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10
What I’m cooking this weekend.

a dog day of late spring.


Sparkling Panakam: This recipe from Heidi Swanson's (101cookbooks.com) new book Super Natural Every Day, is for a sparkling, spiced Indian beverage, certain to refresh between weeding turns in the gardens.  With lime, ginger cardamom and salt, it is described on Epicurioius.com as "a frosty cold, light, bright ginger beer".  Yes please.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Coffee Cake: This recipe was given to me by a great friend a year ago--a great friend indeed, as it came binder-clipped to a big paper bag full of homegrown rhubarb.  The rhubarb went to very good use, but I still haven't had the chance to try this recipe.  It came with a rave review and I can't wait.


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ay
06
Buttermilk Honey Wheat English Muffins
 



I don't know about you, but I am a tad worn out from all of the high-spirited holidays that have been crammed into the calendar as of late.  Earth Day, Easter, Passover, National Eggs Benedict Day (I wish I was kidding), Arbor Day, May Day, Cinco De Mayo, and even a wedding of the century thrown in there.  I'm feeling a little tapped out for brilliant ideas to mark this weekend's Mother's Day.

So when in doubt, I go homemade.  English Muffins, that is.

I did some tinkering with the dough, including a few highly hockey puckable versions, and came up with one that has a full flavor and tender texture.  The addition of buttermilk (ah-hem, something to do with all that you have leftover from making your own butter) gives these a wonderful sour flavor, not unlike (a shortcut) sourdough.  The sourness, the sweet honey and the nutty wheat make these perfect for a slathering of oozy stinky cheese and a drizzle of honey or fig preserve, or use the bounty of the spring and smear on some strawberry rhubarb jam.  English muffins have long been my favorite hamburger buns, and don't for get our national treasure (see above) Eggs Benedict.

As with store bought english muffins, these are fine with a little butter right out of the oven, but really show their stripes when "fork split" (poke all around the side with the tines of a fork, to divide the top and bottom, and gently pull the top and bottom apart to reveal the nooks and crannies), and then lightly toasted to crunch up the hole-y texture.

Make them a day or two before, toast them up, and bring them on a tray to the bedside of your favorite mom.  Instruct her devour them with her pinky up, channeling the Duchess of Cambridge.  English indeed.

BUTTERMILK HONEY WHEAT ENGLISH MUFFINS

Makes 18 three inch muffins or one dozen four inch muffins.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup honey
cornmeal, for dusting

Place the warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle yeast over the surface.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Yeast will turn the water cloudy and the surface will froth some.

In a large bowl, or bowl of a stand mixer, comine bread flour, wheat flour and salt.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in yeast mixture, buttermilk, and honey.  Either using your hands or the paddle of a stand mixture, combine the ingredients throughly, until you have a shaggy dough.  Change to a stand mixer dough hook, or pour the dough onto a well-floured surface, and knead for 8-10 minutes.  Form dough into a large ball.

Lightly oil the inside of a large bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl, turning gently to coat with oil.  Cover lightly with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for sixty to ninety minutes.

Gently stretch the dough into a "pancake" that is about a half inch thick, on a floured surface.  Using a round biscuit cutter (you could also use a knife and just make square muffins), cut out muffin shapes and transfer to a piece of parchment dusted liberally with cornmeal.  You can gently combine the "scraps" back together to cut out additional muffins.  Just be careful not to squeeze out all of the air in the dough.

Sprinkle tops of muffins with cornmeal, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Allow to rise in a warm place for sixty to ninety minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place a large, lightly oiled skillet, on medium to medium-high heat.  Carefully transfer the muffins, so not to deflate the nooks and crannies, to the skillet and gently pan-fry until the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes.  Carefully flip over to brown the top.  As soon as each muffin is ready, transfer to a baking sheet in the oven, and finish baking.  Transfer the muffins to the oven as they are ready, not waiting for the others to finish browning in the pan.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the muffin sounds hollow when thumped with a finger on the bottom.

Cool finished muffins on a baking rack.  The english muffins will keep for about 4 days in an airtight container.  To serve, fork-split, and toast.



 

 


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08
Olive Oil Everything Crackers


Here is another cracker recipe with which to send you off into the weekend!

This recipe and the Cornmeal and Chive Cracker recipe from earlier this week contrast each other nicely, and would make a sublime little cracker basket assortment.  This cracker is a little more subtle in flavor and more tender in texture than the other, so pairs nicely with soft, less powerful cheeses too.  With or without the everything seed mix and this is a perfect, versatile, go-to cracker recipe to have in your bag of tricks.



1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Everything Seed Mix:
1/2 teaspoon each of toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flax seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (available in the spice aisle) (optional, for the true everything bagel flavor)

Heat oven to 350 ° F.

Mix together flour, whole wheat flour and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk and olive oil.  Mix either by hand, with a paddle of a stand mixer, or in a food processor until dough comes together.

Lightly dust with flour a silpat or piece of parchment paper that is the same size as your baking sheet. Roll out a portion of the dough right on the paper or silpat. Try to get it as thin and even as you are able, without creating holes, ideally around 1/16th of an inch. Lightly sprinkle with more flour if the rolling pin starts to stick.

Using cookie cutters, my new favorite tool: a Pasta Bike, pizza cutter or carefully with a knife, cut crackers in desired shape. Remove excess dough.  Brush lightly with water and sprinkle liberally with seed mix.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the sheet once in the oven about half way through. Crackers are ready when they are crisp and no longer pliable. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Will keep in an airtight container for a week.
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OLIVE OIL EVERYTHING CRACKERS
by Catie Schwalb

Makes about two dozen 2.5" diameter round crackers.  However, cut in any shape you fancy.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Everything Seed Mix:
1/2 teaspoon each of toasted sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and flax seeds
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (available in the spice aisle) (optional, for the true everything bagel flavor)

Heat oven to 350 ° F.

Mix together flour, whole wheat flour and salt.  Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the buttermilk and olive oil.  Mix either by hand, with a paddle of a stand mixer, or in a food processor until dough comes together.

Lightly dust with flour a silpat or piece of parchment paper that is the same size as your baking sheet. Roll out a portion of the dough right on the paper or silpat. Try to get it as thin and even as you are able, without creating holes, ideally around 1/16th of an inch. Lightly sprinkle with more flour if the rolling pin starts to stick.

Using cookie cutters, my new favorite tool: a Pasta Bike, pizza cutter or carefully with a knife, cut crackers in desired shape. Remove excess dough.  Brush lightly with water and sprinkle liberally with seed mix.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the sheet once in the oven about half way through. Crackers are ready when they are crisp and no longer pliable. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Will keep in an airtight container for a week.

 



 


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06
Cornmeal and Chive Crackers


In my ongoing quest to eliminate store-bought processed foods from our kitchen and life, this week I tackled crackers.  There is a long and growing list food items that I no longer even think of not making myself, and yet almost weekly I think nothing of tossing (overpriced) box after box of these crisp vices in my shopping basket.

Growing up in shoreline Connecticut in the 80's "cheeseandcrackers" were a very big deal.  Practically their own extracurricular activity.  I vividly remember going to our immpeccable cheese shop on Main Street with my grandmother and picking out an appropriate assortment of contrasting cheeses and suitable cracker sidekicks for that weekend's cheese tray.  I was always most intrigued by the layer cake-esque Huntsman cheese, consisting of stripes of Double Gloucester and Stilton cheeses.  Carrying on in that early-ingrained tradition, we always have a nice piece or two of cheese on hand and a cupboard stocked with cracker choices for insta-entertaining.

So with my long history with cheeseandcrackers, I am even more surprised that making my own crackers hadn't come up before (particularly with now making my own cheese from time to time).  A remarkably easy project, offering a gazillion flavor possibilities, from as hearty and rustic to delicate and subtle as you want to make them.  When picking out a special piece of carefully crafted cheese, you can decide exactly what vehicle will deliver this creamy treasure to your gullet.  Doesn't your own cheeseandcrackers ritual deserve at least as much?

 

CORNMEAL AND CHIVE CRACKERS
by Catie Schwalb

These are a rustic,  full-flavored cracker taking advantage of gorgeous spring chives.  I found they also make a great chip-like snack cracker which would be great with dips or  just as a snack on their own.

Makes approximately four dozen 2” x 3.5” crackers.

1 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in small cubes
1 ¼ cup flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/8 cup chives, finely chopped

Heat oven to 350 ° F.

In a medium saucepan, heat one cup of water with the cubes of butter and salt. Allow the water to come to a gentle boil (the butter should be melted around the same time). Whisk in the cornmeal and cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently. The mixture will be quite thick.

In a mixing bowl, combine cornmeal mixture with flour and chives. Mix until just combined. Try to avoid over-mixing as it will make the crackers tougher.

Wrap dough in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for a half hour.

Lightly dust with flour a silpat or piece of parchment paper that is the same size as your baking sheet. Roll out a portion of the dough right on the paper or silpat. Try to get it as thin and even as you are able, without creating holes, ideally around 1/16th of an inch. Lightly sprinkle with more flour if the rolling pin starts to stick.

Using cookie cutters, a rolling pastry cutter, pizza cutter or carefully with a knife, cut crackers in desired shape. Remove excess dough and sprinkle crackers liberally with additional kosher salt.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the sheet once in the oven about half way through. Crackers are ready when they are beginning to turn light brown around the edges and are no longer pliable. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Will keep in an airtight container for a week.

 



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ebruary
25
Anandama Bread: 33 % whole wheat, 100 % comfort.
I'm covered in flour and the entire house smells like warm bread.  A good day by all standards.

With slender baguette pans, gurgling jars of sourdough starter, and an array of silky flours, my father was a talented bread baker.  One of his specialties, the one I hold dearest, was Anadama Bread.  As a kid, the lore of the New England fisherman who threw his bowl of molasses-sweetened cornmeal mush at his bread baking wife, exclaiming "Anna, damn ya!", mixing the ingredients and thus giving birth to this accidental recipe was consistently intriguing, and consistently an excuse to use an unapproved word.  But the flavor, aroma, and character of this bread, far outweighed it's value for smut-mouthed opportunities.

A yeasty moist bread, it is made hearty with the addition of cornmeal, and sweet and tangy with the addition of molasses.  This is the quintessential eat at least a half a loaf slathered in butter right out of the oven as soon as it is cool enough to slice homemade bread.  Chewy, with a pillowy crumb, this also makes the best, the best, toast.  The sugars in the bread form a delicate crust all over the surface, providing just enough slight crunch before giving way to a slightly sweet supple center.  It also makes an amazing sandwich.

As it is baking, largely thanks to the molasses, the bread will perfume your home with a distinct comforting gorgeousness, certain to lay tracks for intense sense-memory experiences decades from now.  As has absolutely proven true for me.

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ebruary
17
Blood Orange and Clementine Galette


Soon after I finished culinary school a wise and wonderful chef and cookbook author asked me, as I was first meeting her, what kind of food do you cook? I was a little stumped.  I was just out of a year of cooking little other than classical french cuisine.  And a year of cooking predetermined recipes that I had to master, in order to learn said classical french cuisine.

Eating locally, and seasonally, and knowing where my ingredients come from are always paramount when I cook, but beyond "farm to table", I didn't really have a ready response as far as my personal style with food.

But after some introspection, I think at least one of my approaches to cooking, though perhaps somewhat obvious, is to get the finest possible ingredients, at the height of their season or freshness, from the best possible sources, and then:  get out of their way.  Or compliment their strengths that are already therein, rather than transforming or imposing.  At least that's the goal.  How can I possibly improve upon a homegrown, just-picked Jaune Flamme heirloom tomato, drizzled with exceptional olive oil and a hit of crunchy fleur de sel?

This recipe does just that.  Blood oranges are in season right now, and at the height of their glorious flavor.  They are a stunning deep garnet color, with a taste that ranges from orange to raspberry to grape.  A phenomenal homemade pastry crust, along with the roasted fruit, this galette reminds me a lot of my great grandmother's jam-filled thumbprint cookies, or a very sophisticated Pop-Tart.  And brings some necessary brightness to a dull week of winter.

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ebruary
11
Breakfast for your Valentine


I remember the first year freshdirect.com was operating they offered a somewhat genius valentine's day package.  It was something along the lines of ready-to-cook surf and turf, fixings for chocolate fondue, a bottle of bubbly, and then parbaked croissants and orange juice for breakfast the next morning.  One click, and you look like an exceedingly prepared and thoughtful superstar of a valentine.  Whether you are cooking breakfast for your valentine on February 14th, or February 15th, or indulging in a weekly leisurely sunday brunch with the New York Times spread out around you, this recipe is perfect.

I had many, many sleepovers at my grandparents' house when I was a child.  Most mornings Nana (an amazing and adventurous cook, who ended up being my Maid of Honor) would make one of these magical puffy, eggy, warm breakfast crepes just for me.  I felt so very special.  I've seen them called dutch babies, German pancakes, and Bismarks, but on Nana's recipe card it says Breakfast Crepes, and so Breakfast Crepes it shall remain.

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ebruary
04
Scallion Pancakes
Scallion pancakes.  Oh how I love thee.



These remarkable, little chewy, salty, scallion-y, layered disks of oily crunchy heaven completely stole my heart when I first had them my first year living in the city a decade and a half ago.  Often I would grab a late night snack of scallion pancakes and dumplings on my way home from rehearsal near midnight, back when my metabolism could handle such an indulgence.

On our honeymoon in China three years ago, I stumbled upon a mirage-like goddess making scallion pancakes on a narrow back street in Beijing.



Just look at the size of that pan!  We got a New York pizza slice-sized wedge (see the table on the right), wrapped loosely in wax paper, that the newlyweds pawed at, stopped dead on the street, like malnourished tiger cubs.  Who got the last bite should have gone in a prenup.

Too recently I discovered that these treasures are not all that difficult to make yourself--however dangerous it could be to embark upon in the privacy of your own home.  Proceed with caution.  The management is not responsible for the abandonment of any new year's resolutions.

But if only in honor of Chinese New Year, give these a try.  The rolled out, uncooked, pancakes can be layered in slightly floured wax paper and stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic for about twenty-four hours, and then finished in a frying pan for two minutes on each side.  Do we hear a great Year of the Rabbit themed Super Bowl appetizer?


I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour. Cake flour, available in the baking aisle at the grocery store, has a lower gluten content, resulting in a dough that wasn't as tough, and I could roll out thinly much more easily, as it wasn't springing back as I tried to roll. However, you can make this entirely of AP flour, it might just be a little more challenging to roll out thin.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup warm water
sesame oil, about 3 teaspoons
1/2 cup scallions, sliced thin
salt
peanut or canola oil, for frying

Combine flours together. Add water, either in a well in the middle of the flours, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook, and work to evenly combine. Knead for about three minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the ball of dough into a slightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest for about thirty minutes.



Divide dough into three equal pieces (or more depending on the size of pancake you wish). Roll one piece of dough out into a circle, as thinly as possible.



Brush one side of rolled out dough with a very thin layer of sesame oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and scatter scallions evenly and liberally over the dough, making sure to get the edges.



Starting at the edge, carefully roll dough in one direction, encompassing the scallions, until you have a long rope.



Coil the rope (think: cinnamon bun) into a tight bundle.  (Look at the large beehive-like coils on the table on the left with the man in the photo of Beijing earlier in the post.) Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for about thirty minutes.



After they've rested, flatten the coil slightly with your hand.



Roll the disk with a rolling pin, until it is an even circle about 8-10" in diameter.



Heat a tablespoon of peanut or canola oil in a pan over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers. Gently place the pancake in the pan, laying it away from you as you put it in--so you don't get splashed with oil. Fry gently for about two minutes on both sides until golden brown. Drain briefly on a paper towel.

Cut into wedges. Serve warm with a dipping sauce of soy sauce infused with slices of fresh ginger.
">
SCALLION PANCAKES
Makes three 8-10" pancakes.

I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour. Cake flour, available in the baking aisle at the grocery store, has a lower gluten content, resulting in a dough that wasn't as tough, and I could roll out thinly much more easily, as it wasn't springing back as I tried to roll. However, you can make this entirely of AP flour, it might just be a little more challenging to roll out thin.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup warm water
sesame oil, about 3 teaspoons
1/2 cup scallions, sliced thin
salt
peanut or canola oil, for frying

Combine flours together. Add water, either in a well in the middle of the flours, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook, and work to evenly combine. Knead for about three minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the ball of dough into a slightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest for about thirty minutes.



Divide dough into three equal pieces (or more depending on the size of pancake you wish). Roll one piece of dough out into a circle, as thinly as possible.



Brush one side of rolled out dough with a very thin layer of sesame oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and scatter scallions evenly and liberally over the dough, making sure to get the edges.



Starting at the edge, carefully roll dough in one direction, encompassing the scallions, until you have a long rope.



Coil the rope (think: cinnamon bun) into a tight bundle.  (Look at the large beehive-like coils on the table on the left with the man in the photo of Beijing earlier in the post.) Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for about thirty minutes.



After they've rested, flatten the coil slightly with your hand.



Roll the disk with a rolling pin, until it is an even circle about 8-10" in diameter.



Heat a tablespoon of peanut or canola oil in a pan over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers. Gently place the pancake in the pan, laying it away from you as you put it in--so you don't get splashed with oil. Fry gently for about two minutes on both sides until golden brown. Drain briefly on a paper towel.

Cut into wedges. Serve warm with a dipping sauce of soy sauce infused with slices of fresh ginger.





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anuary
26
Ode to The Minimalist
It was announced yesterday that Mark Bittman's weekly column in the New York Times will end its thirteen year delicious, informative, enthusiastic, and encouraging run.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqChHSsf42c

I have learned many lessons from Mr. Bittman's column.  Starting in 1997, a year after I graduated from college, I cooked recipe after recipe from his writing and suggestions and road maps of seasonal dishes.  His overarching philosophy of don't be intimidated, just get in the kitchen and make good, real food--"It's not rocket science"--is the cornerstone of what I deem most important in the work I do and what I am most trying to impart in this blog.

His article The Well-Dressed Salad Wears Only Homemade in 2006, not only instantly convinced me to remove all store-bought salad dressing from my life, but also started my path of questioning any and all store bought food-stuffs.

He sent my husband and I on a scavenger hunt through winding cobblestoned back streets of Genoa, Italy, and putting Genoa on our itinerary at all, because of his completely intriguing description of the hole-in-the wall greasy spoon, Trattoria Maria, as "one of my favorite restaurants in the world." It ended up being our favorite city of the trip---the trip on which we got engaged.

His coverage of Jim Lahey's no-knead bread technique, sent me, and throngs of other eager cooks, out in search of hearty lidded cast iron cookware (according to the sales person at the Le Creuset outlet in Woodbury Commons: "Are you here because of The Bread?"), and got the country excited about making homemade bread.

I encourage you to go back over his fun, relaxed and heartfelt collection of pieces, and cookbooks (How to Cook Everything, 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food) and find some new favorite recipes.

Thank you, Mr. Bittman.  Looking forward to what's next on the menu.

A few of my favorites from the past years, that I return to again and again:

Soto Ayam--Indonesian Chicken Soup with Noodles and Aromatics

Chard Stuffed with Lemon Saffron Risotto and Mozzarella

Chicken Biriyani

101 Simple Salads for the Season

101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less

Almond-Apricot Granola Bars


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anuary
19
Pie Crust 101
Bleached flour, partially hydrogenated lard with BHA and BHT, wheat starch, water, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate and sodium propionate (preservatives), Yellow 5, and Red 40.

Butter, Flour, Salt, Water, and sometimes an egg.

The first is a list of just some of the ingredients of a popular, store-bought, ready-to-unroll, pie crust.

The second is what comprises a homemade, you-are-looney-not-to-make-yourself, pie crust.

I remember taking a homemade pie, with a homemade pie crust to a friend's house a few years back.  When someone raved about the crust and asked what brand it was, I told them I had made it myself.  They were shocked, and I was shocked that they were shocked.  They then responded that "it must be nice to have the time to make your own pie crusts"...

Well, I'm here to tell you, my friends, that you can have these made in about the time it takes you to defrost your hydrogenated lard sheets of dough, and your golden color will come from creamy butter and perhaps a farm fresh egg yolk, instead of Yellow numero 5.

And let's just chat about cost for a brief moment.  At a recent glance, store bought refrigerated or frozen pie crusts ranged from $3.79 to $4.99 for a two crust package.  Making it at home will run you about $2.  Are you with me people?

But isn't it really tough?
Only if you over work it. (gluten humor.)

No!  But there are a couple of things to be aware of that will help you achieve buttery flaky pastry nirvana, and avoid a gravelly, leaden disappointment.

Gluten!
This small word (from the latin word for glue) is getting an enormous amount of air-time these days. Gluten is a substance found in certain grains and flours, most commonly wheat, that when mixed with moisture is activated to create a sticky, bonding compound which makes great bagels so chewy, or lousy pastries dense doorstops. The stronger the gluten bond, the less flaky and light the crust will be. Fats, sugar, or acids inhibit the formation of a strong gluten structure. However, the more you knead, play with, or "work" a dough, the more developed the gluten bonds will be.

So when working with a dough, you want to handle it as little as possible. Don't leave the food processor on high and have the ball of dough whipping around the machine. Don't knead it! Just do as much as you have to to get the ingredients to come together, and then hands off. Also, allowing the dough to rest in the refrigerator for a half hour after you've made it, will allow the gluten structure to relax some as well.

The recipe below makes two crusts, for one double crusted pie (top and bottom), or two separate single pie shells.  If I am going to take the time to get flour about the kitchen, I always make this full recipe, sometimes doubling it for four crusts.   Divide and wrap unused dough in two airtight layers of plastic wrap or freezer bags, and they can be frozen for about 3 months.  Remove to the refrigerator the day before to thaw.

Give this a try.  The ease, and more importantly, the taste will astound you.  Get this down now and you'll be a crust making-fool in time for peach pie season.

BASIC PIE CRUST PASTRY

Makes 2 crusts for one double crust pie, or two single pie shells.

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled (or popped in freezer for 15 minutes after cut into cubes)
1/2 cup water, ice cold
OR
2 large eggs with 4 teaspoons of water

Step 1: Combine flour and salt in a food processor.  Add cubes of chilled butter.



Step 2: Gently pulse food processor, until the butter is the size of small peas.  These pieces of fat in the dough will create pockets when it is baked, and result in the flaky texture.



Step 3: Evenly distribute the ice water, or egg and water mixture, and pulse just until the dough comes together in a ball.  It may be necessary to add just a bit more moisture, which you can do a tablespoon at a time, again, just until the dough comes together.



Step 4: Pour the dough onto a well-floured surface.  In balls about the size of a walnut, gently push and smear the dough out with the heel of your hand, just once each ball.  Continue until you have done this with all of the dough.  The term for this in french is fraisage.  It will help make sure there aren't any giant pieces of unincorporated butter, that will melt and cause a hole in your crust, but will also help create long layers of butter in your dough, that will ideally help with the flakiness.



Step 5: When all of the dough has been fraisage-d, form into two disks, that are generally flat and round.  This will help give you a head start on the shape you are trying to achieve when it comes time to roll it out.  Wrap individually in plastic, and place in the refrigerator for a half hour to rest.  You can also freeze the disks of dough at this point.



Step 6: Remove the dough disk from the refrigerator and place on a gently floured surface.  It might need a minute or two to come up just a bit in temperature, so it doesn't crack all over when you put a rolling pin to it.  Gently press down with a rolling pin, and apply light pressure, at first, as you roll forward.  Continue to roll forward only, turning the dough as you need, until you have a circle about an inch wider on all sides than the pie plate you are using.



Step 7: Brush excess flour off the top surface of the dough.  To transport the rolled out dough to a pie plate, gently roll the dough around the rolling pin, brushing off excess flour on the bottom, as you go.



Step 8: Bring the dough-wrapped rolling in to your baking dish, and unroll in the opposite direction.



Step 9: Loosely fit the dough into the shell, using a small ball of spare dough to push it gently into the corners, if needed.  Trim any large overhanging edges, leaving about a 1/2 inch on all sides.  With your thumb and pointer finger on one hand, and the tip of your thumb on the other, go around the top of the edge, pinching your two hands together every inch or so, to create a fluted edge to your crust.



Step 10: Return pie shell to the refrigerator to chill slightly before baking, or filling and baking.

Voila!


{ welcome! }
Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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