Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I'm crazy.

Even though I spent all day cooking in a hot kitchen, and even though it was 95+ degrees outside, I thought it would be fun to make an impromptu tart for the blog.  I have to post more often if I want to increase my traffic, so why the hell not?  Oh, and I thought of this fantastic idea at 8:00 at night, after I had already made a beer can chicken and salad for dinner.  So yes, I'm crazy.

But about that tart.  This is my version of a crostata (rustic Italian free form tart) or a galette, the French version.  The difference being that I use my favorite crust for tarts, pate sucree, or sweet dough.  Crostatas and galettes typically employ pate brisee, a short dough.  Pate sucree has a crisp, cookie-like texture that I love.  It is typically used in tarts that are first blind baked and then filled with goodies such as lemon curd, pastry cream, chocolate ganache and fruit.  But I like to mix things up, so go ahead and throw that fresh fruit in there and pop it in the oven.

For the fruit I used sliced strawberries, peaches and a handful of blueberries.  Use whatever fruit looks best to you and I highly recommend combinations.  Raspberries and peaches would be lovely.  The amount of sugar and thickener you use will depend on the sweetness and juiciness of your fruit.  I used King Arthur Flour's instant Clearjel, but you can substitute with about half the amount of cornstarch.

This is a tasty, beautifully unfussy dessert that doesn't require too much time.  The cookie-ish crust really stands up well to the cooked fruit, and finished with a little whipped cream, this is the perfect ending to a casual summer dinner.

Sweet Pastry Crust recipe available here on The Joy of Baking website.

Crostata My Way

1 recipe sweet dough
1 lb. sliced strawberries
2 small peaches, peeled  and sliced.
1 cup blueberries
5 Tb.  sugar
4 Tb.  instant Clearjel (or cornstarch, about half)
2 Tb. heavy cream
1 Tb. raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare the sweet dough and chill as directed.  While the dough is chilling, combine the fruit and half the sugar in a bowl and let sit for about 20 minutes to bring out the juices.  Combine the remaining sugar and the Clearjel or cornstarch and set aside.

After the dough has chilled, roll it out into about a 10-inch circle and transfer to a baking sheet.  I prefer to do this using parchment paper.  Sprinkle the sugar/thickener mixture over the fruit and toss well.  Pile the fruit up in the center of the dough circle,  leaving a few inches of border. Fold over the excess dough, partially covering the filling.  Press any cracks together and patch up any holes that may have occurred during the folding process.   This is a very forgiving dough, you can mold it and press it as  needed.  Brush the edges of the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle with raw sugar to add a nice crunch.  Place the sheet pan on the bottom rack of your oven (to help the dough set) for 25 minutes.  Lower the heat to 350 and bake an additional 15 to 25 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the crust is lightly browned.

Combine the fruit and half of the sugar in a bowl.

The beautiful fruit piled onto the dough.

Fold the dough around the fruit.

Brush the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle with raw sugar.

The baked crostata.  Don't worry about those lovely juices leaking out.

A delicious slice for me!

Sweet, crisp dough filled with juicy summer fruit.

I think this tart is best served slightly warm or at room temperature.  If you are weird and have leftovers you can refrigerate them, but don't let them linger too long as the crust will get soggy.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pie Confessions

I have a confession to make.  Actually, I have two confessions.  The first is that I've always struggled with making pie crust from scratch.  In fact, it wasn't until the last 6 to 8 years that I even really tried to work on my pie crust skills.  And even still, those damn Pillsbury pre-made pie crusts are just so convenient.  Just unroll the dough into your pie pan and have a nice day!  But for this pie I decided to go for it.  It's hot in my apartment today and pie crust doesn't like heat while it is being made.  Yeah, you get my drift.

My second confession is that the pie I made today is based on my fond childhood memories of eating sour cream blueberry pie at Marie Callender's.  I grew up in a very small town.  When Marie Callender's came to the "big city" an hour south of my home, my family went there for dinner and I tried the sour cream blueberry pie.  Wow, was my mind blown!  A sweet, juicy blueberry filling topped with  a creamy concoction of sour cream! What more could a chubby young girl possibly want with her fruit?  So that became my go-to pie whenever our parents agreed to take my sister and I to the culinary mecca that was Marie Callender's.

Times have changed and I cook for a living now, and it ain't at Marie Callender's!  My tastes my have grown up along with the rest of me, but I still think about that blueberry pie.  I've even thought about re-creating it in the past, but like many things on my eternal to-do list, I never got around to it.  Until today.  I've researched copy cat recipes for the Marie Callender's pie of my youth and I decided to use them as a foundation, combined with my own current tastes and delicious memories.  I knew that I wanted to use fresh blueberries, as opposed to the canned filling combined with minced apples that most recipes call for.  Luckily for me, there was a one-day sale on organic blueberries at work this week.  Um, I bought 12 pints.  It was such a good deal, I couldn't resist.  And you can freeze blueberries you know!  Oh, I don't have to explain myself to anybody, so there!  Where was I?  Oh yes, the filling.  I wanted a fresh filling that would set and slice nicely without being overly rubbery.  And the topping needed to be creamy and rich, with that lovely tart taste of sour cream.  This was to be the kind of pie that is made in separate components and put together, not like other sour cream pie recipes that call for baking fresh fruit in a sour cream filling thickened with flour.

Back to the pie crust.  I used Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Dough recipe.  It really does make a great crust and the addition of vodka keeps it nice and tender.  Just keep in mind when rolling your dough, if it is hot in your house you may need to put your dough back in the refrigerator, a lot.  And you might need to patch it up in areas where the heat of your fingers causes it to start melting.  But seriously, don't let me scare you.  You really should try this pie crust recipe, it's by far the best I've had.  Even if mine didn't look as pretty, the taste and texture was out of this world.

You can find the pie dough recipe here, but I included some photos of the steps.  I used the recipe for a double crust pie and froze the other half because I knew I'd be using it again.  I recommend you do the same because if you're committing the time to making a crust from scratch, you might as well make it worth your while.  The filling of this pie will really depend on your sweetness and juiciness of your berries.  You'll need to taste the filling as you go and add more sugar, lemon juice and thickener as needed.

This pie turned out to be even better than I remembered!  I bet you'll enjoy it just as much!

Elisa's Sour Cream Blueberry Pie
I used a 9" pie pan

2 pints fresh blueberries
sugar to taste, I used one cup
fresh lemon juice to taste, I used one lemon
King Arthur Flour Instant ClearJel Powder, I used 5 Tb.
water as needed, I used 3/4 cup

4 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. gelatin, bloomed in 2 Tb. cool water
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Put 1 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, butter and shortening into a food processor bowl.

Pulse a few times until it looks like this.  Then add the rest of the flour and pulse again.

When it looks like this, dump the mixture into a bowl.

Add 1/4 cup vodka, yes vodka, and 1/4 cup cold water to the crumb mixture.  You may want to take a shot of vodka for yourself at this point as well.  To calm your nerves.

Fold and press everything together until it looks like this.

Divide the pie dough into two even balls and flatten them out.  Wrap both in plastic wrap.  I put one straight into the freezer for later and the other I put into the refrigerator to rest and chill for 45 minutes.

Roll out the dough and put into a 9" pie pan and do what you like with the edges.  I fluted mine and then put the whole thing into the freezer for about 30 minutes.

When the crust is nice and firm, line it with foil and fill with beans (or pie weights) to "blind bake."  This keeps the crust from shrinking too much and bubbling up.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes.  Carefully remove the foil and beans and bake an additional 10 to 12 minutes, until browned.  Set aside to cool completely.

Meanwhile, mix the sugar and Clearjel thickener together and add to a  saucepan with 1 pint of blueberries, water, sugar and lemon juice.   Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until nice and thick and jam-like, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Taste your filling and adjust the sugar and lemon juice as needed.

Add the remaining 1 pint of blueberries and only cook for about 5 minutes more.  This will give your filling a nice fresh flavor with plenty of juicy berries bursting in each bite.  Scrape into a bowl and set aside to cool.  It doesn't have to be cold, but don't put it into your crust piping hot.

For the topping, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a mixer bowl and beat until well combined and smooth.

Scrape the bowl often and then beat in the sour cream and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.

Melt the bloomed gelatin in the microwave, be careful this only takes 15 to 20 seconds.  Then slowly pour it into the mixer while it is running on low speed.  Increase speed to medium high and mix until everything is combined.

Pour the sour cream topping over the cooled filling in the pie crust. Put in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours.

You can decorate the top with blueberries if you like.  Wow, look at the "homey touches" on that pie crust!  Don't worry, even if it looks a little rough, I promise it will be delicious!!

Close up of the delicious pie filling!

Delicious flaky layers in the pie crust!  This is due to the use of cold butter, shortening and vodka!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Lindsay's Lemon Pie

My dear friend Lindsay is a very talented writer, editor and graphic designer.  She's helped me in the past with a few projects so when I needed a logo designed for the blog of course I turned to her.  Lindsay knows I'm a woman who lives a modest lifestyle and when I told her I could only pay her in pie, she was more than understanding.  Because she works in a bakery and has access to a myriad of sweets, her initial request was for a savory beef pie of some variety.  But when the Denver weather finally decided it was time to warm up, a refreshing lemon pie with raspberries is what milady's heart desired!

There are a lot of recipes out there for lemon "icebox" pies  that are usually based on sweetened, condensed milk, aka nectar of the gods.  They usually call for adding egg yolks to the pie base, then whipping the whites to make a meringue topping.  In my opinion, this kind of creamy lemon pie just screams out for whipped cream so that's how I've always made it, as well its cousin the key lime pie, which we'll be seeing very soon.  But I don't like throwing out egg whites or letting them sit in the refrigerator until I decide I'm never going to use them, so I just put the whole egg into the pie.

This pie is perfectly sweet-tart and when topped with whipped cream and raspberries (or any berry of your choice) it's the perfect summer dessert.  And because it is so easy to make, you can quickly whip it up to take to any picnic or BBQ with friends.

Lemon Icebox Pie
I used a 9" deep-dish pie pan. If you don't have a deep-dish pan and want to make this recipe even faster, buy one of those large size "2 extra servings" pre-made graham cracker pie crusts.

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed is highly preferred
zest of one lemon
4 eggs
pinch of salt
Sweetened whipped cream and raspberries to decorate

Combine the butter and crumbs and mix well.

Press firmly into a pie pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Remove the zest from one lemon.  Squeeze one cup of lemon juice.  This is about 6 to 8 lemons, depending on their size and juiciness.

In a bowl combine the condensed milk, zest, juice, eggs and a pinch of salt.   Whisk together until  well combined and smooth.

Pour the filling into the pie crust.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 to 25 minutes.  The filling should be set and will jiggle slightly when you shake the pan.  Cool on the counter about 15 minutes then transfer to the refrigerator for at least 6 hours to cool completely.

Decorate the pie with whipped cream and raspberries, or any berry of your choice.  Or just whipped cream if you like.

Lovely Lindsay with her Lemon Pie!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

That's right, I said watermelon pie

Let me get a few things straight.  I don't even really like watermelon.  OK, I kind of take that back.  I enjoy watermelon but only under the following circumstances; first, it must be candy sweet, second, it must be ice cold, and third, it must be seedless.  When this perfect storm of circumstances comes together, I enjoy watermelon.

A few weeks ago at work I saw a giant stack of crates full of watermelons, soon to be merchandised for a one day sale.  For some reason I instantly thought of pie.  Could a watermelon pie be just crazy enough to work?  I went home and searched the interwebs for recipes and was surprised to find quite a few.  Most of them were based on watermelon flavored Jello with Cool Whip and/or cream cheese mixed in.  I don't think I've ever seen watermelon Jello before, but I did find a pie recipe where someone made their own by pureeing watermelon and adding dissolved gelatin.  Sounded perfect to me.  But I wanted to do something a little different besides cream cheese and thought of yogurt.  Particularly Greek yogurt, which I like to call the "sour cream of yogurts" because it is so thick and rich.  I ended up buying Noosa brand yogurt, which is my latest addiction.  It's actually an Australian-style yogurt, but made in Colorado and I always advise buying local!  Like Greek yogurt, it is very rich and creamy.  While it does have more fat than most Greek yogurts, which are widely available in non-fat and low-fat varieties, it is worth every delicious, decadent bite!  Besides, watermelon is fat-free, so you can splurge little.

So a few weeks have gone by since I first hinted at a watermelon pie and I know that many of you have been eagerly awaiting its arrival.  Sorry about that, I'm a slacker.  But here it is, at long last!

Watermelon Yogurt Pie
I used a 9.5" glass pie pan
2 cups Nilla Wafer crumbs, this is about 3/4 of a box (grind the cookies in a food processor)
6 Tb. butter, melted
1 small seedless watermelon, I used a 4 lb. mini, organic melon and had a little extra fruit left over
1/4 cup cool water
2 packets unflavored gelatin
Sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of your melon and the type of yogurt you use
Juice of half a lime
16 oz. tub Noosa brand yogurt, honey flavor (or substitute a Greek yogurt like Fage, keep in mind many of the brands are unsweetened)

Combine the crumbs and butter and mix well.

Press firmly into pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes and let cool.

Cut the ends off the melon so you have a steady base.

Following the curve of the melon, cut down the sides to remove the rind,
being careful not to cut off too much of the flesh.

The beautiful red flesh with all the rind removed.

Sprinkle the 2 packs of gelatin over 1/4 cup of cool water and allow to bloom.

Put the chunks of melon into a blender or food processor.

Blend until smooth.  Use enough fruit so that you have about  3 1/2 cups puree. You may have some left over.

Pour the puree through a sieve to remove the seeds and pulp.  You will lose some of the body but be sure you have 3 cups of liquid total.

The pulp and tiny seed fragments left over.  Yes, seedless watermelon can still have seeds!

Measure out one cup of liquid and heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes, until it starts to boil.  Add the gelatin, lime juice and sugar to taste, I used 1/2 of a cup. Whisk together to dissolve everything.

Stir the hot liquid/gelatin/sugar mixture into the other 2 cups of watermelon liquid. Put in the refrigerator
and chill until it is thickened and starting to set.

When the liquid is thickened, add the yogurt.

Look at that thick, delicious Noosa yogurt!

Whisk in the yogurt until combined.

If you have extra watermelon, you can cut it up and use to garnish the pie.

Pour the watermelon yogurt mixture into the cooled pie crust.  Top with chunks of watermelon if desired.  Put in the refrigerator and allow to set for at least 6 hours, but overnight is really best.  Be patient and let it set completely.  You will be rewarded with a light, refreshing pie that is sure to surprise your guests!