Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts

Last year I was hired by Sandy Spring Museum and Maryland Traditions, the folklife organization for the state, to conduct an initial folklife survey in Sandy Spring, Maryland, 20 miles north of Washington, D.C. A historic Quaker and African-American community, Sandy Spring was a known stop on the Underground Railroad-- it was said to be on Harriet Tubman's route-- and the town also hosted lectures by Frederic Douglass and housed Dred Scott when he was awaiting trial. Today it is an increasingly diverse community with newer immigrant populations and families who've been there for decades.

My task in Sandy Spring was to identify traditional artists and tradition bearers and interview them, to assist the Museum in better understanding the cultural activity in the community, as well as explore ideas for future programming. Two such tradition bearers I interviewed were Beth Garretson and Louise Kriger Meganson -- both Quakers and members of the Women's Mutual Improvement Association, a local social club founded in 1857.

At The Association's monthly luncheons, members are invited to share something that interested them that month-- a poem, an article,  bird calls, horticultural advice. Like any good club, though, this one seems to really revolve around food, namely cookies, and specifically, Sandy Spring Sand Tarts. The cookies that bear the town's name spurred quite a discussion in our interview, the gist of which is perhaps best relayed in the dialogue itself:
Emily: So you said you're into cookies-- are there any recipes that get passed down or continue to pop up among the group?
Louise: Absolutely! We have Sandy Spring Tarts-- they're about 20 versions. They're the best. But there are all kinds of different sorts. You know, people will make them a certain thickness or use a certain amount of flour, or you use eggs or you don't use eggs or you put an almond on top or you don't put an almond on top.
Beth: We had everyone bring their recipe for sand tarts one month and it was amazing. The difference in them.
Louise: They were tasty!
Beth: But of course I know that I have the right recipe!
Beth went on to explain that the sand tarts are not especially unusual, but have been made by Sandy Springers for Christmas cookies for generations. That's true in a broader context too. According to Food Timeline, sand tarts are likely descendants of simple sugar cookies, with "sand tarts" appearing in cookbooks in the 1880s, though absent of attribution or narrative. They're common Christmas cookies in Denmark and Sweden, and have similar ingredients to German sand tortes. Sand tarts are also popular in domestic scientist cookbooks-- there's a version in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook, from 1886.

Personally, I like them for their buttery simplicity, and,with their diamond shapes, potential for tessellation patterns (resembling quilt squares) in their presentation. They're also an ideal tea or snack cookie-- I took a tin of them cross-country skiing last weekend and they were the perfect warm-up treat with a nip of whiskey or hot chocolate.

Sandy Spring Sand Tarts
Adapted from Beth Garrettson via the Sandy Spring Women's Association Cookbook

Makes 3-4 dozen, depending on size

1/4 lb. raw unsalted almonds
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, reserving one egg white for finishing
4 cups all-purpose flour
Cinnamon sugar for dusting (1 cup granulated sugar + 2 Tablespoons cinnamon)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Blanch and split the almonds by pouring boiling water over almonds to cover. Let sit until the skins can be slipped off easily. Drain, then cut almonds in half and set aside.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream butter and slowly add the sugar. Add the eggs, minus one white. Mix in the flour. Dough should be firm and not at all sticky, if it is too wet, gradually add more flour.

3. Divide the dough into 4 large balls. On a clean, floured surface, roll out each part about 1/4-inch thick and cut into diamonds. Beat the egg white with a whisk until frothy and brush cookies with egg white and generously sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

4. Place cookies on cookie sheet, fairly close together as they spread just a little. Press half almond on each one and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly browned and puffed. Store in metal box-- they keep for nearly a month.

Related recipes:
Almond and Grapefruit-Ginger Marmalade Crostata
Lemon-Lavender Meringue Pie Cookies 
Pea & Corn Cookies

Friday, January 23, 2015

Happy National Pie Day!

Happy National Pie Day! Every day is pretty much pie day around here, but I won't turn down an excuse to indulge. Celebrate with a slice-- perhaps of this Chocolate Orange Pie with Mascarpone Cream-- and a pie playlist from Smithsonian Folkways (where I spend my work days), featuring songs from Pete Seeger to Lord Melody. Of course you can always find more pie songs here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Salted Butter Apple Galette for a Local Dinner Party

The summer after I graduated college, I moved to Burlington, Vermont. I'd wanted to live in New England for a long time, had a job lined up, but other than my future boss who'd I'd talked to on the phone a few times, I didn't know a soul. I was excited about a new adventure, but was sad and scared to be leaving the close creative community my college friends and I had formed.

On the first day of my job in Vermont, I met my soon-to-be-good-friend Angela, who that night brought me to an event that just about immediately overhauled my Vermont life-- The Seamonster Potluck.

I don't know the exact details of how it started, but I do know it had always been hosted by my other soon-to-be-good-friends Meghan and Gahlord, occurred on the third Thursday of every month, and would quickly become a foundation for my entire social life and serve as the gateway to best friends, the forming of multiple bands, a shared studio space, and many, many epic parties.

The Seamonster Potluck taught me the power of a small, simple gathering of people coming together to break bread. It's a lesson I can sometimes forget in the chaos of daily life, but one I've kept coming back to since I moved away from that fair city on Lake Champlain.

A few weeks ago, my friends Morgan, Dalila and I hosted a similar simple potluck, with the help of some local businesses and a very game group of guests. From the Farmer generously donated boxes of local produce to all attendees who were up for cooking a homemade dish to share, and other guests were charged with bringing a local product of their choice, whether it be DC Brau Public Ale, Gordy's pickles, or Dolcezzo Salted Caramel Gelatto. West Elm DC offered their place settings and mercury glass table décor while DeVinos lent a hand on the wine-front.

Morgan and Mitchell graciously offered to host the gathering in their cool Adams Morgan apartment, already well-stocked with 2 essential mood makers-- Christmas lights and good records. Guests' dishes complemented each other for a hearty winter meal-- we had French onion soup and mushroom-almond tapenade, parmesan celery spread and a local baguette, marinated broccoli with soft-boiled farm eggs, a butternut squash and apple tart with stilton and quinoa, sausage-pumpkin-spinach salad, and much more. I made a savory mushroom-gruyère tart, and a simple salted butter apple galette with maple whipped cream, adapted from Bon Appetit.

Salted Butter Apple Galette with Maple Whipped Cream
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Nothing in the House pie crust
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) salted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 pound (about 3 large) baking apples, washed and sliced 1/8-inch thick
3 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tablespoons maple syrup, grade B

1. Prepare Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough in the fridge at least one hour. Meanwhile, prepare the salted butter glaze.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place butter in a small saucepan and scrape in vanilla seeds; add pod. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (be careful not to burn), 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and remove pod.

3. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a rough 14x10-inch rectangle about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange apple slices on top, overlapping and leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Brush apples with brown butter and sprinkle with brown sugar. Lift edges of dough over apples, tucking and overlapping as needed to keep rectangular shape.

4. Beat egg with 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl and brush crust with egg wash. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake, rotating once, until apples are soft and juicy and crust is golden brown 40-50 minutes. Let cool slightly on baking sheet before slicing.

5. Beat cream in a medium bowl to medium soft peaks. Fold in maple syrup and serve with galette.

The dinner party was reminiscent of those best Seamonster potlucks-- really the way all dinner gatherings should be-- relaxed, delicious, and oh so cozy, with an overall feeling of warmth-- from the conversation, candles, AND red wine.

Big thanks to Morgan Hungerford West and Mitchell West for hosting, Dalila Boclin for coordinating, Cortney Hungerford for photography, all our awesome guests, and local partners-- From the Farmer, West Elm DC, DeVinos, and DC Brau.

Head on over to Panda Head for MORE.

Related recipes:
Apple Galette
Apple Pie with Salted Caramel Glaze
Cranberry-Lime Galette
Satsuma Orange Galette with Cream Cheese Crust

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie

I came home for Christmas on Tuesday evening and it's pretty much been a cooking, baking and eating marathon ever since. We've had quiche and pizza, gumbo and fresh baked baguettes, creamy au gratin potatoes and Brussels sprouts in bacon fat, porchetta pork roast and beef roast, Bûche de Nöel and Sweet Potato Sunshine Buns, Cranberry Chocolate Chess Pie and a Lemon Hazelnut Tart, and chocolate-- oh the chocolate! I'm feeling the need to go on a detox-- at least a mini one, before I hole up in a cabin with a group of friends who are all fantastic cooks and bakers...

One of my go-to detox ingredients is fresh ginger root. Aside from offering of my favorite flavors ginger root also has a number of medicinal properties. It's used to curb nausea and indigestion, treat colds, and has been known to help lower cholesterol. It's also an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. I like to drink it as a tea-- grating about 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger into a tea ball or bag and steeping for 10 minutes in boiling water, then adding lemon and/or honey as desired. It also is a great addition to a smoothie or soup.

But if you're not ready for the holiday indulgences to be over just yet, I offer this Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie as something of a gateway. I know, I know. With its hearty dose of whiskey and sweet stuff, it's a pretty far cry from anything resembling a detox, but it does contain three forms of a main detox ingredient-- ginger. Does that count?

From Allison Kave's superb cookbook First Prize Pies, this recipe is a zesty, boozy take on a classic pecan pie. Like my go-to Pecan Pie with Brown Sugar recipe, this version also contains no corn syrup, using brown sugar and maple syrup (you could also use sorghum) instead. I dialed back the sugar just a tad from the original recipe, but other than that it's pretty close to Allison's original version, which won her the "Best Overall" prize at the Brooklyn Pie Bake-off in 2010. You'll understand why upon the first bite.

Bourbon Ginger Pecan Pie
Adapted from First Prize Pies by Allison Kave

Nothing in the House pie crust, halved
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tablespoons good bourbon (I used Four Roses)
2 teaspoons (about a 2-inch piece) finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Egg wash (1 beaten egg + 1 Tablespoon whole milk or heavy cream)

1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough at least 1 hour before rolling out and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Place pie plate in fridge for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Once you've let the pie crust chill, prick crust with a fork all over the bottom. Line crust with parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove weights, and bake 3 more minutes. Let crust cool completely and set aside while you prepare the filling.

3. Lower the oven to 350 degrees F. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, syrup, eggs, bourbon, fresh ginger, ground ginger, and salt. Add the pecans and crystallized ginger to the pie shell and pour the liquid filling into the pie shell.

4. Brush crust with egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling has just set and is slightly wobbly in the center. Remove pie to a wire rack and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Serve at room temperature or just warm.

*Chocolate variation: Melt 2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate and stir into filling before pouring into the pie shell.

Related recipes:
Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie
"Indiana" Amish Oatmeal Pie
Pecan Pie with Brown Sugar

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake

The first aluminum Bundt cake pan was cast in 1950 by H. David Dalquist, who owned the Minneapolis, Minnesota Nordic Ware company. Similar cakes were of course made before the aluminum pan was cast. Prior to that, traditional cast-iron Kugelhopf pans were used to make tube cakes, and "Bunt" or "Bun" cakes appear in Jewish-American and German-American cookbooks as early as 1889. Dalquist, however, is credited with making the pan affordable and accessible and his version grew to popularity in 1966 when the "Tunnel of Fudge Cake" won the Pillsbury Bake-off.

By the time I was growing up in Indiana, Bundt cakes were ubiquitous, at least in the Midwest, from what I could see, and my grandma would often make them as a quick Sunday dinner dessert. When I was back in Indiana last Christmas Eve, with 2 pies on the docket for Christmas dinner, I wanted to make some other type of dessert for that evening-- something that wouldn't take too much time or extra ingredients. So I opted for this Bundt, adopted only slightly (just a little less sugar in mine) from Molly of Orangette. It paired perfectly with a nip of Bailey's that night, as well as some strong coffee the next morning. I think my dad and brother may have sprinkled on some extra whiskey the next day, but I'll let that remain their little secret.

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake
Adapted only slightly from Orangette (originally from the New York Times)

Makes 10-12 servings

2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, softened, plus more to grease the pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more to flour the pan
5 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup instant espresso powder
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup bourbon, rye, or other whiskey, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
Confectioner's sugar, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-cup capacity Bundt pan (or 2 8- or 9-inch loaf pans).

2. In a heatproof bowl, set over but not touching a saucepan of simmering water, melt chocolate until just-smooth, stirring occasionally. Let cool.

3. Put espresso and cocoa powder in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup and add enough boiling water to come to the 1-cup measuring line. Stir until powders dissolve, then add the whiskey and salt. Let cool.

4. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy. Add the sugar, and beat until well-combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda, melted chocolate, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. 

5. With the mixture on low-speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When the liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup of the flour. Repeat additions, ending with the whiskey mixture (batter will be liquid-y). Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes for a Bundt pan (loaves will take less time-- start checking them after 55 minutes). 

6. Transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey (about 3 teaspoons worth-- or more!). Cool completely before serving, and garnish with Confectioner's sugar, if desired. 

Related recipes:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cranberry Pie

Cranberries, along with Concord grapes and blueberries, are fruits uniquely native to North America. Native Americans harvested the tart red berries in what is now Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon, where they ate them fresh and used them in cooking and baking, as well as in dyes and poultices. Early settlers to North America began cultivating cranberries as well, and their production continues to be an important part of the culture and economy in the regions in which they grow.

In 1983, Mary Hufford and a team of other folklorists worked on a American Folklife Center (AFC) project which documented the "interplay of natural and cultural resources in the agricultural regions, woodlands, and wetlands," in the Pinelands of Southern New Jersey. Their fieldwork focused particularly on the laborlore, foodways, and traditional culture surrounding the area's cranberry production in the area-- one of the last places to harvest the berries by hand.

As part of that project, the AFC produced the booklet Cranberries (pictured in the top photo), including photos, background information, and recipes collected from consultants in the area. The recipes, shared by women home cooks, feature dishes ranging from Cranberry-Mincemeat Sweet Sour Bread to Cranberry Wine. This Thanksgiving, I adapted Helen Zimmer's recipe for Cranberry Pie, adding just a little zest and spice. I searched the AFC archive to see if I could find out a little more about Ms. Zimmer-- I didn't turn up much (though did come across this related song), but I'd say this pie enough is quite a thing to be known for.

Cranberry Pie
Adapted from Helen Zimmer via Cranberries: Pinelands Folklife Project

Nothing in the House pie crust
1 quart cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup maple syrup (you can also use molasses, sorghum, or any other sweet syrup)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 beaten egg + 1 Tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
Turbinado sugar, for dusting

1. Prepare Nothing in the House pie crust as per the directions. After chilling the dough for at least 1 hour, roll out half of the crust and fit into a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. Place pan and unrolled crust back into the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together cranberries and maple syrup and set aside. In a separate medium-sized bowl, mix together sugar, cornstarch, and orange zest, then add it to the cranberry mixture. Pour the filling into the chilled pie shell.

3. Remove the remaining crust from the fridge and roll it out on a clean, floured surface. Cut any crust designs desired. Dot cranberry filling with butter, then place top crust on top, fluting the edges decoratively.

4. Brush crust with egg wash and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar. Place pie on a baking sheet, and bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling. Let cool and enjoy just warm with a dollop of maple whipped cream.

Related recipes:
Cranberry Chess Pie
Cranberry Goat Cheese Tart with Almond Shortbread Crust
Cranberry Hand Pies
Cranberry-Lime Galette
Cranberry Sage Pie

Monday, December 08, 2014

Nothing in the House X Elizabeth Graeber Pie Tea Towels

Back in 2012, Elizabeth Graeber and I decided to collaborate on something. It took us a while to figure out what-- a calendar? a zine? recipe cards?-- until we settled on an illustrated pie cookbook featuring a recipe for every month. Since putting out (and selling out of!) Pie. A Hand Drawn Almanac we've collaborated in many other ways, but among the original ideas in our first brainstorming session were hand drawn tea towels.

This year, we're circling back to that and have made 2 two towels, illustrated by Elizabeth, in two different designs. One, in multi-color is of the Nothing in the House pie crust recipe, and the other, in a red-orange and white, illuminates different pie tools, similar to the end pages of the pie almanac.

Both tea towels are printed on an off-white linen-cotton canvas, measure approximately 19'' X 26.5,'' and are made in the U.S. and sewn by us. They're now available, made-to-order via Elizabeth's Etsy shop.

While we *hope* to have them to you in time for the holidays, we can't guarantee it, as towels are printed and made-to-order. We'll try our darndest, though!