Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Simple Rhubarb Tart

Though my last rhubarb creation disguised essentially disguised it altogether, rhubarb stalks are real purty. Springy pastel pinks and greens, with those lipstick red outer layers that turn into ribbons when you strip them off. I did, however, tell most of my rhubarb tales in that last post, and in fact, this simple rhubarb tart was made with leftovers from that unrecognizably-rhubarb meringue.

I saw this recipe on Desserts for Breakfast, whose treats I've been lovin' lately, and thought it would be a good use of those those rectangular tart pans I'd been neglecting (aside from these ginger-lemon and bourbon-orange tarts and a goat cheese cranberry tart at Kickasserole). I sliced the rhubarb very thin--in quarters at least, to show off the gradations of those spring colors. So beautiful, I couldn't stop taking pictures of it.

Simple Rhubarb Tart
Adapted from Desserts for Breakfast
Makes 2 rectangular tarts (mine are 13.75 X 4.25 inches)

Ingredients
For crust (you could also use the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust recipe, halved):
1 c. pecans, roasted  
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour  
2 tsp. baking powder  
9 Tblsp. butter  
1 egg  
1 egg yolk  
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla-bourbon)  
zest of one small orange (I used a clementine)

For filling:
4 Tblsp. flour
2 Tblsp. brown sugar
2 vanilla beans (I didn't have any on hand, so I went without)
3 rhubarb stalks
2 Tblsp. Turbinado sugar

For orange-honey whipped cream:
1/2 c. crème fraiche
1 Tblsp. heavy whipping cream
zest of 1 small orange
1 Tblsp. honey (can adjust to taste)

Directions
1. Combine roasted pecans, flour, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor and pulse until pecans are finely ground. Add cold butter chunks to the pecan mixture and process until mix is the size of small peas. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract and orange zest and pulse just until dough begins to form. Remove pastry dough from the food processor and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour and up to 1 day.

2. After at least one hour, remove dough from fridge and preheat oven to 425. Roll out the dough (this can be a little difficult, as it will be slightly crumbly), but you can also just press it into the bottom and sides of each floured and greased rectangular tart pan. The bottom crust should be slightly thicker than the sides. Place both crusts in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare your filling. Combine flour and brown sugar in a bowl. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise (if using) and scrape seeds into the flour mixture. Combine. Divide mixture in half and sprinkle and spread evenly over each crust. Split each rhubarb stalk lengthwise into quarters. Trim each slice to just slightly smaller than the width of the tart (I used the bottom of the tart pan as a guide). Line rhubarb slices on the flour mixture and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar.

4. Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for 10-12 minutes more, until crust is dark brown and rhubarb is cooked through and soft. Remove from oven and let cool.

5. In a medium mixing bowl, mix crème fraiche, whipping cream, orange zest and honey, beating until well combined and medium peaks form. Serve rhubarb tart with a generous dollop of whipped cream atop! 


The result was a delicate, easy and delicious tart that really lets the vegetable (or is it fruit?) do the talkin'--and that's pretty much my favorite kind of dessert. Put a dollop of orange-honey whipped cream on top, and you've got a winner.

I have a few stalks of rhubarb left in the fridge, so I may just whip up another one of these in the next few days. My dad is coming to town for my birthday tomorrow, and though I told him there would be cake, he's bemoaning the fact that there will be no pie. Since he's making the trip to D.C. all the way from Indiana to celebrate and shower me with gifts (a new camera!!), I just might have to appease him.

The next day, I'm headed up to my friend's farm in the Hudson Valley. A few years ago, she and I planted some rhubarb bushes, which just might be fruiting now. Perhaps she'll send me back with some to restock my rhubarb stores for more creations--I've still got some jam to make.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bebop-a-Rebop Rhubarb Pie


Alright, Garrison, sure, we hear him sing this every Sunday morning. But Meryl takes this to a whole. 'nother. sassy. level. More on the powers of rhubarb pie soon, though it will unfortunately not involve Meryl Streep.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rhubarb Meringue Tart with a Pecan Shortbread Crust


Rhubarb season in Indiana was like zucchini season in Vermont. People would practically leave boxes of the stuff on your porch begging you to take some off of their hands. Growing up, we would harvest rhubarb from two big patches in my grandmother's garden, which would then be made into pies by her and my mother. Here in the district, rhubarb is not quite as abundant, and I've been on a mad hunt for it at farmer's markets, grocery stores and local co-ops to no avail. As a last resort, I called up the nearby Giant store, and finally found some in stock--it wasn't as happy or fresh as the stalks from my grandma's garden, but it filled a need.

My rhubarb hunt was conducted with the intention of jam or tarts or pie (or all three), but I wanted something a little different from the classic rhubarb pie (though I did make a lil' somethin' with the leftovers, which I will share soon). I thought that the sour rhubarb flavor would work well as with a curd with meringue atop (which our house has been overflowing with lately, with Kari's grapefruit-ginger tart and our Tarts by Tarts lemon-ginger tartlets), and wanted to try a variation of the shortbread-and-nut crust I used for the grapefruit crostata. Inspired by a few rhubarb-and-pecan paired recipes like this one, a rhubarb meringue tart with a pecan shortbread crust was born.


Rhubarb Meringue Tart with Pecan Shortbread Crust
Filling adapted from Naturally Ella

Ingredients
For crust:
1 c. pecans, roasted
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
9 Tblsp. butter
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla-bourbon)
zest of one small orange (I used a clementine)

For filling:
3 c. fresh rhubarb, diced
1/4 c. + about 1/2 c. water
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
5 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
3 Tblsp. butter, cut into chunks

For meringue:
5 egg whites
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 c. sugar

Directions
For crust:
1. Combine roasted pecans, flour, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor and pulse until pecans are finely ground. Add cold butter chunks to the pecan mixture and process until mix is the size of small peas. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract and orange zest and pulse just until dough begins to form. Remove pastry dough from the food processor and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour and up to 1 day.

2. After at least one hour, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Remove the dough from the fridge. I rolled out the dough first(which was a little difficult, as it was crumbly), but you can also just press it into the bottom and sides of the tart pan. The bottom crust should be slightly thicker than the sides. Place crust in the freezer for about 10 minutes, then line with parchment paper and pie weights. Bake for about 20 minutes or until crust is dark brown. Remove pie weights and bake for 5 more minutes. Take from oven and let cool.

For filling:
1. Combine diced rhubarb and 1/4 c. water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let cook until rhubarb is soft and begins to break down. With an immersion blender (or a stand blender), purée until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. Once cooled, add enough water to bring purée to 1 1/2 c. (this should be about 1/2 c. of water). 

2. Add sugar, salt, and cornstarch to the purée mixture and cook over medium heat until it begins to thicken. Add in egg yolks, whisking after each addition. Continue to cook until mixture coats the back of a spoon, or reads 185 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, pour filling into pie crust, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for about 2 hours.

 For meringue:
1. Once filling has chilled for 2 hours, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, mix egg whites and cream of tartar on high until egg whites begin to form medium peaks. Continue to beat eggs, gradually adding in sugar. Continue to beat eggs until they are glossy and can form stiff peaks. Spread over rhubarb filling, making sure the meringue seals the edge of the pie. Use the back of a spoon to curl meringue decoratively. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until egg whites begin to brown. Serve chilled or at room temperature.



It's funny how the egg yolks transformed the subtle pink color of the rhubarb puree into an unrecognizable mustard yellow. If I'd had a few berries (raspberry or strawberry) or even the slightest bit of beet juice, I would have tried to tint the curd back to it's original pink hue. It's not that it is an unappetizing color, it just doesn't really read as rhubarb.

Despite the color, this rhubarb curd is something real special. I was hoping I'd have some leftover to fill doughnuts or spoon over a slice of pound cake, but my roommate and I armed ourselves with spoons and quickly polished off what little was left in the saucepans--rhubarb curd stuffed doughnuts will have to wait until another time. If you don't want to go the meringue route, you can just sprinkle the tart with powdered sugar, perhaps in lines or a stenciled pattern. It would still be great.

We enjoyed this during a post-square dance rainy Sunday with a decadent sweet-savory pie that featured a cheddar-bacon crumble top (more on that soon!), sausage with red-eye gravy, spudnuts (doughnuts made from potato flour), and beer-mosas. We also played cards and attempted to launch cascarones with a slingshot I made from salad tongs, rubber bands and masking tape. It didn't work, but it was a good brunch.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

An Interview with Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies

Natalie with her bike, outfitted with a basket and panniers for pie delivery

From 2009-2011, Natalie Glazer ran Bike Basket Pies, delivering small-batch hand-held sweet and savory pies by bike to San Francisco doorsteps. Having had thoughts for a similar biked baked-goods venture, and being intrigued by her adorable Bike Basket Pies recipe zine (see #2), I was interested in learning more. I got in touch with her and we had a nice phone chat about her pie baking, business, and what happens (at least for her) when a hobby turns into a job.

Natalie learned to cook from her dad, but first entry-point to baking was via boxed caked mixes--now a far cry from her pies, which were baked from scratch with organic, local, and seasonal produce sourced from her backyard, friends' gardens, and San Francisco farmers' markets. She started specializing in pies about three years ago, having been inspired by friends' curry and crème brûlée carts. She said, "It was a very DIY and convivial scene. I had two jobs at that point but neither of them were particularly fulfilling so I decided I would start a little pie stand in the way that they had a curry cart and a crème brulee cart and I sold pies in the park once or twice on weekdays."It turned out, though, that most of her friends worked during the day, and as much as they wanted to, couldn't make it to the park for lunch break pies. A friend suggested that since she traveled by bike anyway, she deliver to his office. He organized a bulk purchase amongst his co-workers, and Bike Basket Pies was born.

Bike Basket's handheld pies, baked in muffin tins

Having outgrown her home kitchen, Natalie bartered for time and space in a restaurant, set her alarm clock to midnight a few days a week, and baked through the night in order to pedal pies to the doors of hungry San Franciscans in time for lunch. Her menu boasted both sweet and savory options with some very tempting combinations, including potato, leek & cheddar pie, shaker orange, and apple kiwi. As Natalie's business grew and she moved to a different kitchen, upped her hours, and gained quite a local following (just look at her yelp reviews). She said that one of the best part of the business was her interaction with customers. "It turns out that the people who got pie delivered were very good, generous people in the first place. They know they are getting a unique, handmade product so I think that yields some interesting people."

In the end the work proved too overwhelming for a one-woman operation. She reflected, "Ultimately I’m really glad I pursued my passion, but it turns out for me at least, turning that hobby into a job was not what I want to do forever.It didn’t fit for me and obviously other people should follow what they want to do, but for me it turned baking from something that was about the process to something that was entirely about the results." Though Bike Basket Pies was a thriving business, I think Natalie's experience highlights the difficulty of running a small handmade food business and the difficulty in balancing work with pleasure, particularly for someone with diverse hobbies and career paths. Still, her risk, work, and success are undoubtedly inspiring.

A nectarine-raspberry pie glamour shot

Though she's now moved on to another food-related project--working on an organic farm in Italy--Natalie commemorated the close of her business with a fun recipe zine, making her handheld pies available to everyone, as long as your up for baking them. If you live in San Francisco, you can pick them up at a handful of bookstores. Otherwise, you can get it as an iphone app or you can place your order online, which Natalie will gladly fill when she returns from Europe in August. You can also check back here--I'll likely be trying my hand at a Bike Basket recipe (cherry pluot pie, perhaps?) very soon.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Songs about Pie, Love, & Sugar


Do you know about the Free Music Archive (FMA)? It's an amazing audio library of free, downloadable songs, managed by perhaps the best free-form independent radio station in America, WFMU. Aside from being a great way to get turned on to new music, it's also is an excellent resource for audio producers in search of relevant audio tracks for legal use in remixes, podcasts, or radio programs.


My rad friend and audio guru David van Dokkum, who interned at WFMU and now does some work on the FMA, made this awesome mix of songs about love and sugar for Tarts by Tarts! Naturally I like the c.1916 song "Sweet Cider Time When You Were Mine" and the Colin Johnco ambient track "Sweet Love" the best, but there are some other gems on there (beware of "Bake Sale," it's a little "dark"). And if you're looking for more pie-themed songs (though not necessarily free and downloadable), check out my Pie Songs page. Jam on! (Get it??)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Almond and Grapefruit-Ginger Marmalade Crostata

My first taste of marmalade, likely taken at my Anglophile aunt and uncle's house, was much less sweet than I had expected. Having been enticed by the brilliant color and orange flavor (which was my favorite, although usually in the form of sherbet), I was not expecting the bitter aftertaste that came with them. As an adult though, I have developed much more of an appreciation for bitterness (and probably gotten more so myself), and now have quite an affection for the rind-inclusive preserve.

As I mentioned previously, I made a batch of grapefruit-ginger marmalade when I was home alone with an abundance of grapefruit. I wanted to try something from Pam Corbin's River Cottage Preserves Handbook, and auspiciously found a recipe for Seville orange marmalade with a grapefruit variation.

I added some ginger to the recipe, and canned the marmalade in jars of various sizes. With the help of the internet, I mailed them off to friends with a penchant for bittersweet (as it is quite bitter--be warned), many of whom offered up barters of handmade pottery, gif-filled stories, felted creatures and even an original jingle for Tarts by Tarts!


Despite how tempting it was to giveaway more jars in trade for special surprises, I did manage to save two jars for myself for eating and baking purposes. I was eyeing a few different jam-inclusive pies, including a Bakewell Tart (which I still plan to try made here), but remembered this almond and marmalade crostata I had been eyeing and realized it would be a fortuitous use of my grapefruit marmalade stash. I had wanted to make it for Pi(e) Day, but had a crazy week prior, so didn't find the time necessary to make the marmalade in advance. 

Let that be a warning to you, though. This marmalade requires overnight prep and is at least a 5-hour affair, what with the soaking of the rind (which I actually did overnight), cooking, and processing time (that is, if you plan to can it.) The recipe here will yield you at least 10 12-oz. jars, which is much more than you'd need for the tart, but with those extra jars, you make deals with your friends in exchange for all sorts of goodies. Plus once you've got the 'lade, this crust whips up in a jiffy.


Seville Ginger-Grapefruit Marmalade

Note: This recipe is for approximately 10 12-oz.  jars of marmalade and requires overnight prep and a cook time of four hours, so plan ahead!

Ingredients
2 1/4 pounds grapefruit, ruby red preferred
10 c. water
2/3 c. lemon juice
10 c. sugar 
1-2 tsp. fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely

Directions
1. Scrub grapefruit and remove buttons at the top of the fruit and cut in half around the circumference. Squeeze out the juice into a large bowl and set aside. Using a large, sharp knife, slice the peel, pith and all, into very thin slices. Put the sliced peel in a bowl with the grapefruit juice and cover with 10 c. water. Let soak overnight and up to 24 hours.

2. Transfer the entire mixture to a large stock pot or preserving pan and bring to a boil. Once mixture is boiling, reduce heat and let simmer slowly, covered, until the peel is tender. This should take about 2 hours, and in that time the mixture should reduce by about one-third.

3. Stir in lemon juice, sugar, and ginger. Bring marmalade to a boil, stirring until all of the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until the setting point is reached (or until mixture reads 220 degrees F), at least 30 minutes. Remove pot from the heat and let cool for 8-10 minutes. Gently stir to disperse any scum. Pour marmalade into warm, sterilized jars and seal immediately. Use within 2 years.

Almond and Grapefruit-Ginger Marmalade Crostata
Adapted from Desserts for Breakfast

Ingredients
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. slivered almonds
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
9 Tblsp. butter, cold and in chunks
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp. almond extract
zest of one lemon (or small orange)
up to 1/4 c. water
1 1/4 c. grapefruit-ginger marmalade (or other marmalade of your choosing)
dash heavy cream (optional)
Turbinado sugar (optional, for dusting)

Directions
1. Combine flour, almonds, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor and pulse until almonds are finely ground. Add cold butter chunks to the almond mixture and process until mix is the size of small peas. Add egg, egg yolk, almond extract and lemon zest and pulse just until dough begins to form (NOTE: I found that this dough was quite dry and crumbly, so I ended up adding about 1/4 c. of water to the mixture. I think that if needed, more water could be added, as in the end, the dough was still rather crumbly and difficult to work with, but it tasted great and not too dry.) Remove pastry dough from the food processor and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour and up to 1 day.

2. After at least one hour, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into thirds. I rolled out the dough first(which was a little difficult, as it was crumbly), but you can also just press it into the bottom and sides of the tart pan. The bottom crust should be slightly thicker than the sides.

3. Scoop marmalade into the crust and spread a thin layer across the entirety of the tart. Roll out remaining dough and cut using a cookie cutter, or into long strips for a lattice top (again this proved too difficult due to the shortbread-quality of the dough, so I opted for cut circles). Lay cut crust on top of the marmalade in a decorative fashion.

4. Brush the top of the crostata with cream (could also use water or an egg-wash) and sprinkle with Turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Do not let it darken too much--it should look like shortbread. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before serving. Enjoy with a dollop of honey-whipped cream on top (it pairs well with the bittersweet marmalade) and a cup of tea!


I originally envisioned this crostata as a sort of British tea time accompaniment, as I used a marmalade recipe from a British cookbook, and because this tart is particularly light, with a crust that is essentially a marzipan shortbread. I ended up taking it to a dinner party in Virginia for my beau's best friend's going away party, and while it was more cocktail hour than tea time, there was by chance, a number of Brits there (at least three)! I think that's one reason why it went over so well (a deeply-ingrained appreciation for marmalade, perhaps?) I topped it off with whipped cream sweetened with honey from Anarchy Apiaries at Rokeby. I'd definitely recommend a sweet whipped cream to temper the marmalade's bitterness, but all in all this is a lovely little tart with a crust that I'll definitely be incorporating in other recipes and trying out with other homemade jams and jellies.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Maira Kalman's Cherry Pie


I love Maira Kalman and also love that she loves pie. I can't wait to check out her illustrated edition of Michael Pollan's Food Rules.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Florida Grapefruit-White Chocolate Pie


A couple of weekends ago I found myself HOME ALONE-- a rare occurrence in a household of six. To be honest, I was actually joined in my solitude by a huge basket of ripe Florida grapefruit, left behind by my housemate Juanita, accompanied with a note reading "SAVE ME!". Kari had already spoiled all of us with a grapefruit-ginger meringue tart (of which I indulged myself, once or twice) which was still sitting in the fridge, but there was still plenty o' grapefruit for the taking. So on that Sunday, after somewhat of a creepy Saturday night in a big drafty house, I stationed myself in the kitchen determined to put a whole lotta citrus to good use.

I started out by making ginger-grapefruit marmalade. For Christmas, my very generous and sweet brother got me the beautiful River Cottage Preserves Handbook by Pam Corbin. I have only ever tried making Corbin's apple herb and flower jelly and apple cider butter recipes and that was via my friend Lora's copy; I had yet to innaugurate my own edition. Inside its pages, I found a recipe for Seville orange marmalade with a grapefruit variation--I added some ginger et puis, voila! But grapefruit still remained. Hence, this pie.



There was already a grapefruit meringue tart in the house, so I needed something a lil' different. I thought about trying a grapefruit variation of this rustic blood orange tart, but wanted to branch out with somethin' fresh (and maybe a little weird?)! Hence, this "Florida citrus pie" (which I am calling, I believe more aptly, a Florida grapefruit-white chocolate pie.

Warning--this pie is a little strange! Especially if you, like me, aren't all that into white chocolate. But with each tasting (there were a few), it grew on me. On the other hand, the tang of the grapefruit and the tang of the white chocolate is kind weird, ya know? One resounding success of this pie is THE CRUST. It's incredible. I even used about half pecans, instead of all-macadamia nut, and it was still bangin'. I'll definitely be using it in other recipes in the future. I also think this recipe would be amazing with oranges, especially blood oranges. Yum. In any case, if you've got a lot of grapefruit on your hands and love white chocolate, give this one a whirl. It's real fresh. And it looks great.


Florida Grapefruit-White Chocolate Pie
Adapted from Bon Appetit via Epicurious

Ingredients
For crust:
7 oz. roasted macadamia nuts (I used 3 oz. pecans & 4 oz. macadamia nuts as a cost-saving measure!)
3/4 c. ground gingersnap cookies
1/4 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
2 c. fresh pink grapefruit juice
1/4 c. + 1 Tblsp. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
9 oz. white chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
1/4 c. + 1 1/4 c. chilled whipping cream

For topping:
1 c. chilled whipping cream
2 Tblsp. sugar
7 thin lime slices (optional)
8 oz. white chocolate shaved into curls (optional)

Directions
For crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Finely chop nuts in food processor. Add ground gingersnap cookies, sugar, and butter and pulse until moist crumbs form. Press mixture firmly into bottom and sides of a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Bake crust 10 minutes or until golden. Let cool on a wire rack.

For filling:
1. Boil grapefruit juice and 1/4 c. sugar in a heavy medium saucepan over high heat until reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over lime juice and gently whisk. Let stand 10 minutes. Once grapefruit mixture is reduced, turn heat to low, and add gelatin mixture, white chocolate, and 1/4 c. cream. Whisk until white chocolate and gelatin melt and mixture is smooth. Pour into a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cool but not set, about 2 hours, whisking and scraping down sides of bowl occasionally.

2. Meanwhile, whip 1 1/4 c. whipping cream until soft peaks form. After mixture has chilled for about 2 hours, fold whipped cream into filling until combined. Pour into baked pie crust and return to the fridge while you prepare the topping.

For topping:
1. Beat cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Line pie with symmetrically placed lime slices, then pipe rosettes of cream around the edge. Fill center with additional whipped cream, and sprinkle white chocolate curls on top, if desired. Pie should be served chilled and can be made 4 hours ahead.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Amish Shoo-Fly and Whoopie Pies

Amish shoo-fly pies "made from gooey molasses-based filling and sometimes topped with chocolate cream." 
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith c. 1980 from the Library of Congress.

One of my favorite things to do when I am bored is to troll the Library of Congress digital collections (pushes up invisible nerd glasses). Of course I tend to look up topics I have a passionate interest in-- folk songs, hobos, and you guessed it, pies (and somehow those are all related. hmm...). I think I may have looked at all 1,785 entries for pie in the catalog. It's true.

You'll be seeing more of my search results, but these two photos of Amish shoo-fly pies and whoopie pies from Lancaster, Pennsylvania caught my eye. Just today at work we were discussing the possibility of featuring Maryland Amish whoopie pie vendors at an event, and I've been doing some free-lance work transcribing interviews related to medicine in Amish communities. I also grew up in northern Indiana, where we went out for lunch at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, bought produce from Amish farmers at the Goshen Farmers' Market, and spotted buggies parked outside our local Target. When I lived here in D.C. previously, I once met up with my friend Francis Lam (of Gilt Taste and formerly of Salon.com and Gourmet Magazine, RIP) at the Dutch Country Farmers' Market in Burtonsville, Maryland. There we wandered through the rows of vendors, taking in the sights of blaze orange cheese mixtures, mayonnaise-based casseroles, and strange pickled things, and picked up some to take home. I definitely snagged a whoopie pie or two and remember thinking it interesting that the baker's crescent-shaped fried pies or hand pies were called "moon pies," which to most of America, or at least south of the Mason-Dixon line, means something else entirely

 Amish whoopie pies "a surprisingly sinful treat." 
Photo by Carol M. Highsmith c. 1980 from the Library of Congress.

 There's something weird about these photos (or is it just me?). Though they are lined up in almost perfect rows according to color and variety, they still seem to be shot without artifice, sans any of today's bloggy food styling, as if they could appear in your middle school home-ec class textbook with a simple caption "Amish desserts". All the while, there is something appealing about them--I'd totally chomp into one of those oatmeal whoopie pies or chocolate covered shoo-fly pies given the chance. I should probably plan a return trip to the Dutch Country Market or whip up some oatmeal pies of my own? Shoo fly, don't bother me.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Banana Cream Pie with Peanut Crust and Salty Bourbon Caramel


One of many things that is nice about living in more Southern climes is the prolonged transitional seasons. Spring and Fall are always my favorites, but growing up in the North, I was used to these fleeting mild days that you felt you had to capture before the weather got too hot or too cold (though there is some special excitement and gratitude that goes along with that ephemeral feeling). We've had a warm winter anyway, and spring started way early, granting us delighfully warm days in March. In like a lamb and out like a lamb.


I've made this pie on two occasions now, the first being for Pi(e) Day and the second for a honky-tonk St. Patrick's Day party (dubbed Achey Breaky Harp) with friends Joe Overton and the Clear Blue Sky serving up some fine classic country in our living room. It was preceded by a blue ribbon backyard cook-out complete with local burgers, steak, homemade salsa and guacamole, potato salad, fried pickles, grilled homemade pizza, and watermelon. One of the guests asked me if it was July. Pi(e) Day too, was one of those gloriously sunshiney spring days, whose weather alone deserved celebrating. What better way to celebrate than with this absolutely decadent banana cream pie with a peanut crust and salty bourbon caramel.

This, like the black bottom pie I made recently, is another recipe from Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina. It's a classic banana cream, that reminds me of one of my dad's favorite desserts to make my brother and I when we were kids--vanilla pudding with vanilla wafers and banana slices. Christensen gives that kiddie combo an Elvis touch with the addition of a peanut crust, then takes the kiddie out of it entirely, via an "adults only" very bourbony caramel topping.


Banana Cream Pie with Peanut Crust and Salty Bourbon Caramel

Ingredients
For peanut crust:
1 1/4 c. unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tblsp. unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla-bourbon extract)

For vanilla custard:
2 c. whole milk
3/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. sugar
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
2 Tblsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla-bourbon extract)

For topping & caramel:
3/4 c. heavy cream
2 Tblsp. powdered sugar
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 Tblsp. bourbon (I used Bulleit)
1/2 tsp. corn syrup
3 Tbslp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla-bourbon extract)
3 ripe bananas

Directions
For peanut crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350. Pulse peanuts in a food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer 1/4 c. to a small bowl and set aside for garnish. Pulse remaining peanuts until formed into peanut butter, approximately 2 minutes.

2. Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to combine both sugars, peanut butter and butter until fully combined and mixture resembles wet sand, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla, occasionally scraping down sides of the bowl, until fully combined, approximately 3 minutes (mix will be clumpy). Slowly add dry ingredients, beating just until combined--do not over mix. Place dough in a greased and lightly floured 9-inch pie dish and pat dough into bottom and sides to form a pie crust. Place in oven and bake 15-17 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool. Crust can be made up to 2 days ahead, but make sure to wrap it well with plastic wrap.

For vanilla custard:
1. Place milk and cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Meanwhile, use a whisk to combine sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add egg yolks and whisk until smooth (mixture will be very thick). Whisking constantly, slowly add milk mixture to yolk mixture. Pour the combined mixture back into the saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thick, about 2-3 minutes. 

2. Transfer to a blender and add butter and vanilla. Purée mixture until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and press plastic wrap directly onto the custard. Chill until set, at least 2 hours. The custard can be made 2 days ahead, but again, make sure it is well-wrapped!

For topping & caramel:
1. Using an electric mixer (or a whisk and some hard work), beat 1/2 c. cream and powdered sugar until stiff peaks form. Cover whipped cream and chill. Whipped cream can be made 2 hours ahead, but re-whip cream slightly before assembling pie.

2. Stir sugar, 1 Tblsp. bourbon, corn syrup, and 1 Tblsp. water in a medium deep saucepan and place over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil, stirring only occasionally, and occasionally swirling pan and scraping down sides with a rubber spatula, until sugar is deep-amber in color, about 6-8 minutes. Remove caramel from heat and whisk in remaining 1/4 c. cream, butter, and salt (mixture will bubble). Let cool for 5 minutes, then whisk in remaining 1/2 Tblsp. bourbon and vanilla. Let bourbon caramel cool to room temperature. I poured mine into a Ball jar for ease of transport, pouring and later, refrigeration. Caramel can be made 2 hours ahead.

3. Spread 1/4 c. vanilla custard over the bottom of the crust. Slice bananas into 1/4-inch thick rounds. Layer half of the bananas over the custard. Top with 1 1/2 c. custard. Arrange remaining bananas over the custard, and top with remaining custard, making sure to leave a row of bananas visible around the edge. Garnish with whipped cream and reserved ground peanuts. Top with bourbon caramel when ready to serve.


While completely worth it, this pie has a lot of steps, so make sure to allot enough time for all the cooking and baking, cooling and chilling. I suggest making the crust and custard the night before, if you can, or start early the day you want to eat it.

This is easily one of the favorite pies I've ever made, and perhaps one of the most attractive. It was one of the first to go on Pi(e) Day, and drew a big kitchen crowd between two-stepping sets, when I took it out of the fridge and doused it with bourbon caramel. Both times the pie plate was completely licked clean within minutes. I'm gonna need to find out who did that and invite them to join our plate lickers club.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Pie Charts for Actual Pie


If you know me, you know that I love maps and charts. My friends in Burlington, Vermont and I started a Map Club (which was usually followed by a Nap Club), where we shared and made all sorts of maps--Sound Maps of the Hudson River, Maps of Shaker villages, and memory maps of our old neighborhoods. I also curated a "Map Edition" of our old collaborative literary journal/zine The Dovetail Collective and cite this book as one of my all-time favorites.

So of course I was jazzed when a fellow pie fan shared this pie chart poster by innovative Brooklyn chart makers Pop Chart Lab. Their mission as a company is to "render all of human experience in chart form," and of course, pie is a crucial part of (at least MY) human experience. Their Pie Charts: A Baker's Dozen depicts, in pie chart form, accurate ingredient portions of a baker's dozen of classic pies. You can check it out (and purchase it for yourself--it's on sale!) here. As they say at Pop Chart, "data meets design meets delicious."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Black Bottom Pie (You Make the Rockin' World Go Round)


I only frequented Raleigh's Poole's Diner twice when I lived in the North Carolina piedmont, but twice was enough to know that when Ashley Christensen, the chef of the up-scaled Southern luncheonette shares her pie recipes, you make them. I tried her banana cream pie with salty bourbon caramel for Pi(e) Day and again for a honky-tonk St. Patrick's Day party (I will post that recipe soon, I promise), and have been eyeing the black bottom pie on my Pinterest board (which I've been using lately to track recipe ideas). So when two dear friends with a penchant for sweets came to visit, and with a birthday-and-music party on our dance card for our Saturday evening, I figured it was a chance for somethin' special.


Black bottom pie is another southern favorite which, according to John Edgerton in his Southern Food: At Home, On The Road, In History, surfaced almost simultaneously-- appearing in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' 1942 Cross Creek Cookery as well as in Duncan Hines' Adventures in Good Cooking in the early 1940s. It's called such because of the bottom layer of chocolate custard, which is covered with a layer of vanilla custard, and topped with a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of whipped cream. In this version, marscapone in the custard and coffee in the chocolate layer give it a little extra oomph. I found this recipe to be a little sparse on the vanilla layer, as you can see from the pre-whipped cream and toppings picture above, so next time I make it, I'll set more vanilla custard aside before adding chocolate to the rest. Christensen's calls for 1 cup to be set aside, but I would recommend 1 1/2 cups, for more equal portions of vanilla and chocolate, and a purty three-layered cross section when you slice it.


Black Bottom Pie
Adapted from Poole's Diner via Bon Appetit

Ingredients
For crust:
6 oz. gingersnap cookies
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbsp. heavy cream

For custard:
1 envelope unflavored gelatin 
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 c. sugar
2 Tblsp. rum (dark preferred)
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. mascarpone
5 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate (I used bittersweet, 60% cacao)
1/4 oz. hot espresso or strong coffee

For topping:
1 c. chilled heavy cream
3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 Tbsp. rum (dark preferred)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Unsweetened cocoa powder (for dusting, optional)
Grated or chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (for sprinkling, optional) 

Directions
For crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350. Pulse cookies in a food processor until finely ground. Slowly add melted butter and cream and pulse until fully combined and crust begins to form together. Grease and flour a 9-inch pie pan. Pour crust into pan and use your hands or the back of a measuring cup to pack into the bottom and sides of the dish to form a crust shape. Bake 12-15 minutes or until set. Let cool.

For custard:
1. Pour 2 Tbsp. of water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over. Whisk until incorporated and let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat milk and cream in a small saucepan until it just begins to simmer. Remove from heat.

2. Whisk egg yolks, sugar, rum, cornstarch, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually mix egg mixture into milk mixture, using the whisk. Return to medium-low heat and cook until thick, about 5 minutes.

3. Remove custard from heat and stir in mascarpone. Place 1 cup custard in a medium bowl and set aside (though this ended up not allowing for enough vanilla custard for me. I would advise setting aside 1 1/2 c. custard). Return saucepan with remaining custard to heat and stir in chocolate until melted and smooth. Add coffee. Pour chocolate custard into crust and smooth top. Chill until set, about 30 minutes, while keeping vanilla custard at room temperature.

4. Gently pour remaining vanilla custard over the chocolate layer. Be careful not to disturb the chocolate, so that layers set separately! Smooth top and chill for about one hour.

For topping:
1. Using a mixer, beat cream and sugar until cream begins to thicken. Add rum and vanilla, then beat until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream over custard, and dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle with chocolate curls or slices.


As it turned out, when we arrived at the party, we found out that there was no birthday cake for the birthday boy, so this black bottom pie was adorned with candles and magically transformed into a black bottom birthday pie (adding to the alliteration)! Then I had the task of cutting lil' tiny slices so everyone could get a piece. Here's my old pal Angela, one of the aforementioned dear friends with a penchant for sweets, with one of the aforementioned wee slices. The slicing of the pie was just what we needed to get the music started. Once it was gone, there was nothing left to do but bust out some Fats Waller & Jelly Roll Morton piano in the living room and later, fiddle tunes with friends in the attic.


This pie is a little bit labor intensive with lots of steps, but is worth it for those double custard rummy layers in a spicy gingersnap crust. It also wasn't overly sweet, which I like, but if you've got a real sweet tooth, then opt for semi-sweet chocolate instead of bittersweet. And as I couldn't stop singing when I was making it, black bottom pie, you make the rockin' world go round! (to the tune of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," clearly).