Monday, July 30, 2012

Plum & Orange Flower Custard Galette


I've been out-of-town for a bit, working long hours, living out of a hotel, and unable to bake.  But on the rainy Saturday before I left,  I went on a baking frenzy for an upcoming project. I'll keep you posted when it comes out, but since I'm writing it for someone else and not just for this blog, I had to plan to use fruits that are available both now (so I can bake with them) and into late summer. Here in DC and in more Southern regions at least, plum season lasts into September, I picked up some plums--the tartest variety (though I am now blanking on the name)-- at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers' Market.

I came across this recipe from Dessert First via Pinterest, but didn't really want to do a classic tart, and since I'd already made some standard pies for this upcoming piece, I opted for a galette style where the crust is more roughly cut and folded over the filling. Those edges, where the fruit is encased by crust on two sides, make for the best bites of the whole thing, and the real reason for a galette, in my book. Since the custard is rather sweet, you'll want to chose the tartest plums you can. Though the original recipe calls for 2 tsp. of orange flower water, I would scale it back to 1 tsp. unless you're into very floral flavors. All together this is a rather easy recipe that really showcases the beauty of the plum in both taste and sight, without need for any additional accompaniment (though it did go quite well with an afternoon cup of coffee).


 Plum & Orange Flower Custard Galette
Adapted from Dessert First

Ingredients
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust, halved (save extra egg for the crust egg wash)
1/2 c. (4 oz.) crème fraîche
1 egg yolk
2 Tblsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. orange flower water (the original recipe called for 2 tsp., but I found it a little too floral for my taste. Feel free to adjust according to yours)
2 lbs. (approximately) plums or pluots, pitted and halved
2 Tblsp. Turbinado sugar

Directions
1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Once chilled, roll out into an 11-inch circle and place in a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Do not flute crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place pie pan in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2. In a medium bowl, combine crème fraîche, egg yolk, brown sugar, and orange flower water, using a whisk. Pour into the pie

3. If you haven't done so already, halve and pit plums (leave the skins on). Arrange them in concentric circles over the custard filling. Decoratively fold pie crust over the plums. Brush an egg wash over the crust and sprinkle it and the plums with Turbinado sugar.

4. Bake approximately 40 minutes until crust is golden brown, custard has set and plums are juicy. Let cool. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.


We enjoyed our slices at my friend Lars' poultry operation, Green Gate Farm out in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. More about our trip out there via Virginia wine country coming soon, probably in the form of a Green Gate Farm chicken pot pie post...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Surry County Peach Sonker with Dip



In old-time music, Surry County, North Carolina is well-known for its distinctive regional variation of playing, often referred to as Round Peak style. With its roots in Scots-Irish, English, and African American traditions of fiddle and banjo music, it's known for its driving rhythm, and intense syncopated melody. I visited Surry County a few months ago, for the Mt. Airy Bluegreass and Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention, or as the festival is referred to among old-time musicians, simply "Mt. Airy". Though I heard many styles of bluegrass and old-time, and even some Cajun music there, the Round Peake style is the most celebrated and what reigns supreme at the festival.

Little did I know when I was there, though, that along with Andy Griffith and Round Peake playing, Surry County also boasts a distinctive regional dessert, called a sonker. A sonker is essentially a cross between a cobbler and a pie, as it uses pie pastry, but is served in the biggest rectangular pan that can fit in the oven--perfect for serving large crowds at church suppers and community events common in the region. Sonkers also serve as  a means for showcasing some of the superb fresh local produce grown in Surry County. A peach filling is classic, but they can also be made with cherries or blueberries or other stone fruits, and in the winter, sweet potato sonkers are quite popular.

A sonker is also traditionally served with a sauce called "dip", a warmed-milk and sugar concoction ladled over individual slices. As Nancie McDermott mentions in Southern Pies, a fancier dip can also include an egg, likening it to the "classic Southern dessert sauce, boiled custard." The whole ensemble is even celebrated at the Surry County Sonker festival, held on the first Saturday of October. 



For my first sonker, I went with a classic peach, and threw in a few apricot slices I had leftover from the gooseberry-apricot pie. Here's the recipe I used, adapted only slightly from Southern dessert maven Nancie McDermott.

Surry County Peach Sonker with Dip
Adapted from Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies

Ingredients
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust, multiplied by two

For filling:
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
9 c. fresh peaches, peeled and cut into slices
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, melted

For dip:
1/2 c. sugar
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
3 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions
For crust & filling:
1. Prepare Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Once dough has chilled, roll out half of it to line a 9x13-inch greased and floured baking pan. Make sure to tuck the dough into the corners. Leave a 1-inch overhang around the sides of the pan and trim off any excess dough.

2. Roll out remaining dough and cut into long strips, approximately 1-inch wide. Refrigerate pastry-lines pan and cut strips while you prepare the filling. If you have extra dough, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze for your next sonker!

3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt, using a fork or whisk to combine. Add the sliced and peeled peaches and gently toss them with the dry mixture until they are evenly coated. Pour the filling into the pastry-lined pan and spread evenly. Pour the melted butter and 1/2 c. water evenly over the peach filling.

4. Remove pastry strips from the fridge and weave a criss-cross or lattice pattern across the top of the filling. Press the end of each strip against the side of the pastry crust, then fold the bottom overhang of pastry over the strips. Seal and crimp the edges using a fork.

5. Place the sonker in the oven and bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake for about 45-55 minutes more, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.

For dip:
1. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch, mixing well with a fork or whisk. Add milk and vanilla and stir to dissolve the dry mixture into the milk. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir constantly as it comes to a boil. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat and let the dip simmer until it thickens and becomes smooth, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to let cool.

2. Serve sonker warm, covering each slice with a generous ladle-full of dip.



With its FULL STICK of butter added to the filling and warmed milk dip reminiscent of childhood late night snacks, this is an incredibly sumptuous and comforting dessert that would be excellent anywhere from a Surry County fiddlers' convention to a Washington, D.C. kitchen. My housemate Bobbie said it's one of her most favorite things she's ever eaten, which is saying a lot in our house full of baked goods, and is evidenced by her plate-licking photo below. Personally, I'm going to pioneer the movement to combine the Surry County Sonker Festival and the Mt. Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention into one event, or at least bring a sonker or two to next year's fiddle festival.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pickling & Preserving Party!

A few weeks ago there was a post on Food52 about National Can-It-Forward Day. I had never heard of such a day, but they were offering coupons for free Ball jars for folks who were interested in hosting pickling and preserving parties on Saturday, July 14th. I love canning, I love pickles, and I love parties, so I decided to cast my name into the hat. Sure enough, a week or so later, a FedEx envelope with 6 coupons for free Ball jar sets arrived on my doorstep. Score!

So on the morning of the 14th, three friends and I, Andy, Annie, and Lars met at up at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers' Market, checked out what produce looked the best, and planned our attack. We decided to do vinegar cucumber pickles, dilly beans, and pickled okra, a peach-jalapeno jam, and a blueberry-basil jam. We were able to find almost all of our ingredients at the market, thanks in a large part to the very friendly farmers at Earth Spring Farm who had herbs and jalapenos, pickling cucumbers and okra.


We headed to Bestworld to get the rest of our ingredients, as well as some beer and lunch fixins, for we needed to fuel up for our day-long kitchen activities. Next stop was the hardware store for jars...we were able to get one set at the adorable Old School Hardware in Mt. Pleasant. Then we tried the Ace in Takoma Park, but unfortunately they did not take manufacturer's coupons, so we ended up having to buy our jars. No worries, though--I'm sure the coupons will be put to use at some point 'cause we'll definitely be doing this again.

Back home in the kitchen, we spread out our bounty. Andy went to work on our open-face quesadilla (open faceadilla) lunch, Annie put on some summer jams and then we all tied on aprons, cracked beers, and started peeling peaches, stringing beans, and chopping basil.



It was a collaborative process, with everyone helping with each item...prepping produce, stirring jam pots, and sealing jars. Though we're still waiting on the pickles (they need 6 weeks to "pickle"), the blueberry-basil jam was probably our favorite. And since this is a pie blog, I'll say that it would go great on this lemon goat-cheese tart (replace the blackberry preserves with the blueberry-basil jam) or in this almond crostata (replace the marmalade with the jam). Here's the very easy recipe we used, adapted from Rustic Kitchen.

Blueberry-Basil Jam
Adapted from Rustic Kitchen

Ingredients
8 c. fresh blueberries
5 c. sugar
about 1/2 c. minced purple basil (to taste)
5 Tbslp. lemon juice

Directions
Pour fresh, washed blueberries into a large saucepan. Stir in sugar, purple basil, and lemon juice. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reads 225 degrees F on a candy thermometer and coats the back of a spoon. Once the mixture is ready to can, pour into sterilized jars and seal (make sure to follow proper instructions for sterilization and canning--you can find some on the Ball jar site). Makes about 3 pints.


In the end, we had almost 50 jars of pickles and jams and spent a lovely overcast Saturday sharing skills and stories, listening to tunes, and making deliciousness-in-jars from our local farmers' market bounty. Many thanks to Andy, Annie, and Lars for being such awesome pals and picklers. And thanks to Food52 for inspiring us and donating the jars-- even if we didn't get to use them this time, we'll definitely be having another pickling & jam party soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gooseberry-Apricot Pie on the 4th of July


My aunt and uncle had gooseberry bushes on their property. On summer evenings, when I was visiting with my family for a cookout or the 4th of July, or spending the night by myself, we'd collect old Tupperware bowls and walk the few yards to the line of gooseberry bushes. Sometimes we'd find my uncle's mother Maggie there, already picking. Their bushes were the green gooseberries, weird entities that reminded me of eyeballs, with seeds like a grape.  I remember my mom and aunt baking them into tart pies with top crusts bulging around the spherical fruits.

I was surprised to see cartons of gooseberries here at the farmers' market in DC a few weeks ago. Though when I was growing up, I didn't consider that they were a fruit that's mainly prevalent in the midwest, but upon spotting them, I realized I hadn't really seen them anywhere else. When I picked out two pints, one green and one purple, my friends who I was with, one from California and another from DC weren't sure what they were, and asked if I knew what to do with them. I nodded, confident, "We used to pick them at my aunt's house." But when I got home, I wasn't as sure. In the few days they sat in the fridge before I decided to bake them, the "green" gooseberries had turned purple, and when I tried one raw, it wasn't as sour as I'd remembered.


I searched the internet for a gooseberry pie recipe, and not finding one I felt totally confident in, decided to combine a few into my own variation. Most of them called for cooking the berries before baking them, which seemed strange, since I quite clearly remember my family's version containing whole fruit. I wasn't sure of my memory, though, so I opted for the pre-cooking technique.

I made the crust the night before, on July 3rd, in our sweltering kitchen. Though I usually prefer to cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or knife and fork, I decided to put my almost-frozen butter in the food processor, thinking it would mean less working of the butter, aka colder butter (aka flakier crust). In the end, the butter was a little too incorporated for my taste--more like tart dough than pie dough, but it was probably the best option considering the temperature.

On the morning of the 4th, I got up early to make the pie to beat the heat, and leave room in the day for other festivities. I'm not sure if I over-cooked the gooseberries in my pre-coffee state, but they basically turned to a quick jam. I had doubts of a gooseberry-jam pie, so I trusted my instinct and decided to throw some sliced apricots I'd been saving into the filling. I'm glad I did. The result was a tart-sweet, slightly unusual pie that was perfect à la mode on a humid Independence Day.



Gooseberry-Apricot (Goosepricot) Pie

Ingredients
Nothing-in-the-House Pie Crust
4 c. of fresh green or purple gooseberries
3/4 c. sugar
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
A pinch of nutmeg
2 Tblsp. unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
2 pints apricots (6-8 medium sized apricots), peeled & sliced

Directions
1. Prepare the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough at least 1 hour. Once chilled, roll out 1/2 of pie crust and fit into a 9-inch greased and floured pie pan. You can choose to roll out the top-crust now and refrigerate it flat, or roll it out once you've prepared the filling. Either way, you should put both the remaining crust and the pie pan in the fridge while you prepare the filling (this is a crucial step if it is hot in your kitchen!).
2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine gooseberries, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium saucepan. Place on medium heat until berries begin to break down and mixture thickens, approximately 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside and let cool to room temperature.
3. Remove pie pan with bottom crust from fridge and place sliced apricots on the bottom of the crust. Pour the gooseberry filling over the sliced apricots and distribute evenly. Dot the gooseberry filling with the 2 Tblsp. of butter
4. If you haven't rolled out the top crust yet, do that now. Once the crust is rolled, place over the top of the gooseberry filling. Seal the bottom and top crusts and flute the sides decoratively. Decorate the top crust if you wish (you'll notice the flag on mine!) and cut steam vents with a fork or knife. Brush top crust with an egg wash (you can use the leftover egg from the crust) and dust with Turbinado sugar.
5. Place pie in the oven and bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F. After 10 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake for 35-45 minutes more until the crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling. Enjoy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on each slice!

After throwing this baby in the oven, we got down to business with an all-out hot dog bar, inspired by my friend Francis Lam's piece in Gilt Taste. My favorites were a homemade pimento cheese-vegetarian chili-crushed Utz BBQ chips dog and a Banh Mi dog (radish & carrot slaw-cilantro-cilantro mayo) but other toppings included pickled jalapenos, caramelized onions, "hot dog relish", sauerkraut, and an assortment of condiments. We also had a hot dog blind taste test--Nathan's vs. Hebrew National-- Nathan's won. After a few dawgs each we collapsed on the couch for a lazy game of Trivial Pursuit. My fella was feeling sick (not from the hot dogs), so instead of fireworks, which I'm not the biggest fan of anyway, we decided to celebrate the USA with a movie night and a slice o' gooseberry-apricot pie on the 4th of July.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Peach-Pecan Pie



Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall/If I can't have the one I love, I won't have none at all. That's one of my favorite, if not my favorite old-time lyric. My dad used to sing it to me before bed, in a modified version of Shady Grove (modified, because I cried when he said "I'm bound to go away," which he changed to "love you more each day!"). That memory aside, I like that phrase for its simplicity, its assertion of seasonal eating in a time when that was not a question; you ate fresh apples in the fall (and probably storage apples through the winter) and peaches all summer. Love could be fleeting and unreliable, but autumn apples and summer peaches were known entities.

This peach-pecan pie from Nancie McDermott via her friend Sandra Gutierrez seems to be the type of dessert that's just the thing for the tail end of peach season, as apples are starting to gain ground on farmers' market tables and the line of peach cartons starts to recede. I say this because of my association with pecans as a fall pie, and in reality, this pie can work on any summer day (let's be honest here--I made it in June!). But maybe it's the end of summer and you're sunburned and hot and just a bit tired of peaches, and you need a new take-- a tangy custard, a pecan crumble. Either way, this suits me as a perfect transition pie, with the pecan topping hinting at those summer nights when it starts to get a little cooler and you need to slip on an extra layer, and your mind starts drifting towards bonfires, and doughnuts, and well, apples...



Peach-Pecan Pie
Adapted from Nancie McDermott's Southern Pies

Ingredients
For crust:
Nothing-in-the-House pie crust, halved

For filling:
3 c. peeled & sliced fresh peaches (about 6 medium-sized peaches)
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. sour cream
3 egg yolks
2 Tblsp. all-purpose flour

For pecan-crumb top:
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 c. (2 oz.) chopped pecans

Directions
For crust:
1. Prepare half of the Nothing-in-the-House pie crust as per the directions. Chill dough at least 1 hour. Once chilled, remove from before rolling out and fitting into a greased and floured 9-inch pie pan. Crimp edges decoratively.

For filling:
1. Scatter peeled and sliced peaches over the bottom of the pie crust.

2. Using a whisk, combine sugar, sour cream, egg yolks, and flour in a medium bowl until everything is well-combined. Pour this thick and creamy sauce over the peaches.

3. Place the pie in the oven and bake until the custard is set and the crust is golden-brown, approximately 30 minutes. 

For topping:
1. Combine butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles peas and cornmeal. Stir in the chopped pecans and set aside.

2. Remove pie from the oven and scatter the pecan topping over the pie. Return pie to the oven and bake until the crumb top is golden brown, about 10-15 minutes more. 

3. Place pie on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature, approximately 45 minutes. Can be served warm or cold. Nancie and Sandra recommend cinnamon whipped cream, but vanilla (or cinnamon!) ice cream would also be delicious.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Interview with Emily and Melissa Elsen of Four & Twenty Blackbirds


I've been longing to make it to Four & Twenty Blackbirds, the Brooklyn sister-owned pie shop credited with salty honey, salted caramel apple and chamomile buttermilk pies that have cast their spell on me from afar. In addition to these creative- classic pies, their slightly sinister nursery rhyme-based name and affinity for bikes, I thought they might be gals after my own heart--indeed, one of the sisters and I share both a first and middle name (Emily Elizabeth à la Dickinson, or the heroine of Clifford the Big Red Dog). Since I wasn't sure when I'd make it to New York next, I asked the pair for an interview and to share a pie recipe. Here's their words, along with instructions for a quintessential spring-summer pie--rhubarb, Four and Twenty Blackbirds style! (Emily (L) & Melissa (R) Elsen of Four and Twenty Blackbirds, pictured below)


The inspiration for your shop name comes from the nursery rhyme (I assume). Could you tell me why you chose it?
Sing a Song of Sixpence is the inspiration for the name. A close friend of our family had suggested we look to nursery rhymes for naming inspiration - it's all over the place in many of those rhymes. We wanted a name that had some familiarity and association with pie, but that wasn't too obvious or cute. We liked the light and dark aspects of the rhyme and macabre humor.

What is your most treasured/used pie baking tool?
Emily: I like a solid and well balanced tapered rolling pin for rolling dough.

What's your favorite kind of pie?
Emily: Any pie that is made with fresh, in-season fruit - particularly stone fruits and figs, and rhubarb of course.

What's your baking story--how long have you been doing it, who taught you and how did you learn? Any funny stories from those first (or later?) baking experiments?
We grew up in Hecla, South Dakota where our mother owned and operated a local family restaurant with her two sisters, our grandmother Liz baked all the pies and we worked there as soon as we were big enough to wash a dish! We both went in different directions for college - I came to Brooklyn to study art and Melissa studied finance and then traveled New Zealand and Australia for a couple years. We reunited in Brooklyn and started baking together and realized that we had the potential to make it a real business. At the time, it was hard to find good fresh pie in NYC on a regular basis and we wanted to make a place that was devoted to it because we loved making it and eating it of course!

Why pie?
We love the simplicity of it, and yet it has so many creative possibilities - we felt we could do something new with it. Also, I'm particularly attracted to it as a sculptural baked good - pie crust is fun to work with once you get to know its ins and outs.

It seems like you guys are really into bikes too. Is there any kind of bike-pie connection? Pie racks on your bikes for easy transportation?
We are both really into bikes for transportation and distance riding for exercise - we live close to Prospect Park which is great for cycling laps, and doing a distance ride up the West Side highway and into Jersey is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. We have a lock and pump at the store that we let customers use and we sell tubes and patch kits as well. We are not bike racers, but we love the bike community in Brooklyn which is growing every day. No pie bike racks yet, but we'd love to do bike delivery one day!

What's it like working with your sister?
Emily: For me, my sister is the perfect business partner. We are very different personalities, so we balance each other - and we are close enough in age that we like doing the same things and our interests align well. It's not without difficulties, arguments and such, but she is the one person I truly trust to have my back, though I know I drive her crazy sometimes.  

What's your favorite music to listen to while you're in the kitchen?
I'll listen to (almost) anything and I'm always changing it up... lately I've been getting into older reggae, and some newer stuff, as well as a lot of hip hop. I like good rhythm when I work.  

Any words of advice for new or aspiring pie bakers?
Be prepared to work hard in this industry and be in love with what you are doing, keep a positive attitude and always be curious to learn more.


Four & Twenty Blackbirds Rhubarb Pie
By Melissa & Emily Elsen

For all-butter pie crust
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into half-inch pieces
1 cup cold water and 1/8th cup cider vinegar on ice

What to do:  
1. Stir flour, salt and sugar together in a large bowl.

2. Add butter and coat it with flour using a spatula or bench scraper. Working quickly, cut butter into the flour with a pastry blender until mostly pea-sized pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; do not over-blend).

3. Sprinkle four tablespoons ice water over the flour mixture and cut the water in with a spatula or bench scraper. When water is fully incorporated, add more water, one to two tablespoons at a time, and mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining.

4. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with drops of ice water if necessary to combine.

5. Shape into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight. Wrapped tightly, dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for one month.

6. Roll out to fit the bottom of the rectangle pan, just to the edges, not over. Use the scrap to create about 20-25 lattice pieces to fit the pan width and length. 

For rhubarb filling
Combine in a large bowl:
4 to 6 cups rhubarb that has been chopped, frozen overnight and then thawed and drained of excess liquid (freezing helps to release excess water in the Rhubarb)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 dashes of old fashioned or Angosturra bitters
3 whole eggs, beaten

In a separate bowl, sift together:
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons arrowroot (or cornstarch if you can't find arrowroot)

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry. Scoop into pie shell, with most of the liquid - but do not make the pie too watery, the Rhubarb should be just slightly covered in the liquid. Arrange lattice on top, crimp edges in. 

For egg wash + baking
Beat together:
1 whole egg
2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk

1. Brush the top of the lattice with the egg wash and sprinkle with raw (or demerara) sugar. Bake on a half sheet pan at 350F for 30 minutes, rotate and bake for another  30 - 40 minutes - depends on oven strength. Look for a golden brown color in the crust, and for the filind to be set and bubbling over, not watery looking. Be sure to let the pie cool for at least an hour before slicing and serving. 

Thanks so much to Emily & Melissa Elsen for their time and generosity with words, photos, and recipes. After this teaser I'd better get to Brooklyn to try a slice o' Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie soon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blueberry Icebox Pie at NPR Music

Last week was #pieweek at NPR. Amid all the lovely stories on Morning Edition and The Salt on how to make the perfect crust, desperation pies (aka nothing-in-the-house pies, hence the name of this blog), and how pie history is like The Game of Thrones, Nothing-in-the-House got a little tiny slice of the action when my friend Lars made my blueberry icebox pie for the NPR Music office where he works.

His rendition featured a half-pretzel, half-graham cracker crust (!), and a few peach slices and strawberries thrown into the filling. He posted pics on the NPR Music Tumblr and soundtracked it with the Black Mill Tapes Vol. 1&2 by Pye Corner Audio. Very appropriate. Thanks Lars for bringing #pieweek to Nothing-in-the-House, where every week is pie week.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Pretzel Tart



That's us. A wild combination. Sometimes it's all about putting two and two together. At NELP, the first year I taught, we had the "Get out of your lunchbox" collective, that was all about unlikely combinations, taking a risk on strange sandwiches and ice cream toppings: Crushed potato chips, chocolate and bacon? Watermelon, crystalized ginger and mint? Peanuts, banana chips and sea salt? Some were hits and some were far misses, but the point was in the risk and experimentation.

I'm not sure who first came up with the peanut butter-chocolate-pretzel combination, but whether it was Hershey's or some mom in the Midwest, it's a real winner. Thanks to the power of Pinterest, I came across this recipe for a chocolate & peanut butter pretzel tart from Hot Polka Dot, and immediately added it to the dessert menu for the Dougherty family party (you'll see this tart on the dessert table). This wild combination features a pretzel crust (!!!) and a rich chocolate 'n' peanut butter ganache filling, mimicing chocolate-peanut butter covered pretzels (try them if you haven't...Trader Joe's has some, or dip your favorite co-op's bulk bin choco-pretzels in PB!). I altered the tart a little bit by adding additional salt to the crust, but I have a bit of a salt tooth, so you may want to salt to taste. The recipe calls for "regular" peanut butter--the sweetened and salted Jiff, Peter Pan or Skippy variety that you grew up with. But if you prefer using natural peanut butter, add sugar (and salt, if unsalted) to the filling.


Chocolate & Peanut Butter Pretzel Tart
Adapted from Hot Polka Dot

Ingredients
For crust:
1/2 c. + 2 Tblsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 c. crushed pretzels
1 tsp. coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 c. flour
1 large egg

For filling:
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped (or use chocolate chips)
3/4 c. heavy cream
2 Tblsp. unsalted butter
1/2 c. smooth peanut butter (Use run-of-the-mill salted and sweetened peanut butter. If you use natural, make sure it's smooth, and you'll want to add sugar to taste--probably 1/2 c.)

Directions
For crust:
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine butter, confectioner's sugar and half of the crushed pretzels until mixture is well mixed. Add the flour, salt, egg, and remaining pretzels until the mixture is well combined, but pretzel chunks remain.

2. Form dough into a flattened ball, wrap and plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least one hour, and up to overnight.

3. Once dough is chilled, remove it from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, butter and flour a 12-inch tart pan and set it aside. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough between 2 pieces of wax paper, into a 15-inch circle. Transfer the dough to the tart pan and press into the bottom and sides to form a crust (it will be a little crumbly, so you may have to piece it). Fold the excess dough back over the sides to form a strong double crust. Roll a rolling pin over the top of the tart pan to ensure that the crust is level with the top of the pan. Pierce the bottom of the crust with a fork in several places and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove tart from freezer, once chilled. Butter one side of a piece of aluminum foil and place it buttered-side down on the inside of the tart crust. Place tart on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove tart from oven and let cool completely before filling.

For filling:
1. Put chocolate in a heat-proof bowl and set aside. Combine cream and butter in a medium saucepan and place on medium heat until it just comes to a boil. When it begins to boil, pour it over the chocolate, cover the bowl, and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Remove the lid and whisk in the chocolate until it is completely melted and has a ganache-like consistency. Pour it into the cooled tart shell and smooth with a spatula.

2. Meanwhile, warm the peanut butter in the microwave or on the stove until it is slightly runny. Pour it over the chocolate ganache, and drag a butter knife through it to create swirls. Chill for at least 10-15 minutes to set. Serve at room temperature. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

DC's Best Pie!

It's the peak of summer, the farmers' markets are teeming with local berries and fresh stone fruit, and NPR just launched #pie week, meaning there's an utter explosion of pies and tarts on the interwebs. Aside from our usual blogging and baking, last week Kari and I got in on the action when Nothing-in-the-House's strawberry crème tart and Tarts by Tarts were featured as the cover photo and one of DC's best pie bakers on Refinery29. They also mentioned the pie blog's lemon icebox pie and Florida grapefruit-white chocolate pie. Oh so nice! We're in great company too, with Alexandria's Buzz Bakery, Baltimore-based Dangerously Delicious Pies, and farmers' market stand Whisked also in the mix.

At the moment, Tarts by Tarts' future together is sadly uncertain, and we'll be taking a hiatus as Kari is Maine-bound for a goat cheese-making apprenticeship (I will miss my tartner so!), we'll continue to keep you updated on our current baking and future projects via the Tarts by Tarts site. In the meantime, I've been scheming plans to keep the Tarts by Tarts spirit alive in a new endeavor--a pie CSA? pop-up shop? baked goods bicycle delivery service? For more on those developments, keep your eyes glued to this space, as well as on the Nothing-in-the-House Facebook & Twitter for upcoming projects. As always, feel free to e-mail us at tartsbytarts at gmail dot com or me at nothinginthehousepie at gmail dot com if you're interested in collaborating, catering service, or placing a one-off order. We'd love to work with you, whether at a bean suppa on a Maine farm, a rooftop deck party in DC, or anywhere in between.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Key Lime Pie Popsicles




It has been way too hot to bake lately. Just last night, my best friend called me in a pie pickle--she was trying to assemble a crust for quiche in her non-conditioned Chicago apartment, but it just fell apart, melted in her hands. I told her to put it in the freezer for a bit and roll it out in her air-conditioned bedroom, but apparently even that do the trick. Tough pie times--and during #pieweek no less!

This past Saturday was my 'tartner in crime Kari's going-away party at our house. Normally we would be baking up a storm for such an occasion, but it was just. too. hot. Instead Kari whipped up some salsa, a few fresh slaws, and a lot of frozen margarita fixings, and I turned my normal pie contribution into popsicles. Key lime pie popsicles.

Kari suggested that I try this recipe for frozen key lime pie from Ina Garten. I upped the amount of lime juice, took out the eggs, added cornstarch as a thickener, and topped it off with a gingersnap crust for a super easy and totally refreshing popsicle filling! It was a little bit of a struggle to get the pops out of the molds (mine are old Tupperware from my mom) with the crust, but if you make sure to fill them to the top, and they should be fine.

So if you're feeling too overheated to bake for today, you can still have your 4th of July pie and eat it it too. If you're up for battling the heat, though, we've got you covered with (more traditional) pie recipes aplenty.



I recruited some photogenic friends to help me model the pops on our porch and backyard! Thanks to Joey, Kari, Juanita, and Marion for being willing, hungry, and so darned cute.

Key Lime Pie Popsicles

Makes 6 large or 8 small popsicles

Ingredients
For popsicle:
1/4 c. sugar
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
2 Tblsp. grated lime zest
1 c. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 Tblsp. cornstarch

For "crust":
1 1/4 c. gingersnap crumbs
1 Tblsp. sugar
1/3 c. unsalted butter, melted

Directions
1. Combine sugar, sweetened condensed milk, grated lime zest, lime juice, and cornstarch in a blender. Pour into popsicle molds, distributing filling evenly and leaving about 1/4-inch at the top for crust. Do not cover or insert stick. Freeze for at least two hours.

2. Meanwhile, put gingersnap crumbs, sugar, and melted butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well mixed. Set aside.

3. When popsicles are partially frozen, remove them from the freezer and spoon crust into each popsicle mold so that it is filled to the top. Insert stick and cover, and freeze for at least two more hours.

4. Once completely frozen, remove popsicles from molds and enjoy! We sure did.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Andy Griffith for Jello Pudding & Pie Filling


I spent so many hours of my childhood watching The Andy Griffith Show with my dad and brother. Though Lassie was my all-time favorite, I liked Opie's fishing trips with the neighborhood boys, when Andy would pick out a tune on his guitar with the Darlings, and most of all, I loved the way my dad would slap his knee and chuckle so uproariously at Deputy Barnie Fife's misadventures. I think the show reminded my dad of his family in North Carolina and sometimes when I go home, we still pop in an Andy Griffith Show DVD and watch the old episodes.

So I was sad to wake up this morning and learn this morning of Andy Griffith's passing. I remembered these old ads he did for Jell-O Pudding & Pie filling, a show sponsor; I actually thought I'd posted them long ago. But I thought it an appropriate day to share a few favorites (there's more on Youtube). I'm not sure I'll be making a pie with Jell-O anytime soon, but I am considering a Surry County Sonker, the official dessert of Griffith's hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Another Carolinian, Nancie McDermott, has a fine recipe.


Monday, July 02, 2012

Passion Fruit Meringue Pie at a Backyard Family Party


It's been two Saturdays in a row of backyard cookouts here at the Dollhouse. Details and desserts of this weekend's fête are on their way, but last weekend's was a multi-excuse party for my rad housemate Bobbie's family, The Doughertys, who, among parents and four sisters were celebrating a 30th wedding anniversary, 2 graduations, and a return home from the Peace Corps.

As the family of honor staked down the yellow circus tent, lit grills, and strung streamers in the backyard, Kari and I, in perhaps the last Tarts by Tarts collaboration for a while, took to the the kitchen, charged with the making of desserts. We composed a versatile menu that included that pecan layer cake, key lime pie bars, and jumbleberry pavlova by Kari and lime tarts, and a peach-pecan pie and chocolate and peanut butter pretzel tart by me (more info on those coming soon!).

I also contributed a passion fruit meringue pie, elements of which were requested by both Bobbie and her older sister Cait. Cait had just returned from the Peace Corps in Panama, where she ate a lot of passion fruit, and Bobbie is a resident of the dollhouse, where she eats a lot of meringue...so I brought the two together in a passion fruit meringue pie with a macadamia nut-gingersnap crust.

This passion fruit pie is related to lilikoi (passion fruit in Hawaiian) pie, though where classic lilikoi pie generally features an airy chiffon filling, the pie I made calls for a denser curd, topped by a marshmallowy meringue. Combined with the macadamia nut crust I used for the Florida grapefruit-white chocolate pie, this is a tropical take on a classic favorite.


 Passion Fruit Meringue Pie with a Macadamia Nut Crust

Ingredients
For crust:
7 oz. roasted macadamia nuts
3/4 c. ground gingersnap cookies
1/4 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 3/4 c. passion fruit purée or nectar
1 c. + 2 Tblsp. sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
4 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
3 Tbslp. unsalted butter cut into chunks

For meringue:
4 large egg whites, room temp. (can use whites from the yolks used for the curd)
1 c. sugar
2 Tblsp. corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt

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 before adding the filling.

For filling:
1. Combine lemon juice, passion fruit purée, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan 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.

2. Once curd has chilled, pour into the baked and cooled crust and refrigerate until the meringue is ready.

For meringue:
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form and set aside. 

2. Stir sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 c. water in a medium saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer in the saucepan and increase heat to medium-high. Boil without stirring, occasionally swirling pan, until thermometer registers 238 degrees F, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Meanwhile, beat whites again briefly until soft peaks form. Slowly pour hot sugar mixture down the side of the bowl into the whites and beat until meringue is firm and has a glossy sheen.  Continue to beat until cool, about 4 minutes. Remove pie from the fridge and spoon meringue over the passion fruit curd, making sure the meringue seals the edge of the pie. Sculpt decoratively with the back of a spoon.

4. Bake until meringue is toasted, about 3-5 minutes.  Chill pie for about a half-hour before serving. Keep in the fridge until it's gone.


There was a bountiful Southern-style cookout with pulled pork and brisket, potato salad & slaw, cornbread and deviled eggs, keg beer and tequila shots (mostly enjoyed by the aunts). Then after an interlude of backyard micro-pong, puzzles, and madlibs, we warmed the pie, topped the pavlova, and paraded out the desserts, which quickly coralled everyone--pongers and shot-takers alike (as you can see in the photo below, which I believe features three Dougherty sisters, and definitely features lots of pretty gals in pretty dresses).


If you were smart, like Scott here, you took a little sliver of each, and paced yourself in the Dessert Enjoyment Zone (DEZ) so the impending sugar crash didn't keep you from a torch-lit game of Catch Phrase and a late-night jaunt out to a Mt. Pleasant dance party.