So it’s probably time I put up the apple pie recipe I’ve worked through. It’s not perfect, by any means, but I like it and other people seem to as well.
The pie is an attempt to recreate the amazing pies of The Elegant Farmer, in Wisconsin; their pies are at every grocery store around Lake Geneva, and other than paying much money to have them overnight you one, you can’t get them anywhere else. If you have a chance to stop and pick one up, do so. Theirs beat mine hands down.
I found the recipe online, but I wasn’t happy with how their crust came out, so set out to find one I liked better; the best and easiest I’ve found so far is the “two-crust 9 inch pie” version of Epicurious’s Flaky cream cheese pie crust. The only change I make to the ingredients is to add 1/4 cup sugar to the rest of the ingredients; I also try to use Plugra, or another high-fat European-style butter, if I can.
For technique – keep the ingredients cold (I keep the butter and cream cheese in one bag, and the flour/sugar/salt/baking powder in another, and put them in the freezer for half an hour before mixing); try not to pulse too much if using a food processor – you want pea sized bits, not grains of sand; and leave out the water and cider vinegar as much as you can; only add it drop by drop (or use Alton Brown’s spray bottle method) until the crust particles just start holding together. Too much water makes chewy crust. (Also note, I personally verified that using a pastry blender in a bowl outside on a cold (30 degrees F) day does work to keep the crust in proper shape.)
Next, the filling. The Food Network has the recipe from the Elegant Farmer directly here: Apple Pie baked in a bag. Ignore the crust part, and make the following changes:
- * Instead of 5 Granny Smith apples, use 4 Fuji apples, 1 other apple (I alternate between Braeburn or Honeycrisp), and 1 pear. Peel and slice them all together normally.
- * Add about one lemon’s worth of zest (peel) to the filling. (Stop grating before you get the white pith in there!)
- * Take 4-5 whole allspice kernels, put them in a ziploc sandwich or snack bag, and crush them with something heavy (I use a cast-iron pan) until they’re in pieces. (They don’t have to be powder.) Add that to the filling.
Roll out the first crust, shape it into a pie pan; mix up the filling and add that in. DO NOT FORGET THE BUTTER! (I say this because I often do, and have to cut open the top crust to sneak some butter in there.)
Add the top crust, and crimp the edge however you like. I’ll use a fork. Then, beat an egg, and use it to brush an egg wash over the crust.
Follow the Elegant Farmer’s baking instructions, especially the part about putting the pie in the bag and stapling it shut. It’s probably best if the bag doesn’t touch the top or sides of the oven, but I get the feeling there’s enough moisture in the pie to keep the bag safe.
For the first 20-30 minutes, you’ll smell something vaguely like burning paper; unless it gets really bad or you see flames, it’s probably OK. The next 30 minutes, the lovely apple pie smell will start.
Result: a lovely, perfectly moist pie that tastes amazing; it reminds me of a really good mulled apple cider, but with edible chunks.
There’s the basic way to make french toast, and then there’s the proper way. It’s evolved from a way to rescue stale bread into a highly yummy carbohydrate delivery system for the weekend. This recipe almost feels more like pain perdu than ordinary “french toast”.
Here’s my variation; the batter came from a recipe for Raspberry-cream-cheese stuffed french toast, but with this you don’t need the raspberry stuffing. (I serve it as a topping sometimes.)
So first — find a bakery that makes a proper Challah bread — the traditional Jewish sabbath bread, usually available on Fridays and Saturdays. Store-bought is OK in a pinch. The loaves we get are about 10 inches long; the full recipe for the batter makes just barely enough for one loaf. Slice the challah into 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch slices, and set aside for a few hours to dry — or if you’re in a rush, turn on an oven to its lowest setting (170 degrees usually?), let it preheat, then turn it off — then set the sliced bread in the oven for 10-20 minutes to dry out.
The batter is really what makes it — yes, you really do need all that cinnamon. The heavier the cream you can get the better. I like Trader Joe’s Heavy Cream that comes in the smallish plastic bottle; its butterfat is between 38% and 42%, whereas most grocery store heavy cream only makes it up to 36%. You can also use Manufacturing Cream (available from restaurant supply stores like Smart ‘n’ Final), though you have to buy that in half gallon sizes (the rest of the carton makes a spectacular whipped cream, too — add some vanilla and sugar and beat the heck out of it).
- 1 loaf Challah, sliced and left to dry (on the counter or in a very low oven)
- 4 beaten eggs
- 1 cup very heavy cream — the heavier the better. (38% butterfat or more)
- 2 tablespoons (yes) vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons (also yes) cinnamon
- 1 cup sugar
- Butter for frying (again, high butterfat or “European style” if you can, and unsalted)
- Baking pan with wire rack on top (so air can circulate underneath the french toast when baking)
- Mixing bowl wide enough to fit the bread slices in to soak in the batter
- Frying pan
- Serving platter
Once the bread is nice and dry, mix up your batter, remove the bread from the oven if it was in there, and preheat the oven to 350°. Mix the batter so the cinnamon is as evenly distributed through the batter as you can get it, but don’t worry if it won’t mix all the way or you still have lumps. Put a frying pan on medium heat (enough to keep the butter melted and slightly brown, but not high enough to burn the butter when it gets too hot). I always end up having to move the frying pan on and off the heat to keep it at the right temperature.
Soak each slice in the batter on both sides for about 30 seconds, then fry them up, a few minutes on each side. The batter contacting the pan will firm up and brown nicely when that side is done.
Once each slice is well fried, place it in the oven on the wire rack baking pan; keep all the slices in the oven and add each one as you finish frying it. You can lean the slices against each other.
Keep the slices in the oven for 5-10 minutes, or until they crisp up just a little bit (the sides of the slices should dry nicely). Timing isn’t critical here; you can have the newest slices in only for a few minutes, and the older slices in for a while longer.
Once it’s all done, pull the slices out of the oven and serve. Add powdered sugar and syrup if you like, but the slices may not need it.
Best french toast ever.
We went to the farmer’s market today, and it appears to be citrus season. I’ve got navel oranges, blood oranges, grapefruits, and a couple of meyer lemons, all for under $10. I love the farmer’s market.
I wasn’t sure what would be best to make; but I started with an orange curd using a couple of the navel oranges. I started with a yuzu curd recipe that I got from Extraordinary Desserts, and just kind of improvised. It could probably stand some improvement, but as it stands it tastes a bit like an orange julius with more eggs mixed in.
The orange curd is meant to be baked — the recipe I have for the yuzu curd has you bake it in some puff pastry with almonds — but if you use pasteurized eggs, you can use the unbaked curd as a glaze or sauce, too. I’ve now got a whole bowlful, and I’m not sure what to put it on.
Chilled orange curd
Here’s what I did:
- * Juice enough oranges to get about 1/2 cup of juice. For me this was one and a half oranges.
- * Slice off the peel from another orange, then dice up the rest of the orange, and add it all to the same container.
- * Zest a lemon into the same container.
- * Cut a stick of butter (1/2 cup) into cubes and set aside.
- * Add 1 cup of sugar and 4 eggs (preferably pasteurized) to a medium saucepan; mix together, then add in the orange juice/zest/orange mixture.
- * Whisk it around in the saucepan over low heat; the orange chunks will cook down a bit and juice; feel free to smush the orange chunks and juice them a bit more.
- * Keep whisking until the mixture starts to visibly thicken, between 5 and 10 minutes. You really can’t time it, you just have to watch it. Make sure it doesn’t get too hot and curdle.
- * Once the mixture is thick enough, drop in the butter. Continue whisking until the butter is melted.
- * As soon as the butter is all melted, take the mixture off the heat.
- * Strain the mixture through a wire strainer; you’re going to have to help it through with the whisk, moving around and pressing on the orange chunks and pulp to get the curd through.
- * Chill it in the fridge for an hour or two, and you’re done!
The curd can be used as a topping if you used pasteurized eggs, or added to pastries and baked (it comes out with a texture similar to the cheese in a cheese danish).
So I recently also took a class at Extraordinary Desserts, probably the best place in San Diego to get decadent, creative, and yummy desserts (and decent meal-food, too). One of the items that the proprietor and executive chef (Karen Krasne) taught us to make was chocolate pots-de-creme.
I’d also recently found a recipe for homemade Oreo-style cookies, and gave the filling part a try. A couple of years ago I’d had a mocha at Hash House a Go Go that was a special — an “oreo mocha” where the mocha itself tasted exactly like Oreo creme filling. I’d wanted to replicate that for a while now, and after a few practice runs (hint, don’t add too much vanilla extract), I’ve got something close, though it still doesn’t match the actual filling of Oreo cookies. I’ll have to experiment more; I’m not yet to the point of buying a pack of Double-Stuf Oreos just to scrape out the filling into a bowl, but I might if I can’t get it right.
So, the other day, I combined the two joys!
First, I whipped together some of the creme filling. I used the recipe for the filling from the King Arthur Flour site above, but left out the gelatin and water. I combined the shortening and sugar along with the vanilla (scraping the mixture off of the whisk a LOT), then added a tiny bit of cold water as it mixed to bring its consistency together. That mostly worked.
Then, I did up the pots-de-creme. That was reasonably easy if a bit involved. I’m not 100% clear on reposting recipes, so the closest recipe I’ve found to what I was using was Oprah’s pots-de-creme — the only difference being that the recipe I was using has you add the milk and creme mixture to the eggs first, then reheat it to custard-ize the mixture and then pour that over the chocolate bits. (Also, for those who know what I’m talking about, I think the stuff that gets strained out of the pots-de-creme in the final step is the same thing that forms pudding skin.)
Next, assembly! I started with some of the creme filling crumblies in a little plastic container:
I took a second container and mashed it down on the crumblies in the first one, trying to compress it into a kind of cake. I’m not yet clear on what exactly holds it together and how to improve it, but this seemed to work, even though some of the resulting cakes came apart later. (It’s still tasty.)
After working it loose in the first container and setting it atop the second, you get this:
Next, I filled a bunch of the same containers about half-full of the pot-de-creme mixture, and put them in the freezer for a few minutes to harden up:
Then the cake goes on top:
And fill the rest with more chocolate pot-de-creme:
You can just see the creme filling cake on the side there.
I brought a bunch in to work, and everyone seemed happy with them; I got a suggestion to add some kind of crunchy something to the mix, which I’ll have to experiment with — I’m wondering if that should be something cookie-like or if I should try cocoa nibs.
The next recipe will be for the pavlovas I made with the egg whites leftover from this recipe. Happy desserting!
So, I’ve been afraid of fish for a while. Not of the fish themselves, but of cooking them. I know it’s good for you, and I grew up with my dad cooking some really yummy fish, but I’ve not really worked up the courage to try (and possibly ruin a pricey cut of fish!) I finally tried poaching some inexpensive flounder a few weeks back, but it was so delicate that it basically came apart in the water as it cooked and turned into unintentional cioppino with floating aromatics. I fished out (ha!) most of the pieces and we had fish piles that night. Not too bad, just not super great.
Cue a few weeks later; I’d signed up for the “Something’s Fishy” class at Great News, probably the best casual cooking school and non-ripoff cookware store I know of. The class was taught by a couple of managers and chefs from Iowa Meat Farms and Siesel’s, which would be the best place I know of to get meat and occasionally seafood. (Even they admitted it was a bit weird for a meat place to do a seafood class, but it worked.)
Anyway, the other night I picked up a side of salmon (not sure what you call it) to try out. Their recipe was for plank-grilled salmon with maple-mustard glaze, which was really tasty when I had it at the class. I haven’t washed the grill in ages (I know, sacrilege, but it’s been too hot to do much outside next to a giant heat source), so I figured I’d try the recipe, but bake the salmon instead.
Here’s the salmon fresh out of the package:
The glaze is really simple — basically, you take some sweet onion (the recipe called for just a half, but I used a whole one), then sautee it to translucent, just before it starts to caramelize. (You don’t need the extra sugar in this case.) Then, add half a cup of whole-grain dijon mustard and a whole cup of maple syrup. Mix it up and bring it to a simmer; let it reduce for about 5 minutes, or more if you want it thicker. Be careful not to let it burn, since there’s a lot of sugar in there.
Brown isn’t always appetizing, but the end result is yummy.
Once the glaze is ready, let it cool down somewhat. Then brush and drizzle it all over the salmon, and put the salmon in the oven at 400 degrees. Let it go for between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the size of the piece; I added more glaze if needed at 10 minutes, and started checking it at about 15.
One of the key things about fish that I didn’t really get until now was that you can’t go off of time; you really need to check the fish and look for signs that it’s done. I started pulling back pieces of the salmon and checking to where it was touching the baking dish — after three or four times of doing that, it looked like there was only a tiny piece that was still raw-ish. This was also the point where the salmon’s fat started coming out of the piece of meat (as you can see a bit in the picture). Remembering that carryover does its thing and that it’s better to undercook fish than to overcook it, I pulled it out at this point and got a really tasty meal (and lunch and dinner the next day, too).
Here’s the final prize:
Serve it with some more of the glaze on the side.
The other things I really liked at the fish class were the bacon-wrapped margarita-glazed scallops and the steak that went with it. I have to say that I’ve been to a couple of really good steak restaurants, but none of those could match the steak at this class. It’s enough to make me want to take these guys’ beef class when it comes up next.
I don’t normally title anything ‘dragon whatever’, but in this case I’d like to make an exception. I’m getting rather tired of everyone assuming that ‘dragon whatever’ must be incredibly spicy and cause you to reach for the nearest firehose to douse the flames. Dragons have taste buds too, and appreciate subtle complementary flavors as well as the truly spicy.
So here I present my dragon scrambled eggs.
4 to 6 eggs, shell-pasteurized if possible (eggs will be cooked wet at lower temperature, so better be safe than sorry)
1 tablespoon (more or less) of cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Butter for the frying pan
Crack the eggs into a bowl, and beat with a fork for 30 seconds or so. Take the dollop of cream cheese cold from the refrigerator, and add it to the bowl. Break up the cream cheese a bit with a fork, and continue beating. Add the salt, continue beating. Your goal is not to get the ingredients to mix completely; rather, the cream cheese will be in small chunks or lumps. Add the cinnamon, and beat some more. Note that it will be very difficult to get the cinnamon into the mixture — it will want to coat the bowl instead. Just do as best you can.
Heat up the frying pan low to medium hot; you want to slowly cook the eggs, more slowly than normal scrambled eggs. Add a good dollop (half to one tablespoon) of butter, and let it melt and coat the pan. Dump the egg mixture from the bowl into the pan. Stir it around slowly with a spatula or other device. Once the eggs start to set, flip chunks over so the still-raw top can cook a little bit. Once the eggs look almost set, plate them quickly; they’ll set up a bit as they get plated, and you don’t want to cook them any more!
Serves 1 to 2, depending on if you have side dishes. I usually don’t.