Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fresh Peach Pie



As some of you may have noticed, I've been somewhat AWOL from posting of late, but it's not for lack of baking, but rather for lack of time. Let's just say that the mild envy I once felt seeing people enjoying a leisurely mid-morning latte in a cafe or attending a yoga class at 2 p.m. is approaching full-on resentment. But if I didn't have my day job, I never would have met Josephine Lume, the lovely and uber talented CFO of Henry Street Settlement (where she plays a mean calculator!) who gifted me with these peaches from her father's tree, pictured below. (I'm convinced her father, a native of Italy, lives in an orchard in Queens, where he grows persimmons, figs, blackberries and, of course, peaches.)


About those peaches. They are certainly not "pretty as a peach" but what they lack in appearance is made up in juicy deliciousness.


For a fresh peach pie, boil the peaches for about 60 seconds and, if you're lucky, the skins will slip right off. If not take a paring knife to peel them before slicing.


Next, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Add water and stir until combined. Slip the peach slices in and cook until the mixture boils. Then cook another minute.


Pour the mixture into an unbaked pie shell.  You can see below I had too much liquid, so I simply spooned some out.


Cover with a top crust. I got a little fancy with a lattice.


Bake until done. Cool on a rack.


Enjoy in the garden, even if it lacks a peach tree.


This recipe is from a c. 1960 cookbook published by The Women of Circle "B" of the First Brethren Church in Ohio.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, but had to spoon out some liquid. Next time, I would leave some in the saucepan. I used a nine-inch pie pan and five cups of peaches. Always bake pies on a foil-lined baking sheet for ease of removal from the oven, and also to prevent the bubbling juices from spilling onto the oven floor.


My favorite pie crust recipe

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 stick of cold butter, cut into small pieces
6 T. cold Crisco, cut into pieces
2 t. sugar
1 t. salt
3 - 6 T. cold water

Place dry ingredients in a food processor and whirl to blend.  Add butter and Crisco and process until it resembles cornmeal. Transfer to a round bowl, and add the water, a couple of tablespoons at a time.  Blend with a fork.  When it holds together, transfer to a lightly floured surface and form a large ball.  Divide in half and either roll out between two sheets of plastic wrap, or refrigerate until it's a bit firmer and then roll out.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chocolate Dream Cookies - No-Bake Cookies



Sometimes it's just too damn hot to turn on the oven (well, not for me, but the DH really, really hates it) and so last Sunday when the temperature was well into the 90s, and we were expecting dinner guests, I discovered a vintage no-bake cookie recipe whose time had finally come.

Now these cookies aren't lookers (as evidenced above) but they do taste pretty good, and can be made in about five minutes and without turning your entire kitchen into an oven.

I made these twice; the first time using McCann's Irish Oatmeal (not advised), and the second, using good old fashioned Quaker Oats, which made for a much better cookie. The McCann's oats didn't fully absorb the chocolate and the texture was a bit grainy (though that didn't stop me from trying about a dozen).  Sometimes, one can't improve on tradition.


Begin by cooking butter, milk, sugar, cocoa and salt in a saucepan.


Cook until it comes to a rolling boil -- not pictured below.


Remove from the heat and add oats, coconut and chopped nuts. It's best to prepare this before the cooking begins so they can just be dumped right in after the mixture boils.


Drop by teaspoon onto parchment or wax paper.  I popped these into the refrigerator to firm up.


Below are some of the cookies made with McCann's. Someone thought there were chia seeds in them -- that's what the texture was like.


Production notes: I made only half the recipe and had dozens! Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly. I've written it out below the card for clarity.


Chocolate Dream Cookies

2 c. sugar
4 T. cocoa powder
1 stick butter
1/2 c. milk
pinch of salt
1 c. coconut
3 c. quick oats
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1 t. vanilla

In a saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa, butter, milk and salt. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat and add the coconut, oats, nuts and vanilla.

Drop by teaspoon onto wax paper or parchment.

They will firm up more quickly if refrigerated, especially if your kitchen is hot (and it is, because that's why you've chosen this recipe!).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Twinkie Defense (Featuring "Will the Real Twinkie Please Stand Up?" Quiz)


The New York Times had an item about Twinkies today, on the occasion of their 85th birthday, so I'm reposting ye olde post about same. Enjoy!

Yes, I made Twinkies.


It was a confluence of events that brought me to this new high (low?).  Last week, while walking in my neighborhood, I came upon a brand new Twinkie pan (who knew these even existed?) that someone had left in front of their brownstone.  So I trash-picked it (as we say in Brooklyn).  And then, the very next day, Twinkies were in the news: Hostess Brands, which has made Twinkies since the 1930s, had filed for bankruptcy.  With such an iconic American cake at risk, I felt compelled to bake some.

And now, we break to bring you the Will the Real Twinkie Please Stand Up? quiz.  In the two pictures below, can you identify which is the commercial Twinkie and which is home-baked?  (Answer at the end of the post.)



There are all manner of Twinkie recipes online; I used one from a wonderful blog, Joy the Baker.  Joy also provides instructions to make Twinkie molds, just in case you can't find your Twinkie pan.

The homemade version is delicious, though never having eaten a real Twinkie, I have no basis of comparison.  One thing for sure -- the homemade version is much healthier, using just nine very recognizable ingredients: flour, butter, eggs, sugar, milk, etc.  The commercial product uses more than 30, many of them unpronounceable, some of them, supposedly, made from five kinds of rocks.


In a terrific story in yesterday's New York Times, William Grimes deconstructs the Twinkie, reminding how it figures into American history and culture, from the Twinkie defense (in the Dan White murder trial) to its near inclusion in the National Millennium Time Capsule.


 I thought I might be overfilling the molds, and the finished product, below, proved me right.  But it's easy to slice off the overflow cake with a serrated knife.  And the scraps are pretty good.






The recipe for the cream filling is also at the Joy the Baker site.  It involved Marshmallow Fluff and butter, and is quite tasty.  Below is the possibly endangered Hostess display at my local bodega.



Ok:  Were you right?  In both pictures, the home-baked Twinkie is on the right.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Fresh Gooseberry Pie


There was a battle waged in my kitchen this weekend, me v. gooseberry pie. I was knocked out in round one but recovered and ultimately won the match. And in the end, the pie was delicious. The tartness of the gooseberries played well against the flakiness of the crust.

Gooseberries, a tart berry which can be cooked or eaten out of hand, appear for just a week or two at our local farmer's market. I've observed them for years; on Saturday, I decided to take the plunge after discovering a couple of  vintage gooseberry pie recipes in my collection.

The gooseberry war involved the thickener (and the lack of clear instructions, typical of the vintage recipe cards I bake from). The agony of defeat (and triumph of victory) are detailed in some photos below.

To make it right, begin by giving the berries a rinse under cold water. Next, they need trimming. There's the stem and also the brownish thing (that's the technical term) on the opposite side. I discovered that a very clean nail clipper makes quick work of this task.



My recipe called for tapioca as the thickening agent. I originally used the small pearl tapioca (right). That was a huge mistake.


Filling ingredients with small pearl tapioca.


You can see below that the pearls did not dissolve. I also probably way overcooked the filling -- the instructions said to cook until thick, but it never really got thick. I tossed out the entire batch. Luckily, I had miscalculated the amount of gooseberries I needed, and had an extra three cups for round two.


After a quick trip to the corner store, I used my new purchase: tapioca starch. I could have made my own by whirling the pearls in a food processor (I realized too late).


Perfect! I didn't cook it very long, just to the boil.


Fill an unbaked pie crust with the gooseberry mixture and dot with butter.


Cover with the top crust, cinch the edges and vent by making a few small slits with a knife. Always, always, bake pies on a foil covered cookie sheet. This not only prevents the filling from overflowing onto the oven floor, but makes taking the hot pie from the oven much easier. Refrigerating the pie for an hour or so before baking will help the crust edge retain its shape.


The edges of the crust got a little too brown, even though I covered them with foil near the end.


Since the DH and I couldn't eat an entire pie, I shared some with our neighbors, (a British-American couple) who have two teenage sons. The next day, my native London neighbor told me that his mother used to make gooseberry tarts.

Production notes: Trim both ends of the gooseberries.Use either minute tapioca or tapioca starch for the best results. Cook the filling just until it comes to the boil. Let cool before filling the pie shell. Modern day tastes may like more filling, so feel free to increase the amount of gooseberries (and sugar, tapioca, etc., proportionally).  Pie crust recipe follows.



My favorite pie crust recipe

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 stick of cold butter, cut into small pieces
6 T. cold Crisco, cut into pieces
2 t. sugar
1 t. salt
3 - 6 T. cold water

Place dry ingredients in a food processor and whirl to blend.  Add butter and Crisco and process until it resembles cornmeal. Transfer to a round bowl, and add the water, a couple of tablespoons at a time.  Blend with a fork.  When it holds together, transfer to a lightly floured surface and form a large ball.  Divide in half and either roll out between two sheets of plastic wrap, or refrigerate until it's a bit firmer and then roll out.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

World's Easiest Blueberry Muffins


Many years ago, while blueberry picking in the Adirondacks, we found an orchard so rich with berries (as in, you could pick them by the handful!) that within an hour or so, we had amassed nearly 15 pounds of the fruit. (And that doesn't count the fact that the children ate more than they dropped in the bucket.) During the following week, I baked them in numerous pies and cobblers and muffins and cakes from all sorts of recipes, but until this week, I'd never found a blueberry muffin recipe as simple and delicious as this one.

It is ridiculously easy, so simple than an eight-year-old could make these. Or maybe even a four-year-old.  They require no special equipment: just one bowl, a measuring cup, a spoon and a fork.  And muffin tins, of course.  The batter can be put together so quickly, that you can enjoy warm-from-the-oven muffins in just over 30 minutes.


 Below are the ingredients: blueberries, an egg, oil, milk, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.


Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork.  Add the wet ingredients (the egg, oil and milk) and stir together.


Fold in the blueberries.


Spoon into paper-lined muffin tins.


Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. (The lighter colored one in the center was baked for 20 minutes, and I thought it was too light, so I returned the pan to the oven for about 8 more minutes. I just popped it back in place for the photo.)


Voila!


Production notes: I followed this exactly (and have written out the method a bit more clearly below). I used 1 percent milk (because that's all we had) and regular vegetable oil. 


World's Easiest Blueberry Muffins

Preheat oven to 350F
Line a muffin tin with paper liners

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
3 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 large egg
1 c. (approximately) milk
3 T. vegetable oil
1 c. fresh blueberries

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Break an egg into a two-cup glass measuring cup. Add milk to reach the one-cup mark. Add the oil. Mix together with a fork, breaking up the egg.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the large bowl and combine. (Don't overmix, or your muffins will be tough.)
Carefully blend in the blueberries.
Spoon the batter into the tin.
Bake until done. (20 minutes wasn't enough in my oven -- you want some color on these -- so I baked them for nearly 30).