Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Rhubarb Pie



We spent Sunday at a lovely vineyard in southern New Jersey celebrating the wedding of our niece Jessica to her longtime boyfriend Brandon. Jess had wanted wedding pie instead of wedding cake, but deferring to tradition (and her mother), compromised with wedding cupcakes.

So yesterday, in honor of Jessica (who, in addition to just finishing medical school, makes a pretty mean pie herself), I baked a rhubarb pie, with rhubarb purchased at a farm stand we passed en route home on Monday morning.

Rhubarb used to be called pie plant; indeed, pie filling the most common use of this tart vegetable. I was intrigued by this recipe which, unlike most rhubarb pie recipes (this is one exception) calls for eggs, adding a richness to the filling.

It's very good and not too sweet (despite two cups of sugar) and not at all custard-y, which I would have expected with three eggs. I'm guessing the recipe dates from the late 1940s or 1950s, when eggs were not all that dear, as they were during WW II.

First, make the pie crust (directions at the end of the post). Next, wash some farm fresh rhubarb.


Dice it up.


Mix the eggs and add the sugar and cornstarch.


 Place the cut rhubarb into an unbaked pie shell and pour the batter over it.


Lay the top crust on, crimp the edges and vent by making a few slits using a sharp knife.


 Bake at 425 F for 40 minutes or so. If the edges start browning too quickly, cover with some aluminum foil.


Jessica and Brandon cutting the wedding cake -- they did have a six-inch cake atop the cupcake display.



Production notes: I made the larger size (measurements at the right on the card) because I used a 10-inch pie plate. I also skimped on the cornstarch, fearing a gloop-y filling. Don't! Go for the larger amount so that the filling will be firm. (There were no leftovers, but I'm certain that by the next day, it would have firmed up, even without the full amount of cornstarch.)
Note that the recipe says not a word about a pie crust. Perhaps it was meant to be a single crust pie, like this one and the filling would have been more custard-like. In fact, looking at the recipe now, I think that's what the recipe author may have intended. Oh, well. Just part of the fun of baking from old recipes!



For the pie crust, I used my tried and true:

Pie Crust
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.

And below, truth in baking. The too-liquid-y filling. But when the pie was cut into slices, it was just fine, as you can see from the photo at the very top.



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Date Filled Butter Scotch (Cookies)




My initial excitement about this unusual cookie quickly turned to frustration  -- mid-baking, the recipe seemed flawed and its instructions impossible.  But, when I forged ahead (I will always throw good butter after bad) and tasted these ugly, odd-looking confections -- eureka! -- they were really, really good. So risking my baking reputation, and also because I have no shame, I brought these to work where every coworker agreed that the flavor was superb.

These delicious confections  -- a sweet date paste encased in a butterscotch flavored cookie -- are truly wonderful, despite their sorry appearance.  They are supposed to resemble fig newtons.  The recipe needs work, or reworking. So if anyone is up for experimenting, I've shown you what I did (do not follow my lead, though!), plus some (not) guaranteed solutions  and posted the recipe.

Mix up the batter.


Add the flour -- caution here. I added the correct amount, but it may have been too much.


Turn the dough out onto a work surface and form into logs. I could tell at this point that it was too dry.


Roll into logs, to the best of your ability. They should not have cracks.


Chill the logs and prepare the filling by first chopping some dates.


Combine dates, brown sugar and water in a small saucepan.


Cook down until a paste forms.


Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and slice. Top each with some date paste.


And here's where it gets tricky. After putting the top slice on, it seemed impossible to seal the edges as instructed. The dough (though sliced at the recommended 1/4 inch thick size) was too brittle to seal. So I just baked them "open sided."


Production notes: These were a fail (except in flavor) but so good that the recipe is worth playing with. Next time,  I'd either use MUCH less flour or roll out the dough into two rectangles, spread the filling on one, and top with the other. I'd bake them, then cut when warm. (Also, use butter, not shortening.)



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Maids of Honor


Wedding season is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than to make these unusual Maids of Honor confections. I actually baked these a year ago, right before my daughter's wedding, but got too busy to post. Next week my niece Jessica is getting married, so it's the perfect time to revisit Maids of Honor. (Also, I'm immobilized at the moment on account of tearing a ligament in my foot last night, so it's also the perfect time to catch up on posting some delicious previously baked desserts, of which there are many.)

This recipe isn't from my collection of handwritten recipe cards, but rather from the April 1949 issue of Kitchen Klatter, an Iowa magazine that began as a printed companion to a radio show of the same name. My friend Jay alerted me to this publication in an email that read: "You will either love this or hate this." Needless to say I loved it. You can google Kitchen Klatter to see lots of other classic midwestern recipes.

Maids of Honor are a cross between thumbprint cookies and cupcakes, and are rather delicious.


Mix the butter, sugar and eggs.


When well combined, stir in the dry ingredients. Place the dough in the refrigerator for several hours to chill so it's easier to handle.


Form into balls and place in well-greased muffin tins. I used mini-muffin tins.


Using the back of a melon scooper (or spoon or your fingers), create an indentation in the center of each cake.


Fill with jam.


Don't be overly generous with the jam as I was, or it will overflow the cakes. But it will taste just as good, either way.


Production notes: I followed this exactly, but substituted butter for vegetable shortening, and did not use the optional blanched almonds. I used mini-muffin tins. I also bought some very fancy jam for the filling, since jam plays the starring role in this dessert.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Baking Powder Biscuits



Years ago, when I was a newspaper reporter in Columbus, Indiana, I would often take my breakfast  at Sap's Coffee House, an old-fashioned diner that made everything from scratch -- including biscuits for its signature biscuits and gravy. (I know this because I overhead a food service salesman fail miserably while trying to sell the owner a ready-made biscuit mix.)

Though the place was literally a two-minute walk from my apartment, I only ventured inside after a boyfriend visiting from California, horrified that I used instant coffee at home, insisted we find a place with the real stuff. While both Sap's and the boyfriend are long gone, they did instill a love of good coffee -- and good biscuits.

I make a lot of biscuits -- very easy and quick to prepare, they are my go-to breakfast accompaniment, especially when guests are expected. My friend Bev stopped by on Sunday morning after her spin class, and what better way to undo an hour of intense exercise than to enjoy some hot-from-the-oven biscuits, along with some fresh brewed coffee.

These are typical baking powder biscuits -- flaky, buttery and delicious. It doesn't get any better than this.


I make the dough in a food processor, because it makes quick work of cutting the butter into the dry ingredients. But you can use a pastry blender, two knives, or even your fingertips. Start by putting all the dry ingredients into the food processor or a bowl.


Then, add the cold butter and process.


The mixture will (or should) resemble cornmeal when the butter is incorporated.


This recipe calls for milk, which I interpret as whole milk. Having none, I mixed half and half and skim milk. Worked just fine.


This dough is very easy to work with, and wasn't sticky at all.


Cut the biscuits with a biscuit cutter if you have one. The sharp edges allow the biscuit to rise well in the oven.



A pat of butter (and some jam, if you want) only improve a good thing.


Production notes: I followed this exactly, but substituted unsalted butter for the shortening. And I didn't sift the flour, mostly unnecessary these days (except for angel food cake). I must have made large biscuits, because the recipe yielded nine, not 12, biscuits. I baked these at 400 F.



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Karo Lace Cookies


Depending on who you listen to, these lace cookies are either very, very good cookies or, as my friend Jay exclaimed (after touting their deliciousness), very large communion wafers. They are thin, crisp, buttery and sweet.

Although lace cookies may look complicated -- as in, "How did you get that intricate pattern to appear?" -- they couldn't be simpler to make. Just whip together a few common pantry ingredients and watch the magic happen in the oven. They are somewhat fragile and, while they survived a subway ride intact, I wouldn't send them on a much longer journey.

This vintage recipe is from the estate of a Texas collection.

It's important to note that Karo corn syrup is NOT the much-maligned high-fructose corn syrup.



Unlike most cookies, these begin on the stove top. Combine the Karo, brown sugar and butter.


Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly.


Add in the flour and coconut (or nuts, if you choose that option).


It will look like this when done.


Spoon small portions (about one-inch in diameter) onto a parchment lined baking sheet.


My portion size was too large the first time around and the cookies spread into one another, though someone at my job said that he preferred the very large cookies. Go figure.


I experimented with different baking times and sizes. Both were good, though I preferred the darker version.


Cool on a cookie sheet.


Production notes: I followed this exactly, though substituted butter for margarine and chose coconut over nuts. I used the clear (not the dark) Karo syrup.