Top 100 Cake Blog

Top 100 Cake Blog

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Ma's Pie Crust (Or Apple Pie and the Jewish Immigrant)

One of the stupidest stock phrases has to be "Do something every day that scares you." I mean who wants to live like that and, furthermore, who has so many fears that they need to tackle one each day? Having said that, I do have a fear of piecrusts but, at the behest of my friend Hanna, I agreed to demonstrate apple pie making at next Sunday's Generation to Generation Festival at the Museum of Eldridge Street. Actually, I agreed to teach a cooking class that might have been led by a settlement house worker for new American immigrants, c. 1900. The apple pie was Hanna's suggestion.

But this isn't just any pie crust recipe -- it belonged to Hanna's grandmother Rebecca Simansky, a Lithuanian immigrant who baked old and new world recipes. Bubbie passed it on to her daughter Bessie Griff. As a child, Hanna recalls apple pie for breakfast at her bubbie's house in Portland, Maine, and her mother made a pie almost every week at her home in Waltham, Massachusetts. At some point, Bessie began substituting fruit juice for the water in the recipe, a tradition carried on by Hanna. This recipe is well traveled: Hanna has made it in France, Seattle, Indiana and New York.

I practiced Ma's Pie Crust last week. This is the simplest pie crust ever -- it's nearly foolproof and it tastes pretty darn good. It can also be made in five minutes. I have a lot of oil-based pie crust recipes in my vintage recipe collection, but was always afraid to try them because it didn't seem like they would work. (Hmm...another "fear" conquered!) It eliminates the work (and guesswork) of traditional pie crusts, in which cold fat is cut into butter by hand or machine with water added until it is "the right consistency."

A supervised five-year-old can make this. Start by mixing flour and salt in one bowl, and oil and orange juice in another. Whisk the liquid ingredients until creamy and pour into the dry ingredients.

Combine using a fork. I also used my gloved hands to mush it together.

Divide the dough in half, form a circle and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap.

I always put the pie plate on top of the dough to check for size.

While the dough is chilling, make the filling. I created a recipe (written below) based a number of old-time apple pie fillings, using flour as the thickener.  Peel about five large apples.

Slice about 1/4 inch thick.

Mix with flour and cinnamon.

Pour filling into the prepared pie crust.

Top with the other crust that you've rolled out. Crimp edges and puncture the top so that air can escape during baking.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack.


Hanna's mother created the original written recipe by following her own mother as she baked, trying to get the measurements correct, as Bubbie never measured anything. Hanna's original recipe card is below. Notice the word "ensemble," which puzzled me until Hanna explained that she had written it en route to Nantes, France, to study. While there, she lived with a family whose little son was so taken with her apple pies that he begged her to open an American bakery!

Concerned I wouldn't be able to read the card, Hanna provided the following typed "translation," which I followed exactly except for baking the bottom crust first. I also divided the dough before chilling.

Ma's Pie Crust by Hanna 

Sift together:  2 c. flour 1 t. salt

Combine in measuring cup:  1/2 c.  oil, 5 T cold water (I use cold orange juice).  Beat with fork until creamy and pour all at once over flour mixture.  Toss and mix with fork.  Cover with wax paper and chill for 20 minutes.

Put dough in between 2 pieces of wax paper and roll out for piecrust.  Cook bottom crust for 10 minutes at 475.

Susan's Apple Pie*
For 8 inch pie
Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare pie crust 

4 large apples (about five cups sliced)
½ to ¾ c. sugar
Lemon juice
½ to 1 t. cinnamon (depending on preference)
½ c. flour (approximately. But enough to coat apples)

Core, peel and slice apples. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.
Add sugar (amount depends on sweetness of apples), flour and cinnamon.
Combine with apples until they are well coated.
Place in unbaked pie crust.
Cover with top crust, pinching sides.
With a fork, pierce the top crust in a few places.
Bake in preheated 375F oven for about 40 minutes.
Cool on rack.
*Pie filling is very forgiving.  You can make up your own, adding nutmeg, etc. or whatever.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cranberry Date Bars

How did we ever live without the internet, with its instant access to information? It was essential to help me decipher this vintage recipe card for Cranberry Date Bars which was written in a way that was impossible to follow.  By searching other similar recipes, I was able to interpret it, and was glad I did. This dessert is delicious and, with the fruit and oats, is almost a health food. The orange glaze is literally the icing on the cake, and adds yet another, albeit rather sweet, flavor note. Some of my tasters felt it was a bit too sweet with the glaze, but others thought it was the best part!

These bars are great for school lunches and stay fresh for days, if they last that long.

Begin by cooking the dates and cranberries.  Chop the dates first, which I failed to do.

When the mixture looks like this, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

While that's cooling, begin the pastry. You can do this in a bowl with a wooden spoon.

 Pour in the melted butter.

Mix together well.

Put about half of the mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 12 or 13 inch pan, and pat down to form a crust.
Bake for about ten minutes.

Remove from oven and spread the cranberry-date mixture on top of the crust, spreading it to the edge with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.

Sprinkle the remaining crust on top of the filling, and gently distribute and press to cover the filling. Bake for about 20 minutes.

 When the cake is cooled somewhat, mix the orange juice and confectioner's sugar to form an icing and spoon atop the cake.

And voila!

This is so delicious, it won't last long.

Production notes: Please follow the recipe I've written out below for clarity.

Cranberry Date Bars

Preheat oven to 350 F

12 oz bag of cranberries
10 oz dried dates (chopped)
1 t. vanilla
2 c. flour
2 c. rolled oats
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 c. butter (two sticks) melted

2 c. powdered sugar
3 T. orange juice

Combine dates and cranberries and about 1/2 cup of water in a medium saucepan over low heat. (If it seems too dry, add a bit more liquid) Cover, but stir often, and cook for about ten minutes (or longer) until the cranberries crack and the dates disintegrate. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Stir in melted butter until well blended.

Pat half of the mixture into the bottom of a 9 x 12 inch ungreased pan.  Bake ten minutes.
Remove from oven and spoon filling on top, smoothing it with an offset spatula or back of a spoon.
Sprinkle remaining flour-oat mixture on the filling and gently pat down until completely covered.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool and enjoy!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cranberry Fruit-Nut Bread

Can baking teach equanimity? In my case it did. A long time ago, I presented my mother-in-law with a beautiful loaf of cranberry nut bread for Christmas, which I (a novice baker at the time) managed to prepare with two toddlers underfoot in my tiny kitchen using an overly complicated recipe. Let's just say, she didn't appreciate the gift. It bothered me for a while (ok, years), but the more I came to understand her and her lovable quirkiness, philosophical pronouncements (we called her the Yogi Bera of Queens) and witnessed the devotion of her children, the disappointment of my gift's rejection disappeared. I loved spending time with Lucy, and I think of her fondly whenever I bake this bread.

This Cranberry Fruit-Nut Bread, a vintage recipe from an Amish collection I purchased a few years ago, is the best I've made so far. It's the easiest and yields the best looking loaf. Donald Trump would give it a 10. You can see the other two here and here.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and add in the cranberries and nuts.  It's better not to use a mixer (as I learned) because the cranberries get crushed.  Do it the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon for a better result.

Mix the juice, egg, orange zest and butter together.  I measured the juice, then added everything else into the measuring cup to save on clean up.

Grease (or spray) a loaf pan, and spoon the batter in, spreading it evenly.

Let it cool in the pan for ten minutes before turning it out.

Production notes: I followed this recipe exactly, using butter (not margarine) and did not cut the cranberries in half. It might result in a slightly better loaf, but I don't think it's worth the very tedious effort. You can get a teaspoon of zest from one orange. After step 5, the recipe gets weird and seems to morph into another recipe entirely. Just ignore it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Coconut Washboards

One reason I began A Cake Bakes was to discover delicious and unusual recipes from the past that for reasons unknown didn't make it to the 21st century. Coconut Washboards are that -- and true rock stars among cookies. These are very yummy and so easy to make. They are shaped like old-fashioned washboards and a fork is used to add the grooves, completing the look,  A little internet research into these gems revealed that they were meant to suggest that hard work (i.e., scrubbing clothes by hand) makes for a sweet reward. 

I baked these for our friend Alec, who joined us to watch the second presidential debate. I figured that we could all use a little old-fashioned sweetness to counter the bitterness (and craziness) that's overtaken our nation.

Start by beating the butter and brown sugar, then adding the egg, vanilla and almond extract.

Combine well and add the coconut and flour, mixing it all together.

Divide the dough in half, and roll out one portion into a rectangle between parchment or wax paper.  (The recipe suggest patting it down, but I found rolling it was easier. Though I still couldn't achieve a rectangle.)

With a sharp knife, cut into "washboards."

With a fork dipped in flour, create the washboard grooves.  I needed to coat the fork continuously so it didn't stick. A bit of flour on the cookies didn't make a difference after baking.

These took me longer than the ten minutes suggested in the recipe. But at the end, the tops were a light golden brown, with the bottoms a slightly darker shade.

Production notes: I followed this recipe almost exactly, but have written out the method I used below. Not sure of the size of a bag of Baker's Cookie Coconut when this recipe was written (in the 1940s), so I used the 7 ounce bad of sweetened coconut available today. I also could not achieve a 10 x 13 inch rectangle. You can just gather the scraps and roll out again. If you want the washboard grooves to be more prominent, you will need to process the shredded coconut so that the dough is really smooth.

Coconut Washboards

3/4 c. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) softened
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
2 1/4 c, all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. each cinnamon and nutmeg
1/8 t. salt
7 oz bag of sweetened coconut

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, spices and salt. Set aside.
Cream butter, and cream in sugar until light and fluffy.
Beat in egg, vanilla and almond extract.
Add flour mixture and blend until well combined.
Add coconut and stir.
Divide mixture in half. Pat (or roll) each half into a 10 x 9 rectangle between two sheets of parchment or wax paper.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Chill for one hour.
Cut into 1 x 3 inch rectangles.
Place on an ungreased (or parchment lined) cookie sheet
Press ridges into each with a floured fork.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes.
Cool on a rack.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lime Pie

Have you ever tasted a cloud? I did when I ate this lighter-than-air and beyond delicious fresh lime pie. Making it was a rather time consuming endeavor, but oh so worth it. I chose this vintage recipe because it is unusual -- instead of the meringue atop the custard filling, it is folded in, which creates the ultra light texture. The flavor is pure lime, sweetened the perfect amount.

Start by making a graham cracker crust, much easier than the traditional pastry crust. You can crush the crackers in a food processor, or do it the old-fashioned way using a rolling pin (or wine bottle). I did it in plastic bag to avoid a messy clean up.

Press the cracker and butter mixture into a pie plate and bake a few minutes.

Next, zest some limes. A microplane makes quick work of this.

Zest first, then cut and juice the limes.

This is where the recipe gets complicated. Beat the egg yolks in a double boiler (stick a bowl atop a saucepan), add the sugar and cook until very thick.

Add the lime zest and juice, and heat until this mixture gets thick.

While the lime mixture is cooling, beat the egg whites with the sugar. Then, using a large spatula, gently combine the two.

Place the filling into the cooled crust. Make some swirls so it browns nicely.

Bake until the top is browned.

Although I served this for company, you can see that it's a rather messy pie. But I guarantee your guests won't mind once they have a bite of this luscious lime cloud. A gift from the gods and worth the effort.

Production notes: I followed this almost exactly, but used regular, not superfine, sugar. (You can make your own by whirling sugar in the food processor for a few minutes.) I also didn't add the whipped cream topping because the meringue looked so nice. I didn't freeze the pie -- only refrigerated it for a few hours. I also don't see how one could freeze this pie, despite what the recipe author says.
Even though the instructions are long, they are very clear, making the recipe easy to follow.