Friday, December 31, 2010

Aunt Janet's Apple Pie #52

Growing up, the only way to get any sugar in my body was to sneak the Tang bottle out to the back yard and pour the powder right into my mouth (which I did) or pray that a bite of the previous Sunday’s dessert, always provided by Aunt Janet, was still covered in tinfoil on the counter.
We never had sugar cereals or candy in our house (which, judging the way Tang disappeared around our house, was probably a good choice on my mom's behalf); however, the array of desserts prepared by Aunt Janet for our weekly Sunday dinners provided enough of an education for me to learn that anything baked was superior and set me up for a life-long quest of trying to bake as well as she did. Especially since it made so many people happy.
Among my favorite treats that Aunt Janet made, were her pies; and until a few years ago, Aunt Janet was the only person that I knew that made pies. It’s been at least 20 years since I last made a pie with her, but I’ve never forgotten the amount of care and precision that she gives to each pie. In fact while we cooked, she told me how her mother would call her “Fussy Janet” and remind her that the more she worked over her piecrust the less desirable it would be. Though, through all of her fussing, she has perfected her technique and each pie is a true labor of love. She plans, prepares, and exactly measures every step she takes and humbly takes no credit for the wonderful outcome. If it really is possible for cooks to transfer emotions into their creations, then there may be no better way to feel Aunt Janet's love than to taste one of her pies.
This recipe has been passed down for generations. From Alta Taylor; to my Grandmother, Myrtle Calder; and luckily landed in the talented hands of my Aunt Janet. Within my lifetime alone, I estimate that she’s made this pie around 120 times (two at each Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner) though I know that is a pretty modest estimate since it says nothing about the many other occasions where it’s graced our table or the fact that she was making this long before I came around.
Aunt Janet says that the secrets to this pie are the Golden Delicious apples from Allred Orchard and, most importantly, the lard crust. Although our apples were not from Allred Orchard this time, I think that she is right about the lard crust. Stacked up against a butter crust that we had from another pie, I have to admit that I was very impressed with how good the lard crust tasted. This is a fairly salty crust, but the sweet interior makes a perfect combination.

Another secret that we learned together, this week while we baked, is that using baker's sugar (which is sugar that has very small granules, but not as small as powdered sugar) made a difference in the overall sweetness and texture of the pie. Also, this pie is better if you sprinkle flour over the bottom crust before you add the apples.

Thanks to Aunt Janet's precision, this pie is nearly perfect. And thanks to her generosity and sweetness, I was able to make such a wonderful pie as my last one this year.
Aunt Janet's Apple Pie
1 generous cup lard cut into cubes
1/2 cup boiling water

Pour boiling water over lard and whip up together until lard is melted. Chill in the fridge until lard has hardened (about 30 minutes) stiring occassionally to check the progress.

3 cups sifted flour (go lightly on the flour; cups should be slightly rounded but not heaping)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar

After flour has been sifted several times, sift the salt and the sugar with the flour a few times to mix completely.

Once lard has chilled,  mix flour mixture into lard until just combined. Roll into two balls. Cover each ball in waxed paper and tin foil and store in refrigerator overnight or until ready to use.

(Makes one 2-crust pie or 100 tarts)
5 to 7 tart apples (Golden Delicious)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons enriched flour
Dash salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Pare apples and slice thin, Mix sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and add to apples. If apples aren't tart, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice--or grated lemon peel, if desired. 

Fill 9-inch pastry lined pie pan. Dot apples with butter. Cover apples with the top crust. Bake in hot oven (400 degrees) 40 to 45 minutes.

Triple Coconut Cream Pie #51

I've been forwarded several pie recipes through this past year, which I love, although I haven't had a chance to make all of them (sorry if you've sent me one and I haven't done it yet. Thank you for sending. Just hold on...). This one was forwarded to me this summer by my mother-in-law who told me that people in Seattle were raving about this pie. Even people who don't like coconut! 

Which, in all honesty, has put me in a quandary for a few months. I don't know anyone that dislikes coconut more than my husband and since, technically, I'm making all of these pies for him, I didn't wanted to make something that is his favorite thing to eat and fill it with his least favorite ingredient. It just seemed kind of cruel. However, there was always that hope that even those who don't like coconut like this pie. 

Eventually my curiosity overcame everything else (sorry Ryan) and I decided to try out this pie before the end of the year--luckily I have a forgiving husband.

The instance the milk, coconut, and vanilla bean begin to scold, he became a little more excited about this pie and by the time it was all together it smelled good enough that he was willing to try it.

Personally, I love the flavor of coconut, but I'm not the biggest fan of its woody texture. As far as the taste goes, I thought it was great. I loved the coconut in the crust. I loved the flavor of the filling. Also, for the white chocolate curls, I used a Lindt chocolate white chocolate coconut bar, which added an extra coconut taste which I loved. I still don't love the texture of coconut, but I really only noticed it on my first bite but didn't let it hold me back from the taste and the crust.
And it was good enough that it wasn't too hard for Ryan to forgive me.

Triple Coconut Cream Pie
(Adapted from Tom Douglas at Dahliah's Bakery in Seattle)

Coconut pie crust

1 cup plus
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Coconut Cream
2 cups milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

Cream Topping
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Garnish
2 ounces unsweetened "chip" or large-shred coconut (about 1 1/2 cups) or sweetened shredded coconut
Chunks of white chocolate (4 to 6 ounces, to make 2 ounces of curls)
For Crust: Pulse first 5 ingredients in a food processor 6 to 10 times or until mixture is crumbly. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing once after each addition, until dough holds together when pressed between fingers. (Dough will not form a ball or even clump together in processor-it will be loose.)

Turn dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap; press into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap, and chill 1 hour.

Roll dough to a 12- to 13-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, trimming excess to a 1- to 11/2-inch overhang. Turn dough under along rim of pie pan, and flute edges. Chill at least 1 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 400°. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper in pie crust, extending over edges, and fill with dried beans, rice, or pie weights. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Remove from oven; discard foil and beans, and return pie crust to oven. Bake for 14 to 17 more minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Coconut Cream: (make the coconut cream while the crust is chilling in the fridge) To make the coconut cream, combine the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs (to keep them from scrambling) by pouring a small amount (about 1/3 Cup) of the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The coconut cream will thicken as it cools.

When the coconut cream is cold, fill the prebaked pie shell with it, smoothing the surface. In an electric mixer with the whisk, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it all over the surface of the pie, or spoon it over.

For the garnish: preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the coconut chips on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, watching carefully and stirring once or twice, since coconut burns easily, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls.

Deep-Dish Winter Fruit Pie with Walnut Crumb #50

Okay, so I think this pie has a lot of potential, but it’s not perfect just yet. There was too much fruit for the filling. Most pies call for one cup of sugar, but because of the sugary topping, I thought that maybe the half cup would be sufficient; however, I would say that it wasn’t sweet enough. Also, there was A LOT of filling. I would use only two pears and two apples (or maybe three each, but definitely not four).

That’s no small thing since that basically has everything to do with the filling, but the mixture of pears, apples, cranberries, and figs were great. I love figs and I liked the texture and taste that they added. Also, the pie was a bit runny, but again, all of that might be solved by just using less pears and apples, but use these adjustments, I really think it will be a winner.
Deep-Dish Winter Fruit Pie with Walnut Crumb
(Adapted from: Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckels, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More)

Pie Pastry
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Walnut Crumb Topping
3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed (5 3/4 ounces) brown sugar
3/4 cup (3 ounces) raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

Fruit Filling
1 cup (5 1/2 ounces) dried figs
4 small apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick (12 ounces prepped)
4 pears, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick (1 1/4 pounds prepped)
1 cup (4 ounces) cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

To make the pie pastry, put the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl, stir to combine, then put the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Add the butter to the flour mixture and toss to evenly coat. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender, a food processor, an electric mixer, or your hands, just until the mixture becomes coarse and crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Stir the water and lemon juice together, then pour over the dry ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured work surface and press it into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Roll the chilled dough into a 14-inch disk, then line a 9 or 10 by 3-inch springform pan with the rolled-out dough. Patch any holes and trim off any dough that hangs over the edges of the pan. Chill for an additional 30 minutes while you prepare the crumb topping and the fruit filling.

To make the walnut crumb topping, mix the flour, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Stir in the butter, then work it in with your hands until the texture of crumbs. Put the topping in the refrigerator while you make the fruit filling.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the fruit filling, remove the stem from each fig, then boil the figs in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Slice each fig into 4 to 5 pieces, put them in a large bowl, and add the apples, pears, and cranberries. Separately, rub the sugar and cornstarch together, then add to the fruit and gently toss until evenly coated.

Transfer the filling to the pie shell and top with the walnut crumb. Bake in the lower third of the oven for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the crumb is golden, the fruit juices are bubbling thickly around the edges, and the fruit is tender when pierced with a wooden skewer. If the crumb is getting too dark, cover it with foil.

Storage: Covered with a tea towel, the pie will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Spooned into a bowl and drizzled with chilled cream, it makes a wonderful breakfast.

White Chocolate Cranberry Pie #49

I’m so sorry to even put this recipe on the Internet. It’s AWFUL. If you want to put this on some type of fail blog, that’s fine, but if you want to make it, I’m not okay with that. This late in the game I’m embarrassed to have such a bad pie enter this experience—I should have learned something, right? This was NOT a winning pie. Warning: don’t make it.

In my defense, some of my favorite holiday cookies are cranberry and white chocolate cookies, so I had really high hopes for this recipe. However, the white chocolate pudding had so much cornstarch (at least I think that's the reason) in it that the consistency was like biting into a ball of mozzarella with a sweet and chalky taste. And unfortunately the cranberry sauce nor the gingersnap crust could save this disaster. We ate one or two bites of two slices and threw the rest away—that’s right, we threw the whole pie away. I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened.

I’m not saying that I don't hope for another white chocolate and cranberry pie, but this certainly wasn’t good enough to make again. Honestly, I don’t even think that it can be salvaged and turned into something better.

Okay, so here’s the recipe so you can make your own judgment, but again, please remember not to make this.

White Chocolate Cranberry Pie
(adapted from

1/2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 ounces good-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Baker's), chopped

Cranberry Sauce:
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cup fresh cranberries

Gingersnap Crust:
3/4 cups gingersnap crumbs, from about 1/2 batch 
1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

White Chocolate Filling: Whisk 1/4 cup milk, yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch in bowl to blend. Pour remaining 2 1/4 cups milk into heavy medium saucepan; bring to simmer. Gradually whisk hot milk into yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Whisk constantly over medium heat until custard boils and thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add white chocolate and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla; whisk until chocolate melts. Cool completely.
Cranberry Sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the sugar in the orange juice. Stir in the cranberries, and cook until they start to pop (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat, and transfer to a bowl. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.
Gingersnap Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk together gingersnap crumbs, brown sugar, flour, and salt. Add butter and stir until mixture is well combined. Press some of the mixture against the side of the bowl with your fingers. If the crumbs do not hold together, add cold water, a little at a time, up to 1 tablespoon, and stir to combine.
Press crumb mixture into a 9-inch pie plate, evenly covering the bottom and sides. Transfer to freezer and chill for 10 minutes. Place pie plate on a baking sheet and bake until crust is fragrant and set, about 10 minutes. Transfer pie to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie #48

I must say up front, I’m not a nut lover. A peanut lover, yes. But real nuts—like the kind that real people eat, I don’t love them. I only eat them when I’m starving and don’t have anything else to eat. So, I haven’t been completely excited about making a pecan pie. However I think that pecan pies are my dad’s favorite or at least at his request I’ve had my fair share of slices and usually I just want to eat the sugary part between the pecan layer and crust.  In fact, I think that’s why I liked the crack pie that made a few months ago because it reminded me of that non-nutty layer. So there…nuts are just okay in my book.

Also while searching for recipes I found that almost every recipe calls for corn syrup—a lot of it—and I didn’t want to use corn syrup and ultimately I decided to use a substitute and hoped that would be successful. Corn syrup is usually used because the sugars don’t crystallize or turn grainy when it’s cold, but as a general cooking rule, I prefer to choose natural ingredients over processed whenever I can.

Any way, from what I’ve read, there are a few things that you can use as a substitute for corn syrup: honey, sugar dissolved in water (the internet provides several suggestions about the ratios), maple sugar, and something called golden syrup to list a few. They all change the taste just a little bit and are sweeter than corn syrup, but can be used measure for measure.

Since they are sweeter, I used a little bit less than what was called for in the recipe. I substituted ½ cup maple syrup for the ¾ cup corn syrup that it originally called for (maple is one of my favorite flavors and I thought it would got well with pecans, which is why I choose it).

This pie was very sweet and in the end I thought the maple/orange/pecan mixture was just okay. However, while I don’t know if the corn syrup would have created a different effect (since it keeps sugar from crystallizing), my favorite part about this pie were the pecans on the top of the pie that had crystallized during the baking. They were delicious and for the first time, all I wanted to do with this pecan pie was eat the nuts on the top, which is exactly what I did. 

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie
(adapted from

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup pure maple syrup
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups pecan halves (1/2 pound)

Crust: Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps.

Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in processor) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn’t hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough or pastry will be tough.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a 5-inch disk. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.

Filling: Preheat oven to 350°F with a baking sheet on middle rack.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 12-inch round and fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang. Fold overhang under and lightly press against rim of pie plate, then crimp decoratively. Lightly prick bottom all over with a fork. Freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in syrup, vanilla, zest, and salt. Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk in syrup mixture.

Put pecans in pie shell and pour corn syrup mixture evenly over them. Bake on hot baking sheet until filling is set, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool completely.