Saturday, October 31, 2009


I told you I would make applesauce before the season was over. If I had known it was going to be this good, I would have made it sooner. But then I only read Elizabeth David's "Big Bad Bramleys" article a few days ago, so had I made it sooner I would have made some stovetop affair and it wouldn't have been nearly as tasty. Timing, they say, is everything.
After nine weeks of fall fruit share I was left with several bags in the bottom of my fridge each containing one or two apple orphans. There was a Honeycrisp, a couple of Macouns, a Black Oxford, an Empire, and three Pinovas. Having just read the aforementioned article, I new exactly what to do with them: make apple orphan applesauce.
You might have a hard time getting excited about applesauce. I've been raving at people about it for the past two days and I think they might worry that I spend too much time alone. I know it's not much to look at. I mean, it's applesauce, right? But this is Apple Sauce. With a difference. This method calls for baking peeled, cored, sliced apples in a covered dish without the addition of water or sugar or anything whatsoever until they are tender enough that "to whisk them into a purée is then the work of less than a minute." You then add a lump of butter and a bit of sugar if you want (I didn't). The result is pure apple bliss.


forever indebted to Elizabeth David

  • apples, however many of whatever variety
  • 1 knob salted butter
  • sugar, if desired, to taste
  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Peel, core, and thinly slice apples, as if for apple pie. Arrange slices in a baking dish. Six or seven apples will fill a 9-inch square baking dish and yield approximately 3 cups of apple sauce. Cover dish and and place apples in oven. Bake 30-45 minutes, or until apples are burbling and very soft.
  • Remove from oven and mash apples with a fork. (This should be very easy. The apples should practically mash themselves. If they're putting up a fight, stick 'em back in the oven for a few.) Add the butter and sugar, if using, and mix them in with your fork.
Because the apples stew in only their juices without being diluted by water, the apple flavor is somehow intensified, concentrated, made more apple than apple itself. I found the addition of sugar to be unnecessary--the apples were sweet enough as they were and I didn't want to risk masking any of the apple flavor. Butter makes everything better--it makes the applesauce velvety, creamy. Elizabeth says it "provides the clue to the excellence of this recipe" and she's right.
I used most of my applesauce for baking, but as soon as I was finished mixing in the butter I helped myself to a cupful of the warm sauce, topped it with a bit of crème fraîche, and was transported.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall Pie Primer, Part Four: Pumpkin Pie

It seems fashionable now to have an aversion to pumpkin pie. All the magazines seem to be offering alternatives to it--take such-and-such or blah-and-dah to your Thanksgiving gathering, a refreshing change from pumpkin pie. Honestly, I don't understand. What could possibly be wrong with silky, spiced, pumpkin custard in a flaky butter crust? And don't give me the evaporated milk answer, because you don't have to use it.
I ran several pumpkin pie trials this week and discovered that there is no reason to use evaporated milk in your pumpkin pie filling. You don't even have to spend hours cooking down your own milk in an attempt to duplicate what comes out of the can. You can simply use a combination of milk and cream instead. You wouldn't think of using canned milk in any other custard, so why in this one? For one pie I took the time to heat the milk and temper the eggs and cook them in a double boiler until the mixture coated the back of the spoon et cetera and so forth, but it was really unnecessary. The one with milk and cream and none of the double boiler hoopla set up just as well. So there you go: no more Carnation! Take that, Libby.

Pumpkin Pie

one 9-inch pie

  • 1/2 recipe pie crust
  • blank
  • 2 cups pumpkin purée from 1 medium-large pie pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Make up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate while you make the filling.
  • Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds. Cut the halves in half and place in a steamer basket. Steam until tender, about 20 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and place in a blender. Blend until smooth. Drain purée in cheesecloth in a strainer for 10-15 minutes to remove some of the water.
  • Preheat oven to 425°F.
  • Measure out 2 cups of pumpkin purée and return to blender. Add the rest of the ingredients to blender and blend again until smooth.
  • Roll out your dough between sheets of waxed paper into about a 12-inch round, or until you judge it will fit in your pie pan with about an inch of overhang. Press the dough into the pan starting with the bottom and working up the sides so there is no air trapped underneath it. Crimp the edges, folding the dough over on itself to get a nice thick edge.
  • Blend filling for another second, then pour into pie shell. Do this on a piece of counter close to the oven so you don't have far to go with it.
  • Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350°F and bake an additional 45 minutes. The center of the pie should still be jiggly when you take it out of the oven. It will set as it cools. A cracked pie is an overcooked pie. Allow to cool completely before serving.
If you're lucky, you'll have some leftover filling. If you do, I recommend pouring it into a small ramekin, placing the ramekin in a dish of hot water and baking it along side the pie. It might be done a bit sooner than the pie so keep an eye on it. Let it cool, whip up a bit of cream for the top, and call it a treat for the cook (or share it--I did).
I hope at least one pumpkin pie appears in your fall pie rotation. Sure, make such-and-such, bake blah-and-dah, but I'm willing to bet the pumpkin pie disappears first.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fall Pie Primer, Part Three: Mince Pies

There are things I really don't like about this time of year: the shortening days, the chilly weather, closing my windows, wearing layers, to name a few. Mince pies are one of the things that make this time of year okay. The buttery, flaky crust. The sweet, spicy, fruity, gooey filling. The port you have alongside. If the tomatoes of summer need long, hot days, the mince pies of winter need cold, dark weather to be fully enjoyed.
It is a bit early yet to be handing out mince pies, but it is most certainly not too early to put a jar of mincemeat in the fridge. Get it done now (it'll keep, the brandy takes care of that) so you don't have to worry about it later. The recipe I use makes a little over a quart, which is enough for maybe 30 pies. Don't feel you have to follow it to a T. You don't like almonds? Use walnuts or pecans. I cobbled together a batch a couple weeks ago with dates, dried apricots, raisins, currants, figs, walnuts, sugar, spices, the zest and juice of an orange and a little brandy, leaving out the candied citrus peel and suet 'cause I didn't have any. Not a big deal and just as tasty. So put in what you like and don't fret--there's plenty of stress to go around this time of year as it is.

Mince Pies

for about 15 pies

  • Have ready your full reserve of patience, muffin tins, one large and one smaller (the same diameter as the top of a muffin) cookie cutter, a small dish of water, a petal tip from your cake decorating kit and/or a shaped cookie cutter for the tops, a milk or egg wash, a pastry brush, and some coarse sugar. Oh, and your mincemeat and pie dough.
  • Remove dough from fridge, cut in half, and put the half you're not working with back in the fridge. Roll out the other half and, using the large round cookie cutter, cut out six circles. Ideally, the circles will fit into the muffin tin with enough sticking out the top to fold over the top. If not (mine didn't) you will have to roll the circles a little bigger until they do. Line muffin tin with dough.
  • Fill shells with mincemeat, pressing it in gently yet firmly so the pie will take on the shape of the muffin tin. If you left the suet out of the mincemeat, put a knob of butter on top of the mincemeat before covering it.
  • Cut out six smaller circles. While these are still on the work surface, use the petal tip to cut out vent holes in a nice pattern. Cover your pies with their tops and either crimp the top and bottom crusts together as you would for a full-size pie or simply fold the bottom crust over the top, using a little water to seal them. Either way, make sure your pies are well sealed so any bubbling happens through the vent holes and not the sides.
  • If you are using a cut out shape for the tops, trim the bottom crust so it has an even edge. Fold the edge of the bottom crust about a cm over the mincemeat then put the shape on top.
  • Repeat with remaining dough. Also feel free to gather the scraps, reroll them and make more pies.
  • Brush tops with the wash of your choice right before they go in the oven and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you're so inclined. Bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.
This might help clarify the process.
You will undoubtedly have mincemeat left over if you make only one recipe of pie crust, but by then you will have run out of patience anyway, so save the mincemeat for another day. The holiday season is long enough that by the time you want to make mince pies again you'll have forgotten what a pain they are to put together. But they're worth it. They're delicious and such fun to give away, particularly here because they're still somewhat of a novelty (that is if you live in the back of beyond, as I do).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall Pie Primer, Part Two: Apple Pie

There are a thousand ways to use the thousands of apples that come off the trees every fall. Three are turnovers and tarts, cakes, sauces, baked apples, candied apples. There is also apple pie. Maybe it's because my mother makes the best apple pie in the world, but I've always found apple pie to be one of the most comforting things to eat. There is no reason this comfort should not be available to everyone, so now that you've overcome your fear of pie crust it's time for apple pie.

Apple Pie

one 9-inch pie

  • 1 recipe pie crust
  • blank
  • 6 cups apple slices (about 6 medium-sized apples)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • scant 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • Make up the dough, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate while you make the filling.
  • Peel, core, and cut apples into pretty thin slices. I do this by first cutting the apple into quarters, cutting out the core, peeling each quarter, and then cutting the quarter into slices. You can do what you like.
  • To the apples add the lemon juice, sugar, flour, and spices. Mix gently, but well so everything is evenly distributed.
  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Take the dough from the fridge and cut it in two, making one piece slightly larger than the other. Put the smaller piece back in the fridge and roll out the larger piece between sheets of waxed paper into about a 12-inch round, or until you judge it will fit in your pie pan with about an inch of overhang. Press the dough into the pan starting with the bottom and working up the sides so there is no air trapped underneath it.
  • Put the apple mixture into the pie shell. Cut the 2 Tbs. butter into small pieces and dot the apples with it. This step has been forgotten so many times in my family that it has become something of a running joke. "Don't forget to dot the butter!," we yell several times during the pie making process. It's a real pain trying to get it under the top crust through the vents, so don't forget to dot the butter!
  • Roll out the remaining ball of dough and place it over the apples. Crimp the top and bottom crusts together. Trim off any excess dough around the edge, roll it out and make an apple or something else to decorate the top with. Cut several vent holes in the top. You can choose to brush the top with an egg or milk wash or not, as you like.
  • Bake 40-50 minutes, or until juices are bubbling and the crust is golden. If the edges start to get too dark, cover with tin foil.
A few things I would say about making apple pie: take the time to cut your apples quite thinly. If you don't you'll be left with bits that didn't cook all the way. I do like some tooth left in the apples, but not that much. Try not to overwork the edges while you're crimping them or they'll become tough. And don't forget to dot the butter!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Pie Primer, Part One: Crust

A good crust is one of the best tricks you can have up your sleeve in the kitchen. I wrote about pie crust last year and my feelings on the subject haven't changed. I thought I'd bring it up again, though, because it is getting to be that time of year again and some poor souls might be eyeing the freezer aisle. Don't do it! You're going to be making your own pumpkin purée, peeling all those apples, making your own mincemeat, so why would you buy a pre-made pie crust. You wouldn't. I know.

Pie Crust

10-inch double crust

  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter, cold
  • 7-8 Tbs. water, very cold
  • Combine flour and salt.
  • Cut butter into pieces and drop into flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work the butter into flour until butter is well incorporated, but there are still visible pieces of butter. (Recipes often say, 'until mixture resembles small peas,' but I like to leave slightly larger pieces.)
  • Using a fork, stir in water one tablespoon at a time, being careful not to add too much. When dough begins to from clumps, enough water has been added.
  • Form the dough into a ball. The dough might be somewhat crumbly, but as long as you can make it into a ball it will be alright. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least half an hour before rolling.
I had a bit of a mishap last week: I thought I had a 9-inch pan so made the recipe for an 8 to 9-inch double crust. Unfortunately it was a 10-inch pan. It is no fun trying to eke an extra inch out of too little dough and then having none leftover to decorate the top of the pie. So from now on I'm making enough for a 10-inch pan regardless of what size pie plate I actually have. Wasteful? Maybe, but in this instance I don't care. There is always something to be done with leftover pie dough, but don't make me cobble together another pie without enough.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Leftovers. Leftovers are great. Leftovers mean quick snacks. Leftovers mean not having to worry about what to take to work for dinner. Some things are better as leftovers--most casseroles, soups, and stews, for instance. I hear some people make hash out of their leftovers. Some people make soup. Dad has a leftovers rule: always add one new ingredient, even if it is just a sautéed onion. Sometimes what you make out of your leftovers is better than the dish was to begin with.
Tuesday morning I took stock of the leftovers in my fridge. I had some dal, which I made the same day I made naan. I had fillo leftover from making baklava and spanakopita on the weekend. I had mincemeat leftover from making stuffed apples baked in pastry. I had a quarter of a bag of frozen peas leftover from making samosas.
The spanakopita triangles I made on the weekend were such a success that I thought anything wrapped in fillo and baked until golden would be good. What about dal wrapped in fillo? What about adding the peas to the dal and wrapping that in fillo? I thought it was worth a try. I had made twelve dal triangles when I thought of the mincemeat. I had planned to make more traditional mince pies with it, but there's plenty of time yet for that, so into fillo it went. (If you want an alternative to the traditional mince pie this holiday season, make mincemeat triangles with fillo. Crackly, crispy, flaky on the outside, pure mincemeat delight on the inside.)
These fillo pockets turned so well that I will make them on purpose in the future. I know they're excellent with a spanakopita filling. I thought they might be good with butternut squash and caramelized onion and feta. Or just feta. Or something and something and walnuts. Or some cooked apple filling. Or a ground lamb filling. You get the idea--whatever you want/have/make will be better stuffed into a fillo triangle.
* * *
If you have ever made a "football" out of a piece of binder paper, you know how to make a stuffed fillo triangle. Assuming 13-by-17 inch sheets of fillo, cut them into thirds along the long side, so you end up with three stacks of 6-ish-by-13 inch sheets of fillo. Keep the sheets between plastic and cover with a damp tea towel so they don't dry out. You'll need at least half a cup of melted clarified butter. Take one sheet from the stack, replacing the plastic and towel before you continue. Place sheet on your work surface with the long side facing you. Brush fillo with butter and fold the sheet so the long sides come together. Brush with butter again. The next step will require some imagination. Looking at the far left side of your strip of fillo, picture a square. Now picture the diagonal line running from the bottom left corner to the top right corner that would cut the square in half. Place about a tablespoon of filling to the right of the diagonal line. Shape filling into the triangle that would fill out the square. The filling can go all the way to the bottom edge and all the way to the edge of the square--all will be sealed in when you start folding. What you should have now, looking left to right, is a blank triangle of fillo, a triangle of filling, and then the rest of the strip of fillo. Fold the triangle of fillo from the top left corner over the filling. This can be a bit tricky depending on how soft the filling is, but now fold the resulting triangle over the short side. It should become clear how to continue folding the triangle. You can press down on the triangle a bit as you go to even out the filling distribution. When your triangle is all folded up, place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Brush tops with butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds or not just before they go into the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes at 375°F.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


A lot goes into preparing an Indian feast. None of it is particularly difficult, but it all takes time. Naan is not at all difficult, and is definitely worth making time for. Start your naans about an hour and a half before dinner and you should be serving them hot to adoring fans. Most of the time it takes is in the rising, anyway, so you have an hour to finish up everything else.
My oven is so tiny that the two-step process Madhur describes was unnecessary, not to mention impossible. My naans puffed up enough that the broiler was able to brown them without moving them to the top rack. I couldn't have moved them to the top rack had I needed to, because in their puffed up state there was not enough room for them between the rack and the element. Oh, well, that's Turkey.


adapted from Madhur Jaffrey

  • 150 ml milk
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. active, dry yeast
  • 450 g flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 Tbs. oil, plus a little extra
  • 150 ml plain yoghurt, lightly beaten
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Heat the milk til it's slightly more than warm to the touch. Pour it into a small bowl and add 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the yeast, stir gently, and set aside for about 20 minutes, or until yeast is dissolved and mixture is frothy.
  • Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the remaining teaspoon of sugar, the yeast mixture, the oil, yoghurt, and egg. Combine into a ball of dough.
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and satiny. If the dough is sticky continue to flour the work surface and your hands until it is not. Don't add too much flour, though.
  • Pour a very small amount (1/4 tsp.-ish) of oil into the bottom of a large, clean bowl and roll your ball of dough in it so it is completely coated, leaving the dough in the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour, or until dough has approximately doubled in bulk.
  • Preheat your oven to its highest temperature. Place either the heaviest baking pan you have or a pizza stone into the oven while it is preheating. Once it has come to temperature turn on the broiler.
  • Punch down your dough, and knead it briefly. Divide it into 6 equal parts, keeping all except the one you are working with covered. Roll the ball of dough into an oval or tear-shape about 10 inches long and 5 inches at its widest point.
  • Slap the naan onto either your baking pan or pizza stone and bake for 3 minutes. It should puff up. Then place baking pan and naan under the broiler for about 30 seconds, until the top of the naan browns slightly. Wrap naans in a clean dish towel as they come out of the oven. Repeat with remaining balls of dough.
(Since we're on the subject of Indian food, I have to report that the apple chutney I made a few weeks ago was a success and went down very well with the Indian meal Y. and I cooked.)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stuffed Apples Baked in Pastry

Another week of fall fruit share meant coming up with another way to use apples. A happy problem, if ever there was one. I turned, this time, to Elizabeth David for help and she didn't let me down. In her book, French Provincial Cooking, she offers a couple of paragraphs on Les Bourdaines, or apples baked in pastry. I like baked apples; I love pastry--bringing the two together could only make for something spectacular.
In her recipe the hollowed out apples are filled with plum or quince jam, but I remembered a picture in Farmhouse Cookery in which baked apples are stuffed with mincemeat, so I thought I'd do that instead. You could fill them with just about anything: dried apricots mixed with honey, dates chopped with walnuts and the juice of one lemon, brown sugar and spices, or something of your own device.
I had to try this twice this week, because the first time I forgot to peel the apples before wrapping them. During baking, the pastry simply slid off the apples, leaving them looking more than a little exposed. Peeling the apples gives the pastry something to hold onto and rolling them in the flour/sugar/spice mixture gives you some insurance (and extra tastiness). I didn't seal my seams well enough the second time around, so although the pastry stayed on the apples, the seams did split some, which could be avoided by using a drop of cold water and a bit more care.
This experiment was well worth the effort. The result is part baked apple, part apple pie, part mince pie, altogether delicious.

Stuffed Apples Baked in Pastry

inspired by Elizabeth David

  • 1 recipe pie crust for every 4 apples
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • a few grates of nutmeg
  • as many apples as people you intend to serve
  • a lemon
  • 2 Tbs. filling (see note above) for each apple
  • a small knob of butter for each apple
  • a small egg and a splash of milk
  • Make your pie dough, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate while you do the rest.
  • Butter a baking dish big enough to fit all your apples and set aside. At some point, preheat your oven to 350°F.
  • In a wide, shallow dish combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and set aside
  • Cut lemon into quarters. Peel your apples and rub them with lemon juice as you finish each one. That is, don't wait til they're all peeled before coating them with lemon juice. Using a melon baller, remove the core of each apple and scoop out some of the meat so there is room for the filling. Fill each apple with mincemeat, making sure to press it into all the nooks and crannies. Before the apple is entirely full, drop in a knob of butter then put in one more dollop of filling, pressing down firmly. When all the apples have been filled, roll each one in the flour mixture, making sure it is fully coated.
  • Take your pastry from the fridge and remove a piece large enough for one apple (about 85g for a small-medium sized apple, slightly more for a large one). Put remaining dough back in the fridge while you wrap the apple. Roll out your dough into a circle wide enough to accommodate your apple. Place apple in the center of the circle and begin to gather the dough around it. Where the dough comes together, cut off the excess and with a little water glue the seam together. Be sure your seams are well stuck, or they will split during baking. If, once you have wrapped the whole apple, there is a hole at the top, use some of the extra dough to cover it. Save extra dough for making leaves. Place pastry-encased apple in the baking dish and transfer to refrigerator. Repeat with remaining apples.
  • Once all the apples have been wrapped, take the extra dough you've been saving from the fridge, roll it out, and cut out a leaf for each apple. Remove apples from fridge, make a dimple in the tope of each, and adorn each with its leaf. Beat together the egg and the milk and brush each apple with the mixture. Bake for about an hour or until the crust is golden.
Elizabeth, who apparently wasn't much of a fan of cooked apple dishes, offers this bit of advice: "First, choose hard, sweet apples whenever possible instead of the sour cooking variety which are used for English apple dishes. And secondly, if the apples are to be eaten hot, cook them in butter instead of in water. The scent of apples cooking in butter is alone more than worth the small extra expense."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Zucchini Bread ?

Sometimes when you try something new and strange very good things happen. Other times, not. This time, definitely not. Who ever heard of zucchini bread taking 24 hours, anyway? It's supposed to be a quick bread, right? You see slightly shriveled zukes in the fridge and for tea time there's warm zucchini bread. None of this soak your flour in yoghurt overnight and leach your zucchini for an hour. I don't care how much easier it is to digest. And then for the loaf to collapse in a partially done mess after an hour and a half in the oven!? I am not impressed. So next time I will find Grandma Reedy's tried and true recipe in my mom's recipe book under either 'B' for bread, 'Z' for zucchini, or somewhere else entirely for reasons known only to my sister who put it together lo those many years ago. I guess I learned, again, that wheels (and quick breads) need not be reinvented.