Buttery Yellow Cake

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Or should I call it Pandemic Yellow Cake? Why, oh why would I call this a Pandemic Yellow Cake? Because we are experiencing one of the strangest and scariest times the world has known since the influenza epidemic of 1918, and in the middle of it all, I am trying to make a decent yellow cake from scratch. It actually started years ago when I got the recipe from my friend Susan. She told me that she absolutely loved this recipe, but that the last few times she had made it, the cake had a dense line running through the middle of it, so it wasn’t the fluffy wonderful cake she remembered. I never got around to trying the recipe until last week, for Matthew’s birthday.

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Of course I made some changes right off the bat, which is not a good idea, but I was out of cake flour, so I substituted a combination of all-purpose flour with a bit of cornstarch, which you will find all over the internet as a fine substitute. I also decided to mess around with the egg configuration…. don’t ask me why. So the cake was good, but not great, and day two it was starting to be not as good, and really needed the ice cream to compensate for the denseness. The texture was a bit off, and the flavor too. But it still was a beautiful cake that tasted pretty darn good on Day #1.

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I thought I could let this go, but when I was out in search of flour yesterday, because all of the stores are sold out because everyone is baking while quaranting themselves, I spied a box of King Arthur cake flour on the shelves, and knew I had to have a second shot at this cake.

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Perfection.

I decided to only make half a cake, because, well, #quarantinefifteen.  And also, last week was Matthew’s birthday, and this Saturday is Mara’s birthday, and we really don’t need a cake in the middle of the birthdays, but half a cake for the halfway mark, yes. And this time I followed the recipe to a T, and resisted all urges that I had to tweak it. This recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen, and, made following all the instructions, it is fantastic. The cake is tender, moist and velvety, and the edges have a slight crispness to them that is oh so delicious. And the flavor is buttery and just the right amount of sweet. For the best texture, enjoy this cake the day it is made. I will include little tips about what I did to make this cake a success.

Have your milk, eggs, and butter all at room temperature. Very important. Don’t skip this step!! If you are impatient like me, here is what I do to speed up the process. I turn on my oven to 350° and preheat it for FORTY-FIVE SECONDS. Then turn the oven off. Please read this carefully. You just want your oven to be a little warmer than your kitchen. I then put the milk and eggs and butter (cut into pieces) into the oven and leave them in there for an hour or so. Today it was an hour and a half and it seemed to be perfect. You want to take the chill off of everything. Imagine a hot summer day in your non-air-conditioned kitchen. That’s your oven that is TURNED OFF.

When you are ready to go, prepare your 9″cake pan: grease inside of pan with unsalted butter, put a round of parchment paper on the bottom, then grease the parchment paper. Now flour the inside of the pan and tap out the excess.

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I love my Fat Daddio pans!

Remove the milk, eggs, and butter from the oven (if you have used that technique to bring items to room temp, or if you are hiding them from your cats). Now preheat your empty oven to 350°.

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All at room temp.

Combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk well.

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Beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl. I like to use an hand mixer so I have more control and can mix thoroughly and see what’s going on. Beat on med-high until the mixture is light in color and fluffy. The recipe says to beat for 3 to 6 minutes, but for me, I watched the mixture like a hawk, and when I noticed the texture change, I stopped. It took about 2 minutes. You don’t want to over beat the sugar and butter [sigh]. If you over beat, the butter gets too soft, which will make for a flatter, less fluffy cake. Who knew? When I say texture change, what I mean is that it goes from grainy to fluffy and incorporated. I never really paid that much attention until now. I think it makes a difference.

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Creamed butter and sugar.

Then add your eggs, one at time, beating just until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula between each addition.

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After the addition of the eggs.

Now add the vanilla to the room temp milk.

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Add 1/3 of the cake flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and beat on low just until incorporated. Add half of the milk/vanilla combination and beat until incorporated. Continue with 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the other half of the milk/vanilla mixture, and end with the flour, always beating on low just to mix. Pour the batter into a prepared 9″ round cake pan and spread the top to fill the pan evenly.

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Batter is fluffy and beautiful!

Pick up your filled cake pan and hold it about 4 inches above your counter, and drop the pan one time. This will get rid of any larger air bubbles so the cake has a nice even crumb. Then spin the cake pan on the counter one time, like a spinning top. This creates centrifugal force and causes the cake batter to creep up the side of the pan, which makes for less of a dome shape when baking.

Place on middle rack in preheated 350° oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes (mine took 23 minutes). I always check sooner. At twenty-one minutes there was a teeny bit of sludge on the toothpick tester. At twenty-three minutes there were a few crumbs but no sludge. Perfect. Time to take out of the oven.

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Because you needed to know what this looks like….

Let cool in the pan on cooling rack for about fifteen minutes.

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Then remove from pan and cool completely before frosting.

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If you haven’t noticed from the pictures, I only made enough batter for one 9″ round cake. So it’s half the original recipe (I am including the full recipe below, so please don’t let the pictures confuse you as to amounts). And guess what I did to still make a fancy layer cake? I frosted the one cake, making it look beautiful, and putting wax paper around the edges to make for easy clean up.

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I then cut the cake in half using a very sharp knife.

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Then I stacked the two halves.

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Voilà! Layer cake!

Because everyone loves a festive layer cake!

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Yum!

Buttery Yellow Cake

(From America’s Test Kitchen – makes 2  9″ round cakes)

  • 2 3/4 cups cake flour (I used King Arthur cake flour)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature

Chocolate Frosting:

(Adapted from the Hershey’s Cocoa chocolate frosting recipe)

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or table salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Grease 2 9″ round cake pans with unsalted butter. Place round parchment on the bottom of pans. Grease parchment paper. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy – 2 to 3 minutes. Watch closely for change in texture and do not over beat.
  5. Beat in eggs one at a time just until incorporated, scraping down side of bowl with spatula between each addition.
  6. Add vanilla to room temperature milk.
  7. On low speed, beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, then 1/2 of milk/vanilla, then 1/3 of flour, then the other half of the milk. End with the last third of the flour, always mixing only enough to incorporate.
  8. Pour batter into prepared pans, smoothing to the edges of pans. One at a time, hold each pan about 4 inches above your counter and drop the pan to eliminate any large bubbles. Give each pan a spin to encourage the batter to creep up the sides a bit, to make less of a dome shape when baking.
  9. Place pans on middle rack of preheated 350° oven, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs on it. Start checking at 20 minutes. Do not over-bake!
  10. Remove from oven and cool in the pans on a cooling rack for about ten to fifteen minutes. Remove cakes from pans and let finish cooling on racks. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting:

  1. Place butter, cocoa, powdered sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add one tablespoon of the milk. Mix on medium speed. Slowly drizzle in more milk, one tablespoon at a time, until you reach desired consistency.

Enjoy!

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A side note: This is an older recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. Over the years they have come up with all kinds of ways to improve on this cake. But this recipe is simple and not fussy, and the cake is lovely. If you want the cake to be a little fluffier, try whipping 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream to stiff peaks, and folding it into the batter just before pouring into the cake pans. If you want the cake to be a little more moist, replace 1/4 cup of the butter with 1/4 cup canola oil. If you want to add a bit of tang to the flavor, try replacing the milk with buttermilk, and adding 1/2 teaspoon baking soda to the dry ingredients, which should also add more height to the cake. But before you go messing around with this recipe, make it just as is with no changes. Let me know what you think.

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Posted in Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Cardamom Cinnamon Buns

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I’d like to say that since our quarantine here at home, you know, due to the scary pandemic we are all facing, that I have buried myself in baking projects. But the truth is that I was already obsessed with baking and experimenting with yeast and all fun things in the kitchen, and so I continue in my normal fashion, which keeps me sane, and keeps my family happy.

I think this might be my favorite cinnamon roll recipe ever. For so many reasons. These are easy to make, they are cute and not giant, they are moist and tender, there is a good ratio of bun to filling, the cardamom adds a subtle and lovely twist to the flavor, and mostly, they are delicious!

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These take a little less than two hours to make from the very beginning to the end product. A lot of that time is the dough resting, not hands on, so it’s quick and easy. And because the recipe only makes 8 small buns, it is not an overwhelming or unwieldy project. You must try it!

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Close up… tender dough and lots of cinnamon-y layers.

Cardamom Cinnamon Buns

(Adapted from the Lars Swedish Pearl Sugar package recipe)

Dough:

  • 3/4 stick salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk (100°)
  • 1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more

Filling:

  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons salted butter, softened

Icing:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon whole milk
  • pinch sea salt
  • dash vanilla extract
  1. For the dough, in a medium bowl, combine melted butter, warm milk, and yeast. Stir until dissolved.
  2. Add sugar, salt, cardamom, and 1 1/2 cups flour. Stir until smooth and elastic. Cover with tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes. (Note: I have made these several times now, and my dough doesn’t seem to rise, but it does become very easy to work with. Okay by me.)
  3. Place dough on lightly floured surface and knead to form a soft dough. Roll out dough to form an 8″ by 12″ rectangle, with the short end facing you.
  4. For the filling, combine sugars and cinnamon. Spread softened butter evenly over dough using a spatula, and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugars.
  5. Roll up the dough, starting with the short end that is farthest from you. Roll the dough toward yourself, and then pinch seams to seal. Roll the log just a bit to even it out, patting the ends in so the log is the same thickness for the entire length.
  6. Slice into 8 equal pieces using a sharp knife.
  7. Arrange slices on greased baking sheet cut side down, 2 inches apart. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or tea towel and let buns rise for twenty minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 425° (do this after you have set the buns aside to rise).
  9. Bake buns on middle rack in 425° oven for 10 to 15 minutes (13 minutes is just right for mine).
  10. Remove from oven. Combine the powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and milk, and drizzle over hot buns. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
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Starting with melted butter, warm milk, and yeast (half a packet)

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Butter, milk, and yeast mixed together. Nothing exciting happening…

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Then you add the sugar, cardamom, salt, and flour.

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Stir until it is a little smoother and elastic. This is not quite there.

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That’s better. Smooth and elastic.

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Cover and place in a warm place to rest for 40 minutes.

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Dough rolled out and covered with softened butter.

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Sprinkled evenly with cinnamon sugars.

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Rolled and seams pinched.

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Ignore that this in only 6 slices… should be 8!!

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On greased cookie tray, before being covered and resting for 20 minutes.

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Out of the oven!

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Add icing while rolls are still hot so the icing oozes between the layers.

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Yum!

 

 

Posted in Fun in the kitchen!, Yeasty Things | 1 Comment

Multigrain Sandwich Bread

I think it’s time for me to write about this fantastic bread. This recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen (sent to me by my neighbor Gage). I was looking for a soft multigrain bread that would work well for sandwiches — something I had not been able to accomplish thus far. Well, I was so pleasantly surprised by this bread! It tastes wonderful, it is soft, and it not only makes great sandwiches for sending to school, but it also makes fantastic toast and grilled cheese sandwiches!!

Multigrain Sandwich Bread

(Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

  • 1 1/4 cups 10-grain hot cereal mix (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp) instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 Tbsp table salt
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  1. Place cereal mix in bowl of stand mixer and pour boiling water over it. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until mixture cools to 100°… about an hour. Whisk flours together in separate bowl and set aside.
  2. Once cereal has cooled, add honey, butter, and yeast. Mix well. Attach bowl to stand mixer fitted with dough hook. On low speed, add flours 1/2 cup at a time and knead until dough forms a ball, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 20 minutes. Add salt and knead on med-low speed until dough clears sides of bowl, 3 to 4 minutes. Add a bit more flour if dough does not clear sides. Continue to knead for 5 more minutes.
  3. Transfer dough to floured work surface and knead until dough forms a smooth, taut ball. Place dough in greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.
  4. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 375°. Grease 2  8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pans with vegetable oil or unsalted butter. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and pat into a 12″ x 9″ rectangle (I mark it out in the flour with my finger beforehand). Cut the dough in half cross-wise. With a short side facing you, starting at the farthest end, roll one dough piece into a log, keeping the roll taut by tucking it under itself as you go. Seal the loaf by pinching the seam together. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  5. Spread the oats on work surface in front of the loaves. Wet your hands with water, and lightly wet each loaf, then roll them in the oats to coat evenly. Place loaves seam side down in greased loaf pans, pressing gently into the corners. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or tea towel and let rise until almost doubled in size, 30 to 40 minutes. The dough should barely spring back when poked with a knuckle.
  6. Bake until the centers of the loaves register 200° on an instant read thermometer, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove loaves from pans and let cool completely on cooling rack before slicing… about three hours.

Here’s the hot cereal mix with the hot water.

Gonna add these things after melting the butter.

Add flour 1/2 cup at a time.

Getting bigger.

Getting even bigger!

This really helps for getting the size right!

I love the way this dough feels – soft and NOT sticky.

This dough is very easy to handle and work with.

Pinch pinch pinch!

Preparing to roll in oats. Lightly wet the loaves.

I like this part.

Not completely same size, but that’s okay.

After rising, but before baking.

Your house will smell so good!

Enjoy!

Posted in Fun in the kitchen!, Yeasty Things | 4 Comments

Thai Peanut Sauce

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Being all cooped up at home, I start to get cravings for food I can’t have (i.e., going out to a restaurant). Yesterday, I looked around my kitchen, and decided to make something adventurous, since going out was not an option. I remembered making a yummy peanut sauce to serve over vegetables a gazillion years ago, remembered that it was easy to make, and also remembered that I lost the recipe. So online I went. I found three different recipes that were basically all the same, with a tad more or less of this or that.

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Now, part of the beauty of this sauce is that it is so quick to make. I put on some water to boil fo pasta, put some butter in a saute pan over medium heat for veggies, and then got to making the peanut sauce. I may have already mentioned that I am in love with my immersion blender. It came with a tall cylindrical measuring cup that I almost gave away, but then for some reason changed my mind. OH MY am I glad I changed my mind. It is fabulous. I just put all the ingredients in the measuring cup, and blend with the immersion blender. Clean up is a snap. Here is what I’m talking about.

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Okay, back to what I was doing. Water on to boil, butter melting in a saute pan… I made the peanut sauce in less time than it took to boil water, and even had time to chop broccoli, carrots, and cilantro. Boiled the pasta, sautéed the veggies, and put it all together in about a half hour total. So not only delicious and healthy, but fast too!

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Thai Peanut Sauce

(Adapted from Minimalist Baker)

  • 1/2 cup creamy salted peanut butter (the kind with just peanuts and salt)
  • 2 (or more) Tablespoons soy sauce (start with less and add to taste)
  • 2 (or more) Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fresh ginger (optional – I use the frozen cubes from TJ’s)
  • Fresh cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
  • Chopped peanuts for garnish (optional)

In a blender or using an immersion blender, blend first six ingredients together, adjusting amounts to taste. Add water little by little until you get to the consistency you like. Use to drizzle over noodles and veggies or use as a dip. Don’t forget to garnish with fresh cilantro and lime wedges; they really make this sauce stand out!

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Posted in Busy-day meals, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Apple Pie

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These are difficult days here in Seattle and all around the world, and in a time of uncertainty, a little comfort food might be just the thing. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they don’t like apple pie.

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I have been practicing making apple pie for a while now. I say practicing because so many times it just doesn’t come out right. Maybe the crust is too tough. Maybe the crust isn’t baked enough. Maybe the pie is soupy. Maybe the apples are too mushy or not soft enough. Maybe the filling is too sweet. Or too cinnamon-y. All that being said, my family is always happy when I make pie.

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The Joy of Cooking is once again my go-to cookbook for this recipe. It is simple and easy. The apples are lightly spiced with cinnamon, sugar, lemon, and a pinch of salt. You really taste the apples, and not a lot of other stuff. I have experimented with other recipes, but this is the one I come back to.

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And I really think a homemade crust is in order. As my friend Dan says, “The crust is part of the show”. So if that stresses you out, just use a store bought crust. But you might want to try this crust, or this one by Kenji López-Alt, which is my latest favorite. His crust is, dare I say it, fool proof? Every time I’ve made it and followed every single direction, it has come out wonderfully. I know I must write about it soon. If you choose to make your own crust, I would recommend making the dough the day before and chilling it in your fridge overnight; otherwise, this pie is an all day affair. Plus, the dough rolls out much nicer if it has chilled overnight.

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But let’s talk about apple pie. There were a couple of things I wanted to fix about this apple pie: the sometimes soupy filling, and sometimes top crust not baked enough. A funny thing happened last week. I had started to make a pie, and I put it in the oven and then realized I had to work. SO, I made a list of instructions and gave it to my daughter Emilia. When the timer goes off, reduce temperature to 350° and put the pie crust shield on the pie. And don’t take the pie out of the oven too soon!

Well, when I arrived in the kitchen an hour later, the pie was still in the oven (good!), and the pie crust shield was in place (also good!). But the oven was still at 425°!!!! I pulled the pie out – it looked rather dark, not burned on the top, but it smelled burned. As I suspected, the bottom was a bit burned, which imparted a slightly bitter flavor to the pie. Oddly though, two days later, when we were eating the last of this burned pie, I found it to be delicious, and not soupy, and crust pretty darn near perfect (aside from the burned part). So I decided to make a few changes to see if I could reproduce this pie, without burning it. Here it is.

Apple Pie

(Adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

  • 1 recipe flaky pastry dough
  • 5 medium-large apples (I use galas, with maybe a granny smith or envy thrown in)
  • Scant 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Heaping 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Hearty 1/8 teaspoon sea salt (table salt is fine)
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into teeny pieces (for topping the filling)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (for sprinkling – I use organic cane sugar)
  1. Roll out half of your dough into a 13″ round, and fit it into a 9-inch pie pan, trimming the overhanging dough to 3/4″ all the way around. I like to use a metal pie pan for best browning. Place in refrigerator. Roll the other half of the dough into a 12″ round for the top crust. Place it on a cookie tray and put in refrigerator. And for goodness’ sake, press those dough scraps together and save for later use!!!
  2. Peel apples, then core, and slice 1/4″ thick. Combine sliced apples with lemon juice and sugar and let rest for about twenty minutes to soften the apples slightly and release some of the juices.
  3. (Optional!!!) Pour off and save most of the juice from the apples. Place in skillet and bring to a slow boil and reduce by half. Pour into a bowl to cool. It will be syrup-y. This step will ensure your pie is not soupy.
  4. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt to the apple slices and combine well.
  5. Place apples in bottom pie crust and level gently with the back of a wooden spoon.
  6. If you have poured off some of the juice and have made a syrup with it, drizzle it over the apples now. Make sure it isn’t hot! Room temp is fine.
  7. Dot the top of the apples with the teeny pieces of butter.
  8. Brush the overhanging edge of the bottom crust with cold water: I do this with my fingers so that I only use a very small amount of water.
  9. Cover with the top crust. Pinch the two crusts all the way around with your fingers. Trim with scissors so overhang is 3/4″. Fold it under so that the folded edge is flush with the pie pan. Crimp the edge with a fork all the way around. Or if you want to get fancy you can flute the edges. See how to do this here.
  10. With a sharp knife, make decorative cuts in the top pastry to allow steam to escape during baking. Make sure the cuts are not too close to each other, because the crust can pull apart and tear during baking.
  11. Put pie in refrigerator for twenty to thirty minutes to set the pastry. Your crust is less likely to slump this way, so don’t skip this step!
  12. While pie is resting in the refrigerator, place a cookie sheet on rack in lower third of your oven, and also make sure there is a rack in the middle. Preheat oven to 425°. It’s a good idea to let your oven preheat for a solid twenty to thirty minutes so the temperature is stable for baking.
  13. Remove pie from refrigerator, sprinkle top with 2 teaspoons sugar, and place on the preheated cookie sheet in the lower third of oven. Bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, place foil shield or pie crust shield around edge of pie (optional to prevent over browning of edges) and move pie on cookie sheet to center wrack of oven. Turn oven down to 375° and bake for another 30 minutes, or until top crust is a deep golden brown and thick juices are bubbling through the vents.
  14. Remove pie from oven and let cool on cooling rack for 3 to 4 hours (I’m sorry), or overnight. Everyone says that pie is best the day it is made, so maybe have this be a morning project so you can enjoy it in the evening. But seriously, don’t cut into your masterpiece too soon, or you will have a sloppy pie on your hands. If you wait until the next day, you can reheat the pie in a 350° oven for about 15 minutes. It is also wonderful at room temperature. Enjoy!
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Cut the bottom crust. I use a pizza cutter. Save those scraps!

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Press crust into bottom and sides of pan.

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Top crust.

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Thinly slice the apples, then mix with sugar and lemon juice.

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Strain the juices after 20 minutes or so.

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Cooking down the strained juices only takes a few minutes.

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Just sprinkle the flour, salt, and cinnamon on top and mix in.

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Looking good!

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Level apple slices and drizzle syrup over the top.

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Cut teeny pieces of unsalted butter.

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Place butter on top of apples and lightly wet edges of crust with water.

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Top crust goes on and seal crusts together using fingers to pinch.

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Trim edges so they are even.

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Roll edges under.

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Crimping with a fork makes a sweet design.

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Steam vents can be as decorative as you like! But not too close to each other.

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Sprinkle sugar over chilled pie.

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Out of the oven!

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You must let this pie cool for at least three hours.

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Look at this stand-up pie!

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And of course it is yummy with vanilla ice cream :).

 

 

Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment

Key Lime Pie

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Spring is coming, so it’s time to make something that looks like an Easter egg, but better yet, that tastes SO good! Limey, creamy, tangy sweetness on a crispy graham cracker crust with a hint of cinnamon and little bursts of salt.

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A neighbor mentioned that she would travel far and wide to find the perfect Key Lime pie, and I do so love a challenge…. First stop was the Joy of Cooking. And then I read a LOT of cooking blogs. The first Key Lime pie I made was so good! I followed the Joy of Cooking recipe, with a few tweaks. My only complaint was that the crust was too thick; that was my fault, not the Joy of Cooking recipe. I really love crust, so I made more of it to be sure there was plenty. And there was plenty!

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Then, in my typical fashion, I had to look around more and decided to make a Key Lime pie using a different technique that is recommended by many. This included beating the egg yolks until they are thick and ribbon-y. Sounds good, right? After all, the Joy of Cooking just said to mix all the ingredients together. Too easy, right? So I tried with the whipping of the egg yolks, and I was NOT happy with the results. The filling ended up more like a mousse, and what I was going for was something dense and silky. Sometimes simpler is just better.

Key Lime Pie

(Adapted from the Joy of Cooking)

For the crust:

  • 13 full graham crackers, crushed to fine crumbs (I use my Vitamix blender) You end up with about 1 3/4 cups of fine crumbs.
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or a tad more) sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (for a more crispy crust, use a butter with a higher fat content, such as Kerrygold or Plugra)

For the filling:

  • One 14 oz can sweetened condensed whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks (save the egg whites for macaroons!)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice , strained (I actually use one lemon, then all the rest is lime juice. Use Key limes if you can find them.)
  • Freshly grated zest of one lime (Don’t skip this part!)

For topping:

  • 3/4 cup cold heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Alternate topping:

  • Toasted graham cracker crumb mixture
  1. Preheat oven to 350° and put rack in center of oven.
  2. Mix in a medium bowl the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. Add the melted butter to crumb mixture and stir until combined.
  4. Press graham cracker mixture along the side of a 9″ pie pan, going all the way around. That’s right. You do the side first. Then put enough of the mixture on the bottom to make a nice even crust, pressing all the way to the edge where the crust will combine with the side crust. Pressing with fingers is fine, or use the bottom of a measuring cup. If you have some extra of the crumb mixture, and you should, set aside for later.
  5. Bake crust on center rack in oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Leave oven on.
  6. Over a medium bowl, grate lime zest (do this before cutting and juicing!).
  7. Add egg yolks to lime zest and whisk lightly.
  8. Add condensed sweetened milk and whisk to combine.
  9. Add lime/lemon juice and whisk just until all ingredients are well combined. Do NOT over mix. The mixture should start to thicken quite a bit.
  10. Pour mixture into warm (not hot) crust and bake on center rack of oven for about 15 minutes, until center looks set but is still a bit quivery, like gelatin, when the pan is nudged. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack. Before turning oven off, place any remaining graham cracker crumb mixture, crumbled, on baking sheet and bake in oven for 6 minutes, or until the crumbs just start to brown. Set aside to cool, then store in an airtight jar.
  11. Once pie is cooled to room temperature, chill in refrigerator for at least two hours, or preferably overnight.
  12. Just before serving, whip the heavy cream together with the powdered sugar to top the pie, or top with the toasted crust crumbs, or both!

Very fine graham cracker crumbs.

Ready to go in the pan.

I love this trick! Sides first for a nice even crust.

Use your fingers to evenly spread the crumb mixture to the edge.

Flatten with a measuring cup if you like.

Zest adds the occasional chewy texture – divine.

Whisk until combined… don’t over do it!

Adding the sweetened condensed milk.

The addition of lemon mellows the lime juice a bit.

Strain out the pulp!

Ready to go in the oven.

Let it cool to room temp, then refrigerate.

Have fun decorating!

Add crunchy topping just before serving.

Note: I know the crunch topping is not as pretty as the whipped cream, but I promise that it really adds something special and unexpected to this pie. It’s worth the trouble!

 

 

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Sablés Bretons (French Butter Cookies)

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This cookie is light and flaky, dash-of-salty, buttery divine. It is a specialty of Brittany, in the northwest of France. As you might know by now, I have spent quite a bit of time in France, and Brittany was one of my favorite places to visit, with its rugged coastline, its charming chaumières, la faïencerie, les crêpes, le cidre, and of course, les sablés. You can find these cookies in every local bakery, and they also can be found at most tourist attractions in cute little tins depicting local scenery and artwork.

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I collect these.

Making these cookies kind of surprised me. I mean, I didn’t think I would be able to reproduce them, and I didn’t imagine that I would want to even attempt it. But after ending up with extra egg yolks from my macaroon extravaganza, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine all the recipes that would require extra egg yolks, and these popped into my mind. I had no idea how to make these cookies, but when I did a little research, I did discover that they required egg yolks in the cookie dough, as well as an egg yolk wash at the end. So I just had to follow my inspiration and go with it.

My Henriot Quimper plate is an example of faïencerie.

I pretty much found a perfect recipe right off the bat, that only required a few tweaks to make it extra perfect. Since this is a butter cookie, it really should be made with fantastic butter: cultured salted butter. And guess what? Trader Joe’s is now carrying cultured salted butter straight from Brittany!!

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Yay, Trader Joe’s!!!

Now, this butter takes these simple cookies over the top. But wait, there’s more. I wanted to give them that extra bit of something, and decided it needed to be more salt. Not just any salt, but Fleur de Sel sea salt. I figured I would splurge on this salt, that my kitchen should house this salt at least once in its lifetime. And I have no regrets.

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It’s so pretty!

Don’t worry. You can make these cookies with local salted butter and kosher salt, and you will have something delicious. But I just wanted so badly to get as close as I could to the real thing. C’est une manie.

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My apartment was above this adorable bakery.

Sablés Bretons

(Slightly adapted from Mon Petit Four)

  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup +  3 Tablespoons salted butter (cultured if you can find it)
  • 2 egg yolks (separated: 1 for the dough, 1 for the egg wash)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup + 1 Tablespoon all- purpose flour (4.7 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fleur de Sel salt or kosher salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy – about 1 minute. I like to use my hand mixer for this, since it is such a small amount.
  3. Add 1 egg yolk and the vanilla extract, and mix on medium speed until they’re incorporated. Stop to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula before resuming the mixing. Add the flour in and mix on low speed just until the dough starts to clump together. You should have lots of little clumps.
  4. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the clumps of dough and mix again just for a second or two. You want the salt to be evenly distributed, but not blended in.
  5. Lightly flour a pastry board or counter. Form the clumps of dough into a ball and place it on the floured work space. Then sprinkle some flour on top of the dough before using a rolling pin to roll the dough out. As soon as the dough starts sticking to your pin, sprinkle a pinch of flour on the dough, then resume rolling. Roll your dough out until it’s approximately 1/4″ thick. I like these cookies to have some heft to them, so you can even have it just a tad thicker than 1/4″, but NOT thinner than 1/4″.
  6. Use medium round cookie cutters (I use a biscuit cutter – 2 1/2″) to cut out round cookies from the dough. Use a sharp-edged spatula to transfer the cookie rounds onto the baking sheet. Re-roll scraps and cut out cookies (lightly re-flouring the work space) until you have used all the dough. If the dough gets too soft to work with, put it in your fridge for a few minutes before continuing. Place 16 cookies on parchment lined cookie sheet, spaced at least one inch apart from each other. Beat the remaining yolk in a small bowl with 1/8 teaspoon water. Brush the tops of the cookies with egg yolk wash. Use a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern on the cookies (drag the fork down vertically on the cookie, then drag the fork across horizontally, cleaning tips of fork tines between each cookie).
  7. Bake the cookies on center rack in oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re a deep golden color. Transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Makes  approximately 16 cookies. Bon apétit!

Photos of the process:

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This is what the clumps look like before adding the salt.

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Getting ready to roll.

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Make sure the dough doesn’t stick to the rolling pin!

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Ready to go. This is probably a bit thicker than 1/4″.

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I love this cookie/biscuit cutter.

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Brushed with egg wash.

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Then the hash marks.

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Golden and Beautiful.

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This batch I did fewer hash marks. I like it both ways.

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They go nicely with vanilla ice cream!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cookies, Fun in the kitchen! | Leave a comment