Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies

A couple of years ago, I went nuts (haha) trying to find the perfect peanut butter cookie. It’s strange, because I don’t consider myself a huge fan, but I just got a craving and had to do some recipe research.

I made a dizzying number of recipes that I found online, but didn’t find the one. Part of the problem was that I had some idea/memory in my head that I was trying to recreate, which proved to be impossible, so I gave up (!!!). Until just recently when a new craving hit. This time I thought about my mom’s Joy of Cooking cookbook, and thought that if ever she made peanut butter cookies, that is likely where she found the recipe.

A well loved 1943 Edition (photo credit mercari.com, used without permission)

The Joy of Cooking that I have is a much newer edition, and my mom’s book is safely tucked away in a box somewhere in my sister Linda’s house, so I decided to look online, and lo and behold, I did find the peanut butter recipe from the 1943 edition of the Joy of Cooking on Hilary Gauntt’s blog, Heron Earth, along with a sweet story behind the food memory. I was excited to try it! The first tray of cookies seemed a bit too crunchy and almost over-baked, and then the second tray seemed under-baked. Not feeling completely satisfied with the results, I decided to take a look at some other classic cookbooks (including my newer edition of Joy) and compare recipes.

It turns out these other cookbooks, as well as the newer Joy, all have peanut butter cookie recipes, and their recipes have only half the amount of peanut butter… half! At some point, bakers must have decided to reduce the amount of peanut butter. Interesting. So you know I had to do a little experiment, and here is why: I think that the peanut butter cookies with only half the amount of peanut butter are not peanut buttery enough. I decided to make the 1943 recipe one more time, and instead of using a whopping one cup of peanut butter, I used 3/4 cup – a compromise. I also did this for a more practical reason: the peanut butter jar contains a little less than 2 cups of peanut butter, so if I want to get two batches of cookies out of it, I must use less than 1 cup per batch! Most peanut butter cookie aficionados will agree that Skippy (Jif is a close second) is the best peanut butter to use… it just behaves better, and it gives the cookies that flavor and texture that we have all come to know and love. At our house, for PB&J sandwiches or peanut butter toast, we like the natural kind of peanut butter, you know, just peanuts and salt, but for peanut butter cookies, it’s Skippy all the way, and the SUPER CHUNK please.

Reserved for peanut butter cookies!

I followed the recipe (aside from the slight reduction in peanut butter), including sifting the flour before measuring. I weighed the flour after sifting and measuring it, and ended up with 200 grams of all-purpose flour. I also skipped the vanilla by mistake, and decided the cookies didn’t need the vanilla. The only other change I made was adding more salt to the recipe. I more than doubled it! I kept tasting the dough and found it was too sweet, so I kept adding salt until it tasted yummy. I may have needed to do this because of using unsalted butter, but who knows? Jacques Pépin says to always taste your food as you prepare it, and who am I to argue with Jacques Pépin?

These cookies are crispy, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, and I don’t even love peanut butter cookies. But I love these. And my kids feel the same way. My work is done.

Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies

(Adapted from the 1943 edition of the Joy of Cooking)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup chunky peanut butter (Skippy or Jif)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt*
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups (200 grams) all-purpose flour**
  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter with a hand mixer until creamy.
  4. Add the sugars to butter and beat until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the egg, and then the peanut butter, beating until well combined.
  6. Sprinkle the salt and baking soda evenly over the wet ingredients and mix well.
  7. Add the flour and mix until just combined (did you notice this is a “one bowl” recipe?)
  8. Scoop cookie dough into 1 1/2 inch balls (I use a cookie scoop for this) and place them on the prepared cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Dip the tines of a dinner fork in flour so they don’t stick, and then press into each ball of dough in a criss-cross pattern to flatten the ball. Bake on middle rack in preheated 375° oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies have browned along the edges and slightly on the top***.
  9. Let cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely. Makes 2 dozen cookies.


*If you use salted butter, reduce the amount of salt in the recipe to just 1 teaspoon. If you are worried about the overall amount of salt in the recipe, taste your cookie dough as you go. Skippy peanut butter is so sweet that the salt balances it out, in my opinion.

**The original Joy of Cooking recipe calls for “bread flour”. I like to use King Arthur all-purpose flour because it is high in protein content, similar to bread flour, so it’s a good choice. Also, the original recipe calls for sifting the flour before measuring out. I suggest that you do this as well, unless you have a kitchen scale, and in that case, just weigh out the 200 grams, no sifting necessary.

***For crisper cookies, flatten the cookies a little more, or you can also bake the cookies until they have browned completely on top, but not burned! I did a little experiment and made one tray of cookies with half of them pressed down more, and half of them pressed down less. The ones that were pressed down more browned more that the chubbier ones. Either way, they are fabulous! I guess I do love peanut butter cookies.

The four cookies on the right were pressed down flatter.

They were baked the same amount of time on the same tray. The ones on the right were crispier/darker, but honestly, they were both crispy and delicious! You can’t go wrong!

As a final note, I did try making this recipe using natural peanut butter, you know, just peanuts and salt. The results were less than satisfying – the cookies were dense, and the flavor was missing a certain je ne sais quoi. That being said, a friend of mine tried both kinds (yes, if you are a friend of mine, sooner or later you will be subjected to taste-testing), and she preferred the ones made with natural peanut butter! But everyone else preferred the Skippy version. I’ll let you decide.

On the left, the natural peanut butter version. On the right, the Skippy version.

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Banana Bread

I have been using this recipe for years, and although I do some experimenting with other banana bread recipes on occasion, I keep coming back to this one.

I love the cracked top.

I got the recipe from my friend Marivic. I remember the day vividly. Our kids were little, and Marivic invited us to go the pool with her and her boys. Marivic’s kids were a bit older, so she had a few more parenting years under her belt than I, and I was in awe of her ability to take her kids to a public pool and manage all the details. At the end of our swim session (after the traumatic-for-me part, which was dealing with showers in the locker room), we sat in her car and she opened up a foil wrapped package of sliced banana bread. It was hot in her car, so the bread was warm, and it had chocolate chips in it, which were all melty. It was the best banana bread I had ever had!

When they were little: Marivic’s son Toby on the left, Mara in the middle, and another friend Mia on the right.

She said she had made the bread that morning. I was again in awe of her parenting prowess. How did she manage to pack up all of the swim gear and make banana bread while wrangling two boys? She told me the recipe came from a cookbook for kids, so it was super simple to make – just one bowl and a wooden spoon. You gotta love that!

One bowl and a spoon!

This banana bread is simple and homey, slightly sweet with a velvety crumb. Normally I don’t like chocolate chips in quick breads, but it really works here, especially if you don’t use too many.

The perfect breakfast or anytime snack.

Banana Bread

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (3 large)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (I use olive oil)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup (scant) semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 325°
  2. Grease a 9″ x  5″ x 3″ loaf pan.
  3. In a large bowl, mash the bananas using the back of a wooden spoon. I use the most disgustingly ripe bananas I can find.  Stir in the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla and mix well.
  4. Dump the flour on top of the wet ingredients (you can use up to half whole wheat if you like), then sprinkle the walnuts, baking soda, baking powder, and salt over the top. Stir everything together with wooden spoon just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips if using.
  5. Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then take loaf out of pan and let cool completely on cooling rack. To store, wrap in foil and keep at room temperature. I recommend waiting until the next day to slice into the bread, if you can wait that long. Both texture and flavor are better on day #2!

And just for the fun of it, here are me and Marivic with friends Christy and Carolyn, from one of our bi-annual women’s retreats (2017).

I am on the left, Marivic is bottom center, Christy on the right, and Carolyn (Christy’s mom) top center. It was cold and windy!



Posted in Comfort Food, Dairy-free, Fun in the kitchen! | 4 Comments

Soft Sourdough Loaf

This is a variation of my white whole wheat sourdough sandwich bread. I love that bread so much, but it is baked in a loaf tin, and if I want to serve sourdough at a dinner party, I don’t want it looking like a sandwich loaf! I didn’t know if it was possible to reproduce this bread and have it turn out looking like an artisanal loaf, but I thought it was worth a try, and this is how my new favorite sourdough loaf was born.

Nice oven spring.

And here is why I call it soft. One of the things that drives me crazy about sourdough bread is that when it is baked at high heat, which is what everyone wants so they get that really good oven spring and a dark crispy crust, the crust is often just too hard. Or I should say it is too hard for me. So I decided I wanted to make a beautiful artisanal loaf, baked in a dutch oven, that would still have a somewhat soft-ish crust (read: it won’t break any of your teeth). Don’t get me wrong; I still like a good chewy, crispy crust. I just don’t want it to cost me a trip to the dentist.

This one has fresh rosemary in it.

So this one really fits the bill. How? Well, I bake it in a dutch oven, but at a much lower temperature. I didn’t think it would work, but it does! This loaf still works for sandwiches and toast, as it doesn’t have big holes in it. The day after it is baked, it slices up beautifully, the crust is thin and chewy, and the flavor is subtly tangy, as a good sourdough should be.

A few hole here and there, but not too many.

Makes a great sandwich! This loaf was cut on the same day it was baked.

And here is the beauty and versatility of this loaf: it can serve as a soft sandwich loaf, but it can also go on the table to be served with a saucy pasta, or any other dish that calls for a good crusty loaf. All that is required is to reheat the loaf in the oven at 350° or so, and the crust becomes perfectly crispy and delicious.

I know he looks like a loaf. I couldn’t resist.

Soft Sourdough Loaf

  • 330 grams room temperature water (filtered if possible)
  • 80 grams bubbly, active sourdough starter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 450 grams bread flour*
  • 50 grams all-purpose flour*
  • 2 teaspoons (12 grams) kosher salt

Day #1:

  1. Before making this bread, you will want to feed your sourdough starter a couple of times to make sure it is good and active… maybe once every twelve hours, including the night before you want to make your bread. In the morning, in a medium bowl, mix 80 grams of your active starter with 330 grams water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk together until it looks milky and the starter is well incorporated.
  2. Add the flour and salt, and mix with a wooden spoon or dough whisk until there are no dry floury bits. The dough will look shaggy.
  3. Cover the dough and let rest for about an hour (this is called the autolyse).
  4. After the dough has rested, mix the dough until it is smooth and springy: using a slightly wet hand (I keep a bowl of water handy), grab the dough from the side of the bowl and press it into the center. Rotate the bowl and continue to grab and press until you’ve gone around a couple of times. This should take maybe about a minute. The dough will become more elastic and springy rather quickly. Flip the dough over in the bowl (smooth side up), cover the bowl with plastic wrap or similar covering, and leave on your counter.
  5. After about an hour, using a bowl scraper or spatula, scrape all along the side and bottom of the bowl to make sure the dough isn’t sticking. With wet hands, scoop up the dough from the middle, letting the dough hang and stretch. Gently release the dough into a pile and rotate the bowl one quarter turn. Repeat, scooping up the dough and letting it hang and stretch. I sometimes jiggle it to encourage it to stretch a bit more. then cover the bowl and leave on the counter. These are called coil folds**, and they will help develop the gluten in the dough, giving the finished bread a nice structure. Leave the dough in the covered bowl on your kitchen counter. You can come back and do another set of folds in about an hour if you like. Then leave the dough covered for anywhere from six to eight hours, or until it has almost doubled in size, and has a bubble or two on the top.
  6. Once the dough has almost doubled in size, gently scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface using a spatula or bowl scraper. It is time to shape your dough. Take your fingers and slide them under the sides of the dough and gently stretch the dough out a bit to make a large circle. Lightly flour your finger tips and, acting like you are playing the piano, gently dimple the dough. This helps to minimize large holes in your bread. Fold the sides of the dough into the center, starting at one side and continuing until you have gone all the way around, brushing off any excess flour as you go. Flip the whole thing over with the assistance of a bench scraper or bowl scraper. The dough will be “smooth side up”. Now cup the dough with your hands and draw it towards you, pressing slightly under as you go. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Do this several times, but gently! You don’t want the dough to tear. You want the dough to be evenly round, and to feel taut and a bit springy. Once it is shaped nicely, let it rest for ten minutes.
  7. While the dough is resting, grab a colander (or bowl) and clean, dry tea towel. Flour the tea towel. Line your colander with the floured tea towel, floured side facing up. After your dough has rested for 10 minutes, lightly flour the top of the dough and smooth out the flour to have a nice even layer. Carefully pick up your dough with the assistance of a bench scraper or bowl scraper and gently flip it over, and place your dough smooth side down into your prepared tea towel/colander**. Lightly flour the seam side of the dough and cover lightly with the tea towel. Place in fridge to rest and rise overnight.

Day #2:

  1. You can get started any time you feel like it. When you are ready, place your dutch oven and lid into your oven on the middle rack, then preheat the oven to 375°. Let oven and dutch oven preheat for 20 minutes or a bit more.
  2. Once the 20 minutes are up, take your bread dough out of the fridge. Open up the tea towel. Take a square of parchment paper and lay it on top of the dough. Place a plate on top of the parchment, and flip the whole thing over. Remove the colander and the tea towel. Using a sharp knife or razor blade, make a big slash about 1/4 inch deep across the loaf. If you wish, you can cut more designs making the cuts very shallow.
  3. Using oven gloves or mitts, take your dutch oven and lid out of your oven. Be careful, as it will be very hot. Take a hold of the dough by the corners of the parchment paper, and drop the loaf into the dutch oven. Shake it from side to side to make sure the loaf is centered. Put the lid on and place in your 375° oven and bake for 45 minutes. The lid stays on the entire time.
  4. When the 45 minutes are up, remove the dutch oven and carefully lift out your beautiful bread. Let the loaf cool on a cooling rack for at least two hours before cutting into it. Enjoy!


*Lately I have been making this bread using Cairnspring Mills Expresso Bread Flour. I have been using their Sequoia All Purpose Flour to soften the bread a bit. Both of these flours have more bran and germ than most other flours, so the result is an earthy loaf. If you are lucky enough to be in the area and get your hands on some of this flour, I highly recommend it. If not, another blend of flours I like for this loaf is King Arthur Bread Flour (200 grams), plus King Arthur All Purpose Flour (100 grams), plus King Arthur White Whole Wheat (200 grams).

**I now use a proofing basket (also called a banneton) with a linen liner instead of a colander and tea towel. Either set up works well. The banneton takes up less room in the fridge (and that is important because our fridge is small!), and I can easily clean the liner by rinsing it in hot water and hanging it to dry on a hook in my kitchen. When using the banneton and liner, I just use one of those reusable shower cap-style covers on it when I put it in the fridge for the overnight rise. Super easy.

Here are some pictures of the process:

Use an active starter that has at least doubled.

Put water, starter, olive oil and sugar in medium bowl.

Stir water, starter, sugar and oil until milky.

Add the flours and salt.

Mix until there are no more floury bits.

Cover and let rest for about an hour.

Mix again with a wet hand, bring the dough from the sides into the center, going all the way around until dough is smooth and springy.

Then flip the dough over. Nice and smooth.

Cover again and let rest for another hour.

Time for a fold. Stick your hands underneath and lift the dough up.

Lift it nice and high so the dough can stretch. Then drop it back down onto itself.

Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and do it again.

Cover bowl and let rest for 6 to 8 hours, or until dough has almost doubled.

Almost doubled and ready to go!

Scrape the dough out onto a floured surface.

Stretch the dough gently into a wide circle, and dimple the dough.

Fold the edges of the dough into the middle, going all the way around.

Flip it over so it is “smooth side up”.

Draw the dough toward you, rotating the dough and repeating until there is nice tension.

Nice and springy with good tension.

Flour the top of the dough.

Flour your banneton liner or your tea towel/colander set up.

Tea towel/colander set up looks like this.

With the assistance of your bowl scraper, flip your dough into the lined banneton or colander so the smooth side is down and the seam-side is up.

Tea towel/colander set up looks like this.

Cover with plastic wrap or a reusable cover, and place in the fridge to rise overnight.

If using tea towel, fold over the edges of towel and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge overnight.

Day #2: Place dutch oven in your oven and preheat to 375° for at least 20 minutes.

Once oven is preheated, remove dough from fridge and remove cover. It should be nice and puffy!

Cover with a square of parchment paper.

Flip the whole thing over.

Remove basket/colander and liner.

Make a 1/4″ cut across the loaf with a sharp knife or razor. You can also make more shallow decorative cuts.

Carefully remove dutch oven from oven and plop your bread and parchment paper inside of it.

Cover and put back in oven. Bake for 45 minutes covered the entire time.

After 45 minutes, remove dutch oven and carefully remove the lid (there will be steam).

Place your work of art on a cooling rack and let cool for at least 2 hours before cutting into it.

This one I reheated in a 350° oven to give it the dark, crispy crust.

Posted in Fun in the kitchen!, Sourdough | 3 Comments

Anise Pizzelle

Last year for Valentine’s Day our baking group did a cookie exchange, and Sarah brought pizzelle. I don’t think I had ever had one before, but they struck a nostalgic chord with me, being that they are Italian cookies flavored with anise.

Cookies from our cookie exchange; Sarah’s pizzelle at 3 o’clock.

Pretty much anything flavored with anise is going to be a huge hit with me, like these almond-anise biscotti. Growing up in St. Louis, we would often go to the Italian neighborhood known as “The Hill” to do a little grocery shopping at Viviano’s. The second you walked in, you would be hit with all of the wonderful aromas – freshly baked bread, strong cheese, olives, olive oil, coffee, and yes, you’ve got it, anise.

Anise seed: I buy it in bulk.

My mom loved all things Italian, but perhaps especially the cookies. When we couldn’t make it to The Hill, she would sometimes bring home Stella D’Oro cookies from the corner grocer. I especially remember these cookies during the holidays – all different shapes, different colors, and all of them crispy and delicious. So how could I not just adore pizzelle? Thin, light, airy and crispy wafers, delicately flavored with anise of course; a perfect accompaniment to a good cup of tea or coffee.

I sprinkled these with a bit of powdered sugar; not necessary, but adds a festive touch.

So this year, Nicole from our baking group asked about pizzelle, and asked if anyone had a good recipe. I remembered Sarah’s phenomenal pizzelle from last year, and turns out she used Martha Stewart’s recipe. Since I never followed up on my obsession last year, I decided it was time. Luckily for me,  my neighbor up the street has a pizzelle iron*, which she kindly loaned to me. I pulled up the Martha Stewart recipe and got busy.

They make festive holiday gifts!

I am always at a loss when recipes have flour measurements in volume, but not weight. Sometimes the author of the recipe is heavy handed with their flour. Other times, they are not. So I usually try the recipe first going with something middle of the road, like 130 grams of flour per cup. Then I tweak it back and forth until I find the perfect amount for me. In this case, I ended up making 5 batches before being satisfied (one of the batches was a different recipe that seems to be the standard that you will find everywhere, and I did NOT like it). In the end, Martha Stewart’s recipe is just lovely. I need look no further. So here I am, sharing it with you, along with a few tips to make the process a bit easier. Buon Natale!

Anise Pizzelle

(Martha Stewart’s recipe)

Makes approximately 2 1/2 dozen pizzelle

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds, lightly toasted and ground
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 grams**) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon anise extract
  1. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.
  2. Toast the anise seeds in a skillet over med-high heat for about a minute, until they are fragrant. Pour into a bowl to cool.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Using a mortar and pestle (that’s what I use) or a spice grinder, grind the anise seeds until mostly fine. Add to flour mixture and whisk in.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until light in color. If using a whisk, this will require a little elbow grease. I use an electric hand mixer to make it easier. Takes a minute or so with the hand mixer. Takes a little longer with the whisk.
  6. Add the vanilla and anise extracts to the egg mixture; whisk until well incorporated.
  7. Continue to whisk the egg mixture as you slowly pour in the melted butter. Mix well.
  8. With a wooden spoon or danish whisk, stir the flour into the egg mixture little by little, maybe a cup at a time. Keep adding flour until all of it is incorporated. Do not over mix.
  9. Your batter should be the consistency of a thick cake batter, and it should look glossy. Leave batter to rest on your kitchen counter, lightly covered, for about an hour or two. This step is optional, but I find the batter is easier to work with once it has rested and the flour has become more hydrated.
  10.  When ready to get started, preheat your pizzelle iron for at least 15 minutes to make sure it is evenly heated. Once preheated, brush lightly with oil. You will only do this once. Place a 1 tablespoon dollop of batter in the center of each pizzelle pattern on the iron (I use a one-tablespoon cookie scoop and it works really well). You can place the dollop slightly back of center to try to get the cookies to be well centered once flattened. After a couple of tries, you will find what works best. Close the iron and bake for 40 to 60 seconds, or until the pizzelle are a light golden color. You’ll need to practice a little to get them just the way you like them. Remove using a thin plastic or bamboo knife to get under the edge, and let cool completely on a cooling rack (no overlapping). For consistent results, close the iron and let it come back to temp every time; this only takes a minute or less, so it’s worth it. Store pizzelle in an airtight container. These keep well for up to a month, if they last that long. The flavor and texture improve as they age. Serve with your favorite hot beverage or ice cream.
  11. If you would like to make cannoli shells**** or ice cream bowls, shape the pizzelle immediately after removing from the iron. They will harden up quickly – in about a minute. For cannoli, wrap the pizzelle around a wooden dowel or handle of a wooden spoon and hold it there for about 30 seconds before releasing to cool. For ice cream bowls, turn a drinking glass upside down, and place pizzelle around the bottom-now-top to shape it. Remove after one minute and allow to cool on cooling rack


*The pizzelle iron my neighbor loaned me is a CucinaPro non-stick pizzelle maker, and it works well. But for my own, after doing a lot of research, I have ordered a pizzelle iron from C. Palmer Mfg. Co. Inc., a family owned and run company founded by an Italian immigrant (Carmen Palmieri) in the 1940’s. I get excited about things like this. I will give an update as to how the machine works… stay tuned.

**If you are not using a kitchen scale, stir your flour to aerate and fluff it up before lightly sprinkling your flour by the spoonful into measuring cup, and use the straight edge of a knife to level the flour. By this method, your flour should weigh approximately 120 grams per cup, and 1 1/4 cup would weigh 150 grams. If you use more flour for this recipe, up to 180 grams, the pizzelle will be a little more cake-y/less crispy… lighter in texture. Still good, but I prefer them on the crispy side. Any time your pizzelle come out not crispy enough, you can always put them directly on an oven rack in a 150° oven and let them crisp up. Maybe leave them at this temperature for 15 minutes or so, and then turn the oven off and let the cookies stay in there until they come to room temp. That should do the trick.

***For chocolate pizzelle, add 3 tablespoons cocoa (high fat if possible) and an additional 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the recipe. They are ridiculously delicious.

****To make a traditional cannoli filling for 8 cannoli, press 1 cup whole milk ricotta between layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture. Mix strained ricotta with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoon (~45 grams) powdered sugar3 tablespoons (~30 grams) finely chopped bitter-sweet chocolate, or you can use mini chocolate chips, and a good dash of cinnamon. Pipe into cannoli shells using a piping bag with a large round tip, or a ziploc bag with the corner cut out of it. Do this just before serving so the shells don’t get soggy. If you like, you can garnish the ends of the cannoli with finely chopped toasted pistachios, and sprinkle powdered sugar over the tops. Finally, if the ricotta texture is not to your liking, you can fold in some whipped cream to smooth it out a bit. But I would highly recommend trying the straight ricotta filling first, for an authentic experience.  This recipe is from Cooking Classy.

And now, a few pics of the process:

Batter is thick and glossy.

This cookie scoop makes things a lot easier.

Dough is slightly back of center.

Light golden brown is perfect for me.

Some are cooling, and one is being shaped for cannoli.

This batch wasn’t crisp enough, so they are crisping in a 150° oven.


Chocolate Pizzelle

And just for the fun of it, I’m including a few pictures from our cookie exchange last year, which was hosted by Prashanthi, owner of Makeda & Mingus – an adorable café in the Greenwood neighborhood in north Seattle. While we were there, Prashanthi made me the absolute best rose cardamom latté – out of this world, and the perfect accompaniment to Sarah’s pizzelle!

I can’t wait to do another cookie exchange with these bakers!

A few of us, from left to right: Prashanthi, me, Deb, and Jill

Posted in Cookies, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 2 Comments

Sourdough Waffles

It started snowing here this morning, which is rare for November in Seattle. The girls stared longingly outside, wishing for a snow day. I mean, why wouldn’t they, with a whopping 1/16th of an inch accumulated, and nothing sticking on either the sidewalks or streets?

You can see the huge snowfall, if you look past our yet unadorned Christmas tree.

Mara said to me, “Yes, mom, I know, I know. When you were a kid you walked to school backwards in the freezing snow, screaming all the way to school because it was so cold!”  Could it be that I have become that parent, the one who says, “When I was your age…”, but it’s true! I remember many a cold, snowy St. Louis winter’s day, walking backwards to school, because if you walked head-on into the biting wind, it would freeze little icicles in your nostrils and sting your nose and cheeks. After the girls left for school, I looked outside and felt the calm and quiet that always accompanies the first snow. I said to Matthew, “It really does kind of feel like a snow day, doesn’t it?”

So cozy in our kitchen this morning. I’m glad I don’t have to go to school.

Well, nothing takes the sting out of having to go to school when it’s snowing outside like a sourdough waffle breakfast. Actually, I make these all the time now, which is why I have to write about them. The girls like them in the morning before school. Mara just grabs one and eats it plain, as if it were a cookie or a donut. Millie prefers to have hers with homemade yogurt and maple syrup.

And here is Millie, perched precariously while preparing her morning waffle.

I have another favorite waffle recipe that I have been making for a couple of years, but could it be that this one is becoming the new favorite? Mara says she likes the flavor better (Hello, sourdough!), and Millie says they keep much better than the others (another nod to sourdough!)… we keep the extras in the fridge and pop them in the toaster for an easy before school breakfast. And even Matthew grabbed one today as he walked by the kitchen table; I love to see the look of surprise and delight on his face when something tastes better than he thinks it is going to.

Sourdough starter is the magic ingredient.

Sourdough Waffles

(Adapted from Emilie Raffa’s recipe, makes about a dozen 4″ waffles)

  • 1 1/2 cups (~190 grams) all-purpose flour*
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup (~240 grams) sourdough discard
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
  1. Melt butter and set aside to cool.
  2. Turn your waffle iron on to preheat.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the sourdough discard until incorporated. Then whisk in the milk and butter.
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk until everything is well mixed. Do not over mix.
  6. Ladle 1/2 cup of batter into each 4″ square of your waffle iron. Bake until the steam subsides.
  7. Serve hot with all of your favorite toppings. Leftovers keep nicely in the fridge for at least a week… they’ve never lasted longer than that at our house.


*If you are not using a kitchen scale, stir your flour to aerate and fluff it up before lightly sprinkling your flour by the spoonful into measuring cup, and use the straight edge of a knife to level the flour. By this method, your flour should weigh approximately 120 grams per cup. Also, you can replace 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour with any whole grain flour for added flavor.

**For spiced pumpkin waffles, add 1/2 cup pumpkin purée to the wet ingredients, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ginger, and 1/8 teaspoon allspice to the dry ingredients before blending. Really yummy!

Pumpkin waffle with yogurt and maple syrup.

And just for the fun of it…

From our recent annual trip to Trinity Tree Farm.


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

Cornelia’s Pumpkin Pie

Growing up, pumpkin pie was a big deal around our house. It was kind of legendary… well, to us anyway. Every Thanksgiving my mom would make 5 or 6 pumpkin pies, along with all the other traditional fare, and we would have a huge gathering with all the cousins. The recipe my mom used came from my paternal great grandmother Cornelia, whom I never met. I have an old recipe card with her recipe, type-written by my mom.

What I love about this recipe card is seeing all the additions and modifications; clearly my mom suffered over getting things just right in the same way that I do. And the secret ingredient for this pie? Bourbon. You can see written in on the card at the bottom in my mom’s handwriting, “1 tsp grated orange rind instead of bourbon“, and then it is crossed out. I’m laughing to myself about this. Sorry, but orange zest just won’t do it. On the backside of this recipe card my mom typed out her own version.

So on this one, she basically doubled the recipe, increased the sugar, halved some of the stronger spices, tripled the pumpkin, decreased the bourbon… well, she changed a bunch of things. And here’s another funny bit. At the bottom of the recipe card, next to the bourbon, she wrote, “or 1 jigger sherry brandy“, and then that got erased. Not just crossed out, but erased! But you can still see it if you look closely. I’m guessing my mom really wanted to replace the bourbon with other things, but in the end, the bourbon won out. And what is a jigger, you may ask?

Here is a jigger! Maybe Cornelia had one of these?

A jigger is a measurement equaling approximately 2 tablespoons, so if you don’t have one of these cool jigger-measuring-thingies, you can just use a tablespoon. But when I found one of these at the thrift store, you know I had to get it.

To be honest, trying to make a really good pumpkin pie with a really good crust is what started my obsession with pie crust, oh so many years ago. Every time November rolled around, I found myself still not being able to make a decent crust. Now here is the kicker: sometimes I could make a decent crust, but then when I would use it for a pumpkin pie, suddenly that pretty decent crust became either tough and disappointing, or flabby on the bottom. And then the dreaded cracked pumpkin pie would happen too.

Smack dab in the middle.

So here I am finally writing about this pumpkin pie, because I think I’ve finally got it figured out! What’s the trick? Well, first of all, I don’t use the directions on the back of the Libby’s can of pumpkin; that renders a soggy bottom of a pie crust. Not that there is anything wrong with that. That is what I grew up with, and that’s how I always thought it was supposed to be! But for a well baked pie crust, I “blind-bake” the crust. Like, blind-bake the heck out of it. Way more than I ever thought was possible or necessary.

Ready to go into the oven to “blind-bake”.

Secondly, I don’t stick a knife into the pie to see if it’s done. Instead I check by nudging the pie plate while it’s still in the oven: if the pie filling ripples like miniature waves, it’s not done yet. Once the pie filling jiggles (like jello) in the center, but doesn’t ripple, it’s time to take it out of the oven. The custard will continue to set after removing it from the oven.

Right out of the oven. It will settle down in a few minutes.

In the end, I decided I like Cornelia’s original recipe. It is creamy, dark and spicy, not too sweet, and not too squash-y either, if you know what I mean. And I choose to blind-bake a homemade crust. Worth it.

Cornelia’s Pumpkin Pie

  • 1 disc pie dough (made from scratch – try this one or this one)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups Libby’s pumpkin (or fresh roasted pumpkin, well drained)
  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1 jigger (scant 2 tablespoons) good quality bourbon
  • 1 egg or egg white for egg wash
  1. Roll out your pie dough, put it in a pie pan, crimp as desired, and freeze it in its pan for 30 minutes. (You can do this up to a day or two ahead of time if you like. Once the crust is frozen, wrap it well and leave it in your freezer until you are ready to bake it.)
  2. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 400° and make sure to have one oven rack in the lower third of your oven and one oven rack in the center.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well beaten. Whisk in the sugar/flour/spice mixture. Next whisk in the pumpkin, half and half, and bourbon. Set aside on your counter (it is ok, and even preferable, for your filling to come to room temperature).
  5. Once your prepared crust has been in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, and your oven is preheated, place your crust on a cookie sheet, line pie crust with parchment paper* or aluminum foil, then fill to the top of the crust with dried beans or pie weights.
  6. Place crust and cookie sheet on bottom rack of oven, and bake for 45 minutes, rotating the crust halfway through the baking time.
  7. When 45 minutes is up, remove crust from oven and carefully remove the dried beans and parchment and save beans indefinitely for blind-baking your crusts. Beat the egg (or egg white) with a pinch of salt and brush the inside of the hot crust with it. Put back in the oven and bake for one more minute. Remove crust from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 375°.
  8. If necessary, move whisk slowly through your pie filling, without creating bubbles, in case any of the spices have settled. Pour into hot crust. You may want to put a foil ring around the edge of your crust to prevent it from burning.
  9. Place your pie only (no cookie sheet please!) on the center rack of your oven, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the filling is set. I start checking at 35 minutes**. I nudge the pie pan, and if the center of the filling ripples like teeny waves, looking liquidy just under the surface, the pie is not done. Continue to check every 3 minutes or so. When the center of the pie jiggles or trembles (like jello), but no longer has the teeny liquidy ripples, your pie is done.
  10. Remove and let cool on cooling rack for at least 2 hours.
  11. Optional! If you want to decorate your pie with crust cutouts, roll out your dough scraps extra thin and cut out any festive fall shapes you like. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with egg wash (or egg white). Bake in a 400° oven for ten minutes. Remove and let cool. Once your pie is baked and has cooled completely, decorate with your crust cutouts.


* When using parchment paper for blind-baking, I find it helpful to crumple it up first, which makes it more pliable for lining the crust.

** I start checking my pie at 35 minutes, because I am pretty sure it won’t be ready by then. I like to see the ripple when I nudge the pie pan, that tells me the pie is not done. That way, when the ripple is no longer there, but the filling still has a slight jiggle, I can tell the difference. I hope that makes sense!



Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 5 Comments

Flaky All Butter Pie Crust, Made By Hand

This pastry blender is the only tool you’ll need. Or you could use your fingers!

Okay, so, there are a million pie crust recipes out there, and a million different techniques. And a million different opinions. Most pie crust recipes pretty much have the same ingredients and same amounts, with very little variation. Flour, salt, butter, and ice water. My challenge was to be able to make an all-butter pie crust by hand, that was just as flaky and tender as the one that I make with my stand mixer. First of all, the one I make with my stand mixer is a bit messy to make, and secondly, what if I’m traveling, or at a friend’s house, and I want to whip up a really good pie crust? Am I destined to be dependent upon a machine?

Ice water… so very simple.

I truly believe that I had to go through all of the experimentation (and frustration) to finally get to the point where I could do this. I had to know what the dough looks like when the butter is cut in just enough for me. I had to know what the dough feels like when it’s hydrated to my liking.

This dough is hydrated enough.

Honestly, I believe that it is all the tips out there that kind of screwed me up (nobody’s fault but my own). Like, “Don’t cut the butter pieces too small!”, or, “Don’t touch the butter with your hands!”, or, “Make sure everything is ICE COLD!”, or, “Don’t overwork the dough!”. I took all of these things very seriously, and perhaps to the extreme, trying to do everything just right. I was traumatized in my own kitchen.

Cold out of the fridge is cold enough.

What if everything doesn’t have to be ice cold? (It certainly doesn’t with my favorite pie crust recipe.) What if it’s okay to touch the butter with your hands, even if your hands have not just been dunked into ice water (brrrrrr)? What if it’s okay to cut your butter into much smaller pieces? I mean, is it really desirable to be able to see big chunks of butter when you roll out your dough? In my experience, it is not. And what if you do a little bit of extra smooshing to get the dough to cooperate?

Teeny tiny bits of butter, almost marbled. This is it.

Well, I am here to tell you that I may have broken some rules, and I have no regrets.

All Butter Pie Crust Made By Hand

(This makes enough pie dough for two single crust pies, or one double-crust pie.*)

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (300 grams**)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar (optional, for sweet pies)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold-from-the fridge unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
  1. Place a large, shallow glass bowl in your freezer just for a few minutes or so (I use a 4 quart Pyrex bowl).
  2. Pour 1/2 cup of water into a glass, add ice and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar or white vinegar to it, and put in fridge.
  3. Take out your chilled bowl. Measure out your flour**, salt and sugar into it, and stir together with a fork or pastry blender.
  4. Cut two sticks of cold-from-the-fridge, unsalted butter into 1/2 inch cubes and toss them into the flour mixture as you go. Get your hands in there and make sure the cubes are separate and toss to coat.
  5. Cut butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender, turning the bowl as you go along. I like to cut the butter in along the side of the bowl. Every now and then, remove butter chunks from the pastry blender with you fingers or a butter knife, and swoosh everything around with the pastry blender to bring up the flour from the bottom of the bowl.
  6. Continue to blend the butter into the flour until everything has the consistency of bread crumbs, with a few (only a few!!!) ever-so-slightly larger pieces of butter still hanging around. Those few pieces should only be the size of small peas. SMALL peas.
  7. Get your fingers in the dough and quickly flatten any larger pieces of butter you find.   This part is fun, because aren’t we trained to not touch the butter???
  8. Remove ice water/vinegar mix from fridge and remove the ice cubes. Drizzle two tablespoons of the ice water over the flour/butter mix, and toss with a fork. Add two more tablespoons and toss again with a fork. At this point the dough should start to come together a bit, but you might notice how there are dry floury bits at the bottom of the bowl. Scoot some of the dough over to one side to expose the floury part, and toss one tablespoon of ice water with that floury part. Now scoot the other half of the dough over to expose the other half of the floury part. Toss one tablespoon of water with that part. You have now used 6 tablespoons of ice water. That is probably enough, but if you still see too much dry floury stuff, go ahead and toss in a bit more ice water, but go lightly at this point, maybe a teaspoon at a time, until you only see a bit of flour here and there.
  9. Run fingers through the dough, letting it fall through your fingers, to evenly disperse the water. Do this a couple of times.
  10. Quickly scoop up about half of the dough (it will still be in pieces), fold it over onto itself, and flatten it all down. Turn bowl a quarter turn and repeat (fold over and flatten). Turn bowl one more time and repeat.*** If you are nervous about your hot hands doing this part, you can do this using a spatula, but it is easier with your hands. Dough should be very much together at this point. Shape dough in the bowl into an oblong/rectangle-y thing. Cut in half with butter knife.
  11. Wash hands if you want to :). Have a piece of plastic wrap ready on your workspace. Take half of the dough and plop it down onto the plastic wrap. Using the sides of the plastic wrap, smoosh the dough together and shape it into a disc. Wrap well with the plastic wrap, and once wrapped, press out any cracks in the dough with your hands. Place dough in refrigerator and repeat with the other half of the dough. Let dough chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.


*The above recipe gives you just enough for two discs of dough for pies made in standard 9″ pie pans. If you will be making a deep dish pie, or even if you just like to have a bit extra dough to make rolling out a bit easier, then I recommend these amounts:

  • 3 cups flour (360 grams)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup ice water
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

**If you are not using a kitchen scale, stir your flour to aerate and fluff it up before lightly sprinkling your flour by the spoonful into measuring cup, and use the straight edge of a knife to level the flour. By this method, your flour should weigh approximately 120 grams per cup.

***I dared to try this method after reading Sister Pie, by Lisa Ludwinski. I am constantly checking cookbooks out from our local library (sorry, no more room on my kitchen bookshelves). I often check out the same ones over and over again if they are about pie. And I read them over and over again. Because I never know when my brain will have room for one more great idea.

And here are some pictures of the process. Some of the photos are a little on the dark/shadowy side; sorry about that! I will take new photos soon.

Get your ice water ready (you can add a bit of vinegar) and put in fridge.

Measure your flour and salt (and sugar if you are using it) into cold bowl.

Two sticks of unsalted butter straight from the fridge.

Cut into 1/2″ cubes – a bench scraper makes quick work of this.

Add butter to flour/salt mixture, and toss and separate cubes.

Start to cut the butter into the flour, rotating bowl as you go.

Keep going.

See these pieces of butter? They are too big!

Keep going.

Get a good look at this. This is just right. Like bread crumbs with a few bigger pieces.

Now get your fingers in there and quickly pinch to flatten any larger remaining pieces of butter.

Add a couple tablespoons of the ice water.

Toss from the bottom up with a fork.

Add two more tablespoons water.

Toss some more.

Push dough aside to reveal floury parts underneath.

Add a tablespoon of water to the dry part and toss some more. Repeat on the other side.

Run fingers through dough to evenly distribute the water.

Take half of the dough with your fingers…

And fold it over onto itself.

Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and grab some more dough to fold over.

Press it down and flatten it. You can do this one more time if you like.

Form dough into an oblong/rectangle-ish shape.

Should look something like this. And the dough is still relatively cool thanks to the chilled bowl.

Cut in half.

Place half of dough onto sheet of plastic wrap.

Bring up the sides of plastic wrap to smoosh the dough together, shaping it into a round disc.

Wrap and press out air and flatten the disc a bit. It might be about 3/4″ thick.

Smooth out the sides of the dough to get rid of any cracks.

Repeat with the other half of the dough. Store in fridge for up to three days, or keep in freezer in a freezer bag for up to three months.


Posted in Comfort Food, Desserts, Fun in the kitchen! | 6 Comments

Favorite Spinach Quiche

This is my latest favorite quiche. I’ve already written about quiche before, but now I’m stuck on this one. The recipe for the filling uses a bit of all-purpose flour (a trick I use for pumpkin pie) to stop the custard from curdling. I don’t like my quiche filling to look like scrambled eggs, and this definitely takes care of that problem. This quiche is elegant, and the custard is satiny smooth.

And it’s relatively simple to make. You can make the crust from the original recipe, or you can make your own favorite crust, or you can make my favorite crust, or in a pinch you can use a frozen store bought crust. But I encourage you to make a crust from scratch, whichever one you choose, for the most wonderful experience. I like to make my crust a couple of days ahead of time and pop the dough in the fridge, or even roll it out and freeze it (well wrapped). That way, when it’s time to make the quiche, it’s not an all day affair.

This recipe comes from Emma Laperruque and Food52. You can follow her recipe exactly as written here, but I have made a few changes that have made it easier for me, and hopefully for you as well.

Spinach Quiche

Adapted from Food52

  • One 9″ frozen pie crust (store bought or made from scratch)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 ounces fresh spinach
  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup grated gruyère or white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 cup half and half
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 dash ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg white
  1. Preheat your oven to 400° and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.
  2. Place prepared frozen pie crust (if you are making your crust from scratch, you will need to have prepared it, rolled it out, and put it in a pie pan, and freeze it for 30 minutes) on cookie sheet, line pie crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil, then fill to the top of the crust with dried beans or pie weights.
  3. Place crust and cookie sheet on bottom rack of oven, and bake for 40 minutes, rotating the crust halfway through the baking time.
  4. While crust is baking, heat oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion for a few minutes until tender, then add the spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from pan and let cool on a plate.
  5. When crust is ready, carefully remove the dried beans and parchment and save beans indefinitely for blind-baking your crusts. Beat the egg white with a pinch of salt and brush the inside of the hot crust with it. Put back in the oven and bake for one more minute. Remove crust from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 325°.
  6. Place 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour in a large bowl. Pour a small amount of the half and half (maybe 3 Tablespoons or so?) into the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs and egg yolk, whisking, then slowly add the rest of the half and half and whisk until everything is well blended. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  7. Sprinkle half of the grated cheese on the bottom of the pie crust, then add the spinach and onion. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper evenly over the spinach, then add the rest of the cheese. Slowly pour in the egg custard.
  8. Bake the quiche on the center rack in your oven at 325° for 55 to 65 minutes. Use a crust shield or aluminum foil around the edge of the quiche if the crust is browning too much. The custard should be set and not jiggly when the quiche is done. Mine takes 55 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and let cool almost completely before serving. This quiche is yummy served with mixed greens and thinly sliced tart apples tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but you can serve it with anything you like. To reheat, place individual slices of quiche on baking sheet and heat for 15 minutes in a 350° oven. Enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

About crust, flan patissier, and other things…

When I was in college, I was fearless about crust. That was back in the days when people didn’t snap a photograph every time you turned around. I was absolutely enamored with Anna Thomas’ cookbooks: The Vegetarian Epicure, and The Vegetarian Epicure, book two. There are lots of wonderful recipes in those books, many of which require crusts, for both sweet and savory tarts, quiches, pies, etc.

At that time in my life, I would just open up one of those cookbooks and pick something. I would follow the instructions, and whatever I ended up with was good enough. I would bring things to dinner parties, or throw one of my own. There may have been moments of frustration with crusts cracking while rolling out, or not being nice and round, or any number of other crust difficulties, but I don’t recall letting that get in the way of making food and having fun with friends. Funny that I don’t have a single picture of any of my culinary exploits from back then.

Somewhere along the line, things changed. Life got busy, and I stopped making my own crusts. And then, when I finally went back to it, making my own crust seemed suddenly very daunting. Those same cracks and imperfections that never bothered me before seemed to be a deal breaker. Was it because I was older, and wanted things to be perfect? Was I less patient? Was I doing something wrong?

Then came all of the trials and errors, as I tried to find the perfect crust recipe. One that was flaky and tender every time, one that was easy to roll out and didn’t crack in a million ways, one that would behave the same way each time I made it. And here is what I discovered. Well, first of all, I did find a recipe that I loved. It is pretty much fail-proof as far as I’m concerned. And that is great. But what happens if I come across a recipe that calls for a different kind of crust?

I want to be fearless again. I want to make any crust that a recipe calls for and not be afraid. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want epic failures. But I do want to be flexible in the kitchen. I am thinking about all of this because just a couple of days ago I made a flan patissier, a vanilla pastry cream baked in a flaky pastry crust. I used to love getting a slice in the late afternoon from a little corner bakery when I lived in France. I have never attempted making this before, but when I discovered that David Lebovitz had posted a recipe for one, I just had to do it.

I considered using my own crust recipe, but then decided I would follow the recipe exactly as written, crust and all. And I did have some issues with the crust. It seemed a little dry when I made it. It cracked when I rolled it out. Oh, did it crack. And it was a crazy, falling apart mess when I ever-so-carefully put it into the 9 inch spring form cake pan. But David says in his post: “Use your hands to patch and smooth any wrinkles or cracks. (The dough is quite forgiving once baked and filled so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.)” And it’s just that simple. His attitude is so relaxed. Really, this is baking 101. And here is the crust after I followed David’s directions, all patched and smoothed out.

… so don’t worry if it’s not perfect.” Somewhere inside of me I know this. But it’s always good to have kind and gentle reminders. There is so much that I would miss out on if I waited for things to be perfect. So, after making this gorgeous flan patissier, I did not do my usual making-the-recipe-a-million-times-until-it-was-absolutely-perfect. Here is what I did do. I invited some friends over, friends who love pastries and custards, friends who love to talk about good food, and enjoy eating good food with friends. And we had an impromptu late afternoon tea party. And it was perfect.

Posted in Desserts, Fun in the kitchen!, Musings | 9 Comments

Beautiful Blueberry Tart

I love fresh fruit tarts, and I think I might just really really love this one. Maybe it is because of the fresh blueberries from our garden. Or maybe it is from the lemony cream cheese layer, or the crisp cookie-like tart shell. Or maybe from all of these things.

I took a risk and tried David Lebovitz’ version of Paule Caillat’s French Tart Dough recipe. It’s an unusual technique, but the result is a thin, delicate, crispy, ever-so-slightly-sweetened tart shell that serves as the perfect backdrop for anything you want to put in it. Similar to a shortbread crust, or a pâte sucrée, but no egg, making the flavor more subtle, so it doesn’t compete with the filling. It just enhances it.

Don’t worry about the cracks!

I also decided I wanted a cream cheese layer instead of a pastry cream, and I have no regrets. The tangy lemony flavor pairs perfectly with fresh berries, it stores well, and it doesn’t make the crust soggy either. Oh, and did I mention how ridiculously easy it is to make?

I have made this tart three times now. The first time was a big hit, so I had to make it again, and since I am me, I decided to tweak the crust recipe to make it a bit sweeter, and who knows what else. Nope. In the final analysis, the crust recipe is perfect just as David has written it. I made the tart a third time with no changes to the crust, just to be sure. I asked Millie to arrange the fruit. She added strawberries, which we all agreed was the perfect combination.

And this tart keeps well in the fridge for three days! It might keep longer than that, but it hasn’t lasted longer than that at our house. This tart actually benefits from a day of refrigeration. All the ingredients seem to get cozier with each other.

Beautiful Blueberry Tart

Serves 6 to 8

For the crust:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil (canola works well)
  • 1 1/3 cup (160 grams) all purpose flour*

For the filling:

  • 8 ounces cold cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (or what you can get from one lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Approximately 1 pint, or 2 cups blueberries, or a mix of berries.**

Glaze (optional):

  • 3 tablespoons apricot preserves
  • splash water
  1. Preheat your oven to 410°.
  2. Making the crust: Measure your flour in a small bowl and set aside. Place the butter, water, sugar, salt, and oil into a large oven-safe glass bowl (I use a large Pyrex bowl) and place in preheated oven. Heat until ingredients are bubbly, and the edges of the butter are starting to brown. For me, that takes somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove bowl from oven using oven mitts or gloves (there will be splattering). Add the flour (there will be more splattering!) and mix with a spatula until the dough comes together. Keep in mind the bowl will be dangerously hot, so resist the urge to hold the bowl with one hand unless you are still wearing your gloves or mitts.
  4. Transfer dough to 9″ tart pan and spread the dough out a bit with the spatula. Let the dough rest for a few minutes until it has cooled enough to handle it. Don’t let it sit too long or it will dry out. Remove a tablespoon’s worth of the dough and set it aside to use for patching. With your fingers, spread the dough to cover the pan and going up the sides, making it as even as possible. You should have just enough to do this.
  5. Poke holes in the dough all over with a fork. Place the tart pan on a cookie sheet and place in the 410° oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. If you see the crust puffing up and doming while it is baking, take a fork and carefully poke a hole or two into the domed area, and gently press down. You might have to do this a couple of times during the bake.
  6. Remove from oven, and patch any of the larger cracks with the reserved dough. Don’t worry if you don’t cover all the cracks.  Let cool completely.
  7. While crust is cooling, make your filling: using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until light and fluffy.
  8. Once the crust is cool, spread the cream cheese mixture evenly into the crust, then place your blueberries (and maybe strawberries and blackberries too) on top. Refrigerate for *at least* two hours, but longer is better, and this tart is excellent on day #2. If you want a shiny more finished appearance, you can heat up some apricot preserves with a small splash of water to make a glaze. Brush the top of the fruit with it before refrigerating. I prefer without for a more rustic look. Enjoy!


* To get an accurate measurement of flour, using a scale is best. If you don’t have one, aerate your flour first by stirring it, then sprinkle it into your measuring cup and level and sweep off the excess with the straight edge of a knife.

** As you might suspect, this tart is only as good as the fruit you use, so make sure your berries are firm and fresh and have good flavor.

And now for a few pictures of the process.

The ingredients in the glass bowl will go into the oven.

The butter has browned a bit at the edges. The bowl is hot!

Dump the flour in, and be careful of the splattering.

Stir until it comes together.

Dump the dough into your 9″ removable bottom tart pan.

Spread it out a little bit and let it cool until you can use your fingers, and don’t forget to put a bit aside for patching later.

Shape as evenly as you can. Dough should still be very warm.

Poke holes all over with a fork. Bake on cookie sheet in oven until golden brown.

Patch the worst of the cracks while crust is still hot. Let cool completely.

While crust is cooling, you can work on the filling.

Add cream cheese filling to cooled crust. Notice the cracks. No problem! It’s rustic.

Spread filling evenly.

Arrange fruit starting from the center for best results.

Chill for several hours or overnight before serving.

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