Dessert

Classic Apple Pie

apple pie

If my kitchen was a classroom, pie would be the final exam. The crust requires a level of dexterity and attention to detail far beyond what’s needed for most baking recipes, and even the most minor of errors can affect the final result. The pie filling itself is a test of knife skills and ingenuity, and the technique used for slicing the fruit can make a huge difference in the pie’s overall flavor. Even the construction of the pie requires a certain amount of self confidence, asking the baker to take a leap of faith when draping the top crust over the filling. Naturally, some doubts arise. Will the crust be crispy? Will the top cave in on itself, creating an flood of syrupy fruit?

With that in mind, I’ll admit that this is only the second pie of my baking career. Pie recipes intimidate me with their long list of ingredients and string of “do’s” and don’ts,” and I avoid them as much as possible (see this apple galette as a wonderful pie alternative). To make a worthy pie, I knew I needed to do some research.

Apple Pie DoughWhat did I find, you may ask? From The Kitchn, I learned the importance of  pre-baking the applies before assembling the pie. Since the apples lose water and shrink in size during baking, this step eliminates the potential gap between the top pie crust and the filling. This isn’t too surprising, since lauded bakeries like Baked in Red Hook and Three Babes Bakeshop in San Francisco both bake their apples before using them for pies.

My research also taught me that apple varieties are distinct and should not be used interchangeably. While my original plan was to go with Golden Delicious apples, mixed reviews of the apple’s texture after baking caused me to pick Cortland instead. For a comprehensive list of good baking apples, read this article on Epicurious.

apple pie 2 (1 of 4)Through trial and error, I discovered a few tips for making a good crust. First, keep the butter as cold as possible, chopping it up and placing it in the freezer if necessary. These small pieces of butter will melt during baking, creating a wonderful, flaky texture. Make sure to use ice water (or tap water filled cooled with ice cubes) since this will help keep the mixture chilled during the mixing process.

When it comes to adding the water, be careful to add just the right amount. Too much water will reduce the flakiness of the dough, while not enough water will lead to a dough that is crumbly and and ultimately impossible to roll out. I learned this the hard way, dumping my first version of the crust in the trash after a frustrating round with the rolling pin. When you have just the right amount of water, the dough should come together easily and feel slightly sticky.

apple pie 2 (2 of 4)

Before assembling the pie, stick the prepared pie pan (with crust) in the freezer for 30 minutes or more. You want the crust to absorb as little liquid from the apples as possible, and this method is pretty reliable when it comes to preventing a soggy crust.

apple pie 2 (3 of 4)

Lastly, take the bonding process seriously! The fork marks above aren’t just for looks – they actually hold the filling inside the pie as the entire pastry warms and begins to bubble during baking. If the bond between the top and bottom crusts isn’t strong enough, you’ll notice that some filling will ooze between the layers.

As you can probably tell, this recipe takes time. But for those that are patient and ready to invest some effort, I promise that this recipe will impress a crowd!

Classic Apple Pie Recipe

Pie crust (adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s “Pie Crust 102” post):

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks butter unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup ice cold water

Apple filling (adapted from the NY Times):

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 pounds apples (I used 5 very large Cortland apples)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp all spice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp acid (either cider vinegar or lemon juice)

Egg wash:

  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Instructions:

For the pie crust

  1. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and cold butter in a large bowl. Make sure that the butter is very cold (if you like, you can even stick it in the freezer for a few minutes before beginning this step). Using a pastry blender, begin to slowly cut the butter into the dry ingredients. This process is complete once the mixture attains a crumbly texture – each crumb should be the size of a small pea. Be careful not to over mix the dough, as this will interfere with the flakiness of the crust.
  2. Prepare the ice water. I always fill a cup with around 2 cups of water and add 3-4 ice cubes, and then remove the amount of water requested in the recipe.
  3. Slowly drizzle 1/3 cup ice water into the dough. Begin by using your pastry blender to integrate the water into the mixture, but switch over to using your hands once the dough become too sticky. Add the remainder of the water until the dough comes together easily into a ball – it’s still too dry if the dough cracks easy and falls apart into the bowl.
  4. Using a knife, cut the dough into two halves. Form each half into a round ball, flatten it, and cover with plastic wrap.
  5. Store overnight in the fridge before using.

For the filling

  1. Peel and core apples. Cut each apple into 1/4 – 1/2 slices, depending on how chunky you would like your pie filling to be.
  2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Once hot, add the apples and stir to coat with the butter mixture. Quickly add the sugar and spices, stir well, and reduce the heat to medium – low. Allow the mixture to simmer for 5 minutes more.
  3. Add flour and cornstarch to the saucepan and stir to combine. Cook for 3-5 minutes more, until the apples are tender but do not lose their structure. Add the cider vinegar or lemon juice and allow to cool completely before adding to the pie.

For prepping the pie shell

  1. Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  2. Lightly flour your work surface. Using a rolling pin, begin to gently roll out your dough into a 12 inch circle. Remember, technique is key here – if you go too quickly or use too much pressure to roll out your dough, it will begin to crack. (Tip: Every 3-4 strokes, pick up your dough and rotate it 90 degrees. This will ensure that the dough does not stick to the surface).
  3. Gently pick up your dough and place it in a 9 inch pie plate. The dough should hang about 1/2 inch over the edges of the pie plate (this will help you later to bind the top and bottom pie crusts).
  4. Cut off the excess dough with scissors or a sharp knife and place the prepared pie shell in the freezer.

For putting together the pie

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place a large baking sheet inside the oven.
  2. Once the filling is completely cool, roll out the top pie crust following the same directions as above. It can be a little smaller, around 10 inches in diameter.
  3. Remove the pie shell from the freezer and pour the filling into the pie. Gently place the top pie crust over the filling, making sure that the dough hangs over a bit on all sides.
  4. Using a fork, lightly press into the edges of the pie to bind the top and bottom crusts. This part is important, since the filling will seep out during cooking if the edges are not bound correctly.
  5. Cut three slits all the way through the top pie crust using a very sharp knife. If the dough is soft and too hard to cut, place the pie in the fridge for a few minutes before completing this step.
  6. Brush the pie crust with the egg wash and sprinkle withe the remaining sugar.
  7. If you would like to make the tiny leaves on this pie, roll out the excess dough from the pie crust. Using a cookie cutter, cut out 5-6 little leaves. Use the egg wash as a binding agent, lightly coating one side of the leaf with egg wash and placing it on the top pie crust in the desired location.

For baking

  1. Place the pie on the hot baking sheet and let it bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
  2. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Allow pie to bake for 35-40 more minutes, or until the crust is flaky and assumes a deep, caramel color.
  3. Let pie cool completely at room temperature.
Cake · Dessert · Fruit

Plum Torte

Despite being knee deep in October, plums are still bountiful at my local farmers market. This unexpected harvest inspired me to try the recipe below, shared long ago by the NY Times and now a mainstay in many home cook’s kitchens. This plum dessert makes a surprisingly great neighbor to your other fall favorites, pairing nicely with the season’s pumpkin breads and apple pies.

Plum Torte (3 of 4)

After trying this recipe, there’s no wonder why it continues to rage in popularity. The batter is practically effortless –  the entire recipe can be prepared in one bowl, should you decide to sift the ingredients directly into the batter. The preparation process takes less than 10 minutes, and the majority of your time will be spent salivating at the smells coming out from your oven.

While the original recipes calls for a springform pan, I didn’t have one of those in hand. Instead, I pulled out my handy non-stick cake pan, lined it with parchment paper, and gave it a good coating of butter. This method worked seamlessly, and my cake popped out without a crumb. If you don’t have a springform pan either – there’s no reason to write off this recipe!

Plums for the plum torte (1 of 1)

Plum Torte (1 of 4)

For the topping, lay the plums neatly on the top of the torte. They should be side by side, with little space in between. This will prevent the plums from moving around and sinking into the batter unevenly. There’s no need to push the plums in, though – they collapse naturally into the batter once baking.

Plum Torte (4 of 4)

Plum Torte (adapted from the NY Times)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 10 plums
  • Cinnamon for dusting
  • 1/2 a lemon

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9 inch cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter again (you can skip this step if you have a springform pan).
  2. Cut plums in half and remove pits.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  4. Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth and light in color, about three minutes.
  5. Add the dry ingredients and eggs to the bowl. Beat on low to medium speed until just combined.
  6. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Top with plum halves, skin side up. Dust with sugar and cinnamon and squirt with lemon juice.
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes and let cool completely.

 

Dessert · Fruit

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

One of the things I love most about summer is the sudden appearance of fruit desserts. I’ve seen them pop up just about everywhere, from the fanciest of restaurants to my friend’s laid back weeknight BBQ. The varieties are endless, beginning with berries in June and transferring over to peaches and other stone fruits as the season progresses. Even the toppings differ, ranging from streusels to sweet puffy biscuits.

My personal favorite fruit dessert is the crumble, a simple dish of baked fruit with oats in the topping. The oats compliment the already delicious combination of flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon, adding a touch of crunch to each bite. If you’re curious about the distinctions between summer fruit desserts, like what makes a crumble different from a crisp,  check out this article via the Huffington Post.

Rhubarb Crumble Food Blog (1 of 1)

There are a few options for the filling. Purists will stick with one fruit, but I always prefer two (and a touch of zest, if you have it!). This particular crumble features strawberries and rhubarb, balancing tart and sweet flavors. Both fruits are on the watery side, however, so add corn starch to the mix if you prefer a thicker filling.

Rhubarb Crumble Food Blog (1 of 1)-2

From start to finish, crumbles should take no longer than an hour to prepare. And don’t forget – while you’re waiting for the fruit to bake, run out and buy a pint of vanilla ice cream. You’ll thank me later.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Recipe (adapted from William-Sonoma Essentials of Baking)

Filling:

  • 6 stalks of rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2.5 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered (if large)
  • scant 1/2 cup sugar (I used a bit less)
  • juice and zest of half a lemon

Topping:

  • 1 cup of flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a square Pyrex dish (about 8 x 8)
  2. In a large bowl, mix together fruits, white sugar, and lemon juice. Stir to combine and pour into the prepared dish.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, white sugar, brown sugar, and oats. Slowly add the melted butter and stir until small clumps begin to form.
  4. Spoon crumbs onto the fruit mixture and spread evenly. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the top crumbs are golden brown. Let cool and serve.
Cake · Dessert

Coconut-y Chocolate Cake

Happy New Year! There’s nothing like starting the new year off with chocolate cake.

New Years Cake 1

The first time I tried this recipe I was looking for a new way to finish off a can of coconut milk.  Half had already gone towards a green curry dinner, and I didn’t want the rest to go to waste.  Curious about other uses for coconut milk, I turned to Google for ideas.

A surprise to me, I learned that coconut milk is frequently used as a milk substitute in baking. I was in the mood for something chocolate, so I decided to give this recipe a try.

The result? An addicting, decadent chocolate cake. While most substitutes in baking tend to fall short, coconut milk adds moisture and richness to every slice. The coconut flavor is mild to non-existent, so it is suitable for coconut lovers and haters alike.

chocolate cake 2
This recipe also makes a great celebration cake. I baked one the other day for New Years Eve, and it was a delicious way to bring in the new year.

Coconut Milk Chocolate Cake Recipe (adapted from The Little Red House)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cups boiling water
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut milk (lite)

Instructions:

  1. Butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, add the chocolate chips and cocoa powder.  Pour bowling water into the bowl and mix until the chocolate melts completely. Set aside and let cool.
  4. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the butter and sugar and mix on medium until thoroughly combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue to mix for 3-4 minutes.  Slowly add in the coconut milk.
  5. Pour in the chocolate mixture and stir.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  6. Pour cake batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick is inserted into the center and comes out clean.

Ganache Icing Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk

Instructions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter,cocoa powder, and powdered sugar.  Stir on medium for 1-2 minutes.  Slowly add the coconut milk until the icing reaches the desired texture.
Dessert · Fruit

Free-form Apple Galette

Finished tart

In DC, it’s easy to miss the arrival of fall.  September days often reach up to 80 degrees, and it’s totally acceptable to wear shorts and flip flops outside the house.

Since I can’t count on the weather to indicate the changing of seasons, I’ve come to rely on other context clues.  This year, that clue was the arrival of apples.  Sometime around the middle of September, apples began to pop up everywhere, taking the place of peaches at the farmer’s market and lining the center stands in grocery stores.

And just like that, it’s apple season! Apple season is one of my favorites for the following reasons:  1) I love apple picking 2) I can’t get enough of apples with peanut butter 3) apples usher in a baking season full of spices, pumpkin, and cranberries. I decided to celebrate, searching for an apple recipe that was fancy looking but not too difficult.

forming the galette

Enter the galette, or what should be known as the “lazy man’s pie”.  The galette still looks and tastes like your favorite apple pie, but takes about half the prep time.  It also requires no special pots or pans, taking its form from the filling and sitting on your everyday baking sheet.

Despite the reduced difficulty level, the galette doesn’t lose any of its flavor. In this galette, the flavor is due largely to the combination of chopped and sliced apples.  The chopped apples bake until soft and almost melted, taking on the texture of a chunky applesauce and creating a unique texture in every bite.  The galette dough also browns wonderfully, producing a flaky texture that looks like it came from a bakery.

gallete

Free-form Apple Galette (adapted from Food and Wine)

Ingredients:

Galette Pastry:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup water, ice cold

Filling:

  • 4 apples, about 1.5 pounds (I used golden delicious)
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp of cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Instructions:

Galette dough:

  1.  In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt.
  2. Using a pastry cutter, slowly mix the butter into the dough.  Add about half at a time, mixing until butter is well incorporated and the dough has a crumbly texture (some small chunks of butter can still be present).
  3. Slowly add the water to the dough and mix with the pastry cutter.  Once the dough becomes too sticky, finish kneading it with your hands.
  4. Turn the mixed dough onto a floured cutting board and form it into a small flat disk.  Chill the disk in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Apple filling:

  1. Peel and core the four apples, cutting half of the apples into slices and the other half into 1/2 inch chunks.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

Forming the galette:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Remove the disk of dough from the fridge and place on a large piece of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin (or a cold wine bottle, in my case), roll the dough out to a 12 x 14 rectangle.  If the rolling pin sticks to the dough, rub it with flour.
  3. Transfer the rolled out dough to a large sheet pan.  Spread the chopped apples on the dough, leaving a 1-2 inch border from the edge (you’ll need this in order to fold up the edges to form the galette). Top the chopped apples with 1 tbsp of honey.
  4. Place the sliced apples on top of the chopped apples in vertical lines.  Top the sliced apples with the cinnamon sugar mix.
  5. Dot the top of the galette with the remaining butter and fold up the edges. Place the galette in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown on top and the apples are soft when poked with a fork.
Dessert · Fruit

Peach Blueberry Crisp for Two (or more)

Peach Blueberry Crisp

To me, crisps are a vacation from baking.  While there are plenty of recipes out there to guide you through the process, crisps practically encourage experimentation.  They are also forgiving, and I doubt you’ll find many people out there that can claim to have tried a bad crisp. 

They are also simple.  Similar fruit filled desserts (thinking of pies, here) can be very time consuming when you take into account the hours spent prepping and rolling out the dough.  Crisps only take about an hour from start to finish, and most of that time is spent waiting (and salivating) while it’s bubbling in the oven.  

Peach Blueberry Crisp

For this crisp, I combined peaches (the star here) with frozen blueberries for get some additional tartness.  This is only a suggestion, and I imagine that plums, rhubarb, blackberries, and raspberries would all be great additions.  Just make sure that you’re adding enough flour to your fruit filling, since fruits with a higher percentage of water need more flour to soak up the juices during cooking.

For the topping, I decided to do a little experimenting.  I wanted it to have a hint of nutty flavor, so I substituted 2 tbsp of the all-purpose flour for almond meal.  Other flours can definitely be used, but I suggest substituting no more than 1/4 of the all-purpose flour in the recipe to maintain consistency.  I also added walnuts, since I think they add a nice crunch to the topping.

finished crisp

Since there are only two of us, I made enough crisp to fill a small Pyrex dish (it ended up being about 6 servings).  If you’d like to feed more people, simply double the recipe and use a bigger dish.

Peach Blueberry Crisp

Ingredients:

Topping

  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp almond meal
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp butter, softened and cut into 1 tablespoon cubes

Fruit filling

  • 3 peaches, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • zest and juice from half a lemon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp all purpose flour

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8″ x 6″ Pyrex dish (or double the recipe and use a larger dish)
  2. Combine all of the ingredients for the topping (except for the butter) in a small bowl.  Using your hands, add the butter and mix until the topping is crumbly and the butter is well incorporated.
  3. In another small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the fruit filling.
  4. Add the fruit filling to the Pyrex dish, distributing evenly.
  5. Using your hands again, spread the topping over the fruit.
  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbly and the topping is golden brown.