3-2-1 Pie Dough and Desserts!

Baked Apple Tart

3-2-1 Pie Dough and Desserts!

I love making pies. I’ve been working on improving my pie dough making for desserts over the past few months. I love making beautiful dessert tarts even more. Sure the rustic nature of a pie is great, but there is an elegance in making a tart.

With the birth of our son Jeremy, we have been blessed with support from family, friends, neighbors and the community at large. I decided to give back to one particular neighbor in the best way I know how, through food, after they gifted us a crib their youngest son grew out of.

I still prefer the 3-2-1 Pie Dough recipe ratio from Michael Ruhlman’s book, Ratio over others I’ve tried. The time it takes to make a solid pie dough and thus tart crust has increased significantly. The time increase mostly comes from the chilling process after working with the dough at each step to relax the gluten and prevent its formation. In my last entry I wrote about Pie Dough and Quiche Lorraine. I didn’t expand much on the pie dough process that much, so this post has pictures to help guide you along.

Pie Dough Ratio:

The first step for the tart dough was of course to make the pie dough ratio. Scaled down for one tart pan (or pie pan) it is:

  • 6 oz flour
  • 4 oz butter (1 stick) cut into chunks
  • 2 to 3 oz of water
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar (this is a sweet dessert after all)

I opted to keep the original amounts so I could make a tart for our neighbors while also being able to savor and judge the results myself. How else am I going to get better if I don’t taste and judge my own products?!

Method:

  1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl or food processor.
    Dry Ingredients in Cuisinart
  2. Break the cold butter into chunks.
    Butter and Water
    Cut Butter
    Cut Butter
  3. Cut the butter into the flour, salt and sugar either by rubbing it in or by pulsing in the food processor.
    Butter into Dry Ingredients
    Combined Butter and Dry Ingredients*Note: Using a food processor makes it less likely that you’ll melt the butter with your body heat. We want to reduce the amount of water we use to prevent the creation of gluten which would result in a tough leathery crust.
  4. Slowly add water until the dough just comes together.
    Adding Water to Butter and Dry Ingredients*Note: It may be sandy or brittle. When resting in later steps, the water will be absorbed by the flour.
  5. Bring the dough together into the shape of a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
  6. Roll out the dough into a disc that is slightly bigger than the tart pan or pie pan you’ve chosen. Wrap in plastic and chill again for 30 minutes.
  7. Place the dough into the tart pan or pie pan you’ve chosen. Ensure that the dough is pressed into the edges. You can use your fingers for this.
  8. Trim any excess dough
    1. If using a pie pan, trim the excess dough from the edges with a knife. Leave a little extra if you’ll be pinching the edge to make it more decorative
    2. If using a tart pan, you can easily trim the excess by rolling over it with a rolling pin. The tart pan will cut the dough and you can peel off the excess.
      Rolling Out Tart Dough
      Rolling out tart dough
  9. Chill your tart pan or pie pan with dough
  10. Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees
  11. Blind bake the tart crust for 20 to 25 minutes by either:
    1. Covering the dough with parchment paper and dried beans or pie weights or
    2. Docking the crust with a fork (poking holes). If bubble form while baking, simply poke them with a fork or small sharp knife.
  12. It’s ready when the sides take on some color and dry a small amount. We’ll be baking it long and slow later, so it doesn’t need to be fully cooked.
    Blind baked tart crust

Tart Filling

  • 4 apples, cored and peeled and sliced
  • 1 lemon, to prevent the browning of the apples and to add some flavor
  • ~ 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 oz (1/2 stick) butter, cut into small chunks
  1. Cut the apples into 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Cover the apples with lemon juice as you cut them to prevent browning.
  3. Arrange the apples in the blind baked tart crust
    Lining up apples
  4. Cover the apples with generous amounts of sugar. You may find that you don’t use all of the sugar. That’s ok!
  5. Add the chunks of butter on to of the sugar and apples.
    Butter and Sugar on top of Apples
  6. Bake until the crust is golden and the apples have softened while taking on some color.
  7. While still warm, glaze the apples with the heated apricot jam.
    Baked Apple Tart
  8. Enjoy!

Plated Apple Tart

 

I’m still working on technique, but enjoy making apple tarts. They remind me of my mom as she used to enjoy making them for parties. I hope you enjoy making them too! If you have any comments or questions, please post them below!

Bon Appétit!

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Ratio, Method and the Difference a Pan Makes

“Rebuilding” a kitchen and improper planning sometimes result in lessons learned. Sometimes that lesson is simple, follow the directions.

I like making pound cake. For one thing it’s simple. It’s also a quarter butter and a quarter sugar. The rest is just a matter of necessity. I’ve definitely experimented with size and shape before, but it was more calculated versus a last minute decision. The great thing about ratios is that you can scale up or down pretty easily. In baking, a key component for cakes is the pan in which they are baked in. Not having a loaf pan, I opted to pour my batter into my nine-inch square pyrex pan and hoped for the best. The problem here was that I was now baking in a new oven, with a new pan shape and had to figure out what my new cook time would be. That aside, the one thing I didn’t account for was the pan depth. The batter of course was quite spread out and as a result, the finished product was more crust and less soft and buttery cake. Pound cake requires a particular depth to crust ratio for success which this end result didn’t meet. As I commute back and forth between Boston and New York, I’ll have to bring down a spare loaf pan for my next batch.

Square Pound Cake

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How To Give Someone The Experience Of Heaven On Earth

Ok, not what you are thinking…but chocolate chip cookies are enjoyable too and now even better when stuffed with Oreos. My stomach is thanking me as I’ve just experienced what might be the perfect cookie. Over the weekend as a break from work I started browsing blogs and reading through Twitter posts. I stumbled upon a post from the blog “How Sweet Eats” where I came across some amazing creations, Oreo stuffed chocolate chip cookies. Cassie and I marveled about how they looked and discussed how they would taste. I agreed that I would make them and send them as a care package. They might violate doctor’s orders while she’s in the hospital, but I believe the long-term emotional benefits are worth the risk of getting caught. I’m sure she’ll agree once they arrive. Also, these are shareable and that’s a good thing, helping to make quick friends.

I know, I know…I don’t always follow directions. This baking experiment is an example of one of those instances although I have a good reason for it. I simply won’t experiment with chocolate chip cookie recipes. I stick to my tried and true, the Original NESTLÉ® Toll House Cookie recipe. It can’t be beat, and while these resulted in more moist and less aesthetically pleasing cookies from those pictured on other blogs, they were great. The pictures speak for themselves and no further explanations are needed.

Oreos
Oreos...Genius Packaging
Oreos, Black Gold!
Oreos, Black Gold!
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Heaven Waiting
Heaven Waiting
Heaven Delivered
Heaven Delivered
The Perfect Cookie
The Perfect Cookie
Little Monsters
Little Monsters
Indulgence
Indulgence

I can vouch for the deliciousness of these amazing chocolate chip cookies. What kind of cook would I be if I didn’t taste one or two of these to ensure their outcome was satisfactory before sending them off? I’ll have to throw out the cautionary warning and say these cookies may have just forced me to start running again out of fear of needing to add another notch to the old belt as a result of making them too often and eating too many. Life is tough.

The original recipe can be found on Picky Palate. Enjoy!

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Victory was not mine at the Jumptap International Buffet

Last Thursday, I was able to attend the Jumptap International Buffet. It’s an annual competition at the company I used to work for where current employees and “alumni” are invited to participate. As a diverse company, there never is a shortage of interesting food to savor. I won last year with my dish “The Two Sides of Eric“. While, not an excuse, I had very little time to plan and worse yet no time to cook! I had an early morning investor meeting which left me with one option, baking.

Having made it a few times now, I opted for the Magnolia Bakery Cake and Frosting recipe. So as to have many easy to serve portions the recipe was made as cupcakes instead of a many layered cake. It was uninspired for sure, but I’m not one to arrive at a party empty handed. The setup was great. It spanned many tables along one of the hallways.

Jumptap International Buffet

There was a bit of trash talking before the event. I was warned that Jorey Ramer was planning an elaborate exhibition, one that should be feared. He had gone through some test runs and upon my arrival, it was evident why. It was quite a masterpiece and tasted really good.

Jumptap Waffles!

With such stiff competition, my cupcakes looked a little sad, but oh did they pack a punch full of taste.

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes and Frosting

Jose entered an interesting combination of vanilla bean and bacon ice cream.

Vanilla Bean and Bacon Ice Cream

Along with taste, presentation makes a huge difference. Jose was there to rally the troops and secure the votes. He ultimately won reclaiming the title back from me!

Jose wins the competition

It was great fun to see everyone again and to taste some amazing foods. People that I didn’t even know were into food made some great dishes. I made more than one pass at the table and left full and happy. I’m undeterred and will be read next year to win back the title. Key are the winning combo of presentation and flavor. Add a little creativity and I have a good shot.

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Experimenting with Size: Miniature Pound Cake

Cooking vessels in baking to me are just as important as the recipe and execution because they affect the overall presentation. I was looking for something new, and after making miniature desserts for my mom’s birthday party (yeah, I have yet to write about that), I decided to make mini-pound cakes as an easy breakfast food for the morning using the lighter cake flour variation I had made previously.

The batter was much more difficult to cleanly get into the mini cups.

Mini Poundcake Batter
Mini Pound Cake Batter

The portion sizes, being much smaller took less time to bake which was a plus.

Baked Mini Pound Cake
Baked Mini Pound Cake

After they had cooled a bit, they were taken out of the cups and placed onto a cooling rack so that they did not become soggy.

Baked Mini Pound Cake Cooling
Baked Mini Pound Cake Cooling

The result of these smaller pound cakes was about the same as a full sized loaf. An interesting taste difference was created by the higher crust to inside ratio. Having these pre-portioned instead of having to cut slices for breakfast was really nice. As a breakfast food these are highly recommended, easy to make and delicious.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Choosing The Right Ingredients

Pound cake has become part of my repertoire and for good reason. It’s delicious, satiating, easy to make and the ratio is easy to memorize. 1 part butter, 1 part sugar, 1 part egg and 1 part flour. I first made pound cake in August, added blueberries as a twist, made it with brown butter as a tribute, and many other times in between. Pound cake is simple and yet versatile and a perfect candidate for variation and yet with all the flavor components that can be added, the basic ingredients matter just as much if not more when it comes to the final product.

Recently the show Good Eats featured pound cake as an American Classic food. Though born in England, the pound cake is equally popular as an American food staple. Alton adamantly believes that the ratio, despite many attempts to class it up or change proportions is a “good eats” as is. One key difference is that he suggests the use of cake flour instead of all purpose flour. Cake flour, according to the box is 27 times finer than all purpose flour. It also has less protein which means less gluten and has been chemically altered to produce better results with cakes. I decided to give this a try and see if my results in fact did yield a softer, smoother final product with the same great taste I enjoy.

The process was the same. Using the creaming method, I combined room temperature butter and sugar together. I then added in the eggs, one at a time as they were incorporated and a teaspoon of vanilla. Lastly, after slowing down the mixer to it’s lowest speed, I added the cake flour, just until it was incorporated, being careful not to over-mix so as to not create any more gluten than necessary which would make the pound cake chewy and tough.

The batter was a lot smoother and easier to scrape and pour than ones made with all purpose flour. The benefit of using cake flour would be evaluated after its baking.

Pound Cake Batter
Pound Cake Batter

After about 90 minutes, the baking was done. No difference was visible at first glance. The truth was locked inside.

Baked Pound Cake
Baked Pound Cake

Once cooled, I sliced into the bake loaf and discovered the truth behind the wisdom of using cake flour. The inside was certainly smoother while the taste of course was unaltered with a softer mouth-feel.

Pound Cake Slices
Pound Cake Slices

This was an interesting experiment and as with most food experiments, I am willing and  happy participant. Not having cake flour on hand will not prevent me from making pound cake in the future, but this was a great lesson on how ingredients can affect the overall results of a food product.

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Good Bye Gourmet: A Final Lesson with Brown Butter Pound Cake

To further my learning and garner inspiration I recently subscribed to both Bon Appétit and Gourmet magazines. I had been on the fence about doing so and wondered if it really was worth the money. After all I have the food network and public television and the internet at my fingertips right? Magazines are dying by the dozens. Why would I want subscribe? Truth be told, TV and food blogs aren’t all there is out there nor are they always the best sources of information and/or inspiration. I ultimately subscribed and so far have really enjoyed the content I have read through. Both magazines provide a depth and perspective that really isn’t available on TV and most blogs and information sites. It’s nice to have clear and concise information to read through, along with tips, photos and recipes. Just reading through the magazines on a monthly basis is an efficient way to obtain a culinary education, follow trends and learn about food.

Recently and and unexpectedly to most, the news came out that Gourmet magazine would cease to exist. The major reason the magazine’s demise was the shrinking revenue the magazine received as a result of advertising. Professionally, being in the ad business in a growing and new form of advertising media where dollars are shifting to, mobile advertising, this was less of a shock to me perhaps than most, but unfortunate to say the least, and hey, by the way, I just subscribed! Perhaps what is surprising to me is that the magazine is not that the magazine is shutting down during a troubled economy as a result of declining revenue and tough operating conditions,  but that it is doing so when the American and global interest in food is at a high and continues to increase. People are cooking and learning how to cook now faster than ever as a means to save money and as a result in the popularity of rising chef stars that have a tremendous cultural impact on food and culture.

The effect of the news about the magazine’s closing was not all negative. The outspoken food community is showing their support and appreciation for this long-standing magazine through the use of social media and blogging. Examples include a newly formed twitter account, Save Gourmet and a blogging event “Let’s Celebrate Gourmet“, on the blog A Mingling of Tastes written by blogger Julie O’Hara. Social media and blogging can have a powerful effect on  raising awareness around issues, events gathering support for causes. If the positive support for the magazine is enough for the powers that be to reverse the decided course of action remains to be seen.

I decided to show my support by following Save Gourmet and by participating in the “Let’s Celebrate Gourmet event by following and blogging about a Gourmet recipe. Even though I don’t have a favorite recipe per se, I do appreciate the magazine for the learning that I have benefited from so far. I also appreciate the clear and concise recipes that are provided. I have only cooked from one recipe before with great success, while also benefiting from inspiration, but this would not deter me from participating. Knowing what is required, the prep and total cooking time and necessary equipment take any apprehension about making a recipe away. For this post, I chose to attempt a new recipe as a final lesson and tribute to the magazine and decided to make Brown Butter Pound Cake.

Up until this point, brown butter represented a mistake in cooking and not a height in culinary sophistication and wisdom. I had only observed it after putting a pat of butter on a pan that was too hot and watching it turn dark before my eyes, never getting a chance to flavor and aid with the cooking of the intended food object. My latest issue of Gourmet has an entire page (144) dedicated to making food using brown butter and that praises it for its distinctive nutty taste, stating that its use will result in a “culinary home run”. So it goes with food. Everything seems to have a time, a place and proper use. That’s life.

The recipe of course was easy to follow. Using the brown butter admittedly required an open mind while convincing myself that I would not be working with or ingesting some sort of poisoned or foul tasting food. The cooking times were pretty true to what was promised and the results surprisingly good given the use of what I once thought was a tainted culinary bi-product.

Brown Butter Pound Cake
Brown Butter Pound Cake

Taking “risks” and trying new methods open one door after the other as I learn each and every day. While Gourmet’s doors may be closing, it sure has left an indelible impression with its loyal readers and food culture as a whole. I only wish I had the chance to experience more of what it had to offer.

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Reluctant Sweet Tooth

Meringue and Lemon Curd
Meringue and Lemon Curd

Trying to learn how to cook while staying in shape and not gaining weight is a challenge unto itself. It’s even harder when you learn how to make something that tastes really good and doubly so when what you learn how to make is not good for you and really addictive. Meringues would be this something.

I made them on Friday with the extra egg whites left over from the ice cream I made for my mom’s birthday party, but left the remaining meringue at my parents’ house for them to savor. I needed more egg whites but didn’t want to make more ice cream. After doing some research online, I came across a recipe for lemon curd that would be a perfect companion to the meringues.

I separated the egg yolks from the whites and went to work on the lemon curd using a double boiler created with a pot and glass bowl.

Cooking Lemon Curd
Cooking Lemon Curd

I whisked together the ingredients in a matter of minutes and set the lemon curd in the refrigerator to cool. Now the fun part lay ahead.

I used the meringue method and recipe that I had used before to ensure repeat success. The egg whites were strained into the stand mixer bowl (wiped with lemon juice for acid that would make foaming easier) to remove impurities and weighed.

Straining Egg Whites
Straining Egg Whites

I added a bit of cream of tartar to the bowl as a bit of insurance.

Egg Whites
Egg Whites

I next weighed out 2 parts sugar as required.

Measured Sugar
Measured Sugar

I turned on the mixer at high speed to start beating the egg whites.

Foaming Egg Whites
Foaming Egg Whites

The egg whites started to stiffen up after about 10 minutes at high speed.

Stiffening Egg Whites
Stiffening Egg Whites

The egg whites were beat until they achieved soft peaks.

Firm Egg Whites
Firm Egg Whites

The sugar was added slowly so that it could be incorporated into the egg whites and develop stiff peaks.

Meringues Beaten
Meringues Beaten

The intense white and thickness was quite a transformation to observe as a result of the network of air, protein and sugar that developed.

Meringue
Meringue

Using a spatula a pastry bag filled with meringue which I used to pipe out decent sized meringues onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Meringues
Meringues

The meringues were baked at 220 degrees F for 90 minutes. They need a bit more time so I left them in the oven for another 10 minutes after which they were taken out and allowed to cool.

Baked Meringues
Baked Meringues

These were just as good as the ones I made the first time around, but actually a bit overdone as a result of either my hotter oven or the lack of a glass on my oven door which would allow me to check on things. I need to get an oven with one of those.

Sadly the lemon curd was not to my liking and unlike the one my cousin Andrea used for my mom’s birthday cake. I could still taste a bit of the yolk and it was not as sweet and lemony as I was hoping for.  I’ll have to use her recipe the next time around.

Meringue and Lemon Curd
Meringue and Lemon Curd
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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Quick Cakes – Popovers

Popovers
Popovers

The Cooking Through Ratio series continues with a final quick cake, popovers. While popovers may fall under the umbrella of quick cakes, they are distinctively different than their brethren and have characteristics more familiar with pâte à choux. The reason I say this and as Ruhlman points out is that through the baking process they undergo a dramatic transformation. High heat causes causes the batter to steam and balloon the final product into a wonderful column with a delicate balance of texture and flavor.

In general, popovers are 2 parts liquid, 1 part egg and 1 part flour. Again the order here is important. To make what are described as “Basic (but amazing) Popovers”, I measured out the liquid (milk), eggs and flour while also measuring out a bit of butter and salt. I also preheated the oven to 450 degrees F; the high heat was necessary to quickly raise the temperature of the batter which would create the rise. An interesting twist was that while the oven was pre-heating I also placed the muffin tin (I don’t have a popover pan) inside to warm up to help things along even more. The rest was easy.

The milk and egg were whisked together so that they were combined well.

Popovers: Milk & Eggs
Popovers: Milk & Eggs

Next, the salt and flour were added and thoroughly combined.

Popovers: Batter
Popovers: Batter

The mixture was left to sit for 30 minutes so that the flour could absorb the liquid, reducing the lumps that were present. After 30 minutes I gave everything a quick whisk.

Popovers: Hydrated Flour
Popovers: Hydrated Flour

I then pulled the muffin tin out of the oven and placed some butter, which was melted in the microwave into three open cups.

Popovers: Melted Butter in Muffin Tin Cup
Popovers: Melted Butter in Muffin Tin Cup

My understanding was that the hot butter and muffin tin / popover pan were supposed to help quickly raise the temperature of the batter. When I placed the batter into the muffin tin the laws of physics prevailed and the heavier batter fell to the bottom causing the butter to rise.

Popover: Batter and Butter in Muffin Tin Cup
Popover: Batter and Butter in Muffin Tin Cup

I quickly moved the muffin tin to the oven to prevent any heat loss. After ten minutes, the heat was reduced to 375 degrees F. 30 minutes later the baking and the transformation were complete. What came out of the oven was wholly different than what went into it a mere 40 minutes earlier.

Popovers
Popovers

Wow oh wow. Yum. The crispy texture and buttery flavor were exceptional and reminiscent of Yorkshire Pudding, something I enjoyed eating while working in London. Indeed not all English cooking is bad.

These were easy to make, although the sitting time for the batter and baking time were longer than my stomach could bear after coming back from the gym. Needless to say I ate them all along with my “merguez pattie” dinner. I saved half of the batter for later and definitely will enjoy making these again to accompany a more elaborate meal.

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Cooking Through Ratio: Doughs and Batters – Quick Cakes – Quick Bread / Muffin

Last night I opened up a new chapter in Ratio on quick cakes. The chapter begins with quick breads and muffins which are essentially the same thing. The key difference is that muffins are cooked in cups.

Quick cakes are described as custards cooked at high heat with some flour thrown in for structure. They are all pretty much the same, differing in the ratio of the ingredients.

I am very confident with Alton Brown’s Old School Muffins and can practically make them with my eyes clothes. They have been thoroughly taste tested at work and with family and friends. I wondered how these muffins would compare.

The ratio is pretty straight forward, 2 parts flour, 2 parts liquid, 1 part egg, 1 part fat (butter). The basic muffin batter recipe also contained salt and baking powder. I added dried cherries to the batter for extra flavor and texture.

Interestingly enough, Ruhlman describes pancakes as thin muffins, which is clearly evident when looking at the batter. It had a lot more liquid and was a lot more pourable than Alton’s. It was clear that the end result was definitely going to be a lot more moist.

Cherry Muffin Batter
Cherry Muffin Batter

The muffin batter was baked in the oven pre-heated to 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. That might have been too long. They were crisp and most, but considerably more browned than I expected. The cherries all sank to the bottom of each muffin which was not entirely unexpected given how loose it was. The end result was quite tasty indeed.

Cherry Muffins
Cherry Muffins

For me, these muffins would work best as an accompanying side to breakfast better than Alton’s, but don’t scream anytime snack choice. Another one down, many more to go.

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