Deep Dishes, Deep Pie, Deep Dough, Deep Thoughts

Deep Dish

Historically in my family, my dad’s mother has been the only person in the world who could successfully make pastry for pies. My mother and I have never been lucky enough to absorb her gift. I am still, however, determined to perfect my technique, and so, five years too late, I am using the Cooks Illustrated vodka pie crust recipe, which I borrowed from Smitten Kitchen.

I had gotten an email from my dad this morning (Monday) saying that my grandmother was unwell, and would I please send her a letter? So I was going to make a pie and take pictures and tell her all about how I had mastered this new skill. Or how I had failed. Either way, it would have been entertaining. Unfortunately, she passed away while I was making the dough, so I didn’t get that chance. She was 102, and healthy to the end. None of us can live forever, but she will nonetheless be missed. So in honour of Barbara Linklater Bell, the Queen of Pastry and all things baked, I present my own deep-dish pear and apple pie.

So we start with the crust.

Whisk together, in a medium-sized bowl, 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Next time, I would probably leave out the salt, as it didn’t dissolve and I kept hitting little grains of it when I ate it.

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Now, you add your cold fat.  This recipe calls for 1/2 cup vegetable shortening and 3/4 cup butter.  Both being very cold.  That is key.  Cut those up into small cubes.

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Using a pastry cutter (though you could use a food processor if you wanted), start blending the fat into the flour.

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Keep going …

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Until you get this powdery, crumb-y sort of material.

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Now sprinkle in 1/4 cup very cold water and 1/4 cup very cold vodka. If you’re worried about the booze content, remember that vodka is tasteless and odorless, and all the alcohol in it will evaporate during cooking. This is what gives us that lovely flaky crust.

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Fold that in with a rubber spatula, until things start to come together. This will take some time, so be patient. Resist the urge to add more fluid.

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Eventually, you will be out of powdery stuff and have all these curd-like clumps. That was good enough for me.

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Now pour half that mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap.

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Gather the edges of the wrap and use it to squeeze the pastry into a ball.

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Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly, and do the same with the other half of the dough.  Refrigerate those disks for at least an hour.

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In the meantime you can prepare your fruit.  Peel and cube up about 4-5 pears and 5-6 small apples.

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Now, I decided to cook my fruit a little bit beforehand.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have done that, as the fruit obviously cooks while in the pie.  But nevermind.

So toss your fruit with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 pinch nutmeg and 1 pinch ground cloves.

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Add in as well 2 tablespoons butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar.

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And 2 tablespoons flour.

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Now, when your dough is chilled and ready you can start rolling it out for your pie pan.  I took this nifty tip from Smitten Kitchen to roll the dough (which, with the vodka, will be slightly stickier) between two pieces of plastic wrap.  It certainly saves chipping up cemented flour on your countertop.

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The Pie helped with the manual labour. Just make sure to remove the folds in the plastic wrap as you roll. It makes everything smoother.

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Oh, and preheat your oven to 400°F while you’re at it.

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Fit one of the rolled out sheets of dough into your pie plate and tuck it in.  Chuck that in the fridge while you do the other one, which will be the top. The plastic wrap is a godsend here in terms of transferring the dough from one place to another. I am never using any other method.

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When you are ready to assemble the pie, take the bottom out of the fridge and toss in your fruit (cooked or uncooked, up to you).

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Flop the top piece onto the pie.  Fold the edges of the top piece under the edges of the bottom piece. Man I really wish I had more light in my kitchen. Or that my lightbox were bigger.

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Crimp the edges with your fingers or a fork and cut some holes for escaping steam.

Brush lightly with milk, and sprinkle with demerera sugar (optional).

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Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until your crust is firm and golden-brown and the innards are all bubbly.  And, as my husband says, “your pies never look all that great, but they always taste great.”  He’s not being mean — it’s true.  I make an ugly pie.

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Allow to cool on a rack and warm to serve.  What a lovely, flaky crust!

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We had ours with Fussells, a present from Fussellette.

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When Life Gives You Apples …

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… then you really need to figure out what to do with them when you’re about to go on vacation for two weeks.

This was our situation a few weeks back.  And really there’s only so much apple crumble you can handle in the summer months.
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Why not make yourself some applesauce?  In addition to providing a tasty and nutritious snack, you can also use it as a dairy substitute in baking, and even add it to meat marinades to add flavour.  And it’s not like it’s hard.
Apple Sauce

I had nine Mcintosh apples, which I chopped up relatively small.  You can take the skins off if you like, but every time I do that I see my mother’s disapproving face in my mind and hear her saying, “that’s where all the vitamins are.”  So I leave them on, for texture and colour.
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Take two or three cinnamon sticks and about ten cloves, and wrap them up in a square of cheesecloth.
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Tie it into a tidy package.
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Toss that and your apples into a slow cooker. Add in a few spoonfuls brown sugar and some ground cinnamon, as well.  You can leave the sugar out altogether if you want a healthier sauce.
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Pour in about 1/4 cup water, just for juice’s sake.
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Cook on high for a couple hours, stirring occasionally.
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The smell is fantastic.
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When the apples are soft and brown, you are all set.
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Make sure to remove and discard the spice bag when you’re done.
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Squish the apples up with your spoon.  If you really want to go super smooth, put the sauce in a blender.  I like mine with a bit of structure.
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The best part is that applesauce freezes up real good.  So you can enjoy it any time!
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Maple-Glazed Ham

The Pie and I took Easter easy this year, and it was just the two of us, so we kept Easter dinner simple.  We had a maple-glazed ham, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, crisp mashed rutabaga, and roasted asparagus with cheese and bread crumbs.

The Pie and I like ham, and we’ve featured it here before.  Because we’re lazy, we always go with a pre-cooked ham, but this year we thought we’d try something a little different in the glaze department.

So, take your ham and take a knife and score the ham all over in one direction, then another, to make diamond-shaped cuts everywhere.  I just scored along the string lines, and that worked fine.

Stud the ham with cloves.

Mix together 2/3 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons maple syrup (the real stuff, please), and 1 tablespoon mustard (I went with an organic dijon).

Grab yourself a pastry brush, a very handy item.  Ours are made of silicone, which makes cleanup so much less of a pain in the bum.

Plaster that ham with your glaze. Bake according to your instructions, adding more glaze as you see fit.  If you bake it at 350°F for an hour or so, you should be good.  You are looking for an internal temperature of about 140°F.

Let it rest for a few minutes, then slice it up.

TADA!

Making Mincemeat (Outta You)

Mincemeat is to the winter holidays what chocolate and beer are to the Stanley Cup Playoffs (I’m serious.  Cadbury Mini Eggs and a microbrew during the finals is to die for).  Originally a combination of dried fruits, spirits, fat, and meat, over the centuries the meat part has all but disappeared from the recipe, and now it’s more of a dessert type of thing.  It does still employ three of the age-old methods of preserving, however: fat, sugar, and alcohol. 

I have adapted Allora Andiamo’s recipe from Jamie Oliver‘s website and it is incredible.  I quadrupled some things, and other things I just chucked in the amount I had, so it’s not particularly faithful to Ms. Andiamo’s original recipe but I give her full credit.

In a very large bowl I chucked the following, by weight:

275g raisins

55g dried blueberries

475g dried cranberries

575g candied orange peel

250g blanched almond slivers

400g finely chopped marzipan

474g (1lb) shredded butter (put the butter in the freezer, then grate it, or break it into chunks and run it through the food processor until you have fine crumbs)

1kg apples, finely chopped (I left the skins on and used a variety of different kinds, whatever I had lying around)

juice and rind of 5 large oranges

juice and rind of 2 large lemons

1kg soft brown sugar

3 teaspoons almond extract

8 tablespoons rum or brandy (I used both, of course)

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons ground nutmeg

6 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

Give that a good stir, cover it, and leave it somewhere to marinate for about 24 hours.

The next day, distribute the mincemeat into casserole dishes (or, if you are clever like me and used a metal bowl, don’t bother), cover with aluminum foil, and bake at 225°F for 3 1/2 hours.

I stirred mine halfway through, just to be thorough.  And also because I don’t trust anything on its own in an oven for three and a half hours.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.  The liquid will thicken as it cools so make sure to stir it occasionally in order for the syrup to coat all the fruit. 

Before it completely cools, pour into sterilized jars and seal — can according to your canner’s instructions, or check out our tips to canning here.

Store in a cool dark place for about 3 weeks before using. 

Christmas Fruit Cakes

My mother calls them fruit cakes.  My father calls them Christmas cakes.  Or it’s the other way around.  I can’t keep track of those two.

Nevertheless, before every holiday season, my dad makes between two and three dozen of them to give away to all their family and friends.  Being the stalwart Scots that we are, we fight over who deserves a whole cake and who gets only a slice.

You can’t be ambivalent about fruit cake.  You either love it or you hate it.  And I can promise you that this is not the leaden, dry, horribly frosted version that you hate.  This is the ooey-gooey sticky sweet and moist brick of goodness that you will LOVE.  Guaranteed.

Keep in mind that this recipe is easy to make.  Especially if you make several dozen.  However, you have to start your preparations the day before and baking time can take up to four hours for large cakes.  Not to mention that you can’t eat them right away — these cakes need a spell before they’re good to eat.  These ones here are from back in 2007.  They should be super excellent now.

Day the First:

In a large bowl, measure in 1 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds (blanched is key because the skin is bitter), 2 cups dark raisins, 2 cups light raisins, 1 cup currants, 2 1/2 cups chopped dates, and 2 1/2 cups candied citron peel.  My dad says that when making several batches it helps to bring a measuring cup to the health food or bulk store and measure what you need right into the bag so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover.

Drain a 12oz (340g) bottle of maraschino cherries, saving the juice.  The cherries should measure about 1 1/4 cups.  Add them to the mixture in the bowl.

Pour in 1/2 cup brandy (or fruit juice, if you prefer) and give it a stir.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.

In a heavy saucepan, simmer one 19oz (540mL) can crushed pineapple with 2 cups granulated sugar.  Cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 45 minutes.  Make sure to stir frequently. 

By the end, the sugary pineapple should measure 2 1/2 cups.

Let the pineapple cool, and then stir in 1/2 cup reserved cherry juice.  Stir in as well 1 cup strawberry jam (the more all-natural, the better).  This doesn’t necessarily need to be done the day before, but it has to be cool before you add it to the cake batter.

Day the Second:

Preheat your oven to 275°F.  Butter your pans (we use four regular-sized loaf pans) and line them with parchment paper.The knob on our oven is positioned badly so we take the knob off in order not to hit it accidentally.  And yes, we probably should clean our oven more often.

In a large measuring cup, whisk together 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda.

Add about a cup of the flour mixture to the fruit and nuts and toss until the bits are all covered.  This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom when you mix them in the batter.  Set the rest of the flour aside for now. 

In another large mixing bowl, cream together  2 1/4 cups granulated sugar with 1 pound (2 cups) butter.

Beat in 12 eggs (yes, 12!), two at a time.  This is less of a pain in the butt if you have someone crack the eggs while someone else runs the mixer.

Take your flour mixture and your pineapple mixture and, alternating them, stir them into the butter and egg mix.  Make 3 dry and 2 liquid additions and stir it all in well. 

Your batter will be a lovely pink colour once you’re all ready.

Pour over your flour-coated fruit and nuts and mix well. 

Pour into your pans and chuck them in the oven.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven to keep the cakes moist.

Bake in your oven for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, for the larger cakes.  Smaller cakes might be done in about 3 hours. If you have a fast oven you might want to lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top to prevent them from drying out in the last hour or so.

The cakes should be fairly firm to the touch in the centre and should test clean with a toothpick.  Once you’ve removed the cakes from the oven let them cool in the pans for about five minutes. 

Then remove the cakes from the pans and peel off the paper.  Let the cakes cool completely.

Now you do your wrapping.

Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface.  Overlay that with some plastic wrap.

And some cheesecloth.

Plop your cake in the centre.

Baste it generously, all over, with rum or brandy (if you don’t baste you will need to keep the cakes in the refrigerator).

Wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the cake.  Then the plastic wrap.  Then the aluminum foil.

As the cloth dries out, give your cakes a periodic dousing with rum or brandy.  Don’t freeze the cakes or the flavours won’t mellow properly.

The cakes will make good eating in about three weeks, just in time for the holidays.

Ham with Cloves

While I fully intend, some day, to make a ham from scratch, until then I remain lazy and use pre-cooked hams.   In Newfoundland they are one of the few things that are readily available and cheap, and you can get them in any size.

So take your ham.  Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and plop the sucker down. Stud with cloves, and pour a little cranberry juice over the top.

Bake at 350°F until the internal temperature reaches 160°F, which comes to about 15 minutes a pound.

Cover the ham with foil if it is especially large, as it will tend to blacken after a bit.

Remove cloves before slicing and serve.  We generally live on the leftovers for several days afterward.  Cold ham is good fried with eggs, sliced into omelets or fritatas, stewed in Scotch broth, sliced in sandwiches . . . you name it.

Easter (Eater) Dinner

On Sunday the Pie and I had KK, Il Principe, and D, J, and S over for an Easter feast.

I have a lot on my plate this week (and I’m not talking about food here) so I’m going to draw the recounting of this tale out as long as I possibly can.  I’ll try to give you a post a day about all the fun and fantastic things we ate.

I love to have dinner parties.  I think it’s my parents’ influence again.  I’m not really happy unless I can stuff someone else with food until he or she feels the need to lie down.  It really makes my day.

That said, entertaining, on a small or large scale, takes a lot of work and a lot of planning.  Timing is pretty much everything, and it takes practice to get it all to happen at the same time.  The Pie and I have it down to an exact science at this point.  We take a gander at what time things are supposed to be done, chuck them in the oven or on the stove at the various points in time we think they need to go in, then we shut our eyes tight and cross our fingers that everything will turn out properly.  Most of the time we’re right but it took years to get us to this stage.

I have also learned the art of making things ahead of time.  This saves a lot of panic in the kitchen when you’re trying to get everything finished at the same time.  If there are some dishes on your menu that can be popped in the microwave or in the oven for reheating at the last minute then all the better.  Another important thing to remember, and something that I only recently learned, is that you don’t have to make absolutely everything from scratch.  There is nothing wrong with adding store-bought chips to your dips, or purchasing bread as a side.  The more stuff you make the more complications you are going to have.  Besides, sometimes the store versions of things are actually better.  You don’t have to have absolute control over everything that goes on your menu, and so that is why, finally, it is also important to let other people give you a hand if they want to.  Kª wanted to bring a salad, and you know what?  I thought that was a great idea.  And it was a great salad.

Items to be posted this week:

Menu

Appetizers

White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Dip (made the day before)

Pita Chips (store-bought — really, you don’t have to be a domestic maven all the time – I get the In Snax sea salt versions from In Foods Inc.  They are totally tasty.)

Mains

Ham with Cloves (pre-cooked for simplicity)

Red Curry Quinoa (made the day before)

Sides

Spinach Salad with Blueberries, Feta Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette (made by Kª – I don’t have a link because I didn’t make it)

Carrot and Parsnip Butter Mash (made the day before)

Steamed Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon, and Toasted Almonds

Roasted Red Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Quick Drop Biscuits

Dessert

Strawberry Glazed Angel Food Cake (strawberry component prepared the day before)

Waiting for the feast.