Last-Minute Gifts: Home Made Coffee Liqueur

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Okay so it’s not THAT last minute, because it takes a week to percolate, but if you do it NOW it will be ready for Christmas. Plus it’s SOOOO easy you can finish it in minutes and then spend the rest of your time procrastinating about your other gift ideas. And for me I could make it with stuff I had on hand, which was nice.

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First, you need 700 ml vodka. It doesn’t have to be super fancy vodka. I have three open bottles here. For the record, none of these were originally mine. I just keep finding new booze in my cupboard. I swear.

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Next, you need 200g whole coffee beans (I doubled the recipe so this is 400g, don’t freak out).

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And some SPICES: 1 vanilla bean, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 15 whole cloves. That’s it.

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Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds, and chuck it and the rest of your ingredients into a large sealable container. I didn’t have anything that would fit anything over a litre so I used my camping water container (which holds like 20 litres). It’s a bit of overkill, I know. But you want to be able to give the liquid a good shaking, and then store it in a dark place for a whole week. I figured with the dark sides of the container I could leave it somewhere accessible and that would remind me to shake it every day. Because that’s the other thing you need to do: make sure to shake the container at least once a day.

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After the week is up, find yourself some appropriate bottles or jars. Since I used bottles for the Krupnikas I decided on jars for this, for variety’s sake. Wash them carefully (use Star San or other sanitizer if you can). This recipe makes about 1 litre of liquid, so plan accordingly.

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Strain the vodka through a sieve into a bowl for now (I used my trusty produce bag as a strainer to get all the wee bits that may have come loose in the shaking process). Do what you will with the boozy spices.

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In a large saucepan (that will hold the final amount of your liquid), dump 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water.

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Stir over high heat to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.

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Add in your coffee/vodka and give it a good stirring before removing from the heat. And now your liqueur is ready to go!

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Pour the liquid into pretty containers, seal, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.  Aside from just drinking it straight or mixing it into the Pie’s favourite White Russians (or Trav’s White North), you could drizzle it on top of cake and ice cream and it would be amazeballs.

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My Husband Has a Thing

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… for White Russians (the drink, not our pink-skinned former Soviet comrades).  Our friend Trav mixes up alcoholic beverages as a hobby, and whenever we go to his house the Pie orders the same thing — a white Russian.  I am not a huge fan of mixing alcohol and milk so I crinkle my nose at these things but he’s a huge fan, so the other night I photographed Trav mixing one up so you could sit with me and either enjoy it with the Pie vicariously or (like me) judge him on his beverage choice.

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The mix is easy, but Trav likes to be perfect so he looks it up, every time.

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Start with 2oz vodka (this one is Newfoundland vodka, made from icebergs, and I’m not even kidding).

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Pour in 1oz Kahlua.

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Add some ice.

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Give that a stir.  Trav likes his bar spoon, which also conveniently doubles as a straw so he can test the drinks before he hands them out without getting his germy face all over the glass.

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Then carefully pour 1oz cream (light or heavy, that’s your choice) over the ice.  Ideally it’s supposed to float on top, but that’s hard to do, and personally I like all the swirly whirlies in there.

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While this was going on, I managed, for the first time ever, and with only a small amount of spillage, to properly create a crown float, which is Guinness Stout floated over a cider (in this case, Foundry).  I was right pleased with myself.

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I hope you enjoy your weekend.  We may steer clear of these beverages this time around, but who knows?

Pumpkin Pie

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I get a lot of questions from readers I meet about my husband.  The main one is, “why is he called the Pie?”  Well, I’ll tell you why.  And this goes back about nine or ten years, back when we had first met, and long before we started dating.  It’s really a great story.  I’ll tell it to you here:

One day, he told me that he really liked pie.

Yep.  That’s the whole story.  That’s why he’s called the Pie.  And now you know.  I hope you aren’t too disappointed.

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Sometimes, the Pie’s favourite pie is blueberry.  Sometimes it’s apple.  I can’t keep track.  But I know that pumpkin pie, even though it doesn’t qualify as a “true pie”, is at the top of my husband’s list of favourite pies.  And now that I have sort of mastered the art of vodka pie crust, and especially considering the amount of pumpkin purée I have in my possession, it is a logical choice, and this recipe looks lovely.  So here it is, a pumpkin pie that is so from scratch with its home-made pastry crust and fresh pure pumpkin that it’s almost like I made it entirely by hand-stitching individual atoms together (I can do that, you know).

Pumpkin Pie 1

So, now.  It’s been a while since I made that vodka pie crust from Smitten Kitchen/Cooks Illustrated, so I think I’m going to lay it all out for you again, just so we both can get some practice.  If you like, you can take some more of Smitten Kitchen’s tips on better pastry from her second tutorial.  Like her, I’m not a fan of shortening, so I went with an all-butter version of the crust today.  And this dough recipe makes enough dough for two single crusts, so I guess that means I HAVE to make two pumpkin pies.  I will try to sneak one into the freezer so the Pie doesn’t eat it too fast.  That way later on when he grumbles about having no more pie I can dramatically reveal that he is wrong.  I like doing that.

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For the pastryyou need to make sure everything is cold.  If your kitchen is frigid, like mine, this is easy.  For everyone else, just keep chucking stuff in the refrigerator if need be.  Ingredients.  Tools.  Bowls.  You name it.

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt.

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Cut 1 1/4 cup cold butter into cubes and make sure it’s cold (re-chill it after you cut it before adding it to the mix).

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Dump that into the flour and use a pastry blender to chop it into tiny buttery-floury pieces.  You want to keep going and going and going, using a knife to clean off your pastry blender occasionally, until you end up with a mixture that closely resembles cornmeal.

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Put a dishtowel under the bowl to keep it from sliding around on you.

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Here’s the right consistency. You still need whole chunks of butter in there but you want them small.

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Drizzle 1/4 cup cold vodka (keep that baby in the freezer) and 1/4 cup ice water over the mixture.

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Use a big rubber spatula and a folding motion to bring everything together.

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You don’t want to stir so much as squish and squash everything into one big blob.  It will be pretty tacky, but that stickiness will disappear when the vodka burns off in baking.  You can use your hands to gently squish the remainder together, but don’t work it too much. If you feel you need to add more liquid, drizzle a bit more vodka onto it, but just a little.

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Divide your blob into two even pieces and flatten them into disks.  Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap for at least 15 minutes, and for up to 2 days.

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When your dough is sufficiently chilled, lay a piece of plastic wrap out on your work surface.  Unwrap one of the disks (keep the other in the fridge) and place it in the centre of the plastic wrap. Place another sheet of wrap over top.

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Working from the inside and moving out, use a rolling pin to flatten your disk into a nice round piece of pastry.  You’ll need a rough circle of about 12″ in diameter to fit in a 9″ pie pan.  Most plastic wrap is about 12″ wide, so you can use that as a guide.

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Notice how you can see gobs of butter in my dough?  That means I will have some lovely flaky pastry.  As the butter melts it will leave a little open space, which will fill with steam from the vodka and water, which will in turn expand the empty space, making the proper pastry flake.

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Chill your flattened pastry again for a bit.  If you put it on a baking sheet and chuck it in the fridge you should be good.  When you’re plopping it in your pie pan, make sure to remove the bottom layer of plastic wrap before rolling it over a rolling pin or folding it into quarters to place it in the pan.  I’ve done both methods here, so you can see what I mean.

Rolling pin:

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Folding:

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Gently lift the edges of the dough to make it easier to press into the bottom of the pan without tearing.

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Trim off the excess pastry from the edges of the pan.

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I used a fork to press the edges more firmly down onto the glass.  Chuck those back in the fridge when you’re done.

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I had some scraps left over from trimming, so I cut up a small apple, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar, and rolled out the scraps again to form a small circle.

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I put the fruit on one half, folded it over, and pinched the edges shut.  Then I put it in a sprayed pan and baked it with the pie.

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It looks a little demented, but we’re not going for high quality here, just a snack.

For the pie filling, you need some pumpkin purée.  You can be lazy and buy the stuff that already has the eggs and spices in it and whatever and just dump that in your pre-bought frozen pie shell but that’s just not cool here at Ali Does It.  Make sure if you’re using canned pumpkin that it’s pure pumpkin, without the sugar and salt and all things spicy.

Now, you American folks are likely working from the 14 oz can of Libby’s or whatever it is you have.  Fourteen ounces is about 1 3/4 cups of pumpkin goodness.  Here in the FAR NORTH of Canada we have E.D. Smith pumpkin, which comes in 28 oz cans (~3 1/2 cups), so we generally use half a can for one pie, a whole can for two.  And of course I’m working from a I-have-way-too-much-pumpkin-purée-in-my-fridge perspective.  So I will be using that instead of the canned stuff.

Preheat your oven now, to 425°F and position a rack in the centre of the oven.

Beat up 4 eggs in a large bowl.  Whisk in 3 1/2 cups pumpkin purée, 2 cans (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk (I believe some countries sell condensed milk in 400 mL cans — I would just use the whole can anyway for a slightly sweeter pie), 1 cup packed brown sugar, and 4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

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Take your pie shells out of the fridge and divide the mixture between them.  You may end up with extra filling (lord knows I always do).  I emptied it into a smaller pie pan and baked it as-is, for a sort of pumpkin pudding.

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Chuck the pies (and whatever else you now have on the go) in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Then reduce the heat to 375°F and keep baking for about 35 more minutes, until the pastry is all golden and lovely and you can stick a knife in the centre of the pie and bring it out clean again (i.e. the filling has set).  You can see that our crustless pie and the turnover turned out equally well, though with them in the oven everything took an extra 15 minutes or so to cook. Let the pie cool completely on a rack and refrigerate until ready to serve.  You can heat it up again if you like.  We enjoy ours with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.  Yum!

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Cheesecake Rolls, or something like that.

Cheesecake Rolls

The Pie wanted to call these things “fruit puffs” but that didn’t seem right to me.  I’m still trying to come up with something catchy, as these things happened almost by accident.

While I was away in Ottawa with Gren, the Pie had purchased some strawberries on sale and they needed to be eaten.  As well, in retrieving something from the freezer, he’d pulled out some cream cheese and forgotten to put it back until it was already thawed, so we needed to eat that as well.  Cheesecake comes to mind, doesn’t it?  Or a strawberry cream cheese pie?  That is what the internet told me to do.  But I didn’t have anything on hand with which to make a crust.  I DID, however, have some puff pastry that was nearing its expiration date (you see how I don’t like to let things go to waste?)

Cheesecake Rolls

So I made up this bad boy of a recipe, which has a strawberry and a banana variation.

Make sure your package of puff pastry has fully thawed and your cream cheese is room temperature.

Chop up about 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries.  Sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and add a dash of vodka, to bring the juices out.  Leave that to sit for a spell.

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Slice up about 2 bananas.  Sprinkle those suckers with 2 tablespoons brown sugar, add a few pinches cinnamon, and a dash of dark rum, and leave it to marinate a bit.

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In a smallish bowl, use a hand mixer to beat together 1 250g package plain cream cheese, 1 large egg, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/3 cup granulated sugar.  Then repeat that whole process in another bowl.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and haul out a non-stick baking sheet.

On a floured surface, roll out both halves of 1 package puff pastry until they are the approximate diameter of a dinner plate.

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Place one piece of pastry on one side of your baking sheet.  Take one of the bowls of cream cheese mixture and pour it carefully into the centre of the pastry.  You may need to hold up some of the sides if it’s runny.  Also, don’t feel pressured to use all the cream cheese or even all the fruit, if it doesn’t look like it’s going to fit.

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Now plop your fruit on top of that.

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Then exercise all sorts of magic physics and wrap that sucker up like a burrito.  Or something close to a burrito.  Or whatever sticks together.  I found that if you had one end that was longer than all the others if you folded it over the top everything kind of stayed in place.

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For the most part.

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Bake your cheesecake burritos for 35-45 minutes, until the pastry is puffy and golden and the filling has set.

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Allow them to cool most of the way before cutting and eating them.

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Store the leftovers wrapped in the fridge for a few days.  If there are any left!

Cheesecake Rolls

Snow Day Dinner: Sweet Pear Fizz

Snow Day Dinner

I’ve been thinking about this for some time.

Remember when I made poached pears?  Well, I reduced the pot liquor (not to be confused with alcoholic liquor) and then froze it to use later.  So I had all this pear syrup that I thought would go great in a beverage.

Plus we have this Golden Pear liqueur that we’re nearing the end of and we’d like to finish it up as we’ve had it kicking around for several years now.

So when Fussellette came to dinner, I thought I would try a wee experiment in mixed drinks, and this is what I came up with.

In a jug, mix the following:

1 ounce vodka

3 ounces Golden Pear liqueur

1 cup pear liquor (syrup from poached pears: pear juice, sugar, water, lemon, vanilla), frozen to slush.

2 cans club soda, chilled.

Stir and pour into glasses.  Serves four.

The next time you stew or poach fruit, save the juice or the sauce and see what kinds of liqueurs can make it into the best drink ever!

Snow Day Dinner

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.

Deep Dish

Vanilla at Home

I use vanilla extract in absolutely everything.  So I go through it like gangbusters.  And pure vanilla extract is the only way to go.

I also like orchids, and that’s where vanilla beans come from.  I kid you not.  A climbing orchid native to Central America, called Vanilla V. planifolia (or V. fragrans) is the source of that costly little brown bean. This is not a vanilla-producing orchid but it’s pretty enough anyway.

And the reason vanilla tastes so good in sweet things?  Well, the vanilla bean makes its own sugars:

Vanilla’s rich flavor is the creation of three factors: the pod’s wealth of phenolic defensive compounds, preeminently vanillin; a good supply of sugars and amino acids to generate browning-reaction flavors; and the curing process.  The plant stores most of its defensive aromatics in inert form by bonding them to a sugar molecule.  The active defenses — and aromas — are released when damage to the pod brings the storage forms into contact with bond-breaking enzymes.  The key to making good vanilla is thus deliberate damage to the pods, followed by a prolonged drying process that develops and concentrates the flavor, and prevents the pod from spoiling.

That’s an excerpt from On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee.  Doodle gave it to me for Christmas.  I highly recommend it if you are interesting in knowing why things work the way they do in the kitchen.  It’s a great blogging tool, as well.

Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract?  It’s super easy.  I already have some steeping that I put up in October in preparation for Chel and Invis‘ wedding cake in June, but I got this cute little bottle from my brother Ando for Christmas.  In it were two vanilla beans and all the tag said was “For Al: BLOG IT.”

So this is what I am doing.  I love presents for the blog!

Basically, all you need to do is fill your bottle (make sure it has a good seal) with two vanilla beans and some booze.  The instructions here call for vodka, but I have read elsewhere that rum makes a more mellow flavour that lends itself better to darker sweets.  You can use bourbon as well, especially if you have bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar.

Then you seal it and store it away for about 4-6 months.

TADA.

That was so easy it was almost a non-DIY.  That’s why I had to give you some science.  I had to make you feel like you worked for it.