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Posts Tagged ‘crust’

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Just a photo this week, but it’s a cracker: Deep-dish chicken pot pie with peas, carrots, pearl onions, mushrooms, a creamy roux, and the meat from nearly a whole 3.5 pound bird. The buttery biscuit crust has chopped scallions and is made extra fluffy with lots of buttermilk.

I overfilled it like a greedy little thing and it bubbled all over the place, so then I had to judge whether the topping would cook fully before the wind from the oven fan, ceiling fan, and open window would fail and set off the smoke alarm. It never happened, and I ate and warmed my chilly bones.

Stay warm this week, everybody. Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case keep your balmy week to yourself.

😉

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Maybe 30 years ago I read Katherine Paterson’s brilliant Bridge To Terabithia*. There was a note at the end which said the illustrator drew the pictures while listening to the music of the Beatles. (To see one of Donna Diamond’s beautiful drawings from that book, click here.) Her work was so ephemeral and dreamy, and I was not surprised to learn of the particular musical influence. I’d bet you aren’t either.

In my Advanced Studio Art class in high school we always had the radio on, set to a local station, while we drew. My work was inevitably co-authored by Mister Mister, Heart, and Dream Academy. By college I’d graduated to Belinda Carlisle and MC Hammer.

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This is a Lady’s Speed Stick. Hammer would be proud.

Sometimes I listen to music while doing busy work like cutting and freezing produce. Once I wrote to Gourmet Magazine** and told them I spent the afternoon slicing organic strawberries while accompanied by Led Zeppelin. It was a solid choice, I thought. Gourmet agreed. They printed my letter.

But back to the vein of Donna Diamond, Bridge drawings, and the Beatles; and me, my drawings, and late ’80s power ballads: I think the music I’m listening to when I’m creating has a hand in the product. That includes cooking. This past few weeks I’ve needed some deep rest—soul-core rest. Aside from sleeping, that means comfort food; and in my case, making it.

First I went to my farm and bought some local, low-spray, ripe peaches. Then I sliced them and tucked them into a butter crust, latticed and sprinkled with demerara sugar. My co-author was The Carpenters. I felt like I was moving not through air but through Karen’s exquisite honey-colored contralto. That was a mellow-tasting pie, indeed (there it is above).

A couple of days ago I became oddly obsessed with a recipe I’ve had for years but have never made: blackberry brown-sugar cake. I took some liberties, since it was to be a breakfast or teatime cake for me, not a celebration cake for others. Omitted the buttercream and jam and half the sugar, swapped in some olive oil for part of the butter and whole-wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose. The recipe also called for ground walnuts and a little sugar at the base of the pan, but I didn’t have any walnuts, so I used hazelnuts instead. They were so heady and delicious that going forward I’ll never use walnuts. I topped the cake with tangy, organic plain yogurt and blackberries I’d just picked at the farm. The result was subtle and moody and surprising.

Nat ‘King’ Cole made this cake with me. You might not be able to tell by the photo, but you’d know for sure when you ate a slice.

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*The movie is rubbish.

**Requisite whimper that they’re gone. 😦

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Today I told my Facebook tribe that when my friend Rachel made me the gift of a tart pan, my very first, I flipped out. It’s because for as long as I can remember an Alsatian apple tart has danced in my head where sugarplums ought to. Now I could finally make one. Last night I did.

Only one venerable restaurant in my area made this dessert, a place I visited a few times growing up. It was so lovely that I think I ordered it every time. And now I’m glad I did, because the restaurant—I’m still in shock—recently closed.* I might be the only one in my area now who makes this tart.

Letting that thought wash over me.

I confess I don’t remember where I got the recipe. But Google can help you if you’re tempted to be a part of the Alsatian Apple Tart workforce. Join me, and let us rise above the frozen $11 apple hucksters of the land!

Here’s what I did.

1) Zipped up the pâte brisée (that’s the pie dough) in my Cuisinart. Chilled the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes, then pressed it into the pan. You can do the same if you’re as lazy as I was last night**, or you can roll it out. Those stalwart cooks who roll it out can probably boast a more consistent thickness, as opposed to me, who had to coax the finished product from the removable base this morning with all ten fingers, like a surgeon who’d lost his subway fare inside an appendicitis patient.

This is the dough in my happy new pan, after docking (when you prick it all over with a fork so it doesn’t bubble up in the oven).

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2) I covered the dough with tin foil and poured dried beans into it. This also keeps the bubbles down while the crust bakes. Pie weights, widely available at cooking specialty stores***, are an expensive frill. Set the tart on a rimmed cookie sheet. This is always a good idea, because pies like to leak. This went into the oven for 12 minutes.

The last time I was at my favorite organic farm I bought up their last bushel of apples, which they procured from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. I think they’re Honey Crisps. The recipe called for Golden Delicious, but you can use whatever you want (except don’t use McIntoshes. They’re too soft, and are best for eating out of hand or for applesauce. You want an apple that will keep its structure even after a hit with a 375-degree oven).

3) I cut up, cored, and peeled three apples per the recipe, but I needed another small one. Tossed the slices in a bit of granulated sugar, and made a pretty flower that ended up oddly off center. 15 more minutes in the oven.

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4) I made a custard of sugar, milk (you can use milk and cream), and eggs and whisked it up. Using a measuring jug is the ticket here because you need to pour the custard on top of the tart. For some reason there was only room for half of the custard before it started overflowing, which is another solid reason why the crust was as irretrievably stuck to the base as it was (see ‘subway fare’ above). I poured the rest into two 1-cup ramekins, plunked them into a Pyrex pan, and filled the pan with water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (This is a bain-marie, which gently cooks custard desserts. If I was to put the custard ramekins in the oven straight up, they would have scorched.)

When the tart came out, it looked like this. Well, in the morning it did. I shot the earlier shots last night by my unfortunate overhead kitchen light. Note the change in light from lurid to pleasantly natural!

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And when I cut it, it looked like this…

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And this was my breakfast. I put in on a dish with an apple on it. You can kind of see it peeking out the right side. IMG_7517

Here’s what I liked about this tart: The crust was wonderfully tender and the custard delicate. And I had a surprise: I really enjoyed the experience of eating an apple dish that didn’t call for cinnamon. Until I made this, it hadn’t occurred to me how cinnamon always seemed to show up whenever there was an apple around. It’s great, of course. But it’s become predictable. Eating just apples with no other spices was clean and pure.

Here’s what I didn’t like: Nothing.

And I have one more custard to eat.

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*The Fromagerie, in Rumson, NJ. It had changed owners and all and wasn’t the same. But I’m still reeling.

**Like I don’t do this every single time I make pie.

***I love you, Williams-Sonoma, and my condolences on the loss of Chuck. But I doubt his mother or grandmother used fabricated pie weights for their crusts, either. They used beans.

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I’ve always been crap at making pie crusts. Fillings, I’m good. Like the above. It has organic apples and pears in it, plus I threw in some brown sugar (didn’t measure), cinnamon (ditto), and gooshed the whole thing with some of the crab apple liqueur I made last fall. It all went into a really wide pan and got sauteed for something like five minutes—long enough for everything to get juiced up and friendly but not so long that the fruit would start to fall apart.

When I make crust, I usually ease back on the fat because I used to have a weight problem, and even though I know in my brain that I don’t have one now,* an old self-image is not something a  person shakes off easily. So even when life’s going just swimmingly, when it comes to cooking for myself, I carefully measure and am all organized and I skim back on the butter. Like a lot. And I use the pat-in-the-pan method, pressing the pie dough into the pan instead of rolling it out. If I didn’t, it would crack like the Mojave in August.

Last week, though, I was chilly, exhausted, and generally fed up with life. Life was going sinkingly. I cook when I need normalcy, so enter pie. And I broke out a new recipe: Martha’s pate brisee, which calls for two sticks of butter—a goodly amount, as Martha would say. Please know I did not use two sticks on a pie I was going to eat myself. But I did dump in a bunch, and fairly indiscriminately. Into the Cuisinart went the flour and salt, then in went the butter. Plop, plop, plop. Blitz, blitz, blitz. Ice water, more blitzing.

I thought not. I simply did. It needs this, and it needs that, make a mess, well done, into the fridge to firm up.

Suddenly this…I was able to roll out.

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I didn’t say I was any good at it, but I WAS able to roll it out.

I pricked the crust with a fork (what pastry chefs call “docking,” to keep the crust from puffing up in the oven) and then I spread a raw egg white across the bottom. I read somewhere that that keeps the bottom of the crust from getting goopy from the filling and not cooking. Call it the barrier method.

The recipe said I could split the dough in half and make a top crust, too, but I only have one pie pan: deep dish. So I sort of folded the upper part of the bottom crust over the fruit, brushed it with an egg wash, sprinkled it with sanding sugar, and put it in the oven.

It was tender and flaky and lovely—the best crust I have ever made, the bouncing baby of enough fed-up-ness and enough experience to let my hands do the thinking. And enough butter.

Go Martha, and go me.

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*A weight problem, not a brain.**

**Well. Depends on the day.

 

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Lombardi’s outdoor sconce, lighting our way at the start of the tourney—an All-Carb Olympic torch.

Porta in Asbury Park, NJ makes a pizza carbonara so good I want to roll in it like a dog. Before I say anything about pizza anywhere else, I need to impress this upon you, because this kind of quality is what I had in mind when my sister and brother-in-law treated me to a pizza tour of Manhattan last October. Porta’s chewy, deliriously addictive crust and buttery, runny, full fat housemade cheese—my mozzarella muse, which I say with precisely zero shame—that’s the taste I had in my mouth, and it’s what NY was up against.

Five pizza places, some new, some very, very old; five thin-crust Margherita pies (tomato, mozzarella, basil) to keep the playing field level; five pies judged for quality of crust, sauce, cheese and overall experience.

Below, a photo essay of our day, and I’ll be sure to unpack my adjectives.

Lombardi’s (below), A.

Often enough, the big-name grandpas of the restaurant world strut their leisure suits and flash grins full of metal bridgework, hoping to convince you that they haven’t lost their mojo. But their best years are usually way behind them. Others, happily, have still got it, and the oldest pizza place in the city is one of them.

Crust: Straightforward with a bit of a crunch, somewhat light hand with the salt.

Sauce: Bright flavor, sweet.

Cheese: Chewy, perfect amount.

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Luzzo’s, A.

Crust: Delicate, thin as a Saltine cracker.

Sauce: Salty, but it worked.

Cheese: Creamy little dairy pillows.

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Luzzo’s beautiful old interior–brick, beam and detail.

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Well worn swivel chairs, bar paneling and vintage tile floor.

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Tools of the trade plus a bit of incongruous Indian corn just for fun.

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Patina in the old tin ceiling.

Motorino, A+. Good and soppy pizza extravaganza.

Crust: Chewy, rustic and doughy.

Sauce: Fresh and sweet.

Cheese: Happily runny cheese pillows.

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Worth a second shot.

Gruppo, B+.

Crust: Paper thin and crispy, somewhat forgettable.

Sauce: Spiciest so far.

Cheese: Plentiful, chewy.

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Okay, next was Grom, because with four pizzas down and one to go, we’d already thrown our hats over the fence, so what did adding authentic Italian gelato matter? Below is vanilla bean and chocolate. I was quite undone by it, and not because I was full from pizza. Out-of-the-ballpark good.

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Co. Pizza, A++ As close to Porta as I could find. We were stuffed and yet still ate two of these pies. Better than Motorino by a hair* (please forgive the indelicate expression; I know we’re eating).

Crust: Drug like. The doughy, pliable kind that stretches a little when you try to pull it away from the other slices. Tip: Everybody pull at once.

Sauce: Fresh, evenly flavored.

Cheese: Oozy, goopy and plentiful.

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More than a little dismaying to think that Co., which offers such outstanding pizza, felt they needed to add a disclaimer such as this to their menu. To the customers that inspired it: Kindly get a grip.

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Reigning champion.

Where’s your favorite ‘za? What makes a pie the best? Don’t hold back—it’s a cold night. Consider it a public service.

*I just grossed out my mom. Sorry 😀

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