Friday, September 26, 2008

Cherry and Cherry-Chocolate

Let me start by saying this: my favorite thing about cherry pie is its breakfast-y goodness. Cherry pie that is fresh (but not hot) is delicious. Cherry pie that has been in the refrigerator overnight is even better because it's the perfect breakfast food. A little fruit to get you going, a little pastry, perfect with coffee...yumm.

For a while there, I thought this one was an epic fail. I really did. Witness: (oops..apparently I couldn't even bring myself to take a picture of the dough, it seemed that awful.)

I "wondered" in my last blog if I could get the same tasty, flaky results from a pie crust that used less lard. And the answer is most decidedly, yes--but at a price. It's no fault of Alton's. I have enough experience with his recipes (and watching his show) to know that if you follow his directions to the letter, you will get excellent, if not perfect, results. If you fudge, you may meet catastrophe face to face. I won't bore you with the details of why I couldn't follow his crust recipe to the letter. Suffice it to say, I didn't, and catastrophe and I are good friends now. The crust tasted absolutely delicious. So buttery and flaky and light. Didn't have the slight meaty taste that lard alone gives. But it was SO impossible to deal with. It was either too sticky or too crumbly to roll out and move from one place to another. And though it looked lovely in the pan:

it was equally impossible to serve. (And before you say anything, I know that's not what a lattice crust is supposed to look like. I had so much trouble with the last bit of dough, it was all I could cobble together.) Is it worth it? I'm not sure. But it brings up a question, which I put to you: can I combine the two recipes? Can fats replace each other one to one? Can I just replace some of the lard in the Country Pastry recipe with an equal amount of butter? Can I replace the water in Alton's recipe with the mixture of egg/vinegar/water in the Country Pastry recipe? Is it the egg that makes it more pliable?

Fortunately, crust is a somewhat forgiving thing. It can go from being the ugliest looking thing when raw, to being lovely brown and delicious-looking when cooked.

Now, about the filling. Here's the recipe (from a Blue Ribbon Pies book--I think it's out of print, if not, and I'm violating copyright, I'll have to take this down and you'll have to fend for yourself):

Champion Cherry Pie *click here for printable version*

1 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. cherry juice (the liquid drained off the canned cherries)
Red food coloring (really? I didn't use it. I guess if you want your pie to be super red you could.)
4 c. pitted, canned cherries (approx. 2 cans)--the tart kind--don't use a can with the word "filling" on it
1 T. butter
1/4 c. cherry juice
3 T. cornstarch
1 T. lime juice
1/4 tsp. almond extract

Combine sugar, salt, 1/4 c. cherry juice and (food coloring) in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a full boil.

Add cherries and butter; bring to a boil again. Boil 2 minutes.

Make a paste (it's actually more like a slurry) of 1/4 c. cherry juice and cornstarch. Add to hot mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Remove from heat. Add lime juice and almond extract. Cool.

Pour cooled filling into pastry. Top with remaining pastry. Flute edges and make slits or cut cherry designs in crust or create lattice top.

Bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Note: For Cherry Chocolate Pie, put 1 cup chocolate chips (or chopped chocolate of your preference) in bottom crust before pouring cherry filling in.

My mother (the pie queen) only uses these cherries for her pies. She has searched high and low at every grocery store for them. FYI, in these parts, they can be found at Dan's Foods:

The filling smells and tastes like...Christmas when Grandma's in town. Really, that's the only way to describe it. mr. is not a fan of anything to do with cherries, always too sweet for him. This isn't. It's a little tart, a little sweet, just delicious. I somehow never knew that there was lime juice in it, but it makes sense to me. I put citrus juice or zest in so many things that don't call for it in the recipe--I think it makes things taste a little more fresh and bright. And my idea to add chocolate in the bottom of the pie--I will humbly call it brilliant!

A couple of things I learned this time around:
  • Next time I get the grand idea to make a double-crust pie I need to get mom over here to help/advise me.
  • I really do need some crust shields. See?

  • I need a second pair of kitchen shears. Sometimes I use the one pair I have to cut open a package of raw chicken, and then I find I need to cut something else in the kitchen that is less raw-chicken-y, but still food-y.
  • I dislike my pie pans. I like the look of one of them, but am not happy with the functionality of either. Note to self: start hunting for lovely and useful pie pans.
Next up: It will be October when I make my next pie, so I want to make something Fall-ish. I'm thinking apple, but I don't want to do another double-crust until a day when mom's available to help me. So I'm looking for an apple pie recipe with maybe a streusel topping.

P.S. Here I am, a stressed out pie novice who finds herself on an afternoon with a bunch of leftover cherry juice and some leftover lime juice. Hmmm. What could a person do with those two things? If you guessed, "add vodka", you guessed right! I think I'll call it a Cherry Pie-tini. Equal parts vodka, tart cherry juice, and lime juice (although Rose's Lime would probably work better than fresh lime juice--it made it almost too tart. Note, I said almost. I still drank it, good vodka never goes to waste around here.) that I'm drinking it some more, I think it needs more cherry juice. I'll work out the portions next time I make cherry pie, assuming I have more vodka at that point (what is up with only having literally one shot of vodka in the bottle in the freezer, anyway?).

Cherry Cheers!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chocolate Cream

Oh my rich. Recipe is here.

I made this one for Prima. I didn't expect it to be challenging at all. But it turned out to be in a couple of unexpected ways. I can do cookie crusts. However, apparently I need to be more precise with my crumb measurements because this ended up a little hard in the crust department. Or I need to cook the crust for a little less time than the recipe says. I can also do mousse-y concoctions. However, there's a reason why I don't make pudding from scratch. Holy mother. There's also a reason why housewives of days-gone-by didn't have to go to the gym to stay in shape. Because they made pudding from scratch. All that whisking over a hot stove is a workout, I tell you what. Thank goodness I didn't also have to hand-whip the cream. Oh, wait, I did. Because the other thing I learned is that my Kitchenaid stand mixer is defective. It's been my dearest, most beloved kitchen appliance for almost 9 years now, I know it's not time for it to retire. It does well with pretty much everything, except whipping cream. The whisk attachment doesn't quite reach to the bottom of the bowl, so there's always a sub-layer of liquid that causes the rest of the mass to never really reach "stiff peak". Blergh. Do I have to take it into a repair shop? Is there something that needs to be tightened? What? I guess I forgot I've been using my hand mixer whenever I whip cream. And, naturally, I loaned it to my sister.

The filling has cream and buttermilk in it. The buttermilk gives it a bit of a tang, so it's not too sweet, but is still very rich. So rich, in fact, that I would say a 9 inch pie should be cut into at least 8 pieces. 1/6 of this pie is almost too much. Note, I said almost. I think it might actually be the best tasting chocolate cream pie I've ever eaten.

Some pictures that amuse me:

It cracks me up that the mottled pattern and colors of the crust are almost exactly the same as my countertop.

The downside of piemaking:

In other news, I've decided what I want to be when I grow up. In addition to an actor, I mean. I want to be a food stylist/photographer. All those glorious drool-worthy photos of food you see in magazines and cookbooks? I want to cook that food, set up that scene, and photograph it. It's the perfect career for me. Now, how do I go about doing that? Seriously, I'm asking. First order of business, I assume, might be to get a real camera and take a photography class.

Next up: I'm trying a double crust pie this Friday. Probably cherry, since Mom has the right kind of pie cherries waiting in her pantry for my use. I think I'm going to try Alton Brown's pie crust recipe. Not because there's anything wrong with the one I've used, just to try something different. See if I can get as tasty and flaky a result using a fraction of the lard. I also might decide to put semisweet chocolate pieces in the bottom of the pie before putting the cherry mixture in. Thoughts? Good idea? Bad idea? Delicious? Soggy?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rich Chocolate Pecan

Easy as pie! Because it was. The crust turned out much better this time (we're blaming last week's snafu on subpar lard). The first time I rolled it out (on my new silicone mat, which worked like a dream), it stuck a little bit, so I wadded it back up, sprinkled a little more flour on it and it was perfect. No sticking to the mat as I folded it to move it to the pan. I mean none. Look for yourself:

I tried to get tricky with the edge. Tried to do something different than the thumbprint thing my mom has always done, but it didn't work, and I ended up doing a sort of fork-print thing. Probably best to stick to the tried-and-true.

I like the way Alton Brown films inside his oven, so I took a picture while it was cooking:

Oy, my oven needs to be cleaned!

I wish I could have photographed the smell in my kitchen. When the crust is cooking, there's this sort of fatty, vinegar-y smell that brings back so many childhood memories. It's impossible to describe.

The pie turned out really nicely. Sometimes pecan pies seem to only have pecans at the top and between them and the crust is sort of a layer of unappetizing goo. This pie had chocolate, nuts, and delicious sweetness all the way through.

And, oh yes, that's caramel sauce drizzled on top. The recipe for the filling and sauce is from Emeril Live and can be found here.

P.S. Some pies are better when they're cold (namely, pumpkin). This one was good cold (2nd piece--can't waste pie!), but definitely better warm.

Coming next: Prima has requested a chocolate pie. I'm not sure whether I should make a chocolate cream pie with chocolate cookie crust (which seems to be her point--I guess she has feelings about "animal fat crust" as she called it today), or if I should stick with that crust and find an excellent homemade chocolate pudding recipe to fill it. Any suggestions? Recipes you want to share?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Fresh Strawberry

Ah, damn. I meant to scan the recipe I used. For the filling, anyway. I don't think I'm allowed to post the recipe for the crust. Ancient family secret. You probably don't really want to know anyway. Making pie crust with lard is not for the faint of heart. But, boyhowdy, it ends up tender and flaky.

On to the experiment. Went something like this: I cursed my mother. No, not like cursed the ground she walks on. I brought bad juju to her piemaking. I have never, in all the years I've watched her make pie crust, seen her have a crust that was difficult to roll out, difficult to move from the rolling area to the pan, or difficult to maneuver once there. Never. Until yesterday. The first try had to be scrapped completely. The second try was somewhat better but still had holes that couldn't be repaired once it was moved to the pan. Usually the dough will sort of stick to itself so you can repair cracks and holes by pressing more dough onto it (kind of like Play-Doh, but...better). This didn't work that way. It was crumbly. Not smooth and satiny and easy to work with, like it's supposed to be. Witness:

(Again, sorry for cell phone pix, next time I'll remember to bring my camera.)

HOWEVER, once the crust was cooked (Mom, remind me what temp and time, please), filled with a combination of whole strawberries and a sort of quick homemade strawberry jam (smooshed strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and-my own idea-lemon zest--all cooked and cooled), and topped with freshly whipped cream, it was delicious. Fresh and perfect. The crust tasted right and had the right texture in spite of our difficulties. The filling was also perfect--don't ever, ever think that red gooey stuff they sell at the store as "strawberry glaze" is actually anything meant to be eaten.

Yum. And not that difficult.