Sheepherder’s bread

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NOTE: I’m reposting a few of my favorites from PortlandPeeps onto this blog for safe keeping. This was originally posted in February 2012.

I never tire of the stories my husband shares about his childhood. When he was just ten years old, his father died unexpectedly, leaving his mother with four young children. In spite of the hardships that followed, many of my husband’s fond memories revolve around the delicious homemade foods his mother made. One of those memories was of a shepherd’s bread, and the tradition his family practiced whenever it was served. This slightly sweet bread was baked in a cast iron Dutch oven, leaving circular indentations from its lid on the top crust. Before my mother-in-law served this bread to her family, she gave their loyal border collie the first slice.

When I asked my mother-in-law for this family recipe, she included a 1976 article from Sunset magazine where I learned about its history. Her shepherd’s bread was originally baked by the Basques, people who live in a tiny region that straddles the border of Spain and France.

“Tending their flocks in the remote Western rangelands, Basque sheepmen had to cook for themselves, and they had to make do with a minimum of portable cooking equipment. A Dutch oven became essential for cooking hearty soups and stews — and even for baking bread. They buried the pot in a pit full of hot embers.”

“A poignant camp custom: Before serving, a herder would slash the sign of the cross on top of the loaf, then serve the first piece to his invaluable dog.”

Many years later, some Basques still bake these dome-shaped loaves of bread, but now they do so at home in their conventional ovens. The recipe my mother-in-law used was one that was supplied to Sunset magazine by Anita Mitchell. Anita won the bread-baking championship at the National Basque Festival in 1975.

To make this bread, you’ll need a 10-inch covered Dutch oven (I used my 5.5 quart Le Creuset).

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Mixing ingredients for bread dough is so satisfying! If you look closely, you can see bubbles from the yeast mixture working its magic.

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This is after the second kneading, and before the dough rises slightly higher than the Dutch oven lid.

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This is what the bread should look like when you take it out of the oven. Tap the bread. Does it sound hollow? It’s done!

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If you used a cast-iron Dutch oven, you’ll have circles from its lid on the top of your loaf, which would make this even more beautiful!

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My favorite part! Bailey got the first slice. She’s so cautious — she sniffed it, licked it, gently took it from my daughter’s hand, then placed it on the porch and looked up at Isabel with those sweet, innocent brown eyes as if asking for permission to eat it.

Here’s the recipe:

Sheepherder’s Bread

Makes 1 very large loaf

3 cups very hot tap water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 packages active dry yeast
About 9 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine the hot water, butter, sugar and salt. Stir until butter melts. Let cool to warm (110° to 115°F) Stir in yeast, cover and set in a warm place until the mixture is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Add 5 cups of the flour and beat with a heavy-duty mixer or wooden spoon to form a thick batter. Stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 3 1/2 cups) to form a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes, adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. Turn dough over in a greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and knead on a floured board to form a smooth ball. Cut a circle of foil to cover the bottom of the Dutch oven. Grease the inside of the Dutch oven and the underside of the lid with vegetable oil.

Place dough in the pot and cover with the lid. Let rise in a warm place until dough pushes up the lid by about 1/2 inch, about 1 hour (watch closely).

Bake, covered with the lid in a 375° oven for 12 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 30-35 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Remove from oven and carefully turn loaf out onto a rack to cool.

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Chocolate Non-Dairy Gelato

Gelato

This is for all my non-dairy eating, vegan, ice cream addict friends. Thanks to this easy recipe, you can all enjoy the same creamy deliciousness you crave. You’re welcome.

Ingredients
2 Cups almond milk
2 Cups French vanilla creamer
1/2 Cup sweetener (honey, sugar)
1 Vanilla Bean (or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract)
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2-3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
2 Ounces dark chocolate bar, (such as Ghirardelli 86% cacao) chopped

Directions
1. Put almond milk and French vanilla creamer into a medium-size saucepan and whisk in the sweetener.
2. Slice the vanilla bean in half to extract the seeds from inside. Place the seeds and the pod into the saucepan.
3. Place the mixture on a medium heat and allow it to simmer for five minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat, and extract around 1/4 cup from the pan. Mix this with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Then mix that back into the pan, and whisk it to infuse. Cover, and allow the mixture to sit for twenty minutes.
5. Cool the mixture until cold. Remove vanilla bean.
6. Churn mixture in an ice cream maker for 20 minutes.
7. Add 3-4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa and dark chocolate, chopped. Churn for an additional 5 minutes.
8. Freeze for several hours before serving.

You can delete the chocolate additions and add anything your heart desires. Fresh berries would be good! Enjoy!

Holiday Cookies. A few of my favorites.

While scanning through the many holiday cookie recipes on Pinterest, I was pondering what makes a cookie worthy of gifting. What do I want to nosh on? My criteria is relatively simple. As with any dessert, texture is extremely important. Soft, cakey, textured cookies are good. Slightly crisp and sandy is awesome too. Brightly colored dough is not appealing, although a few colored sanding sugars are nice. The taste should not be overly sweet. Buttery is good. Chocolate is crucial. Size is important. Smaller is better, a few bites is best. As with any baked goods, the best ingredients are of utmost importance… pure butter, good chocolate, real vanilla, fresh eggs, etc. Starting with only the finest, purest ingredients is key to producing delicious cookies every time.

Here is the list of cookies I have rotated in the last few years. In an effort to simplify and reduce holiday stress, I’m choosing two or three varieties this year. And due to their complexity, some of these will automatically disqualify.

Recipes are below the descriptions.

Butter Cookies. Buttery goodness. One recipe, two different cookies.
Christmas Cookies

Cut-outs. This recipe is a two for one. One batch of butter cookie dough makes both spritz and cut-outs.
Decorated Holiday Cookies

Double Chocolate Snowflakes. Soft, chocolately cookies with a cake-like interior.
Holiday Cookies

Pecan Tassies. Miniature pecan pies. A bit of work, but worth the extra effort.
Pecan Tassies

Gingersnaps. Spicy, sweet, soft. Yum.91911-153

World Peace Cookies. The name says it all. If we could all eat these every day, there would be peace in the world. If you love dark chocolate, this slightly crisp, sandy textured cookie will float your boat.
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Chocolate Chip Cookies. Made with cake flour and chunks of dark chocolate, these are small, dense, and extra special.
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THE RECIPES
Notes:
• Butter = unsalted butter, unless otherwise noted
• I like to splurge on good chocolate. Guittard, Ghirardelli, Scharffen Berger are good.
• All cookies listed are baked in a 350 degree F oven.
• It is better to underbake than overbake cookies. Take them out of the oven while they’re still a bit soft, and butter and sugar cookies should still be very light.

Christmas Cookies
Butter Cookies
2 Cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs, vanilla, and salt; mix on medium speed until combined.
With mixer on low speed, add flour in 2 batches, mixing just until it’s incorporated.

Divide dough into two equal portions. Place each on a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, or at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.

Take out one disk and let it get to room temperature before putting it through a spritz cookie press. Use same baking instructions as above for cut-outs.

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Cut-outs
When you’re ready to bake, roll out the other disk to about 1/4 inch thick and cut out desired shapes. Place onto a cookie sheet, sprinkle with sanding sugars. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until they’re slightly golden just around the edges.

Cool cookies overnight before frosting.

Icing
For spreading:
Makes about a cup, enough to coat 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, still until smooth: 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup water
To tint, stir in food coloring, a few drops at a time.
Icing should spread evenly, and after a second, settle to make a smooth surface. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Spread icing onto cool cookies with a metal spatula. Let stand until icing is firm, about 1 1/2 hours.

For piping:
Makes about 3/4 cup, enough to decorate 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, stir until smooth: 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/2 Tablespoons water
To tint, stir in food coloring a few drops at a time. Icing needs to be still enough to hold a line when piped through a pastry bag fitted with an 1/8-inch tip. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Let stand until icing is firm, about 5 minutes.

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Holiday Cookies
Double Chocolate Snowflakes
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt
Cream butter, add sugars
Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
Add flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms.
Add chocolate chips and mix well.
Cover dough and chill for at least an hour.
Shape dough into balls and roll in powdered sugar.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until cookies have puffed and cracked. About 8-10 minutes.

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Gingersnaps
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger

Cream butter and sugar together, beat in eggs.
Stir in molasses.
Sift in all dry ingredients. Mix into dough.
Roll dough into 1″ balls. Roll in sugar (cinnamon optional).
Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

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World Peace Cookies (Chocolate Chunk Butter Cookies with Sea Salt)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup mini-chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.
Pour in the dry ingredients (drape a towel over the mixer to protect yourself from flying flour) and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times for a second or two each time. Take a peek; pulse a few more times if there’s a lot of flour still on the surface of the dough. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds more until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible for the best texture. Don’t be too concerned if it looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix to incorporate.
Turn the dough onto a work surface. Gather it together and divide in half. Shape each half into a log that is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 325F degree
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake one sheet at a time for about 12 minutes. The cookies won’t look done or be firm, but they’ll firm up and become more sandy-crumbly as they cool.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs

Sift together baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Soften butter. Add sugars and mix until smooth and fluffy.
Add vanilla and eggs. Mix well. Add flour mixture and blend.
Add chocolate chips. Mix.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

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Happiest of holidays to you all!

Roasted Squash Soup

Squash soup is as fall as colorful leaves, apple cider, pumpkins. And even though the leaves have been blown by the wind into disorganized piles around the yard, pumpkins replaced with holly greens and lights, squash still holds an honored spot in our local grocery stores. As long as these fruit-like vegetables stick around, I will turn them into soup… Bwahaha

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Roasted Delicata Squash Soup

INGREDIENTS

3 to 4 pounds squash, peeled and seeded (I use Delicata, but if you can’t find that, Butternut works too)
2 yellow onions
2 McIntosh apples, peeled and cored
3 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 teaspoon good curry powder

Scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and sliced diagonally (sprinkled on top)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the butternut squash, onions and apples in 1-inch cubes. Place them on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Divide the squash mixture between 2 sheet pans and spread it in a single layer. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, until very tender.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock to a simmer. When the vegetables are done, put them through a food mill fitted with the medium blade. (Alternatively, you can place the roasted vegetables in batches in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add some of the chicken stock and coarsely puree.) When all of the vegetables are processed, place them in a large pot and add enough chicken stock to make a thick soup. Add the curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Taste for seasonings to be sure there’s enough salt and pepper to bring out the curry flavor.

Recipe slightly modified from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

Simple salad sauce

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Who else is loving the abundance of fresh local veggies right now? My garden is overflowing with spinach, lettuces, peas, squash, raspberries and several herbs. Due to the wet, warm, humid weather we are experiencing here in Portland, my hair is constantly curly, and many varieties of weeds are thriving in our yard. But lets ignore those things for now, okay?

I’m grilling, sautéing, roasting… or simply tossing raw veggies into bowls and devouring them in the form of salads every day. When it comes to a dressing for my colorful creations, however, the store bought options are usually … ho hum. The bottled salad dressings are often laden with trans fats, sugar, salt, preservatives and artificial flavors. They can quickly turn fresh, crisp, organic goodness into something unthinkably unhealthy. No thank you!

Fortunately, by blending a few basic ingredients,  you can quickly and easily create healthier, delicious salad dressings, and feel much better about what you’re ingesting. This honey mustard dressing is my current favorite. It’s slightly tangy, sweet, creamy. It’s also great on grilled, sautéed, or roasted veggies, or drizzled over chicken.

Honey-Mustard Salad Dressing

2 Tablespoons pure honey
2 Tablespoons yellow or brown prepared mustard (I used yellow for the sake of a prettier color, but spicy brown is good too)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup Greek non-fat, plain yogurt
Whisk these ingredients together until smooth and creamy. Store in an airtight container for up to a week or so. Recipe makes one cup.

Yay, another use for my Weck jars! I can’t seem to get enough of these.

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Oh my, sweet potato pie!

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Raise your hand if you’ve never had sweet potato pie. Much like pumpkin in its consistency, sweet potato pie is custard-like and creamy, but the spices in this recipe create a dessert that is nothing short of heavenly. Trust me on the coriander… I hesitated on that one too.

In my family, no one likes to break tradition (except yours truly), and this pie seemed to set off some alarms. Or maybe it was the color, or the thought of a soggy crust (which this does NOT have)… either way, I got to take most of it home from our family Christmas gathering. Yeah! More for us!

Sweet Potato Pie
(thank you to Joy the Baker (and her Dad) for sharing the filling recipe)

1- 9″ pie crust (chilled)

2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
2- 5oz cans evaporated milk (1 1/4 cups evaporated milk)
3 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Boil three sweet potatoes, with their peeling on, in a covered pot over medium heat, until the sweet potatoes are very soft and tender. Test with a sharp knife. If there is any resistance, boil until a knife penetrates the potatoes smoothly. Remove potatoes from the water and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel potatoes, cut into chunks and place in a large bowl or food processor. Mash potatoes thoroughly until completely smooth.

Measure two cups of the sweet potato mash and place it into a medium sized pan with the packed brown sugar, all of the spices, salt, the 1/2 stick butter, and one 5 oz can of evaporated milk. Cook on low for about 5 minutes, whipping with a wire whisk until butter and brown sugar are completely melted, and the mixture is blended, smooth and just beginning to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool in the pan.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the three eggs with a fork. Add the second 5oz can of evaporated milk, granulated sugar and vanilla to the eggs, and continue beating until creamy. Pour the cooled sweet potato mixture into the egg mixture. Blend thoroughly with a whisk and refrigerate mixture overnight or use immediately.

Pour into a 9-inch prepared crust.

Place a cookie sheet into the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place pie directly onto preheated cookie sheet, and bake for 10 minutes to set the crust, and to keep it from getting soggy.  Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. and bake for another hour. The crust should be brown and the sweet potato mixture will be puffed up, but still slightly wiggly in the center. After 1 hour, remove pie and place onto a wire rack to cool. The pie will firm up more as it cools.

Serve room temperature with whipped cream.

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Where have you been all my life?

Homemade pies

I’m pretty sure this is the best dessert I’ve ever made! I’m really excited to share it with you! I actually made two new-to-me desserts over Thanksgiving. The second one was a sweet potato pie. Both pies were good, but this Pear-Almond Tart turned out especially fabulous!

French Pear and Almond Tart

It’s a bit time consuming to make, but once you’ve tickled your taste buds with its deliciousness, you’ll agree it’s worth the effort.

Slice of pie

Start with a base pastry that is sturdy enough to cradle the almond filling and poached pears, yet light and flaky so it melts in your mouth. The recipe I used is from Martha Stewart, but there are steps you’ll need to take to make sure the baked crust is perfect, so read through all the recipes that follow carefully.

Start with the freshest, best ingredients. A food processor comes in very handy for the crust, but it can be done by hand too if you’re feeling energetic, or you don’t own one.

Basic Pie Crust (You will be pre-baking this – don’t worry I’ll tell you exactly how to do this)
(this makes a base for one 9 inch tart)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1/4-1/3 cup ice water

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Blend for just a few seconds. Add the butter and process for about 10 seconds, or until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Add ice water a little bit at a time, and run the processor until the dough holds together, but not for more than 30 seconds. If the dough is still crumbly, add a little more water.

Turn the dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press the dough into a flat circle. Wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Remove the chilled dough and let it rest for a few minutes. Roll it out so that it’s large enough, with a few inches of overhang, to fit a 9″ tart pan (that’s the one with straight fluted sides). Cut off extra dough so that it is just to the top edge. Freeze the crust for at least a half hour, until chilled. This is an important step in pre-baking. Otherwise the crust will slip down the sides.

Preheat your oven to 350°F. When the pie crust is sufficiently chilled, line the pie crust with parchment paper, wax paper, or aluminum foil. Fill at least two-thirds full with pie weights – dry beans, rice, or stainless-steel pie weights. Bake with weights for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool a few minutes and carefully remove pie weights. Poke small holes in the bottom of the pie crust with a fork and return to oven (without the weights) and cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cool completely before filling. You may need to tent the edges of the pie with aluminum foil when you bake your pie, to keep the edges from getting too dried out and burnt.

Now that you have a perfectly baked tart shell, you can proceed to the filling part.

Step 1 of the filling:

Poached Pears

1 quart water
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 Bosc pears; peeled, cored, and quartered
Additions: One cinnamon stick, 2 teaspoons whole cloves, black peppercorns or allspice berries, one lemon half, one split vanilla bean, 2-3 star anise, 6-8 fresh ginger slices
1. In a large saucepan, heat the water and sugar until warm and the sugar is dissolved. Add any of the additions that you wish.
2. Slide in the pears and cover with a round of parchment paper, with a small hole cut in the center.
3. Keep the liquid at a very low boil and simmer the pears until cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the pears.
4. Remove from heat and let the pears cool in their liquid.
Optional: After poaching the pears, while the liquid is still warm, add approximately 1/4 cup dried sour cherries, cranberries, raisins, or dried currants and let them plump.
Store the pears in their liquid in the refrigerator, in a covered container, until ready to use. Remove the pears from the refrigerator a few hours prior to serving, and re-warm them gently in the liquid, if you wish. The pears will keep for up to 5 days.

Now, lets put it all together…

Pear-Almond Tart
Recipe from David Lebovitz
8 servings

NOTE: If your almond paste isn’t very fragrant with the smell of almonds, add a drop or two of pure almond extract to the filling. You don’t want to dump a spoonful in, which would overwhelm the pears, but a tiny bit highlights the almond flavors. You can use canned pear halves packed in light syrup, and drain them well, in place of the poached pears, if you wish.

6 ounces almond paste (this is sold in most grocery stores, just make sure you pick up the one without sugar added)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons flour
3 ounces butter, salted or unsalted, cubed, at room temperature
1 large egg, plus one egg white, at room temperature
a few drops almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons rum, Calvados, or kirsch

3 poached pears, cored, drained and blotted dry, then cut into 1/2-inch slices
One pre-baked 9-inch tart shell, at room temperature (see above)

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Set the pre-baked tart shell on a baking sheet.
2. In a stand mixer, or by hand, beat the almond paste with the sugar and flour, until smooth. Some almond pastes may be drier than others. If yours is dry, just mix until the almond paste is finely-broken up.
3. Gradually beat in the butter, until smooth, then beat in the egg and the egg white, the almond extract, and the liquor.
4. Spread the almond filling evenly over the tart shell
5. Fan the pears out evenly over the almond filling, then press them in slightly.
6. Bake the tart for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the almond filling between the pears has browned.
7. Cool slightly before serving, or serve at room temperature.

Oh yeah, the little pitcher nearby in my image is a bit of the sauce from poaching the pears. Just before serving the tart, reduce the juices by boiling for a few minutes in a pan and serve alongside. Pour a little, or a lot of it onto the tart… ooh and ahh over your masterpiece! Celebrate the happiness of your tastebuds!

Mini Cherry Pies

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Projects from last weekend included creating some new portable food photography surfaces. Finding the tongue and groove boards I had my heart set on proved way more challenging than expected, but once I’d gathered all the materials, putting these together was relatively easy. I won’t bore you with the details in this post, because I have way more interesting things to share. Smaller, but much more significant things to share…

…such as these cutie patootie little pies!

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I’ve seen these around the internet, on Pinterest and on a few blogs, but could not find a complete recipe for them, so I did some research and adapted my own version. I did not expect to have so much fun making these little things. Putting these together took me back to childhood days and an Easy Bake oven, (without the part where I wonder why they won’t bake from the warmth of a light bulb).

The first thing you’ll need to do is remove the pits from about 4 cups of fresh cherries. Don’t let this seemingly daunting task discourage you. I’m sure there are many kitchen gadgets on the market that make this really easy, but since I had already done my share of running around town in search of supplies related to the creation of photography surfaces (the ones I’m not going to bore you with right now), I wanted to use what I had. Here’s the method I used:

How To Pit Cherries

1. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross on the bottom of the cherry.

2. Make sure your cuts go all the way down to the pit.

3. Flip the cherry over and hold it firmly in your hand. Grab a chopstick and insert it into the top of the cherry (where the stem was), and push the pit out through the cut end.

4. The pit should pop right out. So satisfying! And fun!

I’m filing this under ‘Things my Grandmother never told me’.

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For the dough, I used a slight adaptation of the basic pie dough recipe in Martha Stewart’s Pies & Tarts, circa 1985. I’ve used this for many tart bases over the years, and it always creates a flaky, delicious crust that never disappoints. It’s slightly sweet, buttery and firm enough to hold up well in desserts that stand up unaided in their shells, such as tarts and small pies.

I found that this plastic container top (around 6 inches), which was a good size for the bottom crusts. The dough should have a bit of an overhang after it’s pushed down into the wells of a cupcake pan. A slightly smaller biscuit cutter worked well for the top dough.

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After the cherries were pitted, I cut them in half and placed them into a large bowl. In a small bowl, I measured out about 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch and a teaspoon of cinnamon, and mixed them well. Then I squeezed some fresh lemon juice onto the cherries, and combined the sugar mixture and cherries together and let the ingredients mingle for a few minutes before scooping the cherry filling into 10 pie shell bottoms.

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The real fun starts when you get to cut and decorate the tops. My favorites were the lattice tops. I also used mini dough cutters in various shapes to cut out hearts and stars. My daughter is not a fan of cherries, so she made her own peach mini-pie. You could use blueberries, blackberries, apples, or any other favorite filling. I’m thinking nearly any recipe for a 9″ pie would could work divided between the 10 little pie shells.

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THE RECIPES:

Mini Cherry Pies
Makes 10

Ingredients

One Pate Brisee recipe (see below), Chilled
4 cups sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 egg for egg wash (beaten with a pinch of salt)
Additional sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Remove a disc of chilled dough from the fridge, roll out, and use a 5-inch circular cutter to cut out 10 circles. Press the dough circles into the wells of cupcake pans and allow the access dough to hang slightly over the top.

Place the pitted, halved cherries into a bowl and squeeze 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice over the top and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon, then blend with the cherries until the pieces are evenly coated. Allow this mixture to sit and create juices for a few minutes before distributing it between 10 pie shells.

Remove the second disc from the fridge and cut tops and shapes out and place them over the mini pies. Crimp edges. If your designs don’t include cutouts, make sure to cut a few slits on top so the filling can vent. Chill the pies at this point for about 30 minutes. This is a good time to start cleaning up the giant mess your kitchen has become.

Preheat oven to 425°F. When you are ready to bake, brush tops of the pies with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, turn and bake for another 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325°F and bake another 10 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is a golden brown.

Cool the pans on a rack before removing pies. I carefully removed the pies while they were still warm since the filling bubbled up over the top a bit. I didn’t want the pies to stick. Go around the edges with a butter knife first and the pies should pop right out with a little gentle twist.

Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you need to reheat them, about 20-30 seconds on high in the microwave works well. Warm pie. Cold ice cream. It doesn’t get much better!

Pate Brisee (Basic Pie Crust)
adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe
Makes 10 double crust mini cupcake sized pies

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions

Place the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds just to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With the machine running, add the ice water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube, just until the dough holds together. Do not process for longer than 30 seconds.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into two. Place each half onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten and form two discs. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight before using.

Parenting and a savory tart

We did it! Another year of high school is behind us! Not that I’m in any hurry to have my daughter grow up, but high school has not been a great experience so far. Our neighborhood high school holds approximately 1500 students, which puts 35+ teenagers in each class at any given time. Consider all those different personalities and quirky behaviors in close quarters together for seven hours a day.

“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.” -Unknown

On a positive note, last weekend my daughter was in a spring dance performance where she was recognized for her dance achievements, and given a scholarship for future dance classes and expenses. So proud of her!

During this last week, while getting my daughter through finals and daily dance practices, quick, simple recipes were essential in getting food on the table. There’s one dish I want to share with you. It’s a roasted veggie savory tart. Once you have a few basic ingredients on hand, you can top this tart with nearly anything. So easy, it practically makes itself, and it can multitask into an appetizer, a side dish, a brunch dish, or a complete meal.

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Original recipe by The Decisive Cook

Savory Roasted Veggie Tart
1 box puff pastry shells
2 sweet onions
1 head of garlic
10 small peppers in various colors
2 eggs
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan
1 Teaspoon dried basil leaves
1 Teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup crumbled chevre
Flour for rolling out pastry
Parchment paper
Cookie sheet with sides (baker’s half sheet, 18×13″)

Defrost pastry shells at room temperature for 40 minutes. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to the size of the pan with 1 inch fold around edges. Cover pan with parchment paper, and place pastry onto it. Brush with an egg wash (1 egg, 1 Tablespoon water). Prick pastry with a fork on the top surface.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place peppers, and garlic in a baking dish. Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil and roast in a 350°F. oven for about 45 minutes, or until peppers are a bit browned.

Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil to a pan, and heat on medium-high heat. Thinly slice the onions and add to the pan. Add sugar and basil. Cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes or until onions are slightly browned.

Whisk together ricotta cheese and egg. Slather the mixture onto the egg washed pastry. Top with 1/4 cup of the parmesan, the carmelized onions, roasted garlic, roasted peppers, chevre and sprinkle on the remainder of the parmesan.

Bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes or until pastry is browned.

Chocolate Pie

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This is one of the first cream pies I’ve ever made. Unless I count the grasshopper pie from high school home economics. Gasp!

Depending on what’s in season, my favorites are blueberry, strawberry, peach, and pecan. But today, because chocolate is always in season, and there’s a very long week of have-to’s — hours of driving my daughter to school and dance classes, work, meetings, cooking dinners, washing dishes, doing laundry and dog walking — a chocolate cream pie is chilling in the fridge to keep us happy.

Remember, dark chocolate is a superfood! Have you thought of having cocoa-enriched chocolate pie as part of a healthy skin routine? According to Medical News Today, German researchers found high-flavonoid cocoa increases hydration, decreases skin roughness and scaling, and helps to support women’s skin against UV damage. (Sorry guys…I’m sure the benefits for men are similar, but the research was on chocolate loving women.) The research found that women who consumed high-flavonoid cocoa every day had smoother, moister skin after just three months. That’s a study I’d have gladly volunteered for!

This pie requires a pre-baked crust, which has always challenged me. The crust always ends up slumping down in the plate or folding into itself. I tried something new this time, and it worked splendidly. It involved a package of dried black beans. Here’s how you can pre-bake the crust without having it change shape:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. When the pie crust is chilled, line it with aluminum foil (or you could use parchment paper). Fill about 2/3 full with pie weights (I used dried beans, but rice or actual stainless steel pie weights also work). Bake the crust with the weights for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, remove the weights by pulling the foil liner out. Using a fork, poke holes in the bottom of the crust and return it to the oven, this time without the weights, and bake for another 10 minutes or until it’s golden brown. Cool completely before adding the filling.

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Chocolate Cream Pie

  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chocolate shavings
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Combine above ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over medium heat, whisking until thickened, 7-8 minutes. Whisk in chopped bittersweet chocolate and unsalted butter. Pour into a pre-baked 9-inch piecrust. Chill until firm, 4-5 hours. Top the pie with whipped cream and the chocolate shavings.