Homemade Puff Pastry and Vol-au-vents

Have you ever pulled something out of the oven and felt like a rock star? Felt giddy and awed at the first bite? Been so incredibly proud of a recipe you were inexplicably able to complete that you thought about framing the resulting photos for your desk at work? Okay, okay, maybe that’s a little much. But all silliness aside, there are turning points in my life as a baker where I feel like I “level up,” or gain a skill or technique that previously seemed too daunting for me to contemplate. This past Daring Bakers challenge was one of those turning points.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.


New baking supplies for the challenge.

Vol-au vents are simply cups of puff pastry stuffed with delicious savory or sweet fillings. That part sounds easy. But homemade puff pastry? I have to admit, I was very nervous. The recipe looked especially daunting considering my love-hate relationship with my rolling pin. I think we’ve smoothed things out, but every now and then I still feel like giving him a good whomp against the counter to adjust his attitude. And even apart from rolling pin troubles, puff pastry is just a fickle, time consuming creation. It’s made by enveloping an entire pound of butter (Heyyy, Paula Deen!) in the dough (called a détrempe). Once the butter is wrapped up like a present, you make a series of six “turns” (tri-folds) in the dough, rolling it out between each (and refrigerating often to maintain workability). This website has a useful pictorial of the turning process, but I bet you’d love to see Julia Child and Michel Richard making it in real-time, wouldn’t you? Your wish is my command! Here’s the fun part: once you have all those lovely layers of butter and dough in the oven, the water content of the butter turns into steam, inflating your pastry. If all goes well, you end up with a fluffy, buttery bit of heaven.

After watching the video above several times over, I dragged my load of doubts and worries into the kitchen and set to work with a furrowed brow. My dough seemed too sticky, my butter pounding scared little Byrd to death, and my envelope kept threatening to break and expose my butter. Nevertheless, I trudged on, hoping that somehow, my little pastries would puff their hearts out in the oven. And guess what?

It worked! It worked! It worked! It’s unfortunate (or maybe not, since Mike’s eardrums are probably sore) that you couldn’t hear me shouting those two little words as I leapt around my apartment after taking these out of the oven. It was like magic! Little disks of dough turning into lovely, sophisticated pastries via unseen processes within their layers. And not only were the pastries puffy, they were out of this world delicious. I burned each one of my little fingertips to bits (not to mention my tongue) eating them straight out of the oven. Mike liked them too! Byrd was indifferent.

I chose to stuff my vol-au-vents with both savory and sweet fillings. My savory vol-au-vent was filled with smooth goat cheese mousse with a drizzle of fresh, homemade pesto on top. The pesto was gorgeous — made with toasted pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil (including some huge sprigs from the garden beside my classroom — did I mention that I love my school?) The tangy goat cheese and rich pesto were such a delicious combination.

Goat Cheese Mousse and Basil Pesto


Recipe By:

Shirl on RecipeZaar (goat cheese mousse)
Elise on Simply Recipes

Yields: About 1/2 cup mousse and 1/2 cup pesto

Goat Cheese Mousse Ingredients:
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, lightly whipped

Basil Pesto Ingredients:
1 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/6 cup pine nuts, toasted
1.5 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:
To make the mousse, process the goat cheese in a clean food processor until smooth. Add the whipped cream and blend just until incorporated.

To make the pesto, combine the basil and pine nuts in a food processor. Pulse a few times. Add the garlic, pulse a few times more. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on low (if storing, reserve half the oil — see note below). Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Note: If storing and not using immediately, reserve half the oil. Place pesto in airtight container and drizzle reserved oil over top. Freeze or refrigerate.

My dessert plate was designed as a walk through the seasons. Spring was represented by Smitten Kitchen’s tangy mango curd, a sweet raspberry, and a dollop of homemade whipped cream. Summer was simple: homemade whipped cream and berries.

Finally, autumn was one of my favorites (in fact, you’ve seen it a few times here recently!): baked peach crisp. I baked some peaches, brown sugar, white sugar, oats, and toasted pecans in a dish before spooning the hot mixture into my puff pastry and (you know what’s coming, right?) topped it with a dollop of whipped cream! Next time I think I’ll add the toasted pecans over top of the peach mixture at the end. All of these dessert vol-au-vents were incredible in their buttery pastry cups, but our favorite by far was the Mango Curd Raspberry Vol-au-vent!


Peach Crisp Vol-au-vent



Raspberries and Cream Vol-au-vent



Mango Curd Raspberry Vol-au-vent

Mango Curd


Recipe By: Smitten Kitchen (mango curd)
Yields: About 1 to 1.5 cups

Ingredients:
1 15-ounce ripe mango, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar (might reduce this to 1/3 cup next time, to keep the curd more tart)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions:
Puree mango, sugar, lime juice and salt in processor, scraping down sides of work bowl occasionally. Add yolks; puree 15 seconds longer. Strain through sieve set over large metal bowl, pressing on solids with back of spatula to release as much puree as possible. Discard solids in sieve.

Set metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); whisk puree until thickened and thermometer registers 170°F., about 10 minutes. Remove from over water. Whisk in butter 1 piece at a time. Cover (place plastic wrap on surface of curd to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate overnight. Can freeze for up to 2 months.

I’m grateful for the Daring Bakers for many reasons: the exciting recipes shared, the fantastic friendships made, the gorgeous blogs to visit. For this challenge, though, I especially want to thank Steph and the Daring Bakers for a huge confidence boost! I hope you’ll decide to give puff pastry a try. It’s a manageable beast, and the resulting dough freezes well to use for months to come. Even besides those practicalities, though, it feels like such a satisfying kitchen accomplishment!

Puff Pastry and Vol-au-vents


Recipe By: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yields: Using 1/3 of the dough yields about 9 2-inch vol-au-vents

Ingredients:
2-1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour
1 tbsp. salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations)
1-1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

plus extra flour for dusting work surface

Directions:

Mixing the Dough:
Check the capacity of your food processor before you start. If it cannot hold the full quantity of ingredients, make the dough into two batches and combine them.

Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)

Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 1″ thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:
Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour (A cool piece of marble is the ideal surface for puff pastry) with your rolling pin (preferably a French rolling pin without handles), press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with “ears,” or flaps.

Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8″ square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).

With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. You have completed one turn.

Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:
If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.

The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Steph’s extra tips:

  • While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.
  • Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.
  • Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don’t want the hard butter to separate into chuncks or break through the dough…you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.
  • Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don’t roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.
  • Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.
  • Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.
  • Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.
  • When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.
  • Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.
  • You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.
  • Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).


Vol-au-vents ready to go into the oven, and then baking under a silicon mat.



Pesto fixings.

Don’t forget to cruise the Daring Bakers blogroll to see all of the creative vol-au-vents fillings other chefs chose.

Now I want to hear from you: what was your proudest culinary achievement?

Mini-Pies: Pumpkin, Peach Crisp, and Sour Cream Apple

As the days adopt a chill and the pretty trees behind my apartment lazily lose their leaves, I’m embracing what’s to come. I’ve already begun lighting my Balsam and Cedar candles, poking about for pumpkin recipes, and crunching happily down sidewalks strewn with crisp leaves. I’m trying to get in the autumn spirit, and it was with that mindset that I sat down this week to hunt for delicious recipes. My Sunday school class is having a potluck tomorrow, and I wanted something bite-sized and special to contribute.

Whenever I’m pondering what to bake, I struggle between two very disparate urges. On one hand, I love baked goods that are cute. You know, those cupcakes that look like burgers, cake balls shaped like random animals, cakes decorated to resemble inanimate objects. On the other hand, I grow more in tune with each passing week to the fact that I’m pinching salt, molding dough, tossing flour, and in short, creating things with my hands. In keeping with that, I love baked goods that are simple, rustic, and emphatically homemade. Marrying these two desires is sometimes difficult, but this weekend, I think I found the perfect solution (just in time for the Sunday school potluck): miniature pies. Itty bitty Pumpkin Pies, Peach Crisp Pies, and Sour Cream Apple Pies, to be precise.

These tiny pies are so sweet and cute and charming . . . that I’m almost suspicious. Remember diminutive, pigtailed Rhoda from the classic 1956 horror film The Bad Seed?

She was ostensibly the picture of perfection, but in actuality, she was going around killing neighborhood children, old ladies, and her family’s dimwitted handyman. I can just see her roller skating down the sidewalk with a basket of these perfect pies. She used to ask her parents, “What will you give me for a basket of kisses?” and they’d respond nauseatingly, “A basket of hugs.” But who wants a basket of hugs when you could have a basket of pies?

Murderous allusions notwithstanding, these particular perfect treats are not too good to be true. Unlike dear Rhoda, they are every bit as sweet and delectable as they appear.

The Mini Peach Crisp Pies were exact taste replicas of their full-size cousin. I chopped fresh, juicy peaches and mixed them with brown sugar, granulated sugar, and oats. This simple combination yields an unexpectedly bright fall flavor with a satisfying, gooey, oaty texture. I’m glad I have more of these waiting in my fridge. I don’t know if my Sunday school class will get to sample these!

The Sour Cream Apple Pies had a nostalgic appeal. When I was little, my mom made a buttery, tangy dessert she called, simply, Apple Kuchen. It was easy to assemble — a yellow cake mix base topped with apple pie filling and sour cream. I’ll have to post that recipe sometime, since it was my first introduction to the apples and sour cream together. That combination is still a favorite of mine today. These mini-pies didn’t quite live up to my expectations, though; the flavor was very mild and left me wishing for more spice. The recipe I used didn’t call for a single bit of cinnamon or nutmeg, and though I snuck in a few shakes of the cinnamon jar, it still needed some work. I have to hand you a grain of salt to take with my criticism, though, since I’m devouring these little apple parcels lustily. The sweet apple flavor is certainly still appealing.

Last but not least, the Pumpkin Pies were my absolute favorite. Spicy, custardy pumpkin inside a buttery, flaky crust, all topped with either a pretty pecan or a dollop of homemade whipped cream (okay, or both!). Want to know the best part? They were by far the easiest mini-pie to assemble — so easy that I’m making them one of my go-to desserts. Just like the Plum and Cream Mini Tortes Mike and I loved so much, these little pies pay out much more joy and deliciousness than they cost in labor.



I can’t wait for you to try these miniature pies and share your thoughts with me! How else are you going to try three or four different flavors of pie all on one plate? If you’d rather not indulge your do-too-muchitis, though, why not choose just one flavor to bake? Pop a pan of the easy pumpkin pies in the oven all by themselves for a simple treat. Whether you bake one flavor or all of them, I hope you’re thrilled with the sweet results.

Miniature Pies: Pumpkin, Sour Cream Apple, and Peach Crisp


Recipe By:

Digs Magazine (pumpkin pie filling)
Not Martha (fruit pie inspiration)
Epicurious (apple pie filling, adapted)
-Willow Bird Baking (peach crisp filling)

Yields: About 48 mini-muffin sized pies, depending on proportions
Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold butter flavored vegetable shortening*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
*I tried shortening for this recipe, but prefer lard!

Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
6 oz. evaporated milk
1.5 eggs*
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
*For half an egg – lightly beat one egg, then measure out 1 1/2 tablespoons.

Peach Crisp Filling Ingredients:
3 peaches, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/8 cup oats
pinch salt

Sour Cream Apple Filling Ingredients:
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large eggs
1.5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large Granny Smith apples

Egg Wash Ingredients:
1 egg
a little water

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring of your choice)


Directions:

Make the crust: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add chunks of shortening and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.

Make desired fillings: While dough is chilling, make desired fillings.

  1. Pumpkin: Combine the sugars, cinnamon and ginger in a mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs and stir in the pumpkin; add the evaporated milk and mix well. Refrigerate if you aren’t using it right away.
  2. Peach Crisp: Mix all ingredients together.
  3. Sour Cream Apple: Whisk together the sour cream, sugar, salt, vanilla, eggs, and flour until the mixture is smooth. Add the apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin, and stir the filling until it is combined well. Note: I added a teaspoon of cinnamon and wish I’d added some nutmeg, too.

Prepare the bottom crust: Take one of the disks of dough and pinch off walnut-sized balls. Place a ball in each well of an ungreased mini-muffin pan. Using your fingers, work the dough up the sides of each well (and create a little lip of dough rising over the edge for fruit pies). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

For fruit pies: Fill each well with desired fruit filling. Pinch off a piece of dough and flatten it or roll it out thin on a sheet of parchment paper. Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out a top crust. Place the top crust on one of the wells, folding the bottom crust lip over with the edge of the top crust and crimping the edges shut. You can use a toothpick to decorate the edges. Repeat for all of the mini-pies. Cut a crisscross vent in the center of each pie. Mix the egg and water in a small bowl and brush the tops of the pies. Bake pies at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, checking often. If the pies appear to be getting too brown, cover the whole pan with aluminum foil. Remove and let cool in pan for a few minutes before transferring mini-pies to a wire rack to cool completely.

For pumpkin pies: Pour pumpkin pie filling into each prepared well. Bake pies for 30-35 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling set. Remove and sprinkle chopped toasted pecans on top OR decorate with a pretty toasted pecan half. Let cool in pan for a few minutes before transferring mini-pies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve mini-pies with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. To make homemade whipped cream, mix all ingredients together until soft peaks are obtained.

Notes: The fruit pie filling portions above are most likely out of proportion. I made extra peach and apple to freeze. The pumpkin filling recipe above has been halved from the original, because I made the original amount and ended up with way too much.

To store Pumpkin and Sour Cream Apple Mini-Pies, refrigerate in an airtight container.


Preparing my apple pie filling and baking the pies.



Pumpkin pies baking and cooling off.



All packed up and ready to go to Sunday school!



Happy Eating!

P.S. Nominate your favorite food blogs for the 2009 Foodbuzz Blog Awards by September 30th!

Red Berry Pie — Version 1.0

Author’s Note: I’ve updated and perfected this recipe! After reading the post below, please see Red Berry Pie — Version 2.0!

Last week I was basking on pluffy cloud nine after baking my first pie. I guess I needed a reality check, because the very next day I decided to give pie-making another go with considerably less amazing results. I wish I could share what I baked this weekend with you instead! It was the Daring Bakers challenge, and I’m giddy with the recipe and results. Unfortunately, I must save that until the 27th of the month, so for now, I present . . . failpie.

Well, that’s a little harsh. This is only a failure of texture/appearance, not taste. I was pleased as punch with the crust, and the strawberry and raspberry combination was perfectly tangy and sweet. With a dollop of homemade whipped cream on the whole concoction, it was actually a satisfying dessert. Mike and his dad even preferred it to the peach pie! When it comes down to it, the only problem with this pie was the texture of the filling. Sadly, the words “mushy” and “runny” are apt here. But even that, as it turns out, may have a relatively simple solution.


Ugly but tasty!

There are a few main reasons fruit pies can be runny (I did some research using the list of pie tips on DianasDesserts, as well as several other sites). The filling may not be cooked long enough. The fruit may have required more of a thickening agent (cornstarch, tapioca, and flour are common). But in my case, I don’t think the recipe was the culprit (it was from the cornstarch folks, for goodness’ sake). No, I’m guessing it was something even simpler; that is, the cooling time. Fruit pies need to be completely cool before being cut, and that can require up to four hours. Did I let my pie cool for four hours? Of course not. I didn’t plan four whole hours into my busy Sunday schedule! In fact, my pie barely sat for half an hour before I had to pack it up and head to dinner at Mike’s sister’s beautiful new home. What did I expect?!


Maybe we’ll just call it a cobbler? How’s that?

I do think you should make this pie, but with a couple of changes. First, some people recommend cooking your fruit with the thickening agent on the stove before filling your pie, thus ensuring the proper thickness. That sounds like a better idea than piling it all in the crust and hoping for the best, now doesn’t it? Second, you should use more berries than I did. I wanted my pie to be stuffed, but I was a little low on fruit this time around. Finally, of course, let your pie cool! Plan ahead and don’t be hasty.

I’m posting the recipe below as I used it, but feel free to tinker with the above aspects. I think this is going to be a real winner with a little work. I’ll have to let you know when I give it another shot.

Red Berry Pie, version 1


Recipe By:

Hodgson Mills (pie filling, adapted by me)
-Ina Garten (whipped cream)
-Me (crust)

Yields: One 9-inch, double-crust pie

Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
sugar (to sprinkle on before baking)
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Filling Ingredients:
1 pints of fresh or frozen raspberries
1 pound fresh strawberries
1 1/4 cup sugar
tiny pinch of salt
4 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon raspberry extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Egg Wash Ingredients:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring of your choice)


Directions:

Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Roll one disk of dough out to around 2 inches larger than your pie plate and transfer it, situating it in the plate. Trim the excess flush with the edge of the pie plate.

Mix filling: In a large bowl, gently toss raspberries and strawberries together with sugar. Add cornstarch, raspberry extract and orange juice. Spoon into prepared pie shell bottom. Dot with butter.

Roll the other dough disk out to about 1 inch larger than your pie plate. Situate it over the filling, tucking the edges of the top dough behind the edge of the bottom dough and crimping the edges. Use excess dough to add dough cutouts to top of pie if desired (I made a heart).

In a small bowl, beat cream and egg yolk together for egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the top pie crust (can sprinkle lightly with sugar if you desire). Cut vents in the top crust. Shield crimped edges of pie (and any dough cutouts) with foil. Place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place on lower third of oven. Bake 15 minutes, reduce heat to 375 degrees F and bake until juices are bubbling through vents and pastry is browned, another 25-30 minutes. For the last 15 minutes, remove foil shielding. Allow pie to cool completely (around 4 hours minimum).

Serve with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. To make homemade whipped cream, mix all ingredients together until soft peaks are obtained.


The pie all foil-shielded and baking its heart out.



I can almost hear the tiny pie voice imploring, “Let me cool!” Alas.

Peach Crisp Pie

I have two options here. Option 1: I could throw up a picture of the gooey, hearty peach pie I just made and nonchalantly describe the process. I could pretend that making the flaky crust was a cinch, my kitchen stayed miraculously spotless throughout the effortless endeavor, and oh, by the way, my apron matches the bow in my carefully coiffed hair. Or option 2: I could tell the truth.

I’m an honest woman. The truth is, today was a disaster. A disaster that did end in the aforementioned gooey, hearty peach pie (thank God), but a disaster nonetheless. First of all, I was not planning on making a pie, but pie pockets.

It all started when Heidi over at Heidi Bakes posted these scrumptious looking Apple Hand Pies. Those little pie pockets caused all the trouble! They were so beautiful! And so PERSONAL — if I were talking to my 6th graders, who are practicing analogies, I’d say that cupcakes are to cakes what pie pockets are to pies. I had to make them! All of a sudden, I went a liiiittle bit insane (no really, ask Mike about my late night pie pocket instant messages) about the possibilities.

Here’s just a BRIEF list of all the possible pie pockets that ran through my head:

  • broccoli, cheese, and ham pie pockets
  • raspberry pie pockets
  • apple cranberry pie pockets
  • cherry pie pockets
  • strawberry cherry pie pockets
  • banana, oat, and nut pie pockets with gooey brown sugar, butter, streusel
  • blueberry pie pockets
  • NUTELLA pie pockets
  • pizza pie pockets
  • tomato, mozzarella, and basil pesto pie pockets
  • barbecue and apple pie pockets
  • peach and blueberry pie pockets
  • peach cobbler pockets
  • Philly cheesesteak pie pockets
  • beef burgundy pie pockets
  • coconut cream pie pockets

So what’s the problem? All of that sounds great (in fact, I’m getting excited all over again, which is pretty incredible considering the day I’ve had). Well, the problem is my chronic do-too-muchitis. I can’t just make some cookies; I have to make three types of cookies, decorate them according to each recipient’s favorite color, and tie them up in individualized bows. I can’t just bake a cake; I have to turn it into cupcakes, add three different types of filling, and oh yeah, try one batch with cake flour as an experiment. Get the idea? Alas, my do-too-muchitis struck again. No hyperbole this time around: I couldn’t pick ONE flavor of pie pockets to bake today. I had to pick FOUR flavors (two savory, two sweet) of pie pockets to bake, knowing full well that I’d never made a pie crust before in my life (Oh, I didn’t mention that part yet? That’s right. Never.)

I had done my homework. I’ve been reading about crusts for weeks. For months. I bought my myriad ingredients and dedicated last night to my mise-en-place. Look how pretty!


Pie Pocket Mise-en-Place

And I made my crust. Pretty simple, I thought, though perhaps a bit crumbly. Oh well. Into some plastic wrap and then into the refrigerator it went. This morning, I woke up early to do a quick assembly of each pie pocket before baking — easy as pie, right? — only to find that a bit crumbly was actually falling apart crumbly. Those that didn’t crumble to pieces before baking certainly did so after.


The picture no respectable food blogger would show: failpies!

All of you professional pie crusters know what I did wrong: I was stingy with my water. But since Julie Powell’s meltdowns in the movie Julie & Julia hit a little too close to home for me, I’ve been trying to take my mother’s advice. She told me once before a major baking project, “You just have to have a sense of humor about things that go wrong.” I also took Beth Moore’s advice and yielded to the right passion — delighting in the Lord instead of giving way to anger. In short, I channeled every known resource for avoiding a kitchen meltdown, and changed gears.

I would conquer the pie crust! And I would not waste one of my most exciting pie pocket fillings: peaches covered in gooey brown sugar and oats. So I dusted myself off (quite literally) and made another batch of pie dough. Shoving my do-too-muchitis aside, I made ONE LOVELY PIE, and boy, was that enough! I was still fighting my sullen mood until I took the first magical bite, and suddenly, all the baking was worth it. The crust? Perfect, tender, flaky, buttery. The filling? An indulgent cinnamon-and-spice herald of the coming fall. When topped with a mound of homemade whipped cream, I feel comfortable saying this is the best pie I’ve ever eaten. So after a long day of dough crises, recipe detours, and outrageous piles of dirty dishes, I’m proud to have ended up with a Peach Crisp Pie.

Oh, and to soothe my wounds a bit, I used the pie dough trimmings to make one last attempt at a pie pocket and was finally successful! Now that I’ve learned my dough lesson, count on seeing a pie pocket post in the future. Until then, I hope you’ll sit back, watch the leaves change, and eat some pie.

Peach Crisp Pie


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking (crust adapted from Crisco; help from here)
Yields: One 9-inch, two crust pie


Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Filling Ingredients:
5-6 peaches, peeled and quartered
1/2-3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar (to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup oats
pinch salt

Egg Wash Ingredients:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or flavoring of your choice)


Directions:
Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.

For filling, mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Roll one disk of dough out to around 2 inches larger than your pie plate and transfer it, situating it in the plate. Trim the excess flush with the edge of the pie plate. Fill the pastry covered plate with filling. Roll the other disk out to about 1 inch larger than your pie plate. Situate it over the filling, tucking the edges of the top dough behind the edge of the bottom dough and crimping the edges. Use excess dough to add dough cutouts to top of pie if desired (I made some fall leaves).

In a small bowl, beat cream and egg yolk together for egg wash. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the top pie crust (can sprinkle lightly with sugar if you desire). Cut vents in the top crust. Shield crimped edges of pie with foil. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes before turning the heat down to 350 degrees F and baking 30-35 minutes longer. For the last 15 minutes, remove foil shielding. Allow pie to cool completely. Serve with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream. To make homemade whipped cream, mix all ingredients together until soft peaks are obtained.





Plum and Cream Mini Tortes

I was reading over the William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say,” again this weekend after a sweet reader made my Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes and thoughtfully sent me a picture. Those blueberry gems were the first entry on Willow Bird Baking, and I still remember the ice cold blueberries; the cool, dense crumb; the frigid frosting . . . all that cool deliciousness is what led me to paste Williams’ poem into the entry. What was really lovely about reading the poem again is the word that jumped out at me this time around.

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

PLUMS. Ice cold plums. Purple orbs bursting with juice, beaded with water, basking in my colander. Bulging indigo skins covering deep orange-red flesh, plucked up to the cutting board and sliced with a splush. Plush, perfect, plump plums perforated between my . . . teeth. If only there were a p-word for teeth! But you get the idea, alliterated or not. I began fantasizing about performing great culinary feats with those delicious spheres.

A friend told me about an Original Plum Torte recipe she has fond childhood memories of. The recipe sounded delicious: cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over roasted plums inside a spongy cake. The recipe also sounded gorgeous: I love the look of naked plum halves baked until they bubble with fruity sugar. It’s a lovely presentation. I was sold.

To add to the charm, I decided to turn the torte into rustic mini-tortes in parchment paper liners, topped with a dollop of Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting and a dusting of cinnamon. I wanted to hand each person their own rich, juicy little plum, surrounded by cake and wrapped like a present in crisp paper.

The Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is just something I whipped up today. I wanted a creamy component to slather on like clotted cream on a scone. I decided to use ricotta because I love the texture and flavor, especially with fruit, and I wanted to give the mini tortes a rustic Italian feel. I was sorry more of the ricotta flavor didn’t come through — it’s just so mild, and perhaps I shouldn’t have added vanilla — but the cheese did add a rich facet to the flavor and mellow the sugar. This ensured that the frosting had just the right amount of sweetness for this hearty dessert.

I say all this like it was a given that these were going to be amazing. But really, I was nervous. I bought big plums; what if the torte didn’t rise around them enough? What if they simply fell apart when unwrapped (some were a little messy)? What if Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is disgusting? My lovely friend Katie can attest to my uncertainty — today at an amazing Beth Moore simulcast, we caught up after not seeing each other in over a year! While chatting about our lives (by the way, Katie bakes, so expect some joint baking endeavors! Yay!), I mentioned these mini tortes only to immediately disclaim: they could be kitchen failures, I hadn’t tried them yet, they looked wonky, and so on and so forth.

Thankfully, my fears have now been allayed. Every beautiful, splushy Plum and Cream Mini Torte I bit into (I won’t bother telling you how many I ate . . . ahem) resulted in mmmms and ahhhhs. Sometimes it’s hard to read between the lines on a food blog and decide if a given dish was really fantastic or just good. In the interest of clearing up confusion: these are fantastic, and perhaps one of my favorite desserts of all time. And since the recipe is so simple (so glad my friend shared it), you should definitely give them a try. Hope you love them!

Plum and Cream Mini Tortes


Recipe By:

The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook, by Marian Burros and Lois Levine (plum torte, adapted by me)
-Me (frosting)

Yields: About 12-15

Mini Torte Ingredients:
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch salt
6-8 halves small, pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums
1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:
1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners or parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each well. Resist the urge to overfill — the batter will rise! Gently press a plum, skin side down, into each well. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

3. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake part comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. (If not adding frosting, serve as follows: let the torte return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.)

4. Make the frosting: mix all ingredients together until fluffy. Pipe or dollop frosting onto the center of each plum mini torte.

Notes: Try to buy small plums and cut them about 1/4 inch away from the center or a little more. You want small rounds to fit in the center of your mini-tortes without making the cake spread too much. If the cake spreads too much, it won’t snuggle around the plum as it rises and may fall apart when you peel off the paper.


Making my parchment paper liners and readying my mini tortes for the oven.



Baking and fresh out of the oven.


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