Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brown Sugar Cookies with Fleur de Sel

For Kathleen's birthday I made her new favorite cookie which is the brown sugar cookie with sea salt. For those of the savory variety and not the sweet (I am not in this camp if you haven't already noticed that) this is a great cookie for you. It is a pretty sweet cookie but it has a good deal amount of fleur de sel ("flower of salt" in french) which is a quite salty salt. So a little goes a long way. The recipe calls for a lot of sugar (mostly brown) which surprised me because even regular unsalted cookies have less sugar than these, but am not one to complain about sugar content. Another interesting component of the recipe is that it uses browned butter. Butter cooked to the point where is just starts to turn brown and right before the milk solids actually burn. Mine burned a bit (okay, I've never brown butter) but I just strained off those pesky milk solids and all was well. The browned butter I have to say is a nice touch. Adds a little extra nuttiness to the cookies (and butteriness).

The dough had a delicious molassas-y aroma and was a nice rich, nutty, brown color. I decided to split it up into three different cookies. One with pinch of fleur de sel on top, ones rolled in a mixture of brown and white sugar (what the recipe called for) and ones that I piped on the letters of happy birthday and then dredged in salt. So all camps were accounted for. The recipe called for the cookies to be pulled out when the inside was still a bit raw which is what I normally do (makes for a very chewy cookie-my fav) but this time, every time I would check on the cookies they still seemed far from done until I decided to pull them out and they looked great but turned out to be a bit on the crunchy/done side. So, don't go with your instincts on this one, just pull them out when they are raw, after about 12 minutes. The cookies, aside from texture were delicious. I love brown sugar. Who doesn't? The salt was a nice addition and for those that enjoy a little more savoriness in their lives than sweet, this is a nice treat for you.

Here's the recipe I used:


This recipe is identical to the one that made this type of cookie Kathleen's new favorite, except salt is added to the sugar mixture the dough balls are rolled in. Perhaps a nice medium between camps?

Happy Birthday Kathleen!

Photos by Collin Monda

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Whiskey Apple Pie

I finally have acquired the skills to make pastry dough. Triumph! Ok, it's a piece of cake (pie?) if you have a Cuisinart and as far as I'm concerned there is no other way. I can not even begin to imagine how people made/make pastry dough without one. I tried, believe me, with the Tarte Normande and it was something similar to a disaster. Sure it looked ok, but it just wasn't right in any capacity. I felt like I had offended Julia and perhaps she rolled over in her grave. It was close to a shamful experience. A bit dramatic, but in comparison to my Cuisinart dough, you would understand. The Cuisinart makes the perfect, buttery dough that just barely holds together but doesn't crumble out of control and is silky smooth. Just like Julia told me. Well mashing chunks of butter into flour with your warm thumbs trying to keep your palms out of it doesn't exactly work the same as a high speed blade slicing the butter into tiny little particles perfectly mixed and in a nice equilibrium with the dough. If you don't have a Cuisinart, get one, somehow. I borrowed (took) my mom's but I'm guessing they have old ones (which are perfectly good believe me! That's what I'm using) on ebay or second hand at a shop. The new ones are a bit pricey, but sweet jesus are they beautiful.

Anyway, somehow acquire a Cuisinart and you can make any pie. Guaranteed. Ok, enough with my shameless promotion of the Cuisinart food processors, but seriously, it made all the difference for me. Once you have the perfect dough, your pie has pretty much made itself.

When I was home in Portland my cousin Nici and I got a lesson from the pie/Cuisinart masters (my mom and cousin Autumn). 

The first trick given by Autumn is to mix half the amount of butter called for (usually one stick, a healthy amount) into your flour as well as the remaining amount in the form of Crisco. Yum, I know, but really, it makes all the difference. Makes it flakey and buttery and perfect. Keep the Crisco in the freezer (it won't freeze......yea I know). It just keeps it that much colder and really what else would you be using Crisco for? Hopefully nothing. 

So once you've got your flour and butter/crisco equilibrium after a few pulses of the food processor then you slowly (slowly!) add ice water (yes, ice in the water) in a steady stream until......now this is where the masters differ. I chose sides. Sorry. Until.....the dough JUST forms a ball. NOT when it's rolling around in there in one big lump. You've gone too far at that point and the gluten starts to break down. Bad for pastry dough. So, add it until it just forms a dough. Others say when it just starts to form big chunks but not to the point of a ball. So, try it out and see what you prefer. I like the ball because those extra few seconds make the dough that much easier to roll out and manage, but it doesn't make all that big of difference. Choose whichever side you like. 

Once your dough forms a ball, divide it in two if you've made a double recipe (typical when making pies with a top) and wrap it up in saran wrap (mom says wax paper) and form a ball, then smash it into a disc  and refrigerate it for as long as you see fit (I do an hour). While you're waiting, whip up your filling. I did an apple pie made with whiskey. I kind of merged two recipes so here is my little summery of the frankenstein I made (a delicious one at that). So follow the recipe below but disregard the part about the steps in making the filling and just use the ingredient amounts and listen to me. 

So mix all the ingredients together except for the whiskey and vanilla (I know, it's not listed). 

Probably the most important part of this, besides the whiskey is that you should use Honeycrisp apples if you can get your hands on them. They are abundant in the fall and are hands down THE BEST APPLES. To eat. And to bake with. Delicious! Always firm and crisp and never mealy. Juicy and amazing. So use them! It will make your pie that much better. 

Ok, that said, place your peeled, cored, and sliced apple and sugar etc. mixture in a sauce pan and simmer on a lowish-medium. This forces most of the liquid out of the apples so it doesn't all end up in your pie and overflow all over the oven. Makes for a soupy pie and the fire alarm going off. No good. So cook them for about 5-10 minutes. While your waiting, take your pie dough (after an hour)  and roll it out on a silicon pad (if you have it-so much easier!) and then transfer it to your pie plate. It's easy to just kind of flip it into the pie plate if you get under the dough  a bit, or you can fold it in quarters and then lay it in the plate and unfold it. Crimp the edges and trim off the dough hanging over. Mix in two tsp. of vanilla and one teaspoon of whiskey (a bourbon whiskey like Makers or Knob Creek) in to the apple mixture. The whisky and vanilla make such an impact on the flavor of the pie it's kind of incredible. When I did this myself I added the whisky before I cooked down the apples and I think it cooked out the liquor (for shame!). So wait, till they are already cooked to add it. 

Put your partially cooked apples in the pie crust and add about half the liquid. Put the pot with the rest of the liquid back on the stove to simmer for another five or so minutes until carmely. Roll out the other half of your dough and cut into strips (using a crimper to do this looks so pretty). Starting with the edge place one strip vertically and another horizontally and keep moving in a diagonal until you reach the opposite corner, if a circle had a corner. Then rub some butter on the top of your lattice dough and sprinkle with some raw sugar (or whatever you have). Not too much, just enough to make it a bit sparkly. You can also do cookie cutter shapes or nothing. Up to you.

Bake for about an hour. Drizzle with the reduced carmel sauce and let cool for several hours. Must be served with vanilla ice cream. It just has to. 

It's pretty and oh so good and not too hard to make right? There are a lot of steps but really, once you can make the crust, like I said, the pie just makes itself. 


Any excuse to drink while you eat is an excuse I can get behind. 

Me triumphant. Pastry dough "mastered". 

Photos by Collin Monda and Autumn Webring

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pumpkin Cookies

I recently made pumpkin cookies, a very appropriate fall dessert. I usually love them but since last fall, I found them to be a bit on the sweet side this time. I think I may not be used to the copious amounts of buttercream I put on anything I can this time around, so next time I probably will add just a bit. The cookies are subtly sweet, much like pumpkin pie, so a little frosting is nice, but a little goes a long way. These cookies are a cinch to make and don't take much time at all so I'd definitely recommend giving them a try. Also, one cookie is more than satisfying to any sweet tooth so you wont feel too guilty around the holiday dessert table. Admittedly, one probably isn't that healthy, but still, having only one will make you feel good about yourself! I like to add a touch of cinnamon to the top for affect, but you could do nutmeg or any fall-like spice. 

Here's the recipe I use:


Photo by Collin Monda

Lemon Poppyseed Cake

Last week I made Lemon Poppyseed cake and used a recipe from my beloved joyofbaking.com and was extremely disappointed. It was overly dense and a little dry. Also, the color was more white than yellow even though I added a whole lemon zest and juice. I thought this was odd. I should have stuck to my mom's or cousin Autumn's recipes. Those are SO good. I realized the crucial difference in a lemon cake recipe is the eggs. You need a lot of eggs. Like 3-5 eggs and sometimes more yolks. A lot. It keep it really moist which is what you want in a pound cake. Also, I found that when you have a really moist lemon cake it doesn't need any glaze whatsoever. Sweet enough on it's own and so delicious. My cake definitely needed the additonal eggs and more importantly, the extra egg yolks which provide the desired yellow color. Also, buttermilk does a lot to keep cakes moist and many recipes include it. 

Here is an example of a much better recipe:


I will definitely  have to make this cake again and try a recipe that has more eggs and probably buttermilk too and I wont glaze it this time.

Also, if you want poppyseeds in your cake, many recipes are just plain lemon, so add 2 tablespoons and that should be enough. I also sprinkled some on top of my glaze for decoration when the cake was finished. 

Photo by Collin Monda