Saturday, November 26, 2011

Blue + Orange + Cran = Pie!

I love my rectangular-shaped tart pan, which helped create a little visual variety at my Thanksgiving dessert table.

Our tradition is to serve several kinds of pie. Rather than bake a series of 9-inch rounds, I made one:  a pumpkin chiffon pie. I then did 4 small pecan pies in a mini-tart pan (actually Anthony made the filling and I made the crust), a banana cream pie deconstructed (the filling was layered with vanilla wafers and bananas) in a trifle bowl, and this elegant blueberry-cranberry pie as a long rectangle.

The recipe comes from a cookbook called The Thanksgiving Table, which has my favorite pie crust recipe that I use for almost all my pies now. You can find the exact instructions in the book, which is well worth the investment, or substitute whatever crust you like to use.

Though the recipe calls for making a double crust, I like to do cutouts and place them on top of the pie. Since I don't have any Thanksgiving-shaped cookie cutters, I use a pumpkin from my Halloween set. (One year I used bats, which I thought were cute, and everyone laughed at me!)

Though this looks like a traditional blueberry pie, the filling actually is a mix of blueberries and cranberries, plus a ground-up orange, which gives the pie a sour-sweet tang. 

Double-Crusted Cranberry-Blueberry Pie Filling
from The Thanksgiving Table by Diane Morgan

1/2 small orange, including peel, seeded and quartered
1 package (12 oz) fresh or frozen cranberries
4 cups (about 1 1/4 lbs) fresh or frozen blueberries (I used frozen)
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch (I've also used flour)

Coarsely grind orange in mini chop. In a large saucepan, stir the orange into all the other ingredients to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, until mixture has thickened, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a 10-inch pie plate (or any size you like) with pie dough. Pour cooled filling into pie shell, mounding in the center. Roll out more pie dough and cut out your favorite shapes. Lay these on top of the filling and brush with egg wash and turbinado sugar. 

Place pie in center of the oven with a rimmed baking sheet on the rack below to catch any blueberry drippings. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 50 minutes for round pie, but 35-40 for a rectangle. Cool on rack.  Serve warm or at room temp.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pumpkin Isn't Just for Pies













Looking for a way to use up those extra cans of pureed pumpkin from Halloween or Thanksgiving? These moist pumpkin chocolate-chip squares from Everyday Food Magazine (one of the very early issues!), somewhere between a bar cookie and cake, fits the bill. Easy to make, and a crowd-pleaser.

Preheat your oven at 350.  Then line a 9 x 13 baking pan with tin foil, leaving an overhang on the sides so you can lift out the squares when they're baked. If you position your tin foil just right, you can line the pan perfectly with just one sheet.

Whisk together 2 cups of flour, some salt, and pumpkin pie spice, or any combination of spices you like to add to your fall-themed desserts, things like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, ground cloves.  Set aside.

Next, mix up the usual suspects in the electric mixer: butter and sugar, an egg, some vanilla. Then add a cup of pureed pumpkin. The mix may appear curdled, but don't worry. The batter smooths out when you add in the flour mixture.  Finally, fold in chocolate chips, a bag of semisweet or bittersweet, or a mixture of both, which is what I did. Or you could even try white chocolate chips...

Now bake for about 35-40 minutes. You want the top to be set and a cake tester to come out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cake cool in the pan completely before cutting.  (You may even want to chill it to make the cutting easier, as this is a moist cake.) Cut into 24 squares.

On first bite, the squares have a warm and sweet flavor, like a rich blondie. After the first few seconds, though, you get that spicy autumn kick from the pumpkin pie spice, which eventually settles back into sweetness as you bite into the chocolate chips.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, (spooned and leveled)
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (If you can't find pumpkin-pie spice, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon each allspice and cloves (all ground).
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pie spice, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth; beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in pumpkin puree (mixture may appear curdled). Reduce speed to low, and mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  3. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely in pan.
  4. Lift cake from pan (using foil as an aid). Peel off foil, and use a serrated knife to cut into 24 squares.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pecan Shortbread with a Spicy Kick

photo by Anthony Palatta
These cookies are crisp, buttery, and just a bit nutty in flavor, with a hint of nutmeg as well as a caramel flavor from the inclusion of brown sugar, which makes you think, "Hmm...  what is that?"  And then take another bite.

I recently read an article in Cook's Illustrated that compared the various types of butter for baking, and their top choice for flavor was called Plugra. After hearing Martha Stewart sing the praises of it as well, I decided to give it a try in this recipe.

So far, I'm not noticing a huge difference between using Plugra, which is an American-made European-style butter that has a higher content than your garden variety butter, and Breakstone's, which is what I usually go for.  I did notice, however, the difference in price:  the Plugra costs almost double what regular butter goes for.

The cookies themselves look and taste very professional and impressive. The recipe calls for a square cutter, but I didn't have one and went for round. My cookies also came out bigger than I would have liked. Next time, I'll try cutting them smaller. I think they're better as a two-bite "snap" with tea than as a larger disc that requires more effort and concentration.


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans (from 2/3 cup pecans)

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, nutmeg, and cloves; set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and brown sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla, and mix to combine. Add pecans. Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour mixture; mix until just combined.
  3. Turn dough out onto work surface and form into two flat squares; wrap with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks set in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
  5. Place a nonstick baking mat on work surface. Place one square chilled dough on baking mat; top with a sheet of plastic wrap. Roll out dough between baking mat and plastic wrap until it is 3/8-inch-thick. Transfer to freezer to chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Repeat process with remaining dough.
  6. Using a 2 1/4-inch square cutter, cut out dough and transfer to prepared baking sheets. Carefully prick each cookie with a skewer, gently pushing through the dough until it reaches the baking sheet.
  7. Transfer baking sheets to oven and bake, about 10 minutes. Halfway through baking, repeat pricking process and rotate baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Cookies should be very pale and not take on too much color. Transfer cookies to rack to cool.