…and it was like she never left.

In a more relaxed moment, I found myself scrolling through pictures and finding several that were part of a vision unfolding; scenes I’d meant to post and then got waylaid by frenetic holidays and activities that were heartfelt and fulfilling, yet left me a bit emotionally spent.
Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

Savory Bread Pudding with Wilted Chard and Mushrooms

With the new year, and clear(er) vision, I’ve created goals and aspirations, and been taking steps toward achieving them. All well and good, however it’s so important that I get lost in the process of Being at least for a small amount of time daily.
And the truth is that I haven’t dedicated time to my craft; writing about my experience, that spark that ignites when I have an idea and run with it. That bit of cleverness and openness; that flexibility that comes (truly) from an aversion to running back out into the cold for another stick of butter, fruit or cream.
That Delectable Poached Pear and Almond Tart

Poached Pear and Almond Tart

It’s time to get back on the proverbial horse. Writing, creating, sharing and remembering these experiences  are an essential aspect of my self-expression. It gives me great joy to make beautiful food and share it with friends and family.
Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Pork Dumplings (Star Anise-Scented Broth)

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

Raspberry Balsamic Preserves

I’ve included a few visual samplings of things made recently that are worthy of a nod.
And so when overcome by the need for a bit of something sweet, I consulted past repertoire for this salted almond and honey pie. 
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Being a fan of tiny things, I thought I’d make tartlets, so as to enjoy and share more readily. I filled half of the tartlets with honey custard, and the remaining with homemade raspberry balsamic preserves; the latter lovingly gathered from my father’s garden this past summer.
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Recipes for pâte sucrée (aka: tart crust) abound on the internet, however I’ll include a simple recipe that I’ve been using reliably for some time. Feel free to let the imagination go wild with the fillings. These baked up nicely in a 375-degree oven in ~40 minutes.
Enjoy, and much love.
J
Pâte Sucrée
1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 egg yolk
ice water, as needed
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor, or combine well in a large bowl.
Add butter and either process or use a pastry blender to cut into flour just until the mixture resembles fine peas.
Add egg yolk and pulse or mix until combined.
Add just enough water (no more than a tablespoon) to bring mixture to a somewhat cohesive mass; it should still be a bit crumbly.
Allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 1-2 hours, or overnight.
Press into well-buttered tart pan(s) and fill as desired.
Bake filled tartlets until set, ~40 minutes

Eating My Words.

90° in Seattle means minimal cooking, little adherence to a clock (save for those pesky responsibilities such as work, etc.), beaches, cooking as little as possible, immersing myself in the company of good friends, lazy afternoon naps, early morning runs, getting lost in a good book, Sunday brunches.
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Consummate Summer.
While I haven’t yet been able to reconnect with my passion for cooking, I have been flirting with it the tiniest bit, here and there. Fortunately I have dear friends who remind me that, while delicious, gelato is not best consumed breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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Here’s a few flavors I’ve made over the past week:
Mulberry-Thyme
Rhubarb and Lemon Verbena
Chocolate Peanut Butter (vegan, no less!)
Straight-Up Green Tea
And I think there’s a Cherry and Toasted Almond in the works…
I’ve made use of cast offs from other people’s gardens, like this fabulous basil-walnut pesto, which I folded into a summer salad with garbanzo beans farro, cucumber and mint.
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Then there was a post-coffee meander through the city that led me to a lesser-traveled street and a bunch of the juiciest blackberries, warm and sweet in the summer sun. I ate what I could, then gathered a pint or so, to which I introduced to a bit of lavender and blueberries and let them bubble and burst into a pretty fantastic pie.
There’s a hint of cardamom in the filling, which grounds it somewhat, because this truly is a ‘knock your sandals off’ kind of pie. I used bits of leftover dough, which I’d saved from a decorative galette I’d made a couple of weeks back. You could easily substitute a crumble, or top with another layer of crust, or simply leave it naked and blushing.
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Enjoy, and much love,
J
A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it.
It just blooms
~Sensei Ogui
Lavender Black and Blue Pie
Ingredients:
Crust for 9-inch pie (for a great pastry and technique, click on the link, here)
Filling
4-5 c mixed berries
1/4 c brown sugar
1/3 c unbleached sugar
3 tbsp tapioca starch
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp dried candied lavender flowers, or 2-3 drops lavender essential oil
1/2 tsp cardamom, ground
1/4 tsp salt
**Demerara sugar, or other coarse sugar, for dusting
Method:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Fit crust into a 9-inch pie plate; let chill in the refrigerator for ~10-15 mins while preparing pie filling.
Combine berries with lavender and lemon juice in a bowl. Sift together remaining ingredients and toss with berries.
Fill crust and brush pastry with egg wash. Sprinkle with demerera and bake for ~15 minutes. Turn heat down to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes until golden and bubbling.
Cool completely on wire rack, then serve.

 

On cabbage, pie and time…

I don’t know how time passes so quickly, but it does. One minute, I’m looking over the Seine, the next I’m daydreaming over a pot of wilting cabbage. I realize it’s not nearly as romantic, and totally unrelated, however that’s where I found myself this past week, trying to maintain a slow(er) pace as I dutifully prepared a batch of Marcella Hazan’s Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup.

The dish exceeded my expectations such that I had to make it twice. I also managed to produce a batch of dulce de leche, since I knew I’d be spending a couple of hours at home. 
But back to Paris…

Sacré Cœur!

It couldn’t have been a more perfect week. Spring in full effect, brightly-colored flowers demanding my attention, giant blushing cherry blossoms, the freshness that comes after a good Spring rain. Oh! It was lovely.
It began a little like this, with my constant peppering of questions such as “What are we supposed to do today? What’s on the Excel spreadsheet?! What time are we supposed to be at the Grand Palais? If we take time here, we will miss…”
The expectations we’d made, along with our rigid itinerary devolved, quickly becoming an inside joke as we relaxed and settled into full vacation mode.
La fontaine Médicis

La fontaine Médicis

the Seine

the Seine

Without a rigid agenda, we were free to wander and really experience the city. We peeked into galleries and boutiques, quirky private museums and of course, lots of specialty food and tea shops.
Clockwise, top right: chilled cream of fennel soup from L'epi Dupin, gorgeous heart-shaped macaron's from Laduree, duck foie gras with fig compote from Le Comptoir du Relais

Clockwise, top right: chilled cream of fennel soup from L’epi Dupin, gorgeous heart-shaped macaron’s from Laduree, duck foie gras with fig compote from Le Comptoir du Relais

At one point, I was banned from lugging anything else home. We’d been trying to avoid checking luggage, and as it were, were ushered through with just a bit over the weight maximum and a handbag bursting with chocolates and other treats.
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Birthplace of the macaron.

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E. Dehillerin, where I spent a good two hours geeking out on all things kitchen.

 

My heart lies in the kitchen, nestled into a good pastry. And so at the request of a certain young lady and after an intense day at work, I spent the bulk of an evening making an apple almond crostata that is likely one of my most favorite pastries yet.
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I’m fairly adept at making pie crust and had intentioned to make a straightforward, simple dough, when a bit of cornmeal in the cupboard caught my eye. I recalled a blueberry pie with cornmeal crust that I’d made over the Summer; the rustic crunch of cornmeal strewn throughout buttery pastry…yet I wanted to make something more than pie; I wanted to make something serious, a pie that wouldn’t crumble or yield too much when pierced with a knife.
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Front: Apple and Almond Crostata with a Cornmeal Crust top left: apple tart bottom right: apple custard

A layer of frangipane (almond cream) soaked up all of the juices as it snuggled up with each apple slice; providing a cake-like consistency. Leftover odds and ends were folded into a free-form pastry, and the extra egg was poured into a sort of apple custard. I’m so glad this crostata was destined for sharing, otherwise I’d have finished the whole thing off in a few days, unapologetically.
The crostata comes together rather quickly.
Wait a minute – scratch that.
This is going to keep you home for a few hours, however once the nutty aroma of butter and pastry, notes of cinnamon and apple hit your nostrils, you’ll realize it was totally worth it (and probably get a bit of laundry done while you wait).
Enjoy, and much love,
J
Apple and Almond Crostata with a Cornmeal Crust
*This pie will keep for 1-2 days on the counter, or 3-4 days in the refrigerator, if it lasts that long
For the crust:
2 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
10 tbsp butter
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
Ice water (as needed)
Almond Filling:
2/3 c almond meal (I used blanched almonds, ground finely in a coffee grinder)
1/4 c sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp each vanilla and almond extract
Apple filling
5 apples, such as granny smith, honey crisp or pink lady or a combination, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/3-inch wedges
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon lemon zest
juice of one-half lemon
1 beaten egg, and 1 tbsp Demerara or other coarse sugar, for finishing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
Brush insides of a 9-inch springform pan with butter using a pastry brush, or paper towel, if necessary. Set aside.
Using a food processor, pulse together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
Butter and pulse a few times until the mixture resembles small peas.
Add eggs, one at a time, giving a few quick pulses to combine.
Pulse another 15-20 seconds until the mixture just starts to come together, adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed.
Wrap in plastic or parchment and allow dough to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
While dough is resting, prepare almond paste. Mix all ingredients together using a food processor, stand mixer, or whisk; if the butter is soft enough, it should be easily combined by hand. Set aside.
Sift together the dry ingredients; toss with sliced apples and give it a squeeze of lemon juice. Allow to sit for ~15-30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Divide dough into roughly 1/3 and 2/3 portions; you’ll want slightly more dough for the base than the top.
Roll dough into a large disk ~1-1 1/2 inch wider than the diameter of the pan.
Tuck dough into pan, inching up the sides.
Spread almond filling into base, then arrange apples in concentric patterns, keeping them somewhat close together.
Roll out remaining dough to ~1/4 inch thickness and cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips.
Cover apples with remaining dough in a lattice-type arrangement (you can find instructional how-to’s here).
Brush pastry with beaten egg, then adorn with a bit of coarse sugar.
Bake for ~1 hour, until golden and bubbling.
Remove from oven; let cool on wire rack for ~15 minutes before removing sides of pan. Allow to cool for at least 1/2 hour.
Serve either warm, or at room temperature.

Copy Cat. Or, if Baklava had a Sister.

Even though I’ve completely saturated myself with sweet indulgences this holiday season, I’ll never deny a good pastry. My oh so lovely friend Donna sent me a link a few week’s back to an online zine that featured a couple of pies from the famed Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. She’d made a pear pie with juniper berries that sounded fantastic. You can find the link, here.

Honey almond pie; aka Baklava's sexy sister

Honey almond pie; aka Baklava’s sexy sister

Once I saw the recipe for a salt-studded honey pie, I knew I had to make it mine. It looked simply stunning. And yet…I thought I could personalize it a bit with a few enhancements. I’d recently been gifted a jar of fabulous local honey.  I wanted to do right with it, and this pie seemed like the perfect vehicle to transcend it into something extraordinary.

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The recipe called for vanilla paste. I thought I could do a bit better by using whole vanilla bean. I scraped the seeds out of the bean and set them in sugar, with a bit of freshly-grated lemon zest. I love the sensuous feeling of using my fingers to combine the sugar with aromatics, the sugar crystals unlocking the essential oils and perfuming the air with vanilla and lemon-scented goodness.

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I added sliced almonds to the top, to accentuate the crunch of salt and contrast the silky filling. This pie and baked went from a pale sandy yellow to a dark caramel brown; the almonds developing a tan as the crust bubbled and spit.

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Drizzled with a bit of thyme and vanilla-infused honey, sprinkled with flaky Maldon salt and crunchy toasted almonds, this pie is pure heaven. Probably one of the flakiest pastry crusts I’ve made in some time, which I attribute to a bit of old-school pastry cutter technique. A quick blitz in the food processor flirts a bit too much with the gluten in the flour. If nothing else, this crust inspired me to go back to my humble ways of tactile experience with the dough. When you work with your hands, the hands become the intuitive barometer of when something is near completion. The bits of butter strewn throughout the dough formed delicate air pockets that left layers of flaky, meltingly-tender crust.

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Oh! And the flavor! The filling, similar in consistency to pecan pie, but without the cloying, one-dimensional sweetness of corn syrup. The elements of buttery pastry, crunchy almonds, and sweet honey reminded me instantly of baklava, the incredible Turkish sweet.

I am already dreaming of when I’ll make it again.

Much Love,

J

Honey Almond Pie

Note: I used a basic recipe for pate sucree; you can find recipes and techniques in previous blog posts, however I encourage you to try to make the crust without using a food processor. There are excellent tutorials for basic pie crust techniques available online.

For the filling:

3/4-cup sugar

1 tsp lemon zest

Seeds of one whole vanilla bean pod (reserve pod for later)

3/4-cup honey

1/4-pound (one stick) butter, melted

1/2-cup cream (not half and half)

3 eggs

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp cornmeal

2 tsp white vinegar

You will also need:

1 prepared pie crust, frozen

~2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds

1/4 c honey

Several sprigs fresh thyme

Vanilla bean pod

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl, rub together sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds until aromatic. Set aside.
  3. Combine honey, salt, and cornmeal; whisk together, then add melted butter, cream and eggs, one at a time, whisking until well-incorporated.
  4. Add scented sugar and whisk again well, then pour through sieve into prepared crust.
  5. Bake for ~35 minutes, then sprinkle with slivered almonds. At this point, you may need to cover lightly with parchment to prevent excessive browning. Bake for another 20 minutes until set. This is best tested by giving a gently nudge to the pan; it’s okay if the filling is slightly jiggly; it’ll continue to cook once removed from the oven. However, if it’s sloppy, keep pie in the oven and check at ~5-minute intervals until set.
  6. Remove from oven, sprinkle with a flourish of sea salt and let it cool. Serve warm, or at room temperature.

When ready to serve, warm honey with a few sprigs of thyme and the vanilla pod, then let steep for ~10 minutes. Strain into a jar, then drizzle over pie and garnish with a few fresh thyme leaves.

…or how to make a pie

As mentioned previously, I like to do a bit of foraging in the city. While I consider myself an amateur, I think today I may have happened upon some purslane. Of course, I took a nibble, and then proceeded to take a handful to nosh on the way home. This is probably not the wisest of choices, however I’m fairly certain my ID was accurate. Take note however, as this may prove to be my second and last post!

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Moving on…

One of my most favorite things to make is pie crust. Something marvelous happens with the simplest of beginnings. Those tiny bits of butter, strewn throughout the flour which, when heated, burst into little pockets of air that buoy the dough, rendering it tender, flaky, crisp and golden. Pure heaven.

Pie crust involves a small amount of effort, however it does not require any special equipment. One can use  a food processor, a pastry cutter, or simply a fork. I find the latter extremely gratifying, especially if you like the tactile experience of working with pastry dough. I admit that most often I use a food processor, if only for expediency.

The key with pastry dough is to work the flour as little as possible; you do not want to activate the gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and becomes elastic when worked. Fantastic for bread, terrible for pie.

Note:

  • chilling butter in the freezer will keep intact when incorporating into the flour
  • This recipe yields one pie crust. For a top crust, make two batches
  • For sweet pies, add 1 T sugar to the dough

You will need the following:

1 cup + 2 T pastry flour (OK to substitute standard unbleached flour)

1 tsp salt

1 cup (8 T) very cold unsalted butter; roughly cut into ~1/2-inch chunks*

3 T ice water (plus more, if needed)

Method (Makes One Crust)

  1. Pulse flour and salt in food processor, or sift together in large bowl
  2.  butter to flour/salt mixture and pulse for ~20-30 seconds, or cut in with pastry tool/fork. The flour should take on a sandy texture; you want small beads of butter evident throughout; no larger than a bb.
  3. Add ice water, and pulse a few times, or work in with pastry tool. This is where being conservative is key; you want to work the dough only until it comes together when pinched. It should look a bit on the dry side, but have some cohesion. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve this. Pulse about five more times and pinch it with your finger. Does t stick?
  4. Turn onto a piece of plastic wrap or parchment; knead a few times, then press gently and quickly into a disk; this makes it easier to roll.
  5. Now – leave it alone! Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes
  6. Turn oven to 425* and lay out piece of parchment dusted with flour. Top with another piece of parchment and roll until it resembles a disk slightly larger than the diameter of the pie dish; ~1/4 inch thick

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  1. Loosely fold in half and drape over an 8-inch deep or 9 inch buttered pie pan
  2. Press gently into base and crimp the edges toward the dish to for a ring. You can get fancy if you like; I prefer a more rustic appearance.
  3. Prick a few times with fork and set back in the freezer for ~10 minutes
  4. Proceed with recipe, or follow blind baking technique below:

Blind Baking:

This is a key step in making any kind of pie that holds fruit that yield liquids (peaches, berries rhubarb), or for savory pies such as quiche. So termed Blind Baking, this technique of par-cooking the pastry ensures crust and bottom that is fully cooked, not soggy. Well worth the extra few minutes of effort.

There are pie weights available for purchase, however I find dried beans a more ready and reasonably inexpensive alternative; look for a larger, heavier bean, such as garbanzo or kidney beans; they may be saved for repeat use; store in a glass jar once cool.

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. While pie is chilling in the freezer, pull a piece of tinfoil slightly larger than the widest diameter of  the pie plate. Butter one side.
  3. Lay buttered side down in pie dish; press lightly into dough.
  4. Fill the foil/dish with pie weights or dried beans completely.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for ~12-15 minutes, just until crust has a faint golden hue
  6. Remove from oven. Pull foil/pie weights (gently!) from crust. Proceed with recipe.

Stay tuned for…Berry Tartlets

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