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.

When life gives you cheese…

What does one say when offered a couple of pounds of fresh chèvre? An exuberant “Yes!” of course. David’s mother had a bit of chèvre left over from an event and thought I might be able to make good use of it. I had no idea what to do with such generous bounty, however I found myself envisioning something baked, and sweet. It was not long before I started scouring my books and the Internet for cheesecake recipes, however I never found exactly the right one.

See, I rarely follow recipes verbatim, rather, I use them as a template and let my intuition and the ingredients take their own form. I have a bit of experience making quiche; the marriage of eggs and dairy yielding a savory, creamy custard. Cheesecake has similar components, so it was just a matter of getting the right proportions so the whole thing didn’t end up a liquid mess. Or worse. I have had my fair share of quiche coming out of the oven, gently caramelized with the appearance of perfection, only to find it runny in the center.

I avoided adding lemon, as I thought tanginess from the goat cheese would lend the perfect balance to the sweet, richness of the cake. I also wanted to keep it as un-fussy as possible, using minimal ingredients. So many recipes called for additions of sour cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone…in the end I went for a good old-fashioned ratio of two parts goat cheese to one part cream cheese. I also learned something along the way. It is a bother to separate eggs, beating and aerating the whites into gentle wet clouds, only to have them flatten completely while trying to incorporate them into such a rich base. I’ll save you the trouble with this recipe.

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In order to make this bad boy, I strongly recommend reading the recipe through, so as to be prepared for the steps involved. While they may seem a bit laborious at first glance, it’s totally worth taking the time to do this right. This recipe uses a bain-marie, or water-bath technique, which moderates the heat and promotes even baking and consistency. When using a spring form pan, it may be necessary to wrap a layer of foil around the bottom and sides of pan to prevent any water from making it’s way into the lovely cake.

And lastly, unless you plan to serve this cake at 2am, it’s best made a day before serving, as it takes several hours to set and chill.

Must haves:

9-inch spring form pan

roasting dish or other large dish that will accommodate the pan

For the crust:

3 oz graham cracker squares

3 oz ginger snaps

4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Filling:

16 oz chèvre

8 oz cream cheese

3/4 c unbleached cane sugar

Seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla (though I prefer the former)

4 eggs

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Blitz graham crackers and ginger snaps in a food processor, or if you prefer a messier route, crush in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. You’ll want about 1 ½ cups of crumbs. Put into a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Combine the crumbs with melted butter and press into pan, allowing a bit to inch up the sides.

    Ginger-graham crumble

    Ginger-graham crumble

  4. In a large bowl, cream together the cheeses, sugar and vanilla seeds/vanilla; beat until light.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, incorporating fully.
  6. Pour into springform pan. If there are any gaps in the seal, wrap the pan with a layer of tinfoil.
  7. Set pan into roasting tray; fill tray with water to within an inch of the rim.
  8. Gently place the tray in the oven and bake for ~1 ½ hours.
  9. Give the cheesecake a gentle shake; it should be somewhat yielding, but not loose. If it is, add another ten minutes to the baking time.
  10. Remove from oven and allow to cool for least an hour, then chill in the refrigerator several hours further.
  11. Serve as-is, or garnish with pomegranate seeds, fresh berries, quince paste…the possibilities are endless!

Much Love,

J

Cheesecake with chèvre

Cheesecake with chèvre