Apple-Cranberry Pie

There are cake people and there are pie people.  Although I treat myself to a cupcake now and then, I am, when forced to choose, a pie person.  After all, how can you deny a plateful of just-from-the-oven apple pie topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream?

A good friend came over to bake yesterday, and I was thrilled when he revealed his intentions to make an apple-cranberry pie.  There’s something about the way those bouncy and bright little cranberries make the filling pop.  And the crust, OH THE CRUST, it’s perfectly buttery, with a hint of lemon and a little crunch.  Serve up a slice warm from the oven with a big scoop of ice cream, and you’ll never find it difficult to choose between pie and cake again.


Apple-Cranberry Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie
Pie Crust:
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, diced
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup ice water
Pie Filling:
3 pink lady apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
3/4 cup cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water (optional)
turbinado sugar (optional)
For the pie crust:  Put the butter on a small plate and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Cut in the semi-frozen butter until the butter chunks are about the size of peas (I flatten any big chunks of butter with my fingers).  Pour 1/4 cup of ice water over the mixture and mix, adding additional water if necessary.*  Form the dough into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
For the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle flour on the countertop and the rolling pin.  Roll dough into an 11 inch circle, picking the dough up and rotating it 45 degrees after each stroke to prevent sticking.  Place the circle of dough into a pie pan and trim the overhang within 1 inch of the pan.  Pile the filling into the lined pie pan.  Roll out the remaining disk of dough and place over filling.  Trim edges to match bottom layer of dough.  Fold the edges under and crimp.  If desired, brush the egg wash on the top crust and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut slits in the top of the pie and place in the oven.  Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until the filling is bubbling.
*Hint: The pie dough has enough water when, after squeezing some dough in your hand, the ball of dough stays together.    If it does not, add more water by the tablespoon until it holds together.


Parker House Rolls & Tips for Using Yeast

Yeast:  few like to work with it, the majority of people fear it.  Why does baking with yeast seem so intimidating? Yeast-raised goods usually have a lot of steps, and take a lot of time.  What if you put in all the time and the dough never even rises? Oh the nightmares!

I want to start pressuring people to make their own bread.  It tastes so much better than store-bought options, it makes the house smell delicious, and you can customize the loaf to your liking.  Not convinced yet?  Let me help you out with a little guide to using yeast and a delicious (and relatively easy) recipe to test your new skills.

You will come across a few different types of yeast when looking at bread recipes, but these three are the most common:

  • Active Dry: Active Dry is my baking yeast of choice, in part for the convenient little packets (2 1/4 teaspoons in each packet), and its availability.  It should be “re-activated” by dissolving in warm water (100-115 degrees) and (sometimes) a pinch of sugar.  In order to make sure that the yeast hasn’t gone bad, let the mixture sit for 10 minutes.  If you have a foamy, bubbly yeast mixture after time has passed–voila, you are ready to bake.  If not, your yeast has died.  Try a new packet.
  • Instant, or Rapid Rise:  Rapid Rise yeast can be added directly to the dry ingredients, without dissolving in water.  As the name hints, your bread may rise a bit quicker than bread made with active dry yeast.  It has been the yeast of choice for no-knead aficionados.
  • Cake or Fresh: Typically preferred by more advanced bakers, and more tricky to find in grocery stores, cake yeast only has a shelf life of about 2 weeks.  You can refresh the yeast in 80-90 degree water for about 10 minutes.  Like active dry, if no bubbles appear your yeast has probably gone bad.

Don’t have the type of yeast a recipe calls for?  Well, there’s good news because you can substitute whatever yeast you have on hand.  Just use this conversion table.

Things to keep in mind when baking bread:

  • If your dough springs back when rolling it into shapes (which may happen when making these Parker House Rolls) walk away for 10 minutes and let the dough rest.  When you come back it should be ready to cooperate!
  • In order to preserve a loaf’s crust, wrap the bread in parchment paper or a paper bag.  The minute you wrap bread in plastic it will lose its crunch.
  • Most doughs can be refrigerated for a slow rise.  If you are not in a rush, and are baking a treat for breakfast, try chilling the formed dough overnight.  Simply take the dough out while preheating the oven, and enjoy freshly baked items in the morning without waking up at 4am.
  • I know, I know, eating bread straight from the oven is probably one of the biggest motivations to bake your own.  But, by cutting the bread before it has come to room temperature you are not letting the loaf cook completely.  Think of cooling as the last stage in the bread baking process.  You wouldn’t want all your hard work to go to waste, would you?  Now, I’m not saying that if you cut the bread prematurely it will be horrible.  It will, in fact, probably be quite good.  But, it will be even better if you allow the loaf to cool.
  • New to baking bread?  Try kneading the dough by hand, even if you have one of those handy electronic mixers.  You’ll be amazed by the dough’s transformation from sticky and rough to smooth as a baby’s bottom!  You may also find the process to be a great stress reliever.

Have any other pressing bread baking questions?  There are loads of great resources on the web.  Here are a few:  Baking 911, Reluctant Gourmet, and YouTube.  Or, if you don’t feel like searching, write a comment and I’ll try my best to find the answer.  Have fun baking!

Parker House Rolls don’t motivate you to bake with yeast?  Try these temptations: Heidi’s Baked Doughnuts, Seven Spoon’s Banana Bread Yeasted Waffles, or perhaps Pumpkin Brioche Cinnamon Rolls.

Parker House Rolls
(Adapted from The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
Yield: 30 rolls
12 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups warm milk (110 degrees)
2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
approximately 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Butter a 12 x 9 inch rimmed baking sheet.  Place 1/2 cup warm milk in a small bowl, and sprinkle with yeast; stir to dissolve yeast.  Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring remaining 3/4 cup milk just to a simmer.  Remove from heat; add 6 tablespoons butter, along with the sugar and salt, stirring until the butter has melted. Set aside.
If using a mixer: place 4 1/2 cups flour in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Make a well in the center of the flour, and pour in the yeast mixture, butter mixture, and eggs.  Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the dough hook, and beat on low speed until the dough just starts to come together, about 2 minutes.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky, 5 minutes, adding remaining cup of flour as needed.  Butter or oil a large bowl; place the dough in bowl, turning to coat evenly with butter. COver with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.  Punch down dough, and let rest 10 minutes.
Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece into a 12 x 10 inch rectangle, keeping the second piece covered with the towel.  Refrigerate dough until well chilled, about 30 minutes.  Repeat with remaining dough.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut on piece of chilled dough lengthwise into five 2-inch wide strips.  Cut each strip into three 4-inch long rectangles.  With a short side facing you, brush the top half of one rectangle with some melted butter, and fold over, about one-third of the way.  Transfer to prepared pan, folded side down. Repeat with remaining rectangles, arranging in pan so that they overlap slightly.  Repeat with remaining dough.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel.  Let rolls rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.  Brush melted butter over top of each roll. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

Brussels Sprouts with almonds and garlic

I couldn’t be happier about the popularity boost of the humble Brussels sprout.  After all, they are less bitter than regular cabbage, are packed with nutritional punch, and can be prepared in many different ways.  (One of my favorites is sauteing the sprouts with maple-glazed bacon and hazelnuts–quite delightful!)

However, today I wanted to try something different with the tiny cabbages.  I was looking for something similar to a slaw, yet with a more filling nature.  I think this dish hits the mark!  The nuttiness from the almonds and the cheese adds a richness to the dish, not to mention a bit of protein.  To boot, the dish only takes 20 minutes from cutting board to table.  I’m willing to bet that a few Brussels sprouts haters will reconsider their aversion after trying this dish.

Brussels Sprouts with Almonds and Garlic
This salad is also good cold, although I would omit the cheese.  Serves 2.
1 lb Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup almonds, chopped
large pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
Romano or Parmesan cheese, for topping (optional)
Cut the bottom end off each Brussels sprout.  Slice thinly.  Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to brown it.  Add the chopped almonds and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the sliced Brussels sprouts, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sprouts  become bright green and are slightly wilted.  Remove from heat and top with cheese, if desired.

Chocolate Espresso Cookies

How horrible of me!  Most people just committed (for a while, at least) to eat healthier and to lose weight during this upcoming year, and here I am posting about ginger cookies, pear bread, and other sweet goodies.  Well, I better apologize now because here I go again…

It’s just that, these cookies are SO good.  Decadent, gooey, and oh-so chocolatey, with a big PING of espresso in every bite.  Although I have previously only made these cookies over the holidays, I have started to question why they can’t be enjoyed all year-round.  After all, they are always one of the most popular cookies I make, especially right out of the oven.


I promise, the next post will be much more supportive of your resolutions.  Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2010!

Chocolate Espresso Cookies
(Adapted from Gale Gand)
Makes about 70 small cookies, or 30 large cookies

1 3/4 cups high-quality chocolate chips
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground espresso or other finely ground dark-roasted coffee beans
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips or 1/2 cup finely chopped, bittersweet chocolate
chocolate covered espresso beans, for topping (optional)
In a medium-sized bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups chocolate chips and butter.  Microwave the mixture in 30-second intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted.  Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, brown sugar and espresso until fluffy.  Stir in the chocolate mixture.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt and remaining chocolate chips.  Stir to combine.  Refrigerate cookie dough for about 1 hour, or more.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Set aside.
Form the dough into teaspoon-sized balls*, and place 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet.  If using, top each ball with a chocolate covered espresso bean.  Bake for 8-10 minutes, or the cookies begin to crack on top.
* Note: if you would like larger cookies, form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls.  The recipe should yield about 30 cookies.