apple slab pie

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I’m such a hoarder. A couple months ago, I oh-so-casually asked my coworker how her apple tree was doing this year, and, just as I’d hoped, the next day she brought in a bag of apples. A big bag, which she said I was welcome to take, but she’d give away whatever I left behind to other coworkers. I really wanted them all – I had so many apple plans! – but I tried not to be greedy. I ended up with something like fifty apples.

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And I still have about twenty in my fridge. I made this, I made baked apple oatmeal, I made applesauce to put in the apple oatmeal, I made apple cinnamon rolls, I sautéed apples to top pancakes, I ate apples as snacks, and then…I kind of lost interest. Not that I ran out of apple recipes I want to make, but I also want to make pumpkin recipes and lemon recipes and chocolate recipes.

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Even this pie-that-serves-a-crowd hardly made a dent in my stash. It does have a higher ratio of crust to fruit than a regular pie, but if you make an excellent pie crust, one that’s flaky and crisp and buttery, that’s not a bad thing. But maybe it’s time to make a regular apple pie to use up some more apples. In fact, a deep dish pie is probably best. Or, maybe I can keep hoarding my apple stash for just a little while longer. I still have a few fun apple recipes up my sleeve.

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Apple Slab Pie (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3¾ cups (18 ounces) all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons table salt
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold
¾ cup very cold water

3½ to 4 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into approximately ½-inch chunks (about 8 cups)
⅔ to ¾ cup sugar (depending on how sweet you like your pies)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

To finish:
2 tablespoons heavy cream

½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. For the crust: Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes; add to the food processor and pulse until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Transfer the mixture to a bowl; stir in the water. Divide the dough in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap; chill at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. If chilled longer than an hour, leave the dough at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to soften before rolling.

2. For the filling: In a small bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice. Add the sugar mixture and stir to evenly coat.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 15-by-10-inch (or something roughly equivalent) baking pan with parchment paper.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll one portion of the dough to a 18-by-13-inch rectangle. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet. If it breaks, patch the pieces together. The dough should overhang the pan rim. Roll out the second portion of dough to a 16-by-11-inch rectangle.

5. Spread the apple mixture evenly over the crust-lined pan. Top with the second portion of dough. Seal the edges of the two sheets of dough together, trimming excess if necessary. Crimp the edges if you’d like. Cut about twelve 2-inch slits into the top crust. Brush the top crust and edges lightly with the 2 tablespoons heavy cream.

6. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling, 40-45 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Cool about 45 minutes, until the pie is warm but not hot. (Can also be stored overnight at room temperature.)

7. For the glaze: In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled pastry.

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blackberry plum streusel pie

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Usually it works out that I get a bunch of birthday cakes – one that my mom makes whenever my family is all together near-ish my birthday, one I make for my birthday weekend, and one I make to bring to work. But this year I didn’t get any birthday cakes.

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I did, however, get birthday pie, and that was better this year anyway. Not only had I just baked, sampled, and eaten the trimmings of this huge cake, but I baked another pretty cake for a friend’s birthday just a few days before mine. I was pretty much caked out by then, which is perfect timing, because August is time for fruit desserts.

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I love combining stone fruits and berries, and I’d never had plum pie before. Plus, as good as I think my pie crust is, streusel is even better. And as a bonus, I had a batch of vanilla ice cream in the freezer that I’d made to use up egg yolks leftover from one of the cakes, and of course vanilla ice cream, baked fruit, and streusel is a perfect combination.

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It being my birthday weekend and all, I had pie for breakfast, lunch, and dessert. I only added ice cream for the lunch and dessert servings though; let’s not get crazy. But after all that pie, I think I’m ready for some cake now.

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Blackberry Plum Streusel Pie (pie adapted slightly from Gourmet via epicurious; crust from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes one 9-inch pie; about 8 servings

When tapioca is used as a pie thickener, I prefer to grind it up first, so it doesn’t form little beads of juicy filling after it’s baked. However, if you don’t have a method to easily do this, it certainly won’t ruin your pie. My spice grinder is broken and I was too lazy to clean out the coffee grinder, so I tried grinding the dried tapioca in a mortar and pestle. It didn’t work, but the pie was still delicious.

I didn’t peel the plums and didn’t notice any textural issues in the pie. I cut each plum into 8 wedges, but I thought the pieces were too big in the baked pie, so I recommend cutting them smaller.

Pie crust:
1¼ cups (6 ounces) flour
1½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
⅓-½ cup ice water

3 ounces (1 cup) old-fashioned rolled oats
2.4 ounces (½ cup) all-purpose flour
3.5 ounces (½ cup) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

1¾ pounds ripe plums, pitted, cut into 8 wedges, each wedge halved crosswise
12 ounces (about 2 cups) blackberries
7 ounces (1 cup) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon salt

1. For the pie crust: Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until mixed. Add half of the butter; pulse once, then add the remaining butter, and process with 1-second pulses until the largest pieces of butter are about ¼-inch across. Add ¼ cup of water; pulse once, then add 2 more tablespoons of water. Pulse a couple times to incorporate the water, then pinch a portion of the dough together; if it crumbles, pulse in another tablespoon of water. If it barely holds together, transfer the mixture to a large piece of plastic wrap. Form the dough into a ball, kneading it once or twice so it holds together. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight. Do not wash the food processor bowl.

2. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the pie dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate, folding the edge of the dough under itself so the edge of the fold is flush with the outer rim of the plate, and flute the edges. Refrigerate while preparing the streusel and filling.

3. For the streusel: Pulse the oats, flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor until mixed. Add the butter and process until the mixture begins to form clumps.

4. For the filling: In a large bowl, combine the plums, blackberries, sugar, tapioca, cornstarch, and lemon zest. Transfer the fruit mixture to the dough-lined pie pan. Evenly distribute crumbles of the streusel topping over the filling. Transfer to the oven and bake until the fruit is bubbling and the streusel is browned, 75 to 90 minutes. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for at least three hours before serving.

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cranberry almond crostata

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I’ve got nothing against pie – buttery, flaky crust, fruit filling, what’s not to like? – but I’m mostly a cake girl. Soft, spongy, tender, doughy cake. Brownies are good too. Or cookies. Pie is great, but it isn’t as good as doughy baked things, either to eat or to make.

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This crostata, however, is the perfect compromise, because the crust is made from cookie dough, not pie dough. The filling, on the other hand, is classic pie – thickened, fruity, juicy. It looked just like cherry pie as it baked.

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When I made this for my big Italian-themed turkey feast last year, I mixed and cut the dough the day before the meal, storing it in the freezer. I also cooked and chilled the filling overnight. The next day, I spent 15 minutes assembling the tart in the morning before anything else needed to go in the oven. After transferring the beautifully browned and sugar sparkly tart to a cake stand, I didn’t have to think about it again until it was time for dessert. This sweet and tart and buttery dessert was the perfect end to the meal – and it was just as good the next morning for breakfast, just like pie.

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Cranberry Almond Crostata (from Gourmet via epicurious)

For pastry dough:
⅛ cup whole raw almonds (¼ pound), toasted and cooled
2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1¼ sticks unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten, divided
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon pure almond extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt

For filling and assembly:
2½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries (10 ounces)
¼ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup sweet orange marmalade
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1. Make the dough: Pulse the almonds with ¼ cup flour until finely ground (be careful not to grind to a paste). Beat together the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg, chilled, for egg wash and beat the remaining egg into the butter mixture, then add the vanilla and almond extracts, beating well. At low speed, mix in the almond mixture, zest, salt, and remaining 1¾ cups flour until mixture just forms a dough. Halve the dough and form each half into a 5- to 6-inch disk. Wrap the disks separately in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

2. Make the filling: Bring the cranberries, orange juice, marmalade, brown sugar, and salt to a boil in a heavy medium pot, stirring, then simmer, uncovered, until some of the cranberries burst and the mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Cool the filling quickly by spreading it in a shallow baking pan and chilling until lukewarm, about 15 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a foil-lined large baking sheet on the middle rack. Generously grease a springform pan.

4. Roll out 1 piece of dough between sheets of wax or parchment paper into a 12-inch round (dough will be very tender). Remove the top sheet of paper and invert the dough into the springform pan. (Dough will tear easily but can be patched together with your fingers.) Press the dough over the bottom and up the side of the pan, trimming the dough to reach ½ inch up the side of the pan. Chill.

5. Roll out the remaining dough into a 12-inch round in same manner. Remove the top sheet of paper, then cut the dough into 10 (⅓-inch-wide) strips with a pastry wheel and slide (still on the wax paper) onto a tray. Freeze strips until firm, about 10 minutes.

6. Spread the filling in the chilled shell and arrange 5 strips 1 inch apart on filling. Arrange the remaining 5 strips 1 inch apart diagonally across first strips to form a lattice with diamond-shaped spaces. Trim the edges of all the strips flush with the edge of the shell. Brush the lattice top with the reserved beaten egg and sprinkle the crostata with the 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.

7. Bake the crostata in the pan on the hot baking sheet until the pastry is golden and the filling is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. (If the pastry is too brown after 30 minutes, loosely cover the crostata with foil.) Cool the crostata completely in the pan on a rack, 1½ to 2 hours.

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peach raspberry galette

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I know this is crazy, but I’ve already started on my New Year’s resolutions for 2015. Resolution-haters are always saying that they don’t need to make resolutions at the new year, because if they see changes they want to make, they just make them, regardless of the date. And I get their point, but I also think that right after the busy, indulgent holiday season when things slow down to a more manageable pace is a great time to think about personal changes. While I am expecting the next four months to be rushed, I was worried I would lose momentum by the new year, so I’m dipping my toe in now.

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My goals are mostly cooking-related, as usual:

1) Use more cookbooks. It’s not the first time I’ve made this resolution, but I didn’t do a great job before. This time, I’m going to make myself a schedule to stick to, and hopefully that will lead to a routine. Because I love cookbooks so much, but if I don’t use them, I feel guilty for having them.

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2) Cook a wider variety of cuisines. There is delicious food out there that isn’t Italian, and maybe I should try some of that once in while. I’m particularly interested in Asian food. I’m intimidated by the ingredient availability issue, but if I’m cooking more of it, I should be able to use up ingredients before they get lost in the back of the refrigerator or pantry.

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3) Read Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. Also not the first time I’ve made this resolution. I started it but got bogged down.

4) Bake more pastries. I’ve gotten into a bit of a bar cookie rut, partly because almost everything I bake is brought to work to share, and it’s easier for coworkers to grab a fruit crisp bar than a slice of pie. But after four years of almost weekly treats, my coworkers seem happy with anything I bring in.

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So far, I’m doing good with my not-New Year resolutions. I’ve been going to bed a little earlier almost every night to read On Food and Cooking. I recently made kung pao tofu, and last night, we had summer rolls for dinner. And I made these galettes from Tartine, perhaps my favorite baking book. Since they’re sort of pastries, so I killed two birds with one stone.

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My coworkers, as expected, did not mind cutting themselves a slice of galette, transferring it to a plate, and spooning a dollop of whipped cream on top. And I had fun tackling a more ambitious baking project than usual, even on a weeknight. Maybe I need to join the New Year’s resolution haters and create my own not-New Year’s resolution tradition.

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Raspberry Peach Galette (adapted from Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson’s Tartine)

Makes two 10-inch galettes, serving about 16

Galettes are often lauded as the lazy man’s pie, with only one crust and no crimping. This recipe belies that description. In order to maximize the flakiness of the crust, the butter is rolled into the flour several times, then the dough is rolled several more times after the water is added. I was pleasantly surprised that this process only took half an hour.

I didn’t use quite enough fruit, mostly because I was too lazy to peel and slice a fifth peach and too cheap to buy a second container of raspberries. However, I am recommending that you use the extra fruit, as my crust to fruit ratio was slightly high, even as delicious as this crust is. Tartine recommends substantially more crust, but the reduced amounts listed here (which are what I used) were perfect for two galettes (or it would be, with a little more fruit than I used).

24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter
18 ounces (3¾ cups) unbleached flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1¼ teaspoons salt
¾ cup ice water
4 cups peaches (4-5 large peaches), peeled and pitted, sliced ⅛-inch thick
2 (6-ounce) containers raspberries
¼ to ½ cup (1.75 to 3.5 ounces) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 small egg, whisked with a pinch of salt

1. Cut the butter into ½-inch cubes; freeze for 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt.

2. Transfer the dry ingredients to a pastry cloth or clean work surface; spread out to ⅓-inch thickness. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour, tossing them to coat with flour. Use a rolling pin to flatten the butter pieces into the flour. When the flour/butter mix has been rolled to the edge of your work surface, shape it back together to a ⅓-inch thickness. Repeat the rolling and reshaping three more times, until the mixture resembles large flakes.

3. Form the mixture into a pile and clear a well in the middle of the pile. Pour in the water, then use a bench scraper to mix the dough into the water with a cutting motion. Use a well-floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle about 10 by 14 inches. Fold it into thirds, then in half the opposite direction. Repeat the rolling and folding three more times. Roll the dough into a 14-inch by 7-inch rectangle. Cut the dough in half to form two 7-by 7-inch squares. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

4. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Roll each square of dough into a 14-inch round. Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheets; chill 10 minutes.

5. Divide the peaches evenly between the two dough rounds, leaving a 2-inch border. Top with the raspberries, then sprinkle 2-4 tablespoons of sugar (depending on how ripe and sweet your fruit is) over each pile of fruit. Fold the sides of dough over the fruit, pleating as necessary. Brush the dough with the egg wash, then sprinkle with sugar.

6. Bake until the fruit is bubbling and the crust is browned, 45-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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blueberry pie

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The two weeks a year when blueberries are reasonably priced are almost a tease. Blink and you miss it! Down here in the desert, some years it doesn’t happen at all (or maybe I blinked). They went on sale recently, and I loaded up my cart. I didn’t know what I was going to make for dessert that weekend, but I knew it would have lots of blueberries in it.

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Pie. Pie is so classic, and like I recently said, I don’t get many opportunities to make it. While pies aren’t the easiest desserts to make, at least blueberries don’t require any tedious prep like most other fruits – that is, unless you choose a high-maintenance Cook’s Illustrated recipe for blueberry pie.

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I did, because I hate soupy pies enough to pre-cook the filling and peel and grate an apple into the mix. And clean out the coffee grinder to powder the tapioca when the grinder I keep in the kitchen for non-coffee things broke. All the cleaning, dough-rolling, pre-cooking, and apple-shredding was worth it when I was rewarded with a flaky crust over a juicy but not soupy filling of my favorite summer fruit.

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Blueberry Pie (pretty much straight from Cook’s Illustrated, except for I don’t use their crust)

CI notes: This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1¼ cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons.

dough for double-crust pie (I always make this one)
6 cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) (see note)
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
2 teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
¾ cup sugar (5¼ ounces)
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, ground (see note)
pinch table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 ½ cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.

2. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.

3. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about ⅛ inch thick. Using 1¼-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1½ inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least ½-inch overhang on each side.

4. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer of overhanging dough, leaving ½-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.

5. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

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banana cream pie

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It’s Dave’s birthday (well, yesterday was), and therefore time for my annual banana cream pie post! Except last year I made banana cream cupcakes, and the year before I took a break from posting about banana cream pie – I must have assumed I’d made all the variations that were out there. But then I found a recipe that steeps bananas in the half-and-half that is then used to make the pastry cream, and I had to try it.

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I have to say that this might be my favorite banana cream pie recipe. There are things I really like about each of them, but this one is simply just what a banana cream pie should be – the crust stayed crisp even after two days in the fridge, the pastry cream didn’t slop all over the plate, and everything was in balance.

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Steeping the bananas in the dairy used for the pastry cream didn’t make an obvious difference, but I wonder if that was part of what made this pie so good, because all the components seemed to go together so well. Unless I find yet another trick to try in the realm of banana cream pies, I’ll be making this one for Dave’s birthday next year too.

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Banana Cream Pie
(very slightly tweaked from Cook’s Country)

I didn’t want to buy a second container of half-and-half only use a small portion of it, so I used 2 cups half-and-half, ¼ cup whole milk, and ¼ cup cream. Then I only used ¾ cup of cream for the topping, reducing the confectioners’ sugar to 1½ tablespoons. I also scraped the seeds of a vanilla bean into the steeping dairy and let the bean steep as well. And I forgot the orange juice.

5 ripe bananas
4 tablespoons butter
2½ cups half-and-half
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
pie crust for single-crust pie (recipe below)
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1. Peel 2 of the bananas and slice them into ½-inch-thick pieces. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced bananas and cook until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half, bring to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to sit for 40 minutes.

2. Whisk the granulated sugar, egg yolks, and salt together in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk in the cornstarch. Strain the cooled half-and-half mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the yolk mixture – do not press on the bananas – and whisk until incorporated; discard the cooked bananas.

3. Transfer the mixture to a clean medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it is thickened to the consistency of warm pudding (180 degrees), about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat; whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, press greased parchment paper directly against the surface, and allow it to cool for about one hour.

4. Meanwhile, roll the pie dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured counter. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate, fold the edge of the dough under itself so the edge of the fold is flush with the outer rim of the plate, and flute the edges. Refrigerate for 40 minutes, then freeze for 20 minutes. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375°.

5. Line the chilled pie shell with a 12-inch square of aluminum foil, folding the foil over the edges of the dough. Fill with pie weights, place the pie plate on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and the weights, rotate the plate, and continue baking until the crust is golden brown, about 7 to 11 minutes. Transfer it to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature.

6. Peel and slice the remaining 3 bananas to about ¼-inch-thick and toss them with the orange juice. Whisk the pastry cream briefly, then spread half over the bottom of the pie shell. Arrange the sliced bananas on the pastry cream. Top with the remaining pastry cream.

7. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip the cream, confectioner’s sugar, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of vanilla on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form, about 1 to 3 minutes. Spread the whipped cream evenly over the top of the pie. Refrigerate the pie until it is set, at least 5 hours and up to 24 hours.

Pie Crust for Single-Crust Pie (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Deb has instructions for mixing by hand if that’s your preference.

1¼ cups (6 ounces) flour
1½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
⅓-½ cup ice water

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until mixed. Add half of the butter; pulse once, add the remaining butter, and process with 1-second pulses until the largest pieces of butter are about ¼-inch across. Add ¼ cup of water; pulse once, then add 2 more tablespoons of water. Pulse a couple times to incorporate the water, then pinch a portion of the dough together; if it crumbles, pulse in another tablespoon of water. If it barely holds together, transfer the mixture to a large piece of plastic wrap. Form the dough into a ball, kneading it once or twice so it holds together. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least one hour before rolling.

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pumpkin pie

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Let me be frank: The recipe on the back of the can of pumpkin makes a perfectly good pumpkin pie. I have no beef with this pie. It’s the one I ate growing up, and I’ll still certainly grab a slice if it’s available. But at some point, it occurred to me that pumpkin pie is a custard pie, and it should be more custardy – smoother, richer, creamier. It still needs to be firm enough to form straight-sided slices, not puddles, but it shouldn’t be solid.

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I blame the evaporated milk. I like evaporated milk in my salmon pesto pasta recipe as a healthier alternative to cream, but we’re talking now about a dessert that’s eaten after one of the most decadent meals of the year. Is this really the time to cut calories? Stick with heavy cream for dessert.

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But there’s another requirement I have for pumpkin pie, and that is that it be easy. If the filling requires steps beyond mixing everything in the blender, I’m not interested. Not because a great dessert isn’t worth some effort, but because I’ve found that for pumpkin pie, extra effort just isn’t necessary. You can make yourself a perfect pumpkin pie – silky and rich, firm enough to form slices but still soft and smooth – with no more effort than it takes to make the recipe on the back of the pumpkin can.

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Pumpkin Pie (adapted from Bon Appetit’s Spiced Pumpkin Pie and Cook’s Illustrated’s Silky Pumpkin Pie)

1 unbaked pie crust, rolled, transferred to pan, chilled (recipe below)
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
¾ cup (5.25 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Remove the pie crust from refrigerator; line the crust with foil and fill it with pie weights. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and the weights; bake 5 to 10 more minutes, until the crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove the crust and baking sheet from oven. Retain the oven temperature.

3. Combine all of the ingredients except the cream in the food processor or blender. Add the cream; pulse. Pour the mixture into the crust.

4. Return the pie plate with the baking sheet to the oven and bake the pie for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Continue baking until the edges are set (an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should register 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours.

Pie Crust (rewritten from Smitten Kitchen)

1 single-crusted 9-inch pie

1¼ cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, very cold
⅓ to ½ cup ice water

1. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Cut the butter into ¼-inch cubes; add to the food processor and pulse until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Transfer the mixture to a bowl; stir in the water. Wrap in plastic wrap; chill at least 1 hour or up to 1 day. If chilled longer than an hour, leave the dough at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to soften before rolling.

2. Roll out the dough on a generously floured work surface to make a 12-inch circle about ⅛-inch thick. Roll the dough loosely around a rolling pin and unroll into a pie plate, leaving at least a 1-inch overhang all around the pie plate.

3. Working around the circumference, ease the dough into the pans by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into the plate bottom with other hand. Trim overhang to ½-inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

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berry tart with mascarpone cream

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In late August, I always start to get a little bit panicked about the end of summer. This, despite the long six months of summer we get in southern New Mexico and despite the months of temperatures reaching nearly 100 degrees. This, despite the breathtaking beauty of upstate New York’s fall, despite the pumpkins and apples, football and fall fairs that I loved when I lived there.

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But for me, fall can’t beat summer. I love being not just warm, but hot. The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. Homegrown tomatoes are my favorite food. I love wearing skirts and hate wearing pants.

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I love peaches and zucchini and berries. I already made Dave’s favorite pie once this summer, not that it isn’t good enough to have more often. But I was hosting an Italian-ish dinner party so wanted an Italian-ish dessert. This was perfect. A sweet cookie crust, a simple mascarpone-based creamy layer, lots of fresh berries, and none of that gelatinous shellack that fruit tarts often include. The custard layer was similar to pastry cream, but it required just a few minutes of mixing instead of egg-separating, heating, tempering, whisking, straining, and cooling.

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It’s been a long, hot summer here. My tomato plants haven’t done well, although I’m grateful for the occasional fruit they do give. But I’m as ready as I ever am to move on to fall. I’m thinking about braising and roasting. But I can’t quite shake that tug of dread to say goodbye to my favorite season, and fresh berries are just part of the reason.

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Printer Friendly Recipe
Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream
(crust rewritten from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours; filling adapted from Gourmet via epicurious)

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
⅓ cup well-chilled heavy cream
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1½ cups raspberries
1½ cups blueberries
1½ cups blackberries
2 tablespoons red currant jam or raspberry jelly
2 tablespoons dark berry liqueur such as blueberry, blackberry, or cassis or port

1. For the crust: Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut, with some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk with a fork and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Process in long pulses until the dough forms clumps and curds; the sound of the machine working will change. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl to incorporate any unmixed dry ingredients.

2. Grease a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes before baking.

3. Center a rack in the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

4. Spray a piece of aluminum foil with nonstick spray and fit the foil, oiled side down, tightly against the crust. Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

5. For the filling: In a bowl with a whisk or an electric mixer, beat together the mascarpone, cream, and sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Spoon the mixture into the shell, spreading it evenly.

6. In a large bowl, combine the raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. In a small saucepan, simmer the jam and port, stirring, until reduced to about 3 tablespoons; pour over the berries. With a rubber spatula, gently stir the berries to coat evenly. Mound the berries decoratively on the mascarpone cream. The tart may be assembled 2 hours ahead and chilled; bring to room temperature and remove the sides of the pan before serving.

strawberry poptarts

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I like to keep track of things. This is why I have a website showcasing new recipes. But I also have calendars (printed out and filled in with pencil, old school) logging all the workouts I’ve done for years, a list updated daily of which projects I spend time on at work, and a color-coded Google Calendar that I check and update several times a day.

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This apparently wasn’t enough for me, so I’ve recently started tracking some new things – indulgences. Desserts, alcohol, restaurant meals, snacking on ingredients while making dinner – those are the biggies for me. I set goals for the month, and they are generous, and I don’t get bent out of shape if I miss them (and I always go over on both alcohol and desserts), but having it laid out in front of me in a spreadsheet does help my self-control sometimes. Is munching on this cucumber, even if it’s dipped in dressing, really worth having to log a day of ingredient snacking?

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There are loopholes though. Shortcake, obviously that’s dessert. But scones are breakfast, so I don’t need to record those, even if they do contain just as much butter and sugar as shortcake. Cupcakes, dessert; muffins, breakfast. Poptarts are breakfast, right?

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That might be a stretch, even by my standards. Yes, there is jam involved, but a spoonful of jam is squeezed between two sheets of buttery delicious pie crust. And that’s all there is to it, unless you add icing. But once you add icing, any hope of calling this anything but a treat of the most indulgent manner is lost. It went on the list as dessert, and it was worth every mark on the spreadsheet.

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One year ago: Banh Mi (I absolutely love this recipe)
Two years ago: Taco Pasta Salad
Three years ago: Twice Baked Potato Cups
Four years ago: Banana and Peanut Butter Stuffed French Toast

Printer Friendly Recipe
Strawberry Pop-Tarts (adapted from King Arthur Flour via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 9 (although I made 10 out of a half recipe)

My dough was too crumbly with just one egg, so I also used part of the egg used for the egg wash.

I used the icing because I wanted my tarts to be as traditional as possible, but, it turns out, royal icing on pie just isn’t that good. It’s pretty, but I don’t recommend it for the best flavor.

I replaced a quarter of the flour with whole wheat pastry flour.

2 cups (8½ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
¾ cup (8 ounces) strawberry jam

Egg wash:
1 large egg

½ cup (2 ounces) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon meringue powder
1 tablespoon water

1. For the dough: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until it is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg and milk and pulse until the dough looks crumbly but stays together when pinched. Turn the dough out onto a work surface or shallow bowl, forming it into a ball and kneading a few times. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a rectangle, about 3 by 5 inches. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap; chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

2. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a small saucepan, stir together the cornstarch and water. Mix in the jam. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat; simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; cool completely before using.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll one portion of the dough to ⅛-inch thick, slightly larger than a 9 by 12-inch rectangle. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Trim each portion of dough into a 9 by 12-inch rectangle. Cut each piece of dough into thirds both lengthwise and crosswise, forming a total of 18 3 by 4-inch rectangles.

4. Beat the additional egg with a pinch of salt and brush it over the entire surface of half of the dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each egg-brushed rectangle, keeping a bare ½-inch perimeter around the jam. Place a second rectangle of dough on top of the jam, using your fingertips to press firmly around the pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides. Press the tines of a fork all around the edge of the rectangle. Repeat with remaining rectangles of dough to form 9 tarts.

5. Transfer the tarts to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork to allow steam to escape. Refrigerate the tarts (they don’t need to be covered) for 30 minutes (or freeze for 15 minutes), while you heat your oven to 350 degrees.

6. Bake the tarts for 20 to 25 minutes, until they’re light golden brown. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes before icing.

7. In a small bowl, beat the powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Dribble over the tarts. Let set at least 20 minutes for the icing to set.

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coconut cream pie (tom douglas)

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My rules of thumb for ordering food in restaurants – get the restaurant’s specialty, if it has one, and don’t get anything I could easily make at home – failed me when I went out for dessert with Brady, Nicole, Joelen, Jessica, and another friend we met at BlogHer Food. (Hillary – get yourself a blog, would you?) I considered the coconut cream pie, but passed it over because I had no idea that it was A Thing at that restaurant. The rhubarb rose sorbet sounded great too, but I went with the lemongrass frozen yogurt. It sounded interesting, but it wasn’t. It tasted like sweetened frozen milk and was nice; not thrilling, but nice.

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The bites I stole of Brady and Joelen’s coconut cream pie, however, were thrilling. Silky custard, mounds of whipped cream, crisp crust. How was something so basic as coconut cream pie knocking my socks off? We were all excited later when we found the recipe online. We could create this perfection ourselves!

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But, the pie I made was not the pie I kept stealing bites from at the restaurant. The crust might have been the same, and the simple whipped cream certainly was, but my pastry cream seemed off. For one thing, I don’t remember shreds of coconut within the pastry cream at the restaurant. For another, I have my doubts about using flour as the thickener in pastry cream instead of cornstarch. I tried it because I was curious, but in the end, I prefer the silkiness of cornstarch compared to the pastiness of flour used in pastry cream.

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The fully assembled pie was a thing of beauty, with its golden crust and mounds of whipped cream. But when I removed a slice, the sloshy unset filling flowed in to fill the gap, so that if it weren’t for the missing rim of crust, you’d never know there was a slice missing. This pie, good as it was, seemed different from the one we had at the restaurant. Or maybe it’s just that nothing can come close to the memory of sharing desserts with five friends in Seattle.

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One year ago: Date Nut Loaf
Two years ago: Dressy Chocolate Cake
Three years ago: Strawberries and Cream Pie
Four years ago: Pigs in a Blanket

Printer Friendly Recipe
Triple Coconut Cream Pie (adapted from Tom Douglas)

Makes one 9-inch pie

Shredded coconut in the crust was an interesting idea that I enjoyed, but for the filling, I prefer this recipe.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup (2.1 ounces) sweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
⅓ cup ice water, or more as needed

Pastry cream:
½ cup heavy cream
1½ cups whole milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (4.4 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces unsweetened “chip” or large-shred coconut
Chunks of white chocolate (4 to 6 ounces, to make 2 ounces of curls)

1. For the crust: In a food processor, pulse to combine the flour, coconut, sugar, and salt until combined. Add the diced butter; pulse until the butter is broken into pea-sized bits, 6-8 one-second pulses. Stop the machine and pour in about half of the water; pulse twice, then add the remaining water. Pulse 3-4 more times, then test the dough by gently pressing it between your fingers; it should just hold together; if it doesn’t, add a couple teaspoons water and pulse to combine again. Line a wide, shallow bowl with a large sheet of plastic wrap; transfer the dough to lined bowl. Pull the plastic wrap around the dough, then flatten it to a round about 1-inch high. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour before rolling. (The dough can be prepared a day in advance, and stored, wrapped tightly, in the refrigerator.)

2. Unwrap the round of dough and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Dust the dough lightly with flour, then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Roll the dough into a 12- to 13-inch circle about ⅛-inch thick, adding more flour if it begins to stick. Transfer the rolled dough onto a 9-inch pie pan. Trim any excess to a 1- to 1½-inch overhang. Turn the dough under along the rim of the pie pan and use your fingers to flute the edge. Cover with plastic wrap and chill the unbaked pie crust at least an hour before baking.

3. Heat the oven to 400°F. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper in the pie crust and fill the cavity with dried beans or pie weights. Bake the crust until the edge is just golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, lift off the foil and weights, and return the crust to the oven. Bake until the bottom of the crust shows golden-brown patches, 10 to 12 minutes more. Transfer the crust to a cooling rack and cool completely before filling.

4. For the pastry cream: In a medium saucepan, combine the heavy cream, milk, coconut, vanilla seeds and pod, and salt. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir the mixture occasionally until it begins to steam and tiny bubbles start to form around the pan’s edges. (But don’t let it come to a boil.) Remove the pan from the heat.

5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Whisking continually, slowly add about one-third of the scalded milk into the egg mixture. Pour the warmed egg mixture to the milk and coconut mixture in the saucepan. Place the pan over medium-high heat and whisk until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the pastry cream is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, then place it over another bowl filled with ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming, and refrigerate until cold, about an hour. The cream will thicken as it cools.

6. To finish the pie: Heat the oven to 350°F. Spread the coconut chips over a baking sheet. Bake the chips, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler to shave about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls.

7. Pour the chilled pastry cream over the prebaked pie crust, smoothing the surface with a spatula.
In an electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high, and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Spread the whipped cream over the surface of the pie. Just before serving, decorate the pie with the toasted coconut and white chocolate curls.

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