hidden berry cream cheese torte

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I don’t think of myself as much of a shopper. The majority of the clothes I’ve bought over the last year have been thrifted, I rarely buy books or CDs since we moved to a town without a big bookstore, I have no interest in cars beyond dependability and gas mileage, and the only decorations in my office at the place I’ve worked for a year and a half are a bird-shaped mirror that makes me smile every time I see it and three posters on local geology that a coworker was trying to get rid of.

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But ingredients are becoming a weakness. I blame living in a small isolated town; because there are so many foods I can’t buy here, when I do have access to a fun new ingredient, I snatch it up. This is why I have a container of truffle salt I’ve only used once and several types of ground and whole mustard seeds which I never got around to using in homemade mustard recipes. It’s probably a good thing Dave rushed me out of the Middle Eastern market we went to for lunch in Albuquerque, so I only had time to buy a container of za’atar and a jar of boysenberry preserves.

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I haven’t used the za’atar yet, but the jam was perfect in this light, creamy cheesecake. I added a little more than the recipe called for, and I wished I had used even more. This is one impulse buy I don’t regret one bit.

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One year ago: Cardamom Crumb Cake
Two years ago: Cafe Volcano Cookies
Three years ago: Buttery Jam Cookies

Printer Friendly Recipe
Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

8 servings

I used 8 ounces of cream cheese, since that’s the normal size of the packages. I also left out the spices.

Crust:
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup (3.5 ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Filling:
⅓ cup thick berry or cherry jam
9 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 ounces (1 cup) cottage cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Getting ready: Butter a 9-inch springform pan, dust the inside with flour, and tap out the excess. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

To make the crust: Put the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse just to blend. Toss in the pieces of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir the egg yolks and vanilla together with a fork, and, still pulsing the machine, add them and continue to pulse until the dough comes together in clumps and curds—restrain yourself, and don’t allow the dough to form a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. If you want to roll the dough, gather it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes before rolling. (I like to roll this, and all sweet crusts, between sheets of plastic wrap.) Or simply press the dough into the pan. The dough should come about 1½ inches up the sides of the springform. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fit a piece of buttered aluminum foil against the crust, covering it completely. Fill the crust lightly with rice, dried beans or pie weights and slide the pan into the oven. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and weights and bake for another 5 minutes or so—you don’t want the crust to get too brown. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the filling. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

To make the filling: Stir the jam and spread it over the bottom of the crust—it’s okay to do this while the crust is still warm.

Put the cream cheese and cottage cheese into the food processor and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times, for 2 minutes, until you’ve got a smooth, satiny mix. Add the sugar, salt and spices and process for another 30 seconds. With the machine running, add the eggs and process, scraping the bowl as needed for a final minute. Pour the filling over the jam.

Bake the cake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the filling is uniformly puffed and no longer jiggly. Gently transfer the springform pan to a cooling rack and allow the torte to cool to room temperature, during which time the filling will collapse into a thin, elegant layer.

Run a blunt knife between the crust and the sides of the pan, then open and remove the sides of the springform. If the sides of the crust extend above the filling and you don’t like this look, very gently saw off the excess crust using a serrated knife. Chill the torte slightly or thoroughly before serving and dust with confectioner’s sugar.

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puffed poached pear tart

puffed pear tart 5

Just a handful of recipes left, and I’ll have baked every single dessert in the Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours!

Or at least I’ll have baked something vaguely resembling Dorie’s recipes. These stragglers at the end call for unseasonal unavailable ingredients, so I’ve had to make some significant substitutions. I was actually surprised to find that the plums I needed for this recipe weren’t available at all at my store, not even tasteless rockhard specimens shipped in from another continent.

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But when I saw that the plums in the original recipe are poached in wine, I immediately thought of pears. I exchanged the red wine for white and the prunes for dried apples. Raisins might have been a better choice for the dried fruit, because the whole thing ended up looking pale and plain. But it was nothing that a dusting of powdered sugar couldn’t solve, and anyway, after a bite of the buttery flaky crust and sweet winey pears, I wasn’t at all concerned about whether this delicious dessert was a little on the monochrome side.

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Julie chose the Puffed Double Plum Tart for Tuesdays with Dorie. I replaced the prunes with dried apples and the fresh plums with pears. I poached the two in a mixture of 1 cup white wine, 1 cup water, and ⅔ cup sugar for about 20 minutes, then arranged them on top of the puff pastry and baked according to the recipe.

One year ago: Apple Coconut Family Cake
Two years ago: Sablés
Three years ago: Buttery Jam Cookies

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sour cream pumpkin tart

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My brother majorly stuck his foot in his mouth a couple Christmases ago. He lives in the same part of the country as most of my relatives and had spent Thanksgiving with them; then he and my aunt and grandmother all visited for Christmas. As my aunt was mixing up the pumpkin pie, my brother recalled the apparently horrible (“completely tasteless”, I believe, were his words) pumpkin pie from their Thanksgiving festivities. “Who made that anyway”, he wondered?

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You know where this is going, right? Yes, my aunt had made the pie. And she was right there during this conversation, making more pumpkin pie. And it must have affected her confidence, because she forgot to add the sugar.

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(extra batter)

Fortunately, this pie was anything but completely tasteless. The spices were in perfect balance and it was just the right level of sweetness. I hope that my brother would approve – and that if he didn’t, he’d keep his mouth shut about it.

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Judy chose this pie (or tart) for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I exchanged the sour cream for 2% Greek yogurt, because I don’t often buy sour cream.

Two years ago: Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce
Three years ago: Truffles (chocolate comparison)

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normandy apple tart

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There seems to be a misconception among some people that I have my act together. Something like this tart, with its carefully arranged apple slices, presents an image of someone organized and calm and productive. Who knows – they might even think that I regularly clean my bathrooms.

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The truth is that I forgot about the apples while they were cooking down into sauce and was lucky that there was no harm done. The truth is that I sliced and arranged the topping while singing Chicago hits (you’re the inspiration!) and drinking champagne late Sunday night when I should have been getting ready for bed.

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I took the tart out of the oven long after my normal bed time. Then my hand slipped and mussed the carefully arranged apples and scalloped edge. The truth is that photographing the tart Monday morning made me even later for work than usual.

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Maybe the moral of the story is that even if you’re just fumbling through, things will probably turn out just fine. You can use two forks to carefully unmuss your carefully arranged apple slices. You can eat the broken edge first. And none of those surficial imperfections spoiled how incredible this tart tasted, with the apples in the sauce adding a bright contrast to the sweet browned apples on top. This tart, Chicago’s greatest hits, and champagne were worth staying up for – even if it means that any image of me having it all together is just smoke and mirrors.

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Tracey chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the full recipe posted.  I followed it exactly, except, remembering a Cook’s Illustrated testing of applesauce and how the version with a pinch of salt was the favorite, I was sure to add a smidgen of salt to my sauce as well.

One year ago: Devilish Shortcakes
Two years ago: All-in-One Holiday Bundt
Three years ago: Linzer Sables

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apple pie cake

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Those accursed diamonds. Dorie Greenspan tells a cute story about how her grandmother used to make a similar recipe to this one and cut it into diamonds. Notably however, Dorie did not suggest the diamond shape. She recommends squares.

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But I thought the diamonds sounded so elegant and pretty. I considered and then disregarded how fragile the sharp diamond corners would be. I also considered and disregarded the impracticality of cutting a rectangular pan of pie-cake into diamonds. I powered on.

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The result was more crumbs than diamonds. I usually consider the fallen crumbs to be a little treat to snack on, but when half of a large pan of pie-cake crumbles as you cut it, that can be dangerous. Once the crumbs started getting really out of control, I shoved them all in a bowl before I could even consider eating them.

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Bu not even one coworker mentioned the broken diamonds when they came by to tell me that these might be the best thing I’ve ever brought to share. It didn’t even get mentioned when one coworker announced over the intercom how amazing they were. (I blushed.) I’m actually a little bit glad that I cut them into impractical diamonds, because now I have a bowl full of apple pie-cake crumbs stashed in my freezer.

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One year ago: Almost-Fudge Gateau
Two years ago: Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies
Three years ago: Thanksgiving Twofer Pie

Printer Friendly Recipe
Russian Grandmother’s Apple Pie-Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)

As usual with Dorie’s recipes, I bumped up the salt – ¾ teaspoon in the dough and a pinch in the apples. And I completely forgot the raisins.

For The Dough
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon
3¼ – 3½ cups all-purpose flour

For The Apples
10 medium apples, all one kind or a mix
Squirt of fresh lemon juice
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
¼ cup sugar
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar, for dusting

To Make The Dough: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the baking powder and salt and mix just to combine. Add the lemon juice – the dough will probably curdle, but don’t worry about it. Still working on low speed, slowly but steadily add 3¼ cups of the flour, mixing to incorporate it and scraping down the bowl as needed. The dough is meant to be soft, but if you think it looks more like a batter than a dough at this point, add the extra ¼ cup flour. (The dough usually needs the extra flour.) When properly combined, the dough should almost clean the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a rectangle. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 3 days. (The dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months; defrost overnight in the refrigerator.)

To Make The Apples: Peel and core the apples and cut into slices about ¼ inch thick; cut the slices in half crosswise if you want. Toss the slices in a bowl with a little lemon juice – even with the juice, the apples may turn brown, but that’s fine – and add the raisins. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, sprinkle over the apples and stir to coat evenly. Taste an apple and add more sugar, cinnamon, and/or lemon juice if you like.

Getting Ready to Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9×13-inch baking pan (Pyrex is good) and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. If it is too hard to roll and it cracks, either let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin to get it moving. Once it’s a little more malleable, you’ve got a few choices. You can roll it on a well-floured work surface or roll it between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper. You can even press or roll out pieces of the dough and patch them together in the pan – because of the baking powder in the dough, it will puff and self-heal under the oven’s heat. Roll the dough out until it is just a little larger all around than your pan and about ¼ inch thick – you don’t want the dough to be too thin, because you really want to taste it. Transfer the dough to the pan. If the dough comes up the sides of the pan, that’s fine; if it doesn’t that’s fine too.

Give the apples another toss in the bowl, then turn them into the pan and, using your hands, spread them evenly across the bottom.

Roll out the second piece of dough and position it over the apples. Cut the dough so you’ve got a ¼ to ½ inch overhang and tuck the excess into the sides of the pan, as though you were making a bed. (If you don’t have that much overhang, just press what you’ve got against the sides of the pan.)

Brush the top of the dough lightly with water and sprinkle sugar over the dough. Using a small sharp knife, cut 6 to 8 evenly spaced slits in the dough.

Bake for 65 to 80 minutes, or until the dough is a nice golden brown and the juices from the apples are bubbling up through the slits. Transfer the baking pan to a cooling rack and cool to just warm or to room temperature. You’ll be tempted to taste it sooner, but I think the dough needs a little time to rest.

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alsatian apple tart

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I recently congratulated myself on having become more practical now that I’m older and then almost immediately had to call my own BS. I tried to think of one example of having taken the more practical route lately and came up blank. My tendency to go overboard nearly always wins.

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Just to prove that I can, indeed, tone things down, I kept myself from perfecting the edges of my pastry cloth that always get crinkled after washing. Also, I only rearranged the apple slices on this tart once when they didn’t look the way I’d hoped. Even then, it wasn’t perfect, and I had at least a third of the apple slices leftover, but I had to move on with my evening.

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In the end, I think the tart came out very nicely. It’s pretty and it’s tasty. But. I think with the rest of the apples, it would have been even better – a little more tart to balance the sweet custard, and the apple slice design would have stood out more. I have to admit though, the difference isn’t so significant to make the time it would have taken to perfect it worthwhile. Sometimes, good enough is just fine.

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Jessica chose this tart for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. The recipe indicates that the tart will need to bake for 50-55 minutes, but mine was done around 35 minutes. The shorter time could be because it wasn’t as full, or it’s possible that I should have left it in the oven until the custard started to brown.

Two years ago: Alice Water’s Apple Tart
Three years ago: Basic Mashed Potatoes

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butternut squash pie

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The winter squashes are a multifaceted group. Pumpkin is obviously perfect with sweet flavors and can be used in custards, pies, cakes, quick breads, cookiesthe whole dessert (or breakfast!) spectrum. Pumpkin does take well to savory dishes, but it’s more common that you’ll see butternut squash used in dinner instead – despite their very similar flavor.

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Furthermore, pumpkin in desserts is nearly always pureed. Squash in dinner is often diced, sometimes pureed. This pie, with its diced butternut squash, did not follow the rules.

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My brain had some trouble deciding if this was dessert or dinner, is what I’m saying. The pears and raisins were obviously sweet, but the big chunks of squash had a strong earthy tone. I think with more sugar and smaller chunks of squash, they would blend into the other pie ingredients, and the whole thing would seem more dessert-like. It isn’t bad as it is, but, perhaps, a little confusing.

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Valerie chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. Instead of steaming the squash, I roasted all of the filling ingredients except the orange juice in the oven until the squash was softened, mostly because my oven was already on but also to potentially get some delicious caramelization.  Because roasting drove off some liquid, I didn’t feel I needed to add the breadcrumbs to the filling.

Two years ago: Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Three years ago: Gallitos (Costa Rican Breakfast Tacos)

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apple brandy hand pies

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Adding ‘brandy’ to the title of this recipe is probably an exaggeration, because I suspect most of the brandy gets left behind in the sugary liquid given off by the apples. Plus, with two teaspoons of brandy in over a dozen hand pies, that’s approximately one drop per pie. On the other hand, how much more fun do apple brandy hand pies sound than apple hand pies? A lot more fun, that’s how much.

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And these are fun. To eat, that is; to make, they’re a lot of nitpicky chilling steps. You measure the ingredients and chill them; make the dough and chill it; roll it out and chill it; cut circles and chill them; fill the hand pies and chill them.

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It isn’t too bad though; you don’t have to actually do anything during those chilling steps, so it’s really just an issue of starting early. The reward at the end is crust so flaky it’s almost like puff pastry dough, not to mention a sweet and spicy apple filling – whether it’s actually spiked with brandy or not.

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One year ago: Coconut Cream Tart/Pie
Two years ago: Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Three years ago: Peter Reinhart’s Pizza

Printer Friendly Recipe
Apple Brandy Hand Pies (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and from Cooks Illustrated’s apple pie recipe in The New Best Recipe)

Makes about 14 pies

Dough:
1¼ cups (6 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup ice water

Filling:
2 large apples, peeled, cored, diced into ¼-inch cubes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple (or regular) brandy
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cups (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice

1. To make the pastry, in a bowl, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Place the butter in another bowl. Place both bowls in the freezer for 1 hour. Remove the bowls from the freezer and make a well in the center of the flour. Add the butter to the well and, using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Make another well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add half of this mixture to the well. With your fingertips, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Remove the large lumps and repeat with the remaining liquid and flour-butter mixture. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. If preparing ahead of time, the dough can be stored at this point for up to one month in the freezer.

2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Using a 4-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut seven circles out of the rolled dough. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.

3. Toss the apples with the lemon juice and zest. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, flour, salt and spices. Toss the dry ingredients with the apples.

4. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature until just pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Quickly brush cold water around the circumference of the dough, and fold it in half so the other side comes down over the filling, creating a semicircle. Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat the process with remaining dough and filling. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

5. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut 3 small slits in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle sanding sugar generously over the pies. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown and just slightly cracked, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven; let cool slightly before serving.

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summer berry pie

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Dave enjoys and then forgets the vast majority of what I give him to eat. And how not to? I make so many different things that even I’m surprised sometimes when I scan through old unused pictures (two types of cucumber salad? orange-glazed tofu? raspberry muffins? The pictures prove I made these things, but I don’t remember any of it).

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But once in a while, I make something that stands out to Dave enough to not only remember it, but request it again and again, even years later. I hadn’t made this pie in two years, but once berries start to come into season, Dave starts asking about it.

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Often, fresh fruit pies are associated with the gel-shellacked versions you get in buffet lines. This pie replaces that gel with the barest coating of fruit jelly, which gives the fruit a beautiful shine without adding any flavorless goo. Instead, a layer of fruit puree holds the filling together while intensifying the bright berry flavor. With ripe sweet berries and a dollop of freshly whipped cream, it’s no wonder this dessert is so memorable.

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One year ago: Triple Chocolate Espresso Brownies
Two years ago: Strawberries and Cream Pie
Three years ago: Croque Madame

Printer Friendly Recipe
Summer Berry Pie (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8 to 10

Currant jelly is smooth and bright red, so very attractive in this pie. However, I didn’t want to buy it because I don’t use it for anything else. I used raspberry jam, which I probably should have strained but didn’t.

Crust:
5 ounces graham crackers, broken into rough pieces (9-11 full crackers)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and warm

Filling:
2 cups (about 9 ounces) fresh raspberries
2 cups (about 11 ounces) fresh blackberries
2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh blueberries
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons red currant jelly

Whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream (cold)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a food processor, process the graham crackers until evenly fine, about 30 seconds. You should have one cup of crumbs. Add the sugar; pulse to combine. Continue to pulse while adding the warm melted butter in a steady stream; pulse until the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie plate; use the bottom of a ramekin or measuring cup to press the crumbs evenly into the bottom and up the sides. Bake the crust until fragrant and beginning to brown, 15 to 18 minutes; transfer to wire rack and cool completely while making the filling.

2. FOR THE FILLING: Combine the berries in a large colander and gently rinse; spread the berries on towel-lined rimmed baking sheet and gently pat dry with additional towels.

3. In a food processor, puree 2½ cups of the mixed berries until smooth and fully pureed, about 1 minute. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer into small nonreactive saucepan, scraping and pressing on seeds to extract as much puree as possible (you should have 1¼ to 1½ cups). Whisk the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl to combine, then whisk the mixture into the puree. Bring the puree to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon; when the mixture reaches a boil and is thickened to consistency of pudding, remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool slightly.

4. While the puree is cooling, place the remaining berries in a medium bowl. Heat the jelly in a second small saucepan over low heat until fully melted; drizzle the melted jelly over the berries and gently toss them together until the berries are glazed. Pour the slightly cooled puree into the cooled pie shell and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Distribute the glazed berries evenly over the puree and gently press into the surface. Loosely cover pie with plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled and the puree has set, about 3 hours (or up to 1 day).

5. FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Add the cream, sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at low speed until small bubbles form, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until the cream is smooth, thick, and nearly doubled in volume, about 20 seconds for soft peaks or about 30 seconds for stiff peaks. If necessary, finish beating by hand to adjust the consistency.

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tourtely apple tart

Sometimes I think I can multitask, but I am wrong. While Dave and I were having an interesting conversation about our almost-teenaged nephew gaining independence and confidence, I was jotting down the ingredients for the tart crust. (I don’t bring cookbooks into the kitchen; I don’t want them getting dirty.) I was also congratulating myself on how I was paying attention to the conversation and making insightful responses – although Dave might disagree – while getting a cooking task done.

Nope. I messed it up. I wrote down the version without nuts, even though I had specifically bought walnuts because I thought they’d complement the apples nicely.

So perhaps I didn’t make quite the dessert I was meant to.  In the end, I liked the filling just fine, but the crust wasn’t the right match for it.  It was too simple, too sugary, too cookie-like.  I suspect some bitter earthy walnuts was just the flavor I was craving.  And I suspect this is a lesson I’m going to have to learn over and over again before it sticks.

Jeannette chose this apple tart pie thing for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted.  I tweaked a bunch of little things with the filling, but nothing crucial.

One year ago: Sweet Cream Biscuits
Two years ago: Chocolate Bread Pudding
Three years ago: Carrot Cake