Sunday, February 27, 2011

back in business with pie #13, potato knish pie

this has by far been the longest two weeks of my life!  never in my wildest dreams would i have thought that i could miss having my oven.  when the heating element in my oven burned out, my first thought was that it was time for a new oven.  we had already spent a lot of money to have the burners repaired/rewired due to the excessive workouts our cheap electric range gets.  the visions of a new range, a gas range, a gas range with a convection oven...pick one, they all danced around my head like sugar plums at christmas.  then was the realization that i would need to hire a plumber to run the gas lines, buy a not so cheap range and i'm sure i don't need to explain.  we then thought about just replacing the electric box with another and still, it was more than we wanted to spend right now.  after a quick internet search for elements and youtube how to videos, we went the cheapest route and ordered parts.

the parts arrived and my husband set about installing the new element.  it all went well and i am back in the business of baking.  with the oven out of action for two weeks, i had to use up a big bag of potatoes in a hurry.  normally, i cut the potatoes into wedges, toss them in olive oil and seasoned salt and then bake up oven fries.  but for some reason, i wanted to make a more substantial dish with them-a pommes anna or a gratin/scalloped potato dish and since my in house repair man has a thing for knishes, a knish pie was the solution to my abundance of potatoes.  the nice thing about this dish, it doesn't really require a recipe.  it can be made in any size dish and with any kind of potatoes.

while my potatoes for the filling boiled, i used my mandoline to slice some potatoes into thin rounds.  they were layered into a greased glass pie dish and brushed with some olive oil.

the boiled potatoes were mashed and mixed with caramelized onions and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and combined with some freshly grated asiago cheese.  this was carefully packed into the "crust".
a final layer of potatoes was arranged over the filling and also was brushed with some olive oil.  into the oven it went!
 an hour and 15 minutes at 400 and my pie was ready.  this pie is so versatile.  the filling could be made with any potatoes you like-how about purple potatoes?  mix in some parsnips or other root vegetables or maybe some of your favorite herbs.  want a vegan dish-leave out the cheese or for you meat lovers, add some crumbled bacon, chives and cheddar for a loaded potato pie.

potato knish pie
1 (9") pie serving 8

potato crust
6 medium baking potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
wash the potatoes and using a mandolin or similar slicer, slice the potatoes no thicker than 1/16" thick.  grease the pie dish and layer the slices in the bottom and up the sides of the dish.  brush carefully with the olive oil using a soft bristle brush.  save the remaining slices to decorate the top of the pie.

knish filling
6 cups diced potatoes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups 1/4"diced onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely shredded asiago cheese
salt and pepper to taste
preheat the oven to 400.  place the potatoes in a pot, cover them with water and gently boil until soft.  heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the onions until translucent-3-4 minutes.  add the garlic and continue to saute until a golden brown color, stir frequently to prevent burning.  drain the potatoes and using a ricer or a food mill (if you have one, otherwise just use what you have) mash the potatoes to remove the lumps.  add the onions/garlic and cheese and mix well.  season them to taste with the salt and pepper.  when finished, carefully fill the crust with the mashed potatoes and smooth it out.  use the remaining sliced potatoes to cover the top of the pie.  bake the pie until the potatoes are a nice golden brown, about 1 hour and 15 minutes for a 9" dish.  cut into wedges to serve.

this dish can be served with gravy of any kind if you have to eat your mashers with gravy.  a dollop of sour cream may also be a good garnish.  for those knish fans out there, you know that nothing else is necessary!

and as always, make one, send me the photo and see it here!

welcome back mr. kenmore!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

catching up with pie #12; butterscotch baked alaska pie

for all of you who think i may have given up on my 52 week pie challenge-think again.  yes i will admit that this is a couple days late but cut me some slack-i do not have a working oven at the moment and it is making this more of a problem solving challenge than a baking challenge.  that said, let's move on and get to this week's pie...

since i am awaiting the parts to make mr. kenmore whole again (they have shipped and i am waiting eagerly for them to arrive) i have had to change direction a bit.  this week i chose an ice cream pie with a cookie crumb crust so that i wouldn't have to use an oven.  for reasons unknown, i was fixated on butterscotch ice cream.  can't explain it; never had it before and no, i'm not pregnant.  to get started, i made a batch of butterscotch ice cream base and while i attempted to freeze it-wiltons hand crank/frozen gel filled bowl leaves much to be desired, i made the crust.  the result was a very soft ice cream that ultimately ended up being a little harder than i would have liked.  some day, i will get a real ice cream freezer and that will no longer be an issue.

as i worked on freezing/cranking the ice cream, i made a chocolate cookie crumb crust with pecans from  some homemade biscotti that were not dipped in chocolate.  when i filled the crust with the ice cream and set it in the freezer to firm up, i decided to work on the garnish and that is where i completely drew a blank.  how could i make this pie interesting and what would go with butterscotch???  a chocolate sauce would over power it and whipped cream is kind of boring.  fruit, maybe but...then i did the unthinkable-i asked my husband what he would like with it.  his response was a rapid fire marshmallow cream and so, baked alaska it is!  to keep it interesting, i made a caramel sauce with some rum in it to drizzle over it and called it a dessert.

butterscotch baked alaska pie with rum caramel sauce

serves 8-10

butterscotch ice cream
adapted from sunset magazine

1 3/4 cup half and half
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
1" piece of vanilla bean pod
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar 
6 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the topping)
1 tablespoon dark rum

place the half and half, heavy cream, vanilla pod and salt in a sauce pot and heat over medium low heat. in a skillet over medium low heat, melt the butter and then add the dark brown sugar.  stir to melt the sugar and bring the mixture up to a slow boil and continue to boil for 3-4 minutes.   carefully whisk in about half a cup of the hot cream and stir to dissolve the sugar.   pour the melted sugar into the remaining hot cream and stir to combine.  in a heat proof bowl, whisk the eggs.  carefully whisk some of the hot cream into the egg yolks to temper them.  reduce the heat to low and whisk the hot egg yolks into the cream and cook while stirring until it thickens.  this will not take too long, about 2-3 minutes.  be sure to stir constantly and to check the thickness, dip a spoon in the mixture and then drag your fingertip across the back of the spoon.  if the stripe holds it's shape, it is done.  do not boil the mixture or it will curdle.  pour the base through a strainer and chill completely.  proceed according to the ice cream freezers instructions.  

cookie crumb crust
1 (9") pie shell

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and hot
1 cup cookie crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon chopped pecans

combine the ingredients and press into a  (9") pie plate.  when the ice cream is ready, pour it into the pie shell and smooth it out.  cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight. 

meringue topping

6 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar

in a mixing bowl, whip the whites with the cream of tartar until foamy.  gradually add the sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.  spread the mixture over the top of the pie.  to make spikes, tap the meringue with the back of a spoon and pull it away quickly.  to brown the meringue, use a torch or the broiler and keep a close eye on it so it doesn't burn.   cut the pie and garnish each slice with the caramel sauce if desired.

caramel sauce
about 1 cup

1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons dark rum

place the cream and butter in a heat proof dish and microwave to heat them and melt the butter.  place the    sugar, water and corn syrup in a sauce pot with a lid and over medium heat, allow it to heat while covered.  after 2-3 minutes, remove the lid and swirl the pan to melt the sugar.  cover again and allow the steam to wash down the sides.  after a minute or two, uncover the pot and watch as it slowly begins to turn a light amber.  carefully add the warm cream, stirring to prevent it from boiling over and over low heat, cook until all of the sugar is dissolved.  remove from the heat and add the rum.  serve while still warm but not hot from the stove!

and as always, make one and send me a photo to post here.  go ahead, i dare you, double dog dare you to make this pie!!!  e-mail photos to

Monday, February 14, 2011

murphy's law ko'd pie #11

i'm mourning the loss of a true friend.  we have been through so many triumphs and tragedies together and i am completely lost without him.  poor, poor mr. kenmore; he was my only oven and he died this weekend.  we wrote two books together and in the process tested more recipes than i can recall.  for hours on end, he heated through and through and he did so much more than just baking pies and cakes.  he cooked many, many loaves of bread, meatloaves, lasagnas as well as roasting chickens, turkeys and at least one goose.  how can i go on without my mr. kenmore?  unfortunately, as far as baking goes, i can't go on until i get him replaced.
mr. kenmore's coil exploded

so what exactly happened?  it went like this:  preheat oven to 300.  as i whipped up batch #2 of my chocolate pavlova pie hearts, i saw a bright flash in the room which was followed by a sizzling noise.  i turned to see what caused the flash behind me and saw a bright light coming through the window of the oven door.  it was so bright that it reminded me of a welder's torch!  the coil had a hot spot and it blew and it was in danger of starting a fire.  with a yell of four letter words and cry for help, my husband came running with the fire extinguisher.  luckily, once we turned off the oven and unplugged it from the wall, all danger subsided and reality set in-no pie this week...we made the decision to replace rather than repair because we have already had it repaired once-a stove coil did the same thing not long ago and it also required new wiring where it had blown the connection.  we have had this oven for going on 8 years and decided that with the workout it gets from two professional chefs, we would just replace it and hope for the best.

the dessert that almost wasn't
since it was valentine's day, i decided on a few things; chocolate, hearts and red berries.  with that in mind, i set about making chocolate pavlova.  here is a close up of the unbaked meringue heart-the first batch made it through before mr. kenmore bit the dust.

the meringues after they baked were too thin and a little more dense than i hoped for.  after adjusting the recipe, i was attempting to make the second batch when it all went to hell in a hand basket.

after all, it is a recent tradition to make a dinner for valentine's day and we had three girls to serve so i made lemonade with the lemons or more accurately, pavlova with the meringues.  topped with strawberries and whipped cream, they were tasty.  i am not posting a recipe this week because i am not done with this one.  look for me to post this again as soon as i am back in production.  i wanted to have a sauce ot accompany the dessert and this was not the presentation i hoped for.

so how did i spend the afternoon that i normally use to make a pie?  with the rest of the girls:
believe it or not, we are urban beekeepers and we took advantage of the warm sunny day to go into the hive and check on the rest of our girls.

here is a close up of the activity on the front porch.  they were out foraging for nectar.  believe it or not, there are some flowers out there, mainly what most people call weeds but to us beekeepers, they are beneficial plants since they provide the only nectar at this time of year.  so, before you think about that golf course lawn that you've always wanted, think about the bees and just let the lawn go-you will feed the bees and help save a stream in the process and save yourself a whole lot of money.

look for me to be up and running asap!  i'm going out to look at stoves today!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

sourdough rye; bread baking day #37

sourdough bread has always been one of my favorites.  as a kid, my grandmother took me to san francisco and i have been in love with the flavor since then.  with a slightly tangy flavor and a thick and chewy crust, authentic san francisco sourdough bread has always been the bread of choice for me.  of course, if you do not live there, you can only savor the memory once you leave because finding the same bread outside of the bay area very rarely compares.  the naturally occurring yeast in the starter has unique qualities much like a new york pizza-nearly impossible to duplicate once you leave the region.

over the years, it has been 16 years since we left san francisco, i have experimented many times with starter but never had much success until one day when our daughter needed to do a project for the science fair at school.  i suggested natural yeasts and several different types of starters and thus began a trial and error project that produced one of the best loaves of sourdough bread we had eaten in years.  we used grapes to make the starter and for several months, the starter lived in our fridge until i neglected it and it died.  years later, i found myself working in a garden as a volunteer for the local master gardeners association and in this garden, grapes were growing.  more importantly, organic grapes that i could use to make a new starter.  using a recipe that has been credited to nancy silverton of la brea bakery, i proceeded to use those grapes to grow the best starter i have ever had and a year and a half later, it is still going strong.  the starter worked out so well that i split it and i now have a jar of white starter and a jar of rye starter.

my fascination with bread also led me to bread baking day.  each month for the last 3+ years, the followers of bread baking day pick a host who choses a theme or a specific recipe and everyone bakes bread and posts the results on blog pages worldwide.  at the end of the month, the host of the month posts a roundup of all of the breads produced by the participants.  over the last year or so, i have sporadically participated in the monthly event.  when i saw that this months theme was a bread that used a sponge or ferment, knowing that my rye starter needed a feeding, i baked a loaf of sourdough rye.

freshly mixed sponge
first i took a cup of the starter and placed it in a bowl with some water and flour.  it makes a soft dough when it is mixed and this is then allowed to sit and age to develop a sour flavor.  on the left is what the sponge looked like in the bowl and the right is a close up view-you can see the caraway seeds and the bits of the rye grains in the flour.

after 24 hours
it has been cold here and as a result, my starter grew very slowly.  so slowly that i decided to let it go an extra day.  here it is before i stirred it(on the left).  after sitting out for 24 hours, it became rather runny but it still had some structure from the plain bread flour that was mixed in.

after 48 hours                                                        
on bake day, i added some salt and bread flour and prepared to knead the dough by hand.  using a spatula, i mixed in as much flour as i could and at this point, the dough had the consistency of a soft biscuit dough.  i turned it out onto the tray and started kneading.

after 3 minutes of kneading
the dough is beginning to show some structure and it is still a bit sticky and soft.

 after 7 minutes kneading
the dough is no longer soft-it has definite structure and is just a little sticky from the friction of kneading.

after 10 minutes kneading
the dough holds its shape and is elastic.  the grains from the stone ground rye prevent it from looking smooth but it is ready to rise in an oiled bowl until about double in size.

remember what i said about the kitchen being cold? well, i do not have a gas range in my kitchen and i cannot use the heat of a pilot light to rise bread.  however, my oven does have a light in it and it is the perfect place to rise a bowl of dough.  since it is in the closed oven, there are no drafts and the light quickly heats up the space.

to give the finished bread a textured surface, i like to do the second rise in a floured basket.  it makes a unique pattern on the surface of the dough during the rising and that pattern is retained after baking.

after the rising, i turn it out onto my peel and slide it into the hot oven where it was baked on a stone.
the finished bread-ready to eat

Sourdough Bread
adapted from How to Bake by Nick Malgieri

1 cup water
1 cup starter-any kind but preferably a rye sour
1 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup stone ground rye flour
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
combine in a bowl and cover it. allow it to sit and ferment for at least 8 hours and as long as 36 hours at room temperature.

to the sponge, add:
2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups to 1-3/4 cups bread flour
mix together and turn out onto a floured surface. knead the dough by hand adding flour as needed for at least 5 minutes and up to 10 minutes. place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it and allow it to rise until doubled, at least one hour.

preheat the oven and baking stone if you have one to 500 F. at this time, place a baking pan in the bottom oven if you want to have steam during the baking process. turn the dough out of the bowl and shape it into a tight ball. place the dough, seam side up, in a floured basket or a cloth lined bowl that is also floured and allow it to rise until doubled-about an hour. turn the loaf onto a pan or a bread peel that is sprinkled with cornmeal. place the bread in the oven, toss some ice cubes on to the pan, reduce the heat to 450F and bake for 20 minutes. reduce the heat again to 350F and bake until a thermometer reads about 210F, this could take 20 minutes and as long as 35 minutes. the bread will be nicely colored. cool completely on a rack before slicing.

notes:  whole grain flours make dense breads so use them with bread flour to make them a little less work on the jaws.  the recipe is very flexible and it is possible to start the sponge with up to 1 cup of any other flour and 1 cup of bread flour.  in the past, i have used whole wheat flour, rye flour, corn meal and semolina to make tasty loaves.  once, i even made it a little sweet with brown sugar and cinnamon and stirred in some plumped raisins-now that was some awesome cinnamon raisin bread!  if you choose to bake a loaf, follow along and submit your recipe to bread baking day, the deadline is march 1.

Sourdough Rye on FoodistaSourdough Rye

Sunday, February 6, 2011

maple-pecan pie with butternut squash, #10 of 52 pies in 52 weeks

as a pastry chef, it is always fun to take something considered savory and transform it into a dessert.  coming up with an original idea is often as easy as taking a slow walk through the produce aisle in the supermarket.  during the winter months, the selection of produce can be a bit boring because the variety is not always as abundant.  as i shopped for groceries last week, i started out in the produce section since it is right by the main entrance of the store and one of the  first things that caught my eye was a display of hard winter squashes; spaghetti, acorn-golden and green and butternut.  i like butternut squash and so does the gang at home and i serve it every now and then.  we generally like it baked with a bit of brown sugar, cinnamon and a little butter.  sort of like a dessert that you can eat first and not feel guilty about.  at that moment i wondered, would it make a nice pie?  a nice filling for a pecan pie?  what about a maple pecan pie...

pick a squash that weighs at least a pound-you will lose some of the weight to the skin but should have enough for the pie.  if you chose a larger one, that means the rest is a bonus and i suggest you add a little brown sugar, cinnamon and butter to it and eat it.  to prepare the squash, cut it in half and remove the seeds.  place the squash in an oven proof dish, put a small amount of water in the bottom of the dish, cover it with foil and bake at 350 until it is soft.  the time can vary due to the size and the one i chose weighed just over two pounds and took about an hour.  remove from the oven and scoop the flesh out with a spoon.  allow it to cool before using, you will need 1 1/3 cup for the recipe so anything extra is for snacking.  when it comes to maple syrup-purity matters.  pancake syrup is not maple syrup and it won't give it the same flavor as pure maple syrup.  if you can find grade "b" syrup, it will offer a more intense flavor but grade "a" is fine and that is what i used-no time to make a trip to trader joe's for grade b and i didn't want to buy/spend for just a few ounces.

maple-pecan pie with a butternut squash filling
serves 8-10
something funny happened in the oven-the squash filling rose and the maple custard filling sank!

squash filling
1 (9") prebaked deep dish pie crust-any kind you like, i used a tart dough recipe that has sugar in it but it browned too much so i recommend sticking to pie pastry.
1 1/3 cup baked squash flesh
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) heavy cream
place the squash, sugar, maple syrup and spices in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend.  process the mixture, scraping the bowl occasionally until it is completely and evenly pureed.  add the eggs one at a time and pulse to mix.  scape the bowl, add the cream and combine well.   pour the mixture into the prebaked pie shell and smooth the top.

maple-pecan topping
1 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 cup maple syrup
preheat the oven to 350.  toast the pecans until fragrant, about 7 minutes.  in a mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar with the melted butter and the cinnamon.  whisk in the eggs, one at a time and then whisk in the maple syrup.  sprinkle the pecans evenly over the squash filling.  carefully pour the maple filling over the pecans.  ***do this slowly and hold the bowl close to the pie as you pour-the idea is to make layers and if you pour quickly or from a long distance above the surface you will force the pecans down into the squash layer.  bake until the pecan topping puffs up and is firm across the top, 40-45 minutes.
allow to cool before serving and if you like, serve it with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

a few more notes about this pie:  the squash could easily be made with any other sweet hard winter squash such as acorn or turban or some other heirloom variety as well as pumpkin.  sweet potatoes can also be used in the filling and if you prefer walnuts, go for it!

as always, if you dare to bake along, send me a photo and i will post it