Happy Pie Day

Just before baking: lots of apples and lots of crumble on top.

Just before baking: lots of apples and lots of crumble on top.

 

Hello, pie. No I won’t be making any cliched comments about the Life of Pie. Just a recipe. A classic that holds precious memories. This is the pie that always takes me home.

And, oh, by the way. January 23 is National Pie Day. Warm up your oven.

If you’re in Milwaukee and not up to baking, go have a slice at Honey Pie Cafe. Get there early.

Mom’s Apple Pie with Crumble Topping

My mother always doubled this recipe. One pie is for immediate eating and the other goes into the freezer.

1 recipe Crumb Topping (below)
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 cups thinly sliced, peeled tart cooking apples (about 2-1/4 pounds)

1. Make Crumb Topping. Set aside.

2. In a medium mixing bowl stir together 1-1/4 cups flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until pieces are pea-size. Sprinkle on 1 tablespoon of the water; gently toss with a fork. Repeat moistening dough, using 1 tablespoon of water at a time, until all dough is moistened. Form into a ball.

3. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Trim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate. Fold under extra pastry. Set aside. (I usually cover and put it in the fridge til I’m finished peeling apples and mixing the topping.)

4. Preheat oven to 375 degree F. In a large mixing bowl stir together sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add apple slices. Gently toss to combine.

5. Pile apples mixture into crust. Sprinkle Crumb Topping over apple mixture. Gently pat mixture down over apples.

6. Place pie on a baking sheet. Cover entire pie loosely with foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes more or until top is dark golden brown and apples are tender. Cool on a wire rack.

CRUMB TOPPING: Stir together 3/4 brown sugar, 1/2 cups flour, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Using a pastry blender, cut in 1/3 cup butter unitl the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 1 cup chopped nuts.

Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare as above, except after sprinkling with crumb topping, wrap entire pie tightly in a double thickness of foil. Freeze up to 3 months. To bake frozen pie, remove foil wrapping and place frozen pie on a baking sheet. Cover entire pie loosely with foil. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 35 to 40 minutes more or until top is brown and apples are tender. Cool on wire rack.



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Dark Chocolate Brownies at Midnight

One pot uber-fudgie brownies. No mixer required.

One pot uber-fudgie brownies. No mixer required.

I typically triple the recipe and put them in a half-sheet pan (18 x 13 x 1 inch) because these brownies are meant to be given away. I actually ran out of walnuts, so this photo only has about half the amount. Usually they’re fully loaded—a nut-lover’s dream. Works too if you leave ’em out.

But, remember, walnuts are high in good-for-you fats that provide protection against a host of health problems. And dark chocolate, including bittersweet, has heart-healthy antioxidants and has been found to lower blood pressure. Never mind the butter and sugar. Surely the nuts and chocolate cancel out the butter-sugar concerns. I like to think these brownies are a health food.

Walnut-Studded Dark Chocolate Brownies

1/2 cup butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
1/2 cup milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8x8x2-inch or 9x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and bittersweet chocolate. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter and chocolate are melted. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir granulated sugar and brown sugar into chocolate mixture until smooth. Add eggs, beating with spoon until well combined.

3. In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Stir flour mixture into the chocolate mixture just until combined. Stir in nuts and milk chocolate pieces (batter will be thick). Spread in prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until top is set but still soft. (A toothpick inserted in center will come out slightly gooey.) Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 16 brownies.

Tip: The secret to fudgy brownies is to make sure you don’t overcook them. For easy clean up,  line the baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Butter the foil. When brownies are baked and cooled, lift out the foil along with the slab of brownies. Remove foil and cut brownies.



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A Red Velvet Cake Hug

 

This is a guest blog from Sarah James, a writer and camper who spreads cheer through food. Check out her blog: Mountainman Approved.

 
 
 

Every grandma has a signature recipe. One dish, whether it be sweet or savory, that embodies all of the love and care a grandma could possess. It’s a dish greeted by “oohs” and “ahhs”.  Eyes close and time stops as the first bite is savored and followed by sighs of blissful satisfaction.

While these recipes are beyond mouthwatering, what makes them special is the magic that they hold. Each bite eases heartache, wipes away tears, and soothes stress. They are the ultimate comfort food.

Over the past six months I’ve experienced plenty of heartbreak. A breakup, ailing grandparents, illness and a sexual assault, but no matter what life throws at me, I always find myself in the kitchen, recreating some of my Grandma’s iconic recipes. I’ve sought comfort in Grandma’s cooking: from melt-in-your-mouth Velveteen cookies, covered in sugary Day-Glo sprinkles, to flaky crusts filled with tender apples, sweet peaches and tart cherries.

The one recipe that I keep repeating is her infamous Red Carpet Cake. Also known as a Red Velvet Cake, this tower of crimson perfection always fills my bruised heart with sugar-coated happiness.

A little butter, a splash of vanilla, a shower of sugar and a hit of cocoa, are blended together and baked into three layers of moist cake, stacked and held together with the most decadent of icings—a cooked white frosting that is absolute heaven, and mends a broken heart.

If things are rough in your life, break out the cake pans and cut yourself a slice of this magical dessert.

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One Response to “A Red Velvet Cake Hug”

  1. Jamie says:

    Lovely! Food heals so many sorrows, soothes so much pain. And food evokes emotions and connections. The last cake I ever baked with and for my brother was his favorite Red Velvet Cake so this has meaning for me as well. I will try your grandma’s recipe, Sarah.


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Peach Pie Miracle

Sarah James

This is a guest blog from Sarah James, a writer and camper who loves to spread a little cheer through food. Check out her blog: Mountainman Approved.

When I was little I would look forward to the days when Grandma would come to visit. Patiently I’d sit at the kitchen window, straining my eyes for her white car, like a child watching the cold December sky for a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh.

She was our own Mary Poppins, bursting through our front door with a flourish, creating rainbows of joy and happiness in our black and white world.  “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” she’d say with a smile, pulling me into her soft body for the perfect embrace. After hugs and hellos, Grandma settled herself in the kitchen and called my sisters and me to her side, pulling perfectly wrapped packages out of her big black bag.

To a 6-year-old, that bag was magical. I always wondered what was tucked inside—the latest Polly Pocket, a shiny new Barbie or strawberry-flavored chapstick? While these small tokens were always appreciated, what I loved most were the spices, sugar and butter she’d pull out. “We’ll save these for later,” she’d say. Hours later, Grandma would call me into the kitchen, wrap an apron around my small frame, hand me a stick of butter and say, “Let’s bake, shall we?”

We’d bake all afternoon, rolling and kneading, mixing and pouring; pulling tender biscotti, rich chocolate cakes, and warm biscuits out of the oven. But the pie! Oh, my! Grandma’s pie, was the most beloved confection of all.

With a deep, golden crust and perfectly crimped edges, Grandma made her pies look like they were from the cover of a glossy food magazine. Tart cherry, spicy apple or sweet strawberry, no matter the flavor, these pies were served with a dollop of Cool Whip and gobbled up in a flash.

Pile sliced peaches into a deep-dish shell. Mmmm.

My favorite, however, was her peach pie. Spiced with cardamom and ginger, this pie was unlike any other. I’d top mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The sweet taste of late summer and early fall was in every heavenly bite.

Fast-forward 20 years. Grandma’s magic black bag is now retired along with our cozy kitchen baking sessions. Three weeks ago Grandma underwent routine shoulder replacement surgery, only to wake-up with serious complications.

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Random Act of Pie

Every now and then, six or seven firefighters sit in a row of chairs in front of the firehouse at dusk, sometimes after dark, cooling off. I’ve driven by on my way home and there they are, side by side, sitting on folding chairs in the driveway, facing the street. Makes me smile.

And because of that, I decided to bake them a slab apple pie (also known as apple pie bars).

Picked up Jonathan and Cortland apples from the farmer’s market. Used vodka, along with water, in the dough for the first time because Cook’s Illustrated says it makes the best pie crust. It’s all about science and gluten (which makes tough crusts). When water is combined with flour, it forms gluten. Replace some of the water with vodka and you don’t get as much crust-toughening gluten. I probably won’t do it again. My original crust was easier to work with. Just sayin’.

Also tried adding apple cider to the glaze, rather than my standard milk.

Then it was time for the delivery. I stopped in just as the firefighters were finishing dinner. “Here’s the dessert I ordered,” said the guy who held the door open for me.

It made the guys smile. Which made me smile. Again.

Here’s the recipe:

Slab Apple Pie

3 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
½ cup ice water
¼ cup ice cold vodka or water

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
8 cups sliced apples
1 recipe Vanilla Glaze (below)

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A Slab Pie Kind of Summer


Last summer, I spent some time in the tiny cowboy town of Dubois, Wyoming playing in the most amazing little bakery. I taught the baker about slab pie which is baked in a 15×10-inch pan. She taught me all about sourdough bread and homemade goat cheese.
Fellow traveler, Michelle, and I (in photo) made Rhubarb-Bing Cherry slab pie because the rhubarb was ready to be picked and Michelle had just bought bing cherries at the market. The experiment was a success.
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