Nothing says summer like a fruit pie, especially cherry pie, warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. But for me there is one not so tiny problem. The 425oF oven. It’s impossible to get around that aspect of summer pies, biscuits and shortcakes. But what you can do is get in and out as quickly as possible and I have a couple secret weapons that let you trick out store bought dough, pass it off as your own, and get back to the beach. Who doesn’t love that? Face it – while home-made crust is a fabulous nod to bygone days and an awesome salute to Gramma, with our 2016 lifestyle and in the dog days of summer, it’s a crime against the calendar. I hereby give you my permission to do this fast fix.
While the crust hacks are my own, this pie recipe is inspired by one of the late Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts. This book is one of my very few must haves and has to be one of the best baking reference books ever written… at least for home-style desserts which are not only my personal favorites, but also the style at New World Grill where I did most of the baking. I am super excited to find out that it is no longer out of print! For years it was only available used, but it has been reprinted and is here for the taking! Not just pies, but cobblers, puddings, dumplings, cakes, tarts, custards, frozen treats and more. Run! Run! Run!
One of the tricky things about fruit pies is how much thickening – usually cornstarch or tapioca – is enough but not too much. There are no easy answers here. It depends on the water content of the fruit, the ripeness, pectin etc. This generally is not a problem with fall fruits like apples, quince, figs, or pears. Food52 had a recent post on “the fickle mistress” of the pie world – fresh fruit. Their suggestions are a lot more time consuming than what I suggest here, but they are also more predictable. I would NOT follow my recipe if you were trying to use super high water-content fruit like raspberries or blackberries. They are …..like 87% water, 12% seeds and 1% fruit. (Source: my vivid imagination). Not good contenders. But this would work super well with peaches and a sprinkling of blueberries. Or cherries as I suggest here. Keep it to fruit with sturdy flesh and you will be fine.
I can’t think of cherry pie without thinking of my Grandmother who was often perched on the piano bench belting out a round of Can She Make a Cherry Pie, Billy Boy Billy Boy. No?? Nobody?? We didn’t actually grow up on cherry pies as a summer staple, but my Dad loved him some bings and spending time in Michigan during the summers, they were and are plentiful. Traverse City has an annual festival dedicated to cherries with races through the orchards, pie eating and pit spitting. The airport is Cherry Capital Airport. Fly right over the Leelanau Peninsula mid-summer and you will be amazed by the vision in bright red. For this pie, I used a combo of those pretty bright red tarts, along with sweet dark cherries and whites. Whenever I get them, I pit them immediately and freeze by color in ziplocks.
Now on to the inside secrets on how to trick out a ready-made crust and pass it as your own. These tricks work best for the pre-made dough that comes rolled up and is found in the dairy case, possibly sporting a chubby white guy with a chef toque. Some of these tips will help you jazz it up and some will help rid you of a soggy bottom. Nobody likes that!
Secrets for success:
Oven should be hot; pastry should be cold. Always 425oF for crusts.
Heat a pizza stone while you preheat.
Use a glass pie plate and butter it well.
Brush egg white on the inside of the raw bottom crust once you’ve laid it in the pie plate. Back to the fridge til its time to use this.
Brush the top crust with cream or half & half. Sprinkle with sugar
Lay a sheet of foil loosely on the top for the first 15 minutes of baking to help the fruit temperature rise more quickly.
Use a foil-lined (for the mess) sheet pan (to protect the glass on the pizza stone) under the pie.
Get the best vanilla ice cream – no point in cutting corners here!
Double Crust Three Cherry Pie
Dough for a double crust pie
6-7 cups of cherries, pitted (I like a combo of sweet and tart. If frozen, do not thaw)
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon almond extract (wonderful flavor for both cherries and peaches)
Preheat the oven to 425oF with a pizza stone placed on a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Butter a 9 1/2” deep dish glass pie plate.
Rollout (or unfold) dough for the bottom crust. Fit into the pie plate, leaving any overhang. Brush the inside of the crust with enough egg white to coat. Roll out the top crust. Refrigerate both crusts until you are ready to use them.
Combine the cherries with the sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and almond extract.
Remove the top crust from the refrigerator and cut into 3/4” wide strips.
Remove the bottom crust from the refrigerator and fill with the cherries. If any sugar mixture has settled in the bowl, sprinkle evenly on top of the cherries. Brush the outside edge of the crust with the remaining egg white and lay half the strips evenly across the top in one direction. Weave the remaining strips cross-wise ”pot-holder style”. Press the ends into the bottom crust around the outer edge and trim excess. Flute or crimp the edges.
Dot the top of the pie with butter, brush the lattice with cream and sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon sugar.
Lay a piece of foil on top of the pie (not tightly wrapped and not tented). This will help the fruit heat up faster and keep the crust from starting to brown too quickly. Place the pie on a foil-lined sheet pan and set on the pizza stone. After 15 minutes, remove the top foil. Continue baking until the crust is golden and the fruit is thickened and bubbly. Keep an eye on the crust color and cover outside edge with foil cut into a ring or entirely, as needed to slow down the crust color while the fruit thickens. This will take about an additional 45 -50 minutes.
Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool thoroughly on a wire rack to thicken up completely. Cut it too early and you have a juice bomb. If you want to serve it warm, reheat it at serving time.
Serves 8 – 10
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It’s been a couple of a weeks and I’m still not sure which was cuter – the cupcakes or the girls making them. I had the rare opportunity to visit the monthly meeting of the minds of Team ChloElla J, a band of merry thirteen year-olds (Juliette is now 14) who gather together for their scheduled session to pay it forward. Palate, Passion, AND Purpose are alive and well in this latest generation. I caught them during fall break and a day off from school. But sometimes they bake on the weekends, and sometimes until very late at night…..and once in while, ”too late” at night. Based on all the energy and effort that goes into this, you would expect a feast at the end. And while there is no doubt a feast somewhere, the feast is not theirs. They don’t bake for themselves.
Chloe, Ellary and Juliette have been friends since childhood, and, earlier this year, the girls saw an opportunity at church fundraisers (that’s right – fundraisers, plural – they go to three different churches) to auction off Cupcakes of the Month for charity. They sold the year-long 6 seasonally-themed cupcake package an amazing five times between them. Each church had different goals and the monies raised support mission work, a youth mission trip and “general churchy stuff”. She had me at “churchy stuff”. Adorable, indeed!
While the leadership is clearly shared, with hosting and shopping scheduled on a rotating basis, I had my eye on Ella. Ella is not new to paying it forward. A whole two plus years ago, at the tender age of 11, she raised $5,000 for her Let’s SHAKE Parkinson’s campaign by running a 5k. At that age, I was just trying to figure out how to pass the President’s Fitness test, never mind run 5k. Sit-ups were my strong suit. Running and the softball throw, not so much.
And while I was likely still dabbling in all things Easy Bake Oven at 13 (Okay, probably not at 13, but it was the 60s and things moved a whole lot more slowly), these girls each have full professional toolkits. One has adapted a manicurist’s tackle box, replacing nail color with icing tints. Another has a Cricut Explore Air, an electronic cutting machine that precisely cuts – with embedded bluetooth for wireless cutting, of course – labels for the packaging. And the pastry tip collection between the three is unparalleled. Wowza! Impressive.
The girls FaceTime each month to get a theme. Pinterest, magazines, and baking websites provide inspiration. I connected as Thanksgiving was being designed and created. They finally settled on turkey legs, mashed potatoes with gravy and two pies – one latticed-topped fruit and one pumpkin. Each customer gets six – so two legs, two mash, two pies.
For this holiday, the cupcakes were made from scratch – a delicious apple cinnamon batter. When I arrived, they were already cooling, and the girls were making the icing – one base, tinted as needed for the berry pie, pumpkin pie, or au natural for the turkey and mashed potatoes. And the music was jamming. Much like a professional kitchen, there was little chatter. Each girl was focused on her task at hand and looked up only to ask an opinion or show off a masterpiece.
Juliette was working on mashed potatoes with a caramel gravy. Much like the real thing, the “potatoes” were piled high, a well was made, and “gravy” poured. Unlike the real thing, there was some tricky timing to get the caramel hot enough to pour well, but not so hot as to melt the “potatoes”. She poured with a deft hand.
Ella was busy creating the turkey drumsticks. She had already made a white chocolate “bone” to extend from the meaty part of the leg, and she created roast turkey “skin” by sprinkling with graham cracker crumbs.
That left Chloe to tackle the pies. She needed fondant for the lattice crust and the pumpkin pie trim. And of course, she makes her own – stretching and rolling a marshmallow fondant to keep the sugar pliable, yielding a dough-like consistency.
Once the fondant is rolled, Chloe cuts it in thin strips and weaves it together just like a lattice topped pie. But no further baking required – she has used her marshmallow fondant. For the pumpkin pie, she uses two cutters – the larger one fluted and one slightly smaller that is not. It was impressive to see that each girl had her own technique to fulfill her vision. Crumbs, fondant, caramel: each used in a unique way.
It’s clear they enjoy what they are doing. And they have learned a lot. They have gone from basic to “pretty cool”. I’ll add a “very cool” of my own. Watching the camaraderie and flashes of pure joy was inspiring. Knowing that they are supporting their community is heart-melting. You can’t help but know for sure that despite their small town experience, they have a global perspective. They expand their own horizons every time they turn on the oven.
And when they are done, they dance.
Wishing these girls, their families, and you a joyous and food-filled Thanksgiving.
From the ChloElla J portfolio – now taking orders!
August: Teddies at the Beach; Burgers on the Grill for “Uncle Dan’s” birthday; October: Six Spooky Designs
September: Back to School Apple for the Teacher; Custom order: Minions; and my personal favorite for a youth group outing: S’mores with tootsie roll logs and hard candy flames.
So before the pumpkin cheesecake, I have a little story – we’ve had a teency tech glitch (I was no where near that) that apparently has kept about half of you from receiving these posts for the last month or so. No wonder you’re freaking. (Wink. Smile.) However, I have a not-so-secret vault where you can find all the fabulous fabrications you’ve missed – it’s safe and sound, right where I left them on my website – katykeck.com/blog. Whew! And thank you for sticking with me, even though I appear to be the laziest blogger EVER, seemingly not posting for weeks. And now back to the pumpkin patch…………
A recent trip “up north”, as the Michiganders call it, involved some massive pumpkin finds. A couple were the size of Volvos and claimed to weigh more than 1400 pounds. Is there a scale for that? My sister said they looked like Jabba the Hutt – I think she’s right. That extreme brush with fall produce reminded me of this Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake that I hadn’t made in years. It’s a carefully (not really) guarded secret recipe from the early days of New World Grill. When we first opened, with a kitchen only slightly larger than the one I had shared in Paris, there were way too many kinks to work out in the work flow to do desserts. So they were primarily outsourced. In house, we had a signature grilled fruit (genius – so far ahead of its time that the Zagat guide said “some things shouldn’t be grilled”. Duh. Really?), but the rest came from elsewhere. There was no reason on earth not to buy Ciao Bella gelato – they had every flavor imaginable and they custom produced whatever you needed. The chocolate ganache cake, while not the stuff of legends, was very good and had the shiniest sheen on top. A weency bit too shiny?? Perhaps. Because Eric Asamov, CSI-slash-Restaurant Critic at the NY Times, received a slice with a thumb print on it. Total oops, but did he have to include that in his otherwise glowing review? I did what I had to – made a million copies of the review (the NY Times, people!!!!) and got busy with an ink pad, covering every press kit with inky thumbprints.
Our first fall at New World, the good folks at Jack Daniels offered the James Beard Foundation a $10,000 gift if 200 chefs featured their product on our menus throughout November. I created this recipe using Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey, a twice-filtered premium bottling. The Gentleman Jack Pumpkin Cheesecake was such a hit and so clearly made in-house that we were no longer able to get away with any commercially produced desserts (other than Ciao Bella). I got to add pastry chef to my ever-growing job description. While I feel a special loyalty to the Gentleman, you can also try Jack Daniels or play around with bourbons (pecans in the crust) or dark rum (ginger in the filling), if the mood strikes. Dark rum would be a nice Island Twist with the ginger.
Now that I was officially a pastry chef (in between being a hostess, plumber, and expediter), I learned an awful lot about making cheesecake. We were a boutique (read: frickin small) venue, but I still cranked out 500 or more cheesecakes a year. I developed about a dozen different flavors which for me was the easy part. The part that took me a while to master was the equipment and techniques. Cracks and sinkholes were Public Enemy Number One. If you want to be serious about this you need a heavy duty, coated springform pan. Flimsy ones leak. Springs break. And aluminum might react with your filling flavor. Any good cooking supply store will carry them – and they are closer to $20 than $6, but they should last a very long time, especially if you don’t make 500 cheesecakes a year. Analon, Calphalon, and Kaiser make sturdy pans. The highest priority of a springform is being leak-proof.
Cheesecakes are best baked in a water bath, or bain marie. French for Mary’s Bath, the bain marie’s original namesake is likely an ancient alchemist named Mary, though some sources credit the Virgin Mary who was also extremely well-known for her cheesecakes. (Never.) Cheesecakes, like alchemy, benefit from gradual temperature changes. Try to rush this recipe and you will definitely get cracks. While the prep time is minimal, it takes about 5 hours of planning and tempering the ingredients and cake. Your best results will come with room-temperature cream cheese and then slowly heating the cake in the oven in a water bath, followed by slow cooling – first in the bath in the turned off oven, then out of the bath on the counter. Because I was doing this professionally, I rued cracks in the cake, but fear not – I have topped this with a sour cream layer which will cover all cracks. You’re welcome.
Another culprit of cheesecake deformity – which in case you have forgotten DOES NOT AFFECT HOW DELICIOUS THIS IS – is sinking. The evildoer behind the dreaded sink is air – first a pretty little puff, then a giant cave in. My tip for avoiding sinking middles is to incorporate as little air as possible – hence the use of a food processor, not a standmixer. And you will note that I only pulse in the eggs at the very end with just a few pulses. (Eggs are another culprit that might fluff up the cake – don’t let them.) And lastly, there is the pan tapping at the end – getting rid of any excess air.
The recipe below is sure to boost your hostess cred and – bonus – you now have a template for cheesecake production. I will share more flavors in the months to come. But for now…….
Gentleman Jack Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup melted butter
15 ounce can pumpkin puree
24 oz cream cheese, room temperature
5 ounces Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream
2 Tablespoons Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine flour, brown sugar, pecans, and melted butter and mix until crumbs adhere. Press into a 9 or 10″ sturdy nonstick springform pan and bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Remove and cool. Wrap pan in heavy duty foil. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
In food processor, puree pumpkin until smooth. Add cream cheese and puree until smooth. Add Gentleman Jack, sugar, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and pulse until mixed. Add eggs and pulse 2 – 3 times only until just combined. Do not overprocess.
Pour filling into cooled crust and tap pan lightly. Place in a roasting pan and fill with hot water, halfway up the side of the springform. Bake for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours or until set. It may still be a bit wobbly in the center but it will firm up as it cools.
Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in water bath in oven for 30 minutes more. Remove roasting pan from oven, and carefully remove springform from water. Remove foil and cool on wire rack until room temperature. Refrigerate until fully chilled.
Combine sour cream, Gentleman Jack, and powdered sugar and spread on top of cheesecake. Refrigerate until set.
Gently run a knife or thin metal spatula around inside edge of pan. When cheesecake has released, open outer pan ring and remove.
A-comfy-cozy-warm-and-toasty-sit-by-the fire-and-sip-port-dessert. Cutting the butter that normally makes a command performance in the topping, this dessert weighs in at only 117 calories and 2 grams of fat. Ah, but it feels like so much more.
6 Amaretti Italian cookies, coarsely crumbled
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 fresh Chilean Nectarines, halved, pits removed
1/2 cup fresh Chilean Blueberries
2 fresh Chilean Plums, halved, pits removed
2 Tablespoons port
1 Tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup non-fat Greek Yogurt
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Prepare 4 – 4” (1 1/2 cup) ramekins by coating the sides with a thin layer of butter.
Mix the crushed cookies, brown sugar and salt together in small mixing bowl.
Arrange 1/2 nectarines, cut side up in each of the four prepared ramekins. Divide the blueberries among the dishes. Place the 1/2 plums, cut side down, pushing the nectarines at an angle, so they overlap slightly. Drizzle each with the port. Sprinkle crumble on top and divide nuts among the ramekins.
Place ramekins on a sheet pan, and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, checking the topping after about 15 minutes. Place a small square of foil over the ramekin, if the topping is starting to darken. Fruit should be tender and juicy when pierced.