Neighborly Love

As soon as Andy and I bought our house, we knew we’d won the neighbor lottery. We closed on the house on a June afternoon, and, like any newly-minted homeowners, went right over to see our new place. Duane and Joyce came over to introduce themselves and gave us a quart of fresh-picked strawberries from their garden. Welcome to the neighborhood, indeed.

Since then, they’ve shared lots of fresh produce with us – everything from tomatoes and zucchini to butternut squash and the world’s largest cabbage. They spend lots of time cultivating their garden, and it shows. The veggies are in neat rows, without a weed in sight. The tomato plants are twice the size of ours. The lettuce plants don’t even have dirt on their leaves! (They put a ground cover over the dirt next to the lettuce, so the rain doesn’t splash mud on the plants. So smart.) It’s as close to perfect as a garden can get. Maybe someday ours will look half as good.

One day early on, Joyce asked us if we liked rhubarb. I told her that I thought we did, and she gave us a plate of rhubarb squares to try. If we liked them, she said we could have some rhubarb from their flourishing rhubarb plant. We ate the squares in record time, so I made sure to get the recipe along with some rhubarb from Joyce.

We now have our own rhubarb plants (which have started to take over the entire garden), and this is the first rhubarb dish I make each spring. You use the same mixture for both the crumb topping and the bottom crust, which saves time AND dishes. It’s a flexible recipe too, letting you swap rhubarb for strawberries or apples (or a combination if you choose), but, nine times out of 10, I’ll make the rhubarb version. And every time we eat it, I’m so glad we live where we do. 🙂

rhubarb squares

Rhubarb Squares

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal and brown sugar. Pour the melted butter over the top of the flour mixture and mix until combined. (It will be crumblier and looser than a batter – more like a pie dough.)  Reserve one cup of the mixture for the topping.

Press the remaining mixture in the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking pan. Set aside while you prepare the filling.

Whisk the sugar, water and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat until mixture thickens and becomes clear. Stir in vanilla and then add chopped rhubarb. Pour filling over the crust in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture over the top of the filling.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing.

From my neighbor, Joyce

Click here for a printable version.

Frozen Treats, Upgraded

When I was a kid, popsicles were pretty much just sugar and food coloring in a plastic sleeve. You know, the kind where you cut off the top of the wrapper and suck the ice out of the wrapper, turning your tongue a crazy shade of purple or green? My mom would make us eat them outside because, inevitably, someone (my brother, I’m sure) would drop part of the popsicle all over the ground. Ahh, memories…

While our ice cream maker gets a workout regardless of the weather, I seem to forget about popsicles until summer rolls around. Which is a shame, especially when you consider how easy they are to make and how fast they’re ready to eat. Let’s be honest, patience has never been my greatest asset.

I’ve also discovered that popsicles can be so much more than frozen juice. You can use them as a vehicle for frozen versions of other desserts. I mean, key lime pie popsicles that mix up in minutes and are ready in just a few hours? That’s the perfect summer food, if you ask me.

I almost never have key limes on hand, so I used regular limes for the juice and zest, and things turned out just fine. I also didn’t measure the graham crackers, as three cups of crumbs sounded like a lot for 10 popsicles. Instead, I simply crushed a few crackers at a time, rolled the popsicles in the crumbs and crushed more as needed.

The final result was cool and refreshing, with the perfect combination of tart and sweet. Of course, they didn’t last long at our house, which probably means we’re due for another batch. 🙂

keylimepopsicles

Key Lime Pie Popsicles

3/4 cup of fresh lime juice, plus two teaspoons lime zest (I find that one lime yields enough zest, but it usually takes 4-5 limes for the juice, depending on how juicy they are.)
1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of half-and-half
pinch of salt
crushed graham crackers for rolling (I used about 4 large crackers.)

In a large bowl (or a 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup for easy pouring later), combine the lime juice and zest. Pour in the half-and-half and sweetened condensed milk. Add a pinch of salt and then whisk together until the mixture is thoroughly combined.

Evenly divide the mixture among your popsicle molds.* Insert sticks into the mixture and freeze until frozen solid. Place the graham cracker crumbs in a shallow dish.

To remove the popsicles, dip the mold in lukewarm water for a few seconds and then gently pull from the mold.

After removing from the popsicles from the mold, lay each one in the graham cracker crumbs, pressing each side down into the crumbs to make sure they stick to the popsicle. Place popsicles on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper and return them to the freezer. When the popsicles are completely solid again, place them in a zip-top bag for storage.

As seen on Smitten Kitchen,  originally from Paletas by Fanny Gerson

*I own this popsicle mold, and this particular recipe fills the entire thing, yielding 10 popsicles.

Click here for a printable version.

Another Successful Experiment!

When I started thinking about this ice cream, I was pretty sure that it would either be really odd or really good. I like the chai flavor, and I have yet to meet a chai latte that I didn’t enjoy, but still. I’d rather not waste perfectly good eggs and cream on sub-par ice cream. Especially when I could make chocolate ice cream instead.

But, like most of my crazy ideas, I couldn’t let it go. (I have no idea where my mind wanders to come up with this stuff. I was probably drinking chai at my desk one day.) I started Googling, which made me doubt my idea even more. Some recipes had a mile-long list of ingredients, including things that have never entered my kitchen. Star anise? Cardamom pods? I’m sure that creates a more authentic chai flavor, but I was looking for something a little less involved.

This recipe looked promising, and I was intrigued by the use of honey instead of sugar. I decided to add a vanilla bean to the custard, since vanilla and chai just go together in my mind. Plus, then you get all those fun flecks of vanilla bean in the ice cream.

I opted to steep the tea bags for much longer than the recipe said to. I figured a stronger flavor was better than a faint, barely-there hint of spice. It tasted just like a chai latte, which meant that, like most desserts at our house, it was short-lived. 🙂

VanillaChaiIceCream

Vanilla Chai Ice Cream

2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream, divided
3/4 cup honey
pinch of salt
4 chai tea bags
1 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, one cup of cream, honey and salt. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the saucepan. Drop the vanilla bean pod into the pan and add the tea bags. (I tied them together for easy removal later.) Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Once the honey and salt have dissolved, turn the burner off and let the mixture steep for 15 minutes to a hour, depending on how strong you like your chai. (I tasted the milk / chai mixture after about 15 minutes and then decided to let it go the full hour.) Remove the tea bags, squeezing any extra cream mixture out into the saucepan. Rewarm the chai mixture over medium heat.

Meanwhile, pour the remaining cup of cream into a large bowl (or your favorite Pyrex measuring cup) and set a fine mesh strainer over the top of the bowl.

In a liquid measuring cup, whisk the egg yolks together. Slowly pour about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of the warm chai mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly to temper the eggs.

Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.

Pour the custard through the strainer and into the bowl of cream. Discard the vanilla bean pod. Add the vanilla extract and then stir the custard and cream together. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, or overnight.

Churn the ice cream in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Remove the ice cream from the ice cream maker and place in a freezer-safe container. Freeze until firm.

Barely adapted from Coffee and Quinoa, who adapted it from Cookie + Kate

Click here for a printable version.

Spring Cleaning, Blue Plate Style

At our house, spring means that it’s time to clean out the freezer. I don’t mean “clean” in the “get a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush” sense, but in the “eat up last year’s produce to make room for this summer’s bounty” sense. When I first fill the freezer with garden-fresh goodness, I tend to be a little stingy overprotective cautious about using my frozen fruits and veggies. After all, it’s a lot of work to process / put up produce! I don’t want an empty freezer by Christmas. (Andy does not understand my logic.”Didn’t we pick this stuff so we could eat it?” Yes, of course. But not all at once!)

By the time March and April roll around though, I am all about the frozen fruit. Strawberries in my lunch? Every day! Blueberries in my oatmeal? Yes please, and can you drizzle some maple syrup on top? Cherry pie with crumb topping? Don’t mind if I do! (Of course, this all backfiring, as Andy just informed me that we’re down to two packages of cherries and one package of strawberries. And June is still a long ways away. Eeek!) 

Back when I was planning my Easter dinner, I knew I wanted an easy dessert. I figured I’d have my hands full enough with the main course. A quick survey of the freezer, fridge and pantry confirmed that I had everything on hand for this cake. Plus, it’s made in a bundt pan, which gives you maximum impact for minimum effort. Win-win!

I realize that cranberries are technically a fall crop, but fresh, tart flavor says spring to me, especially when it’s paired with lemon. So, if you had the foresight to throw fresh cranberries in your freezer last fall, then you’re set. And then you’ll have some room for the rhubarb that’s coming soon. 🙂

CranberryLemonCake

Cranberry Lemon Cake

For the cake:
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks or 6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for the pan
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
zest and juice of 2 lemons, divided
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (reserved from above lemons)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Generously butter a bundt pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar in an even layer over the bottom of the bundt pan and then spread the cranberries in an even layer on top of the sugar. Set aside.

In  medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Next, combine the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and zest together until the sugar is fragrant. Add the 12 tablespoons of butter to the lemon sugar and beat on medium-high until the mixture is light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl in between.

Pour the buttermilk into a measuring cup and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Turn the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix just until the flour is incorporated into the batter.

Spread the batter in an even layer on top of the cranberries. Bake until the cake tests done with a toothpick and is golden brown on top and just set, about 50-55 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Place a serving plate over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the plate. Allow it to cool completely.

To make the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar and 1-1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and allow the glaze to set before slicing and serving.

Leftover cake can be stored at room temperature, with the cut ends covered in plastic wrap. (Ours was gone in under 48 hours, so I am not sure how long it keeps!)

As seen on Annie’s Eats, originally from Williams Sonoma

Click here for a printable version.

My Kind of Cake

I know I said I’d try to keep things balanced around here, but it’s birthday month, which means that it’s all about the chocolate. Being the birthday girl AND the baker means that you get what you want for a birthday treat. 😀

For as long as I can remember, chocolate (cake or pie) has been my birthday go-to. So, when this recipe popped up in my Facebook feed, I knew that I had to try it. I’m sure glad I did!

I was surprised to discover that this recipe is very similar to my standard chocolate cake recipe. It uses buttermilk and coffee instead of regular milk and hot water. I also really liked the fact that Sally provided the weights for the ingredients, so I’m including them as well. It’s SO much easier to weigh out ingredients than it is to scoop with a measuring cup. And it’s more accurate. And there’s fewer dishes to wash. I did use the volume measurements for the liquid ingredients, since I figure there’s less room for error there. Plus, my scale only goes from ounces to grams, not milliliters. (Don’t worry, I’m including the volume measurements too, but seriously. Go buy a scale.)

The cake was fudgy and super-chocolately. It had a great texture (not too dense, but not so delicate that it would fall apart), and it stayed nice and moist from the day that I baked it (Thursday morning) until the last crumb was gone (Monday night). Hmm. Guess that means we need another cake around here. After all, there’s still a couple weeks left in birthday month!

ChocolateChocolateCake
It’s birthday season around here. Sprinkles are mandatory.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Frosting 

For the cake:
220 grams (1-3/4 cup) AP flour
350 grams (1-3/4 cup) sugar
65 grams (3/4 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
240 milliliters (1 cup) buttermilk
120 milliliters (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
240 milliliters (1 cup) hot coffee

For the frosting:
290 grams (or 1 1/4 cups or 2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
360 –  480 grams (3-4 cups) powdered sugar
65 grams (3/4 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
45-75 milliliters (3-5 tablespoons) heavy cream or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Sprinkles, for decoration

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 9″ cake pans and then line the pans with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla until well-combined. Slowly add in the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Mix in the coffee. The batter will be very thin.

Evenly divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake until cakes test done with a toothpick, between 25-30 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Flip the cakes out of the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Turn the mixer off and add the cocoa powder and 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to the bowl. Turn the mixer on to low and mix until the cocoa powder and sugar are absorbed by the butter. Increase the mixer speed to medium and add the vanilla, half-and-half and salt. Increase the speed to high and beat the frosting for another 1-2 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of powdered sugar if you’d like a stiffer frosting.

To assemble the cake, place the bottom layer on a cake stand (or serving plate, or cardboard cake round). Spread a layer of frosting on top of the cake, then place the second cake layer on top of the frosting. For a smooth finish, cover the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting and then place the cake in the refrigerator. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the refrigerator and frost with the rest of the frosting. Garnish with sprinkles as desired.

Store cake covered, at room temperature, for up to 4 days.

From Sally’s Baking Addiction, originally adapted from Ina Garten

Click here for a printable version.

Aiming to Please

As someone who shows love through food, I do my best to keep track of people’s likes and dislikes. If I’m making food for you, I want you to love it. (No pressure, Andy.) I know not everything can be a home run, and sometimes, I make things that I know only I’ll enjoy, but those times are few and far between.

Of course, making something that pleases everyone is harder than it should be. Especially when it comes to dessert. In my group of friends, we have a chocoholic who dislikes caramel and coffee, a custards-and-creme-brulee fan, two coffee-and-vanilla-bean addicts, and me, the equal-opportunity-dessert lover (as long as you don’t muck things up with coconut). You can’t even create a Venn diagram of desserts that will please us all. (Or, maybe you can, but you’ll end up with three separate circles.) 

So, when I invited a relatively new friend over for dinner, I immediately started thinking about what I should make for dessert. Not dinner, dessert. (I have a go-to dinner option for first-time guests. Unless you tell me that you don’t eat chicken, cheese, or tomatoes. But then we might have a hard time being friends. Kidding. Mostly.) Dessert though, that’s another story. There are just so many options!

I decided that I couldn’t lose with a chocolate-cheesecake combination, even if our dinner guests weren’t hardcore chocoholics. As my friend Jackie (the creme brulee fan) likes to say, “Chocolate dessert is better than no dessert.” I thought about making black-bottom cupcakes, but the idea of scooping out individual cupcakes just didn’t appeal to me that night. So, I turned to one of my favorite recipe sources, and lo and behold, Deb came through for me. Again. (No one’s surprised by this anymore, right?) 

These were super easy, although I definitely recommend using a hand or stand mixer for the cheesecake filling, rather than a whisk. Or maybe my arms just aren’t strong enough to whisk cream cheese into a smooth batter. (That probably means I should keep practicing, right?) I don’t think my cheesecake swirled quite as nicely as Deb’s, but no one complained. 😉

These were really, really good. We served them straight from the fridge, and I would say that they’re definitely best cold. The brownie layer is thick and fudge-like, and the cheesecake layer is the perfect contrast to the rich brownies. My only complaint? It only makes a 8″ pan, so we ran out of brownies way too soon.

cheesecake swirl brownies

Cheesecake-Swirled Brownies

For the brownie batter:
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2/3 cup AP flour

For the cheesecake swirl:
8 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

For the topping:
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° and make sure the rack is in the middle position. Butter a 8″ square baking pan. If you’d like to be able to lift your brownies out of the pan (for easy / pretty cutting / serving), I’d recommend lining the baking pan with parchment paper to create a “sling.” (I didn’t do this, but probably will next time.)

Melt the butter and the chocolate in a 3-quart saucepan over low heat, whisking often, until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and whisk in the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt until everything is well-combined. Stir in the flour until just combined and spread it in the prepared baking pan.

Next, make the cheesecake swirl. In a medium bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk and vanilla, until smooth. Spread / dollop the cheesecake mixture over the brownie base and use a butter knife to marble / swirl the batters together. Sprinkle the top of the brownies with chocolate chips.

Bake the brownies until the center is set and the edges are slightly puffed, between 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely for easiest cutting / serving.

From Smitten Kitchen, originally adapted from Gourmet

Click here for a printable version.

Not Your Average Ice Cream

Are you ready for this? I went from being the girl who wasn’t into beer at all to being the girl who puts stout in her ice cream. And you thought beer cookies were weird… 😉

On one hand, I figured this was going to be good. After all, we’re talking about ice cream here. On the other hand, however, I was a little skeptical, especially since the recipe only had two cups of cream and 12 ounces of beer. Most of my other ice cream recipes have milk or half and half in addition to the cream, so I was afraid that I would end up with a tiny amount of ice cream. The beer must make up for the missing milk, since the final product filled my standard “ice cream” Pyrex container.

I loved the fact that, in spite of using six egg yolks, this recipe didn’t make you temper the eggs. Instead, you whisk the eggs, sugar and salt together and then cook them with the cream until thick and custard-like. Then, you simply pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any egg pieces. Talk about a time-saver!

The recipe suggested two beers, neither of which matched up with what was in my fridge, but after consulting  Arron (the beer expert in my group of friends), I decided to use my last bottle of Stone Arch Vanilla Stout. (Of course, now that I’m looking it up online, I see that it’s only 4.7% ABV, and the recipe called for something between 8 and 11 percent. Whoops. It worked anyway.) The original recipe and article from America’s Test Kitchen has some good information about what beers to use, in case you can’t find Stone Arch vanilla stout. Most importantly, it said not to use anything too hoppy, as they will make the ice cream bitter.

Seriously, though, this was some good ice cream. It was smooth and creamy, and it didn’t melt nearly as fast as Andy’s favorite vanilla bean ice cream. The beer flavor wasn’t overpowering, and its coffee, vanilla and caramel undertones came through nicely. It went really well with a serving of hot fudge pudding cake (from Cook It In Cast Iron), and I really want to make another batch, just so I can sandwich it between some cookies.

BeerIceCream

Beer Ice Cream

12 ounces 8-11% ABV beer (not an IPA!) 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream

In a large saucepan, bring 5 ounces of the beer to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the beer is reduced to about half its original volume, lowering the heat as necessary to keep the foam level to a minimum.

Remove the beer from the heat and add the remaining 7 ounces of beer and vanilla to the mixture. Pour the beer-vanilla mixture into a bowl or Pyrex measuring cup and set aside.

In the now-empty saucepan, whisk together the sugar, salt and egg yolks. Whisk in the cream and cook the mixture over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it is thick and coats the back of a metal spoon (about 180° on an instant-read thermometer). Immediately remove it from the heat.

Place a fine-mesh strainer over an empty bowl (or a 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup) and pour the custard through the strainer. Whisk the beer mixture into the custard. Cover the ice cream base and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. (Both ATK and Bridget said to place the bowl full of custard over an ice water bath to cool the mixture before placing it in the fridge. I skipped this step, mostly because I’m lazy like that.)

Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Remove the ice cream from the ice cream maker and place in a freezer-safe container. Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours.

Rumor has it that this keeps in the freezer for 5 days. I couldn’t tell you, since we finished ours in one evening.

From The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who adapted it from America’s Test Kitchen

Click here for a printable version.

Making Up With Pie

Last weekend, pie and I got into a fight. I spent most of Saturday making two lemon meringue pies, and by the end of the day, pie crust and I were not on speaking terms. I don’t know what it is about blind-baked crusts, but they do not bring out the best in me. Andy’s been known to flee the kitchen (or even the house) when I’m fighting with pie crust. Smart man.

In my search for the perfect lemon meringue pie, I stumbled upon something that sounded much better: Deep-Dish Rhubarb Cherry Berry pie. Why was I fighting with blind baked crusts and tempering eggs? I had all the necessary fruit in my freezer! I should bake this instead!

Well, I had to  make the lemon pie to share with our Sunday school class, but that didn’t keep me from thinking about the pie that should have been. And when you get stuck on a recipe, there’s really only one thing you can do: BAKE THE DANG PIE. So I went home and did just that, and it ended up being everything I’d hoped it would be.

It was the perfect combination of sweet and tart from the rhubarb, cherries and blueberries. The almond extract melded perfectly with the fruit, and (wonder of wonders) the filling thickened up perfectly. I had been a little concerned that we’d end up with a pie that was too runny, as the cherries released a LOT of juice as they sat in the sugar.

I had the pie crust all rolled out and ready to go when I realized that the recipe wanted me to brush it with a beaten egg white to help keep the crust from getting soggy. Well, I HATE recipes that just call for part of an egg. What was I supposed to do with the yolk? We’d already eaten lunch, and breakfast for dinner wasn’t on the menu anytime soon. (Ironically enough, lunch had been scrambled eggs. The perfect solution for an extra yolk. GRRR.) So I skipped the whole “brush with beaten egg white” step, and you know what? We didn’t have a soggy crust!

And it was easy, as far as pies go. Yes, a lattice top looks fancy, but it doesn’t take that much more time than a regular double-crust pie. And yes, I made my own pie dough, but that takes all of 15 minutes with the pastry blender. Really, as long as you’re not blind-baking a crust, pies are fairly simple.

So there you have it. Pie and I are friends again. For now. Or at least until Andy requests a chocolate pie. 😉

Cherry Rhubarb Berry Pie
OK, not the greatest picture. We were on our way out the door (with the pie), and it was getting dark. 

Deep-Dish Rhubarb Cherry Berry Pie

Pie dough for a double-crust pie (I like Smitten Kitchen’s All Butter, Really Flaky Crust.)
1 generous pint of sour cherries, thawed and drained if frozen (Sweet cherries or strawberries can be substituted if you weren’t lucky enough to put some Door County cherries in your freezer last summer.)
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, thawed and drained if frozen
1 generous pint of blueberries
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375°. Place an empty baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch any drips.

In a large bowl, toss the cherries with 1/2 cup of sugar. Set aside while you prepare the pie crust.

Divide the pie dough into two slightly even pieces. On a floured surface, roll the larger piece out into a circle large enough for a 9″ deep dish pie pan. Gently fold the dough into quarters and transfer it to the pie pan. Unfold the dough and press it into the pie pan. Trim the edges of the dough, leaving a small (1/2″ – 3/4″) overhang.

Roll the second piece of dough out into a 10″ circle. Using a knife (or pastry wheel if you’re fancy), cut the circle into 3/4″-wide strips.

Add the rhubarb, blueberries and almond extract to the cherry-sugar mixture. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining cup of sugar, cornstarch, salt and cinnamon. Sprinkle the sugar-cornstarch-salt-cinnamon mixture over the fruit and gently stir to combine.

Pour the fruit mixture into the prepared pie shell. Place half of the lattice strips across the pie, parallel to each other, at about 1/2″ intervals. One at a time, place the remaining strips across the pie in the opposite direction, lifting the other strips to “weave” the strips together in a lattice pattern. Press the ends of the strips into the bottom crust and fold the edges of the bottom crust over the edge of the pie plate and crimp the edges. Sprinkle the lattice strips with sugar.

Place a large piece of foil over the top of the pie and place the pie in the oven. Bake the pie for 20 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake the pie until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling.  (The book says this will take 30-40 additional minutes; mine took nearly an hour.) If the edges of the crust begin to brown too quickly, cover them with pieces of aluminum foil. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with vanilla ice cream if you have it.

Barely adapted from Classic Home Desserts

Click here for a printable version.

Beer Cookies?

It took a long time for me to come around to beer. I want whatever I’m eating or drinking to taste good, and my early experiences with beer didn’t do anything to convince me that it was worth the calories. I’ll take an extra-dark, fudgy brownie instead.

However, I’m not opposed to trying new things, so when a friend offered me a sip of a craft beer, I gave it a try. And, to my surprise, I liked it. So much for just being a wine and margarita girl. 😉

Of course, discovering a new food (or drink) love opens up a whole world of new recipes, so when I saw this recipe come through my RSS reader, I was immediately intrigued. Cookies? Beer? Could this be good? Unfortunately, my “recipes to try” list grows faster than I can keep up with, so the recipe got lost in the clutter for two years a while.

I finally got around to trying them this past weekend, and wow. They were even better than I thought they’d be. In fact, Andy said they were as good as chocolate chip cookies, which is the pinnacle of greatness in his mind. We shared them with Arron and Karen, and they liked them just as much as we did. They’re perfectly soft and chewy, which is a non-negotiable for me.

I’m not a craft beer expert by any means, so I looked for something that said “brown ale” on the label, and Fat Squirrel fit the bill. And after finishing the bottle (you know, so it wouldn’t go to waste), I’m glad I picked it. At first, the flavor of the ale was very subtle in the batter, but the longer the batter sat in the fridge, the more pronounced it became. It’s not overpowering, but it definitely adds something special to the cookie. I think they’d be a great base for an ice cream sandwich too.

I doubled the recipe, since Erin said that I’d only get 12 cookies out of a single batch. I must have made them smaller than she did, since I had significantly more than 24 cookies when I was done. I’m including the double batch below, because more cookies are always better. Especially when they’re this good.

The real name of the recipe was “Chewy Brown Sugar and Brown Ale” cookies, but I shortened it to “Brown Sugar and Ale” cookies for the blog. Of course, that’s still a relatively long name for a cookie, so we’re just calling them “beer cookies.” Move over, milk and cookies; beer and cookies are here to stay. 🙂

BeerCookies

Brown Sugar & Ale Cookies

3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup brown ale
2 1/2 cups AP flour
2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
granulated sugar, for rolling

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar. When the butter and sugar are well combined, add the egg yolks and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy, then add the beer. Beat until well combined.

In a separate bowl (I used my 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup for this step, for easy pouring), whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cornstarch and cinnamon.

Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix until just combined. (Start with the mixer on low for this step. Trust me.)

Use a cookie scoop to roll the dough into balls about 1 1/2″ in diameter, or slightly smaller than a golf ball. Roll the cookie dough balls in the granulated sugar and then place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill the dough in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes before baking.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the chilled dough balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, being sure to leave plenty of space between the cookies, as they spread a lot during baking. (I was able to fit 8 cookies on a single large cookie sheet.)

Bake for 14 minutes, or until the edges start to turn golden brown. Remove the sheet from the oven and slide the parchment paper off of the cookie sheet and on to a wire rack. Let the cookies cool completely before removing them from the parchment paper.

Store in an airtight container.

As seen on Erin’s Food Files, originally adapted from the Beeroness

Notes:
Erin says that you can bake the cookies at a higher temperature for a shorter time, which will result in a puffier cookie. I didn’t try this, as we loved the cookies with the 325 degree/14 minute bake.

I rolled about half of the dough into balls and then froze them (as described above), but we decided to go cross-country skiing halfway into my cookie baking project, so I put the rest of the dough in the fridge to shape/roll when we returned. I didn’t notice a difference in the cookies that were rolled then chilled versus chilled then rolled, so I think it’s safe to say that you could do whatever works best for you.

Click here for a printable version.

Buckeye Pie!

It’s no secret that I love chocolate and peanut butter. (All good Ohio girls do, right? There’s a reason we’re Buckeyes, after all!) It’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet, which means that I cannot be trusted around a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups. Or peanut butter M&Ms. Or these cookies. Apparently, I’m kind of addicted. Not that it’s a problem. I can stop whenever I want. (Yeah, right.) 

It’s not surprising then, that this pie caught my attention right away. I was flipping through my “Classic Home Desserts” cookbook last weekend, looking for an easy dessert that I could put together for our dinner and game night some of our favorite people. (Yes, we spend the weekends playing board games with friends. Yes, we might be nerds, and yes, we’re OK with that.) 🙂 Andy suggested vanilla bean ice cream, but I wanted something less, well, vanilla. Plus, with only three hours of prep time, I knew ice cream wouldn’t be ready in time. This pie, on the other hand, could spend a hour in the freezer, get topped with a chocolate ganache and then hang out in the refrigerator until dessert. Perfect!

This recipe called for buttering the pie pan before putting the graham cracker mixture, which seemed kind of strange (after all, the crust has half of a stick of butter in it). I went ahead and followed the directions, and I ended up with my best graham cracker crust ever. It was crunchier than the other graham cracker crusts I’ve made, and it stayed together very well. It came out of the pan cleanly too. I may try the same trick next time I make cheesecake!

The peanut butter filling tastes a lot like the inside of a buckeye. The whipped cream lightens the filling (in texture and taste, not calories!), and if you get a bite of filling and chocolate topping, well, it’s just awesome. This pie is definitely my kind of perfect dessert. It’s really rich (but since when is that a problem?), so you’ll probably want a glass of milk to go with it. And honestly, I don’t think there’s much more to say about this, other than “get thee to the kitchen!” 😉

BuckeyePie2

BuckeyePie

Peanut Butter Pie with Fudge Topping (AKA Buckeye Pie)

For the crust:
1 cup of graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

For the filling:
1 cup of creamy peanut butter
8 ounce of cream cheese, softened
1 cup of powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, well chilled

For the chocolate topping:
6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and make sure the oven rack is in the lower third of the oven. Butter a 9″ pie pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the melted butter, sugar and graham cracker crumbs. Press the graham cracker mixture into the prepared pin pan, making sure the crumbs go up the sides to the edge of the rim. Use the outside of a measuring cup to tamp down the crumbs if necessary. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

While the crust is baking, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer. When the mixture is well-blended, add the powdered sugar, butter and vanilla and continue to beat until light and fluffy.

In a separate bowl (unless you feel like washing the bowl for your stand mixer, which is what I did), beat the 1/2 cup of whipping cream just until it’s not quite stiff. Fold a generous spoonful of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture to lighten the filling. Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spread the peanut butter filling in the cooled crust and refrigerate until firm, about three hours. You can also put the pie in the freezer for about an hour if you’re on a truncated timetable.

When the peanut butter filling is firm, make the chocolate topping. Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan and place the chocolate chips in a small, heatproof bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and let it stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth. Allow chocolate mixture to cool slightly to lukewarm. Spread the chocolate topping over the peanut butter filling and then return the pie to the refrigerator. Chill until chocolate topping is firm, about three hours.

Cut the pie into wedges and serve cold.

From Classic Home Desserts

Click here for a printable version.