To be real, does the Internet really NEED another pumpkin pie recipe right about now? Hhrrmm. But that’s how good this particular pumpkin pie is, friends. I think it’s got tons of fun twists on the regular and is totally worth sharing. It’s my favorite kind of recipe, really–something that, quite literally, on the surface looks like every other pumpkin pie you’ve had in your life (I mean, just look at that picture up there–golden crust, burnt orange sea of spiced pumpkin custard, kitschy dollops of cream and all), but the process and ingredients are just different enough that it takes the final result to some level of pumpkin pie that makes it all brand new and has everyone asking how you made it. Instant baking cred! Now there’s something to be thankful for.
Call me an Ina Disciple (no, seriously, I wish you would, it’s my truth), but I’m a big believer in getting a few good classic recipes down, and then putting your own twists on them. Take My Favorite Pie Crust, for example. I love the stuff. I use it pretty much for any recipe that calls for pastry, adjusting the sugar as necessary to match the filling, whether it be sweet or savory. I use this dough for pies, quiches, pot pies, tarts, crostatas, homemade pop-tarts–whatevs. It’s basically foolproof, works for me, and I haven’t thought to rock the boat. Until last week.
See, I’ve gone through a bit of overhauling in the home, as of late. Working on a shoestring budget (and really, is there another kind of budget?), I was determined to make our living space not feel like we were living in a dorm. (I suppose it really wasn’t THAT bad, but you know that feeling when you wake up one day and just suddenly want to throw a grenade at your whole house? Well, THAT.) So I traipsed around the Bay Area looking for effortlessly chic home accents, all the while swearing under my breath about how maddening it is, the freaking effort it takes to make something look effortlessly chic. Anyway, it took some doing, but I spruced things up around here, after many trips to IKEA and various TJ Maxx stores and Pier Ones.
(Sidebar: Can we talk about the headiness of Eau de Pier One? All the stores smell the same, and STRONGLY so. Is it, like, some kind of Pier One hallucinogen designed to make us buy more wicker things? See more beauty in tapestries and elephant-shaped candle holders? I don’t get it.)
Maybe you’ve heard of Jennifer Perillo through her phenomenal work as a food writer, blogger and recipe developer. Maybe, like me, you follow her work to get inspiration for your own writing, and sometimes to marvel at the fearless way she tackles her life as a working mom and how she manages to weave her love of food into every moment with her beloved family. Or perhaps you’ve only just heard of Jennie in the past week, when the sudden death of her husband Mikey has been the focus of the food blogging community. I am betting that if you’re in the last category, you’ve been touched by her story, and have seen the outpouring of sympathy from people like me, who can barely even be categorized as acquaintances of Jennie’s.
I suppose it’s because I’m a mother to a little girl myself, and close to Jennie’s age; the past few days I’ve had her in my thoughts almost constantly, a flurry of questions and what ifs that I just can’t seem to shake. It’s the sort of tragedy that I can only imagine to a certain point before my mind literally won’t let me think any further. It’s a terrible reality for so many women, and one that the average person is not equipped to handle with sanity, let alone strength and grace.
But Jennie is not your average woman. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying her straightforward, evocative writing style, this much is clear. Just days after her world changed, she managed to reach out to her dedicated fans and virtual friends who were asking what could be done for her and her girls. Jennie asked for just one simple thing: that we all might put together one of her husband’s favorite desserts today, and enjoy it with our families in Mikey’s memory.
And so tonight my husband, Little C and I will be doing just that. Gathered at our little dinner table, chatting about the week, dragging our spoons through a pile of dreamy peanut butter mousse and a chocolate-slicked cookie crust. Thankful to be loved, to be alive, to be present with each other. A sweet start to a weekend spent as one lucky, lucky family.
If you’d like to make a Peanut Butter Pie of your own in Mikey’s honor and send Jennie and her girls your love and support, you can find the recipe on her website here.
Perhaps you’ve been hanging around the Piece of Cake kitchen long enough to learn about my Happy Place, the imaginary wonderland to which I tend to drift when things go awry, or even when things are going fantastically well. Its that daydream wherein I have a long, loud lunch with several of my culinary heroes, and we all get to chitchatting like old friends. It’s glorious, basically. And at the head of the virtual table sits my personal Food Oprah, Lynne Rossetto Kasper. She’s the host of The Splendid Table, a radio show that covers everything you could possibly want to know about food, cooking and baking. It is the Happy Place of many, I am sure.
And guys? Um, recently? I actually got to talk to LRK herselfas I contributed a question to the call-in portion of the show. I tried not to die a little from the fabulousness of it all. I also somehow managed not to tell her about my restraining-order-level fandom and related crazy daydream. I know, I don’t know EITHER.
The nutty, ambrosial frangipane gives a bit of richness and offers a nice cushion for the fresh rosemary, muting it just a touch so you get all its lovely herbacious notes and a hint of woodsiness to elevate the fruit flavors (including the ones in the olive! oil!) without the pungent, almost soapy, quality that rosemary can often have.
And hello, baked grapes?! Why have I not been doing this my entire life? The grape flavor becomes so lush, so alive, it’s like grapes on steroids. They taste the way I felt after talking to LRK. See, I told you I was nuts.
Herbed Fruit Crostata with Apples and Grapes
Inspired by and adapted from Lynne Rossetto Kasper
1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
For the crust:
Cookies are nice. Brownies are perfectly lovely. Simple joys in your run-of-the-mill long week. But then there are Those Weeks. The kind that start innocently enough, full of work and house stuff and errands and lots of c’mon! I just washed this!–same old thing. And then, without fair warning, the universe throws you a curveball the size of Charlie Sheen’s list of issues. Before you know it, your normal cookie-and-brownie week has morphed into meetings and frantic phone calls and packing and airports (all for good–don’t panic) on top of mothering a tiny person who constantly seems to be one step away from setting the place on fire and–kicker–a frenetic family trip to see Disney on Ice. I-yi-yi. Do they even make Calgon anymore?
Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
5 ounces milk chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips and it was fine)
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the caramel filling:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the tart assembly:
One baked and cooled 9-inch tart shell (like My Favorite Pie Crust)
3-to 4-inch slab milk chocolate, at warm room temperature, for decorating
So is it just me, or is there way more pressure involved with Valentine’s Day when it falls on a weekend? Something about it being on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday creates high drama and expectations–wine, roses, fancy dinner reservations. Also, feeling compelled to take a lengthy shower, exfoliate and wear something spectacular. In other words, STRESS. Right?! Gah.
Thankfully, this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday, so we can all rest easy. I’m thinking something homemade, insanely delicious and crazy clever for breakfast along with a sweet card will fit the bill just fine. If you go with these Nutella Pop-Tarts, for instance, it will totally make up for couching it–wholly ungroomed and in stretchy black pants–by 7:30 p.m. on February 14th. Because hey, it’s a Monday. I’m sticking with that theory.
Nutella is clearly one of the best inventions ever, and it holds fine sense memories of all sorts for me. In fact, one of my top reasons to move to Europe is eating Nutella for breakfast without reservation. But with World Nutella Day fast approaching, people all over this wonderful Earth can bond over scarfing down bread and chocolate with abandon first thing in the morning. I can’t think of anything more world peace-encouraging than that, except for maybe joining forces of the most questionable breakfast foods of both Europe and America, and creating the Nutella Pop-Tart. And just in time for World Nutella Day? I’m feeling a Nobel Peace Prize nomination coming on here, people. Just saying.
The resulting pastries are so positively divine, you’ll feel all kinds of love this Valentine’s Day. Including the priceless joy that comes from eating chocolate for breakfast and the knowledge that exfoliation is totally optional.
For the tarts:
1 batch of My Favorite Pie Crust, well-chilled (see note)
1 (13-ounce) jar Nutella
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee
1 tablespoon dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Valrhona)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Divide the chilled pie dough in half. Working with one half at a time (refrigerate the half you’re not working with), roll the dough out to a rectangle, about 9 1/2 x 13 inches. To make for a more even rectangle, use a thin, sharp knife to trim the edges. Patch any shaggy edges together using the dough scraps. The more evenly shaped your rectangle, the easier it will be to form neat-looking tarts. Cut the dough rectangle into 12 equal squares on a grid, 4 down and 3 across. Place the squares on the baking sheets, 6 squares per sheet.
Using spoons or a small ice cream scoop, dollop 1 generous tablespoon of Nutella in the center of each dough square, spreading slightly as you go, leaving a 1/2 inch border of dough around the filling.
Repeat the dough rolling and cutting process with the second half of the dough.
In a small bowl, beat together the egg with 1 teaspoon water and a pinch of salt, whisking until the egg wash is liquified and well-blended. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the exposed border of dough around each mound of filling (set the remaining egg wash aside to brush the assembled tarts if baking them the same day). Place a second dough square on top of each tart, using your fingers to gently press the seams together. Use a fork to crimp together the two layers of dough. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes (at this point, you can cover the baking sheets with plastic wrap and chill overnight).
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brush the top and edges of each tart with the remaining egg wash. Bake until the tarts are golden brown on the top and bottom, about 35-40 minutes. Cool for 1 minute on the baking sheets, and then transfer the tarts to cooling racks.
To prepare the glaze, whisk together all the ingredients until smooth.
When the tarts are just slightly warm, spoon the glaze over them. Let the glaze dry for 15 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.
Now, before we begin, let’s just get one thing straight right now. I’m not typically a store-bought pie crust kind of lady. I stand by my favorite pie crust recipe with the same enthusiasm normally reserved for my Thursday night Us Weekly-reading ritual. I’m of the school of thought that it’s so easy and so far tastier to make your own crust from scratch, that’s there’s really no reason not to. Except hey–maybe there is.
Because maybe you’re the sort of person who, despite being poked and prodded, will just never have the desire to make a scratch crust. Or perhaps you have a general fear of the “everything must be freezing cold during the process lest you be swallowed up by the Earth” rules of pie crust making. Maybe trying to roll a perfect circle of even thickness gives you the sweats (I feel you, dear reader). Or maybe you’ve been asked to bring dessert to something at the last possible moment and every minute counts. Whatever your reasoning for not making a scratch crust, I’m here for you. And I bring with me some fancy tips for making ready-made pie crust taste a heck of a lot less like the package it comes in.
First, what you want to do is find yourself a nice, crunchy, neutral-flavored cookie. Something not terribly sweet. Graham crackers, animal crackers and little wafer cookies all work well. Throw a few handfuls of cookies and some granulated sugar into a food processor (about 3 parts cookies to 1 part sugar), and grind until fine. Depending on how you’re using the crust, you can even get fancy and toss in a little cinnamon or something. Then generously sprinkle this magical cookie dust mixture on your work surface in place of flour as you roll it out a bit with a rolling pin. It adds all sorts of great flavor and texture to the finished crust. And as a nice bonus, it adds a little barrier between the filling and the crust to keep it from getting all soggy.
To add even more pizazz and a touch of richness, you can brush it lightly with butter after you fit the bottom crust into the pan, and then brush a bit more butter on the top crust. But it’s really the cookie dust that does the trick in eliminating that sort of waxy mouthfeel and one-note flavor that store-bought crusts usually have.
And now you really have no excuse to avoid pie-making during this fine apple season. Hooray!
Jazzed-Up Store-Bought Pie Crust
Any crisp, lightly sweetened, relatively neutral-tasting cookies will work here. I particularly like animal crackers and thin wafer cookies. Feel free to add a bit of spice according to what kind of pie you’re making to bump up the flavor even more. Brushing a bit of melted butter on the rolled crusts can give a nice richness if that’s what you’re after.
Makes 1 double-crust pie
1 cup crisp, lightly sweetened cookies (see note)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional–see note)
1 15-ounce box refrigerated pie crust (2 single crusts), softened according to package directions
2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional–see note)
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cookies and the sugar and cinnamon, if using. Process until very finely ground. Dust a work surface generously with the cookie dust. Carefully unroll one of the pie crusts onto the work surface and sprinkle with more cookie dust. Use a rolling pin to roll the crust slightly thinner and press some of the cookie dust into the dough.
Fit the pie crust into the desired pan. For a slightly richer tasting crust, brush lightly with melted butter. Refrigerate until firm before filling the crust as desired.
Repeat the dusting and rolling process with the second crust, and drape it over the pie filling. Crimp the top and bottom crusts together. Brush the top crust lightly with melted butter. Chill for 10 minutes before baking according to the pie recipe you’re using.
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