Blueberry pie

It was Father’s Day, and the father of my children had wisely packed up his library book and taken the oldest two to the pool, while I stayed home with He-Who-Will-Not-Nap. It was humid and cloudy, and 80-some degrees, both in and outside the house. The air conditioning had died. And there I was in the kitchen, with all the windows open and the oven set to 400 degrees, baking a blueberry pie.

Despite the heat, there’s something to be said for listening to the cardinals and sparrows calling from the backyard while rolling out a pie crust, as if time has stood still for fifty years or so. I could hear lawnmowers buzzing and a baby crying in the distance. My baby doesn’t cry like that anymore–time does rush on. He was singing from his bed, with wooden trains, teddy bears, books and an assortment of dollhouse furniture scattered about him. And then he crept down the stairs, finally appearing in the kitchen to announce, “I waked up! And I need a snack.”

That evening we celebrated with grilled steak, creamed spinach, and blueberry pie with ice cream. We ate our pie outside on the patio to catch the breeze. Mmmmm…summer. You’re not going to get such a pie in any other season. The blueberries were juicy and jammy all at once, the crust buttery and flaky, but sturdy enough to stand up to the warm fruit filling.

I must confess to a small revelation: cutting the butter into the flour by hand (with a pastry blender) is infinitely superior to mixing it in the food processor. I seem to overmix in the food processor, and lose the flaky pockets of butter that you get from mixing more slowly with the pastry blender.

I first made this discovery a month or so ago, when I made a quiche for a weeknight dinner. The crust was puffed and layered, reminiscent of puff pastry, but without all the work. I hadn’t done anything complicated or magical. I used cold butter, ice water, unbleached flour and a pinch of salt. I chilled the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. No time in the freezer, no vinegar or vodka or shortening in the recipe. Maybe you have more restraint than I do with the pulse button on the food processor. If not, try it by hand. I figure the time I spend mixing is saved by not having to wash all the nooks and crannies in the Cuisinart bowl!

Blueberry pie

2 pints fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel

All-butter pie crust (but abandon your food processor and mix it by hand!)
heavy cream

Prepare pie crust and chill the disks of dough for at least 30 minutes. Rinse and drain blueberries, then combine with sugar, flour, lemon juice and lemon peel. Crush a few blueberries with the back of a spoon and mix with the rest of the berries. Let stand for about 15 minutes.

Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and heat to 400 degrees. Roll out the chilled dough into two 12-inch rounds. Transfer one to a 9-inch glass pie dish. Spoon the filling into the crust. Cut the second round into 1/2-inch wide strips and arrange in a lattice on top of the filling. Press the strips into the edges of the bottom crust, trim the overhanging dough, and crimp the edges decoratively. Brush the crust lightly with heavy cream. Sprinkle on a little sparkling sugar, if desired.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes. Cover the the edge of the crust with aluminum foil or a pie crust shield. Bake another 15-20 minutes, until the filling is bubbling in the center and the crust is golden on top and bottom. Cool pie on rack at least 2 hours. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

What dessert says summer to you?


Chocolate chip cookies: classic for a reason

I’ve never met a chocolate chip cookie I couldn’t eat. One little circle that satisfies all your carb/sugar/chocolate cravings in a single bite. I do have preferences, though. I like them chewy and crispy. I prefer all butter. I love nuts, but haven’t indulged lately, what with kid allergies and dislikes. (Perhaps I should rethink my strategy: add nuts, and the cookies would be mine…all mine….) My current favorite standard recipe is this one from (you guessed it) Smitten Kitchen. But on Sunday I received this:

So the first recipe I tried was the one for chocolate chip cookies, made with 100% whole wheat flour. It lends a subtle nuttiness, without screaming, “I’m healthy!” These definitely hit that crispy/chewy balance, and everyone loved their giant size. I made a couple adaptations to the recipe to fit my pantry (no quick runs to the store during nap time!), substituting light brown sugar for the dark, and semi-sweet chocolate chips for the bittersweet chunks. The result was excellent, but now I’m curious to taste the difference. Better quality chocolate can only be better, and I suspect that the dark brown sugar may lend a touch more moistness and depth of flavor. Today I was at the market, and made sure to pick up the missing ingredients. I guess I’ll have to make them again and report back, if I don’t get distracted by all the other fascinating recipes in this book. In the meantime, here’s the straight-from-the-pantry version, because when you need cookies, there’s no time to run to the store.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted slightly from Good to the Grain

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat. Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl.  Add the butter and sugars to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on low with the paddle attachment, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Mix in the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and blend on low just until combined. Scrape down the sides again, and add the chocolate chips. Mix on low for a few seconds more, then scrape the bowl one last time, making sure the chips are evenly distributed.

Scoop mounds of dough about 3 Tbsp. in size on the the baking sheet, 6 cookies to a sheet.  Bake for about 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  Remove the cookies and cool briefly on a wire rack. These are best the first day, but will keep in an airtight container for 3 days.

Wonderful note from the cookbook author:  Don’t chill this dough and then try to scoop it–it’s too difficult. If you don’t have time to bake the entire batch, scoop all the cookies and chill the extra balls of dough in a sealed container in the refrigerator. They’ll keep for a week.

Sparkling sugar cookies

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and I have the perfect cookie recipe for you, whether you’re having a backyard BBQ, hitting the pool or beach for the first time this year, or just staying home doing laundry and watching the rain fall. (Yes, that last option is mine. But if the weather turns by Monday, we’ll have some cookies to take to the pool!)

I know, I know…there are a million sugar cookie recipes. Why should you try this one? It’s soft and chewy in the middle, with crispy edges and a crackled sugar top. It’s not brittle or crumbly, so it’s a perfect candidate for a picnic basket or a lunchbox. It does take three bowls, but you don’t need a mixer. The recipe was developed by the test cooks at Cooks’ Illustrated, so you know it’s been engineered for success. I did adapt the instructions slightly, because my first batch did not turn out very pretty; the cookies all ran together and I had to cut them apart. By reducing the number of cookies on the baking sheet, they turned out perfectly round. And we loved the festive addition of crunchy sparkling sugar instead of regular sugar as a topping.

I was a little skeptical about the yield of this recipe–only two dozen? That’s not going to last more than 48 hours in my house! But these cookies bake up into 3-inch rounds, so everyone was content with just one cookie at a time. We should have enough to get us through the weekend, whatever the weather, and maybe a couple left over for lunches on Tuesday.

Sparkling Sugar Cookies
adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1/4 cup for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into pieces
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

sparkling sugar for topping

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking trays with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Place 1/4 cup sugar in a shallow dish and set aside.

In a large bowl, add 1 1/2 cups sugar and cream cheese, and then pour the warm butter over and whisk to combine. Whisk in oil, and then add egg, milk and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Add the flour mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until the dough comes together.

Scoop the dough, about 2 tablespoons for each cookie, and roll into balls. (The dough will be very soft. Handle it quickly and gently, and don’t worry about getting them perfectly round until after you’ve tossed them in the sugar.) Roll the balls in the reserved sugar,  and place on baking tray in staggered rows, no more than 8 per tray. Flatten balls with the bottom of a glass until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops with sparkling sugar.

Bake, one tray at a time, until edges are set and golden, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating the tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on the tray 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate cake with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream

Almost 11 years ago, I went and made my own wedding cake, and dug myself into a hole that I will never be able to climb out of. If I can make a wedding cake, what’s my excuse for not making a cake for every other occasion? Every birthday, anniversary, baby shower, graduation and First Communion. Is a homemade cake better? Absolutely. Cheaper? Positively. And when I’m piping stars on a cake at 10 o’clock at night, I remind myself that this cake is made with love to celebrate another Very Important Family Milestone, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Still, things have changed in the Home Baked kitchen since I made that wedding cake. I can’t remember the last time I made an Italian meringue buttercream or soaked my cake layers in simple syrup. My current favorite cake is anything from The Cake Bible that involves reverse creaming. You get a flavorful, tender cake with a fine crumb, but it’s sturdy enough that you don’t need to use extraordinary measures (cardboard rounds and sessions in the freezer) to assemble the cake without disaster. Quick buttercreams or cream cheese frostings are easy and foolproof, and don’t require the candy thermometer or another dozen eggs.

This past weekend we celebrated Eight’s First Communion with family and friends, so I made the Perfect All-American Chocolate Butter Cake. I like that it’s a cocoa cake–a whole lot cheaper than chocolate bars–and that even though it calls for cake flour, you can easily substitute all-purpose flour plus corn starch. I frosted it with White Chocolate Cream Cheese buttercream, which is rich, tangy, silky and very easy to make. I usually avoid anything with white chocolate–too sweet!–but mixed with cream cheese it achieves the perfect balance. I love the contrast of the tangy sweet buttercream with the chocolate cake, but it would be delicious on almost any cake I can imagine (mmm…carrot cake, I’m thinking of you).

I kept the decoration simple (and fast!), setting aside about a cup of buttercream to tint for piping. I used a small star tip to create the cross (which I first outlined with a toothpick so it would be centered), and continued with the same tip to make a shell border.

All-American Chocolate Butter Cake
from The Cake Bible

1/2 cup plus 3 Tbsp. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 cup boiling water
3 large eggs
2 1/4 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9-inch cake pans with wax or parchment paper, then grease and flour (or use baking spray).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water. Cool to room temperature. In another bowl, combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture, and vanilla.

In the large bowl of the mixer, combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low until moistened, and then beat on medium speed (high on a hand mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg mixture in three batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a rack for 10 minutes before loosening the sides with a small knife and inverting them onto the cooling rack. When the cake layers are completely cool, wrap them airtight in plastic wrap until you are ready to frost them.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream

9 ounces white chocolate (bars, NOT chips, which do not have cocoa butter)
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Melt the white chocolate in the top of a double boiler on low heat, stirring frequently, or in the microwave. (My microwave has a “Melt” setting, which works perfectly. Otherwise, use short bursts on low power and remove before all the chocolate is melted–just continue to stir it until it is completely smooth.) Let cool to room temperature.

In the mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the cooled chocolate, and then beat in the butter and lemon juice.

This buttercream becomes solid when chilled, so you can refrigerate it and use it later, but you will have to let it warm to room temperature and beat it smooth again. If it seems too warm to pipe, I prefer to set the bowl in another bowl of ice water and whisk until it stiffens slightly.

Best salted brown butter shortbread

I had a little shortbread craving the other day, but my brain linked “brown butter” to the shortbread idea, probably courtesy of this post from Smitten Kitchen. I almost made that shortbread recipe, but for the many comments from readers whose attempts were less than stellar. So I did some research, which led me down a path from Epicurious to King Arthur Flour, and finally to a Cooks’ Illustrated recipe for Best Shortbread. Well, that’s what I wanted, the BEST shortbread, but made with brown butter and sea salt. So I mixed the Smitten Kitchen recipe with the CI technique of reverse creaming the butter, and this mash up is the result. It’s a recipe with a few more steps than I’m usually willing to take, but I found it more than worth the effort. As with many things in life, being the best takes a little more work.
Brown butter
The brown butter and brown sugar give this shortbread a caramel perfume and the sea salt is a delicate–and addictive–contrast. I’ve been hiding the cookie tin from the kids. How could I waste all that time, effort, subtle sophistication and butter on such undiscriminating palates?
A couple of notes: Don’t leave your butter as it’s browning. If you’re a better planner than I am, you’ll take 10 minutes to brown the butter the day before and chill it overnight. I just stick the bowl in the freezer. So be forewarned that you need to do that step at least an hour before you’re ready to mix and bake. And before you start, set out a bowl to pour the butter in, and perhaps a fine mesh strainer to strain out the too-dark butter solids. Finally, stir, stir, stir.
Ground oats
12 Tbsp. butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp. coarsely ground sea salt
Set out a medium bowl and a fine mesh strainer. Cut butter into chunks and heat in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir continually until the flecks on the bottom of the pan turn brown and the butter is the color of tea. Pour the brown butter through the strainer into the bowl. Chill until very firm, about two hours in the refrigerator.
Grind the oats in a coffee or spice grinder (or food processor) until they become a fine powder. Pour the ground oats and the rest of the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for 30 seconds or until the dry ingredients are completely mixed. With a metal spoon, scoop the hardened butter into the mixing bowl. Mix on low for 5 minutes, or until the dough begins to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Cold brown butter added to dry ingredients
Press the dough together on a sheet of wax or parchment paper and roll it into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll the log up in the paper and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. With a very sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/2-in thick cookies and bake on a parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheet for 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 250 degrees and bake 6 minutes more, or until just golden around the edges. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and poke holes in each cookie with a skewer or a fork. Turn the oven off, but return the cookies to the oven and prop the door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Leave in the oven for 30 minutes to dry out.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cool the cookies completely on a wire rack. Yields 2 doz. cookies.

Ali Baa Baa sandwiches in homemade pita

Friends, I am back! My poor laptop needed a new hard drive, the Easter Bunny has come and gone, and I’ve pledged to get back to a regular blogging schedule.

So I bring you a family favorite, a recipe invented by my father to use up leftover leg of lamb. (We always said he should submit the recipe to Gourmet magazine. Alas, Gourmet is no more, so I will give it its public debut here on Home Baked.) As this is the week after Easter, there was a big chunk of garlicky leg of lamb waiting in our fridge. Dice up the lamb, add some apples and onions, a scattering of Middle Eastern spices (hence, the name), a dollop of cool Greek yogurt–pile it all in a warm pita and serve with a salad. This is a wonderful quick weeknight meal, and the kids, who eyed the lamb suspiciously on Easter Sunday, ate it on its second appearance so quickly I had to slice some more lamb to add to the pan. No doubt my version is not exactly the same as the original (which may have included some curry powder), but this is one of those adaptable, use-what-you-have recipes.

But let’s start with the pita. As I suspected, no-knead dough is ideal for pita, so I got out my trusty copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and fiddled slightly with the recipe. (But only very slightly.) I chose the whole wheat flour variation for depth of flavor, and, you know, as a nod to healthy eating. (Let’s not talk about the mysterious disappearance of all the leftover Easter cupcakes.) I mixed up one batch of dough mid-morning, refrigerated it until late afternoon, and then scooped out about 1/3 of the cold dough to make 6 individual pitas. The entire rolling and baking process took about 20 minutes, and I managed it while supervising homework. Easy, easy. The results: “Just like storebought. And that’s a compliment.”

adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 T. active dry yeast
1 T. Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
5 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Mix everything in a large lidded container until the flour is completely incorporated. You may need to use wet hands to mix in the last of the flour. Cover, but do not seal, the container and let rest on the counter for 2 hours. Transfer the container (still covered but unsealed) to the refrigerator until ready to use. Use the dough within 14 days.

Heat the oven with a baking stone inside to 500 degrees. For 4 individual pitas, dust 1/4 of the dough in the container with flour and scoop it out. Quickly shape into a ball by gently stretching the the surface and tucking it to the underside. Dust with a little more flour and cut the ball of dough into 4 equal pieces. On a floured surface, pat each piece into a round and roll into a circle about 1/8 inch thick.

Turn on the exhaust fan (some of the flour on the baking stone will burn and set off your smoke alarm–be prepared!) and slide two pitas onto the stone. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until puffed and starting to brown. Wrap the warm pita in a clean dish towel and let it cool on a rack. They will deflate slightly while cooling, but the pocket inside will remain. Bake the rest of the pitas, two at a time. An entire batch of dough should make 16 pitas; bake some now and some in the next 2 weeks, or bake them all now and store them in an airtight bag in the freezer. Warm frozen pita in the oven, wrapped in foil.

Ali Baa Baa Sandwiches

1 lb. cooked lamb, diced finely (if you’re starting from scratch, you could use ground lamb, browned and drained–in that case, add some garlic)
1 apple, diced
1 medium onion, sliced
olive oil for the pan
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
salt and pepper
Greek yogurt (or sour cream)

Brown the onions in a little olive oil over medium-high heat. When they start to get translucent, add the diced apple. When the apple begins to brown and soften, add the diced lamb (or you can remove the apples and onions and set aside, so that picky eaters can have their meat all by itself). Add the spices to the lamb and heat until the meat is hot and begins to sizzle.

If you are serving this right away, go ahead and stir in a good spoonful or two of yogurt into the lamb mixture. But if everyone isn’t gathered at the table all at once, leave the yogurt out and let each person add a dollop to their own sandwich. Cut warm pita in half, fill each half with the lamb and yogurt, and serve with a big salad. There shouldn’t be any more leftovers!

Korean chicken wings

Sorry for the long radio silence, folks. Last week was Spring Break, and we drove all the way to New York to visit family and friends and see the sights. And eat. And eat, and eat some more. Nothing fancy, just the very best burger and fries EVER at the Shake Shack in NYC (I’m fairly certain the Shake Stack is the best thing I’ve ever eaten on a bun), lunch at a Japanese grocery in New Jersey, and some takeout wings from Bonchon. The wings were for the kids–the adults were having sushi–but we managed to snag a few from their greasy little hands. They are shatteringly crispy, sweet, salty, garlicky and completely addictive.

When we returned home, I found a giant bag (nearly seven pounds!) of chicken wings on sale and took it as a Sign from the Kitchen Gods. I cruised the internet for recipes, watched grainy YouTube videos of deep frying chicken, and took the plunge. To be fair, my attempt was not exactly the same as Bonchon, but it was still really, REALLY good. My taste testers asked if we could have “Momchon” wings every day. Um…no. The post-frying kitchen clean up is not on my daily to-do list. But I will certainly make them again soon (there must be four pounds of wings left in the freezer), experimenting once again with the sauce. I won’t change the technique, though I’d like to try rice flour instead of the flour/cornstarch mixture. And next time I’ll hunt down some of the special Korean bean paste that is the base for the spicy version of the sauce.

Momchon Chicken

Marinating wings

15 chicken wings, tips cut off, and cut in half at the joint (30 pieces)
1/2 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup cornstarch
salt and pepper


5 cloves garlic, chopped
2-inch piece peeled ginger, chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 T. rice vinegar
2 T. honey
1 T. Asian sesame oil

After the first fry

Grate or mince 1/2 an onion. Add 2 cloves garlic, minced, salt and pepper. Toss chicken wings in this mixture to coat; marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour. (I used a covered bowl, but a plastic freezer bag is also perfect.)

Mix up the sauce and bring it to a simmer in a small saucepan. Let it simmer gently for about 5 minutes. If you make it ahead, just warm it again as you’re frying the wings.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep pot until it reaches 350 degrees.

Mix the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper in a bowl or zippered freezer bag. Toss the marinated wings into the flour until completely coated. When the oil is at 350, add 1/3 of the wings to the pot and deep fry for about 5 minutes, until golden. Pay attention to the temperature and don’t let it go above 350! Remove from the oil and let drain on a rack or paper towels. When the oil comes back up to temperature, fry the next batch. When all the wings have been fried once, bring the oil back up to temperature and fry them in batches again for 4-5 minutes.  Drain on a rack or paper towels, and immediately brush with the warm sauce.

Deep dish apple pie

Things have been a little slow here at Home Baked lately. We haven’t stopped cooking (or eating!), or even taking pictures, but sharing them with you has taken a back burner to meetings, projects, concerts, classes, laundry and various home and car repairs. Our garbage disposal literally fell out of the sink cabinet! How does that happen?
Deep Dish Apple Pie

So I dug into the photos piling up on my hard drive and remembered this pie I made for a Superbowl party. Somehow, after eating ridiculous amounts of nacho cheese dip and a bowl of chili, I still managed to consume a big bowl of this pie with ice cream. I found the recipe in an interesting cookbook, Sweet!, by Mani Niall. It’s full of recipes using all sorts of natural sugars and sweeteners. Here, instead of sweetening the pie filling with sugar, you start with sweet apples and add apple juice concentrate. I added some butter to the filling and reduced the cinnamon, but nobody noticed the missing sugar. I can’t wait to try this pie with some different fruit fillings, too. Another great thing about this pie is its portability. Instead of making two pies for a crowd, just make one big one in a 9×13 baking dish!

Deep Dish Apple Pie

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 pieces
3/4 cup ice water, give or take

8 large Fuji or Gala apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3 T. lemon juice
1 1/2 cups frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed
2/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 T. butter

Mix flour and salt, then cut the butter in with a pastry blender until the mixture is crumbly. (You could use the food processor method, instead.) Gradually add the ice water and stir gently until the dough begins to hold together. Press the dough together, divide into 1/3 and 2/3 portions, shape into rectangles, and wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Toss the apples with the lemon juice. In another bowl, whisk together the apple juice concentrate, cornstarch and cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Roll out the larger piece of dough between two pieces of wax paper to a 15×18 inch rectangle. Transfer to a 9×13 inch baking dish. Spread the apples into the crust and pour the apple juice mixture over them. Cut the butter into pats and scatter across the apples. Roll the smaller portion of dough into a 10×14 inch rectangle and place it on top of the apples. Tuck the edges of the top crust into the sides, pinch the edges of the top and bottom crusts together, and crimp them decoratively. Cut several slits in the crust.

Bake about 2 hours, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.  Cool on a wire rack; serve warm or at room temperature.

Persimmon bread

Last year some time I bought some persimmons, and by the time they were ripe, we were about to go on vacation. I gave them to my mother rather than let them spoil, and she pureed the pulp and put it in the freezer. Then when she was cleaning out her freezer before heading south for the winter, she gave me the container with exactly two cups of persimmon pulp. I let it languish in my freezer for several months, and this week finally decided to get it out and make something with it, come hell or high water. (The high water is an all too real possibility; between melting snow and March rain, our little castle has its very own moat.) Plus, we need some freezer space.

Persimmon pudding first came to mind, but as usual, I only had a little more than an hour, and Grandma’s pudding recipe requires a few pauses for stirring. So I turned to this James Beard/David Lebovitz recipe. This one of those quick breads that ought to be called a cake, but for the fact that you bake it in a loaf pan. Though the batter starts out bright orange, as it bakes the bread turns a dark brown. The zing of the freshly ground nutmeg really stands out, pairing well with either chocolate or fruit and nuts (or all three–why not?). This would be a lovely alternative to fruit cake around the holidays.

My eight-year-old taste tester had no words, just a groan of satisfaction. Little Three just ate his up and asked for more. Miss Five denied that there was anything so strange as persimmon in her slice–she ate Just Chocolate Chip Bread. Whatever you call it, it’s good. And the recipe makes two loaves, one to eat and one to put in the freezer. So much for gaining freezer space!

Persimmon Bread
adapted slightly from James Beard

3 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups persimmon pulp
2/3 cup Cognac
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
1 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bottom of two 9″x5″ loaf pans with baking spray (or grease and flour them).

Whisk together the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the butter, eggs, persimmon pulp and Cognac, and beat until all the flour mixture is incorporated. If you want to make both loaves identical, stir in whatever combination of fruit, nuts or chocolate you prefer. If, as I did, you want to try different combinations, scrape half the batter into a second bowl and make your additions accordingly. Scrape the batter into the loaf pans and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. If the top of the bread is browning too much during baking (check at about 45 minutes), cover it with a piece of foil. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, and then remove from the pan and finish cooling on a wire rack.

Orange upside-down gingerbread

Oranges and gingerbread: a sweet consolation for a long winter’s day. Oranges have been on sale lately, so we’ve been eating a lot of them. I think Little Three has eaten at least half a dozen mandarin oranges in the past 24 hours! I keep hoping the infusion of citrus will beat down the colds we’ve all been battling.

Last weekend, I spent a few more minutes browsing through the tower of cookbooks I brought home from the library, searching for a dessert that wouldn’t require an extra trip to the store. And in David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert, in a note at the bottom of another recipe, I found this variation for gingerbread made with oranges and cardamom.

Despite some issues with the batter overflowing the pan, this cake is spectacular. Both fancy and homey, with its beautiful rings of orange nestled in a gooey brown sugar topping, it is supported by a lovely moist gingerbread that might be worth baking all on its own. The cardamom and orange together set this cake apart from other gingerbreads.

(I was all set to take a shortcut and use already ground cardamom, but we didn’t have any! We did have cardamom pods, so I ground a few up in the coffee grinder, sifting out the large bits.)
Orange Upside-Down Gingerbread
from David Lebovitz
4 T. butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom
4 navel oranges, peeled and sliced horizontally into      1/2″ slices
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/4 cup half-and-half or whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the topping, put 4 T. butter in a 9-inch round cake pan or cast iron skillet. Make sure it is at least 2 inches deep. (My regular 1 1/2″ pan was too shallow, and the pan overflowed during baking. Next time I’ll use a 9″ springform pan–it’s quite a bit deeper.) Set the pan on the stovetop over low heat until the butter melts. Add the brown sugar and cardamom and stir well. Remove from heat. Arrange the orange slices over the brown sugar mixture, putting the prettiest sides down.
For the cake, whisk together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. In the mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter and the sugar on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses. Add the eggs one at time, beating after each. Slowly mix in half the flour mixture. Stir in the half-and-half, and then the rest of the flour mixture until just combined. Incorporate any flour stuck to the sides of the bowl with a few turns by hand with a rubber spatula.
Spread the batter on top of the fruit layer in the pan. Bake until a skewer in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool about 15 minutes, then loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a thin spatula or knife. Invert a serving plate over the pan and flip the cake over. Carefully lift off the pan.
Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream.