As you might imagine, between the Great British Bake-Off, America’s Test Kitchen, and the internet, there is no shortage of recipes for me to try. But, every now and then, I pull out my old recipe box (yes, there was a time when we had recipe cards) and thumb through it. I came across a recipe for Fudgy Shortbread Bars and decided to almond it up by altering the plain shortbread to an almond shortbread, adding a drop of almond extract to the fudge, and topping it with toasted almonds.
If you’re a purist, you can leave out all traces of the almonds, exchanging vanilla for the almond extract. Or, use walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts – it’s up to you.
Note: This recipe can be doubled and made in a 9″x13″ (or 23cm x 33cm) pan.
Queen of Freeze Note: As the self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t point out that these bars can be sliced and frozen for future use.
Second Queen of Freeze Note: This recipe calls for half of a can of sweetened condensed milk. The remaining half can be frozen.
190g (150ml) (6.75oz) sweetened condensed milk (this is half a standard can)
1/4 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C)
Make the shortbread: Pulse the almonds in the food processor 5-6 times – until they’re coarsely chopped. Remove 1/4 cup of the pieces and set aside – these will be sprinkled on top of the bars. Pulse remaining almonds to finely chopped.
Cut the butter into at least 12 slices and add to the almonds in the processor, along with the sugar and almond extract. Whirl to blend.
Add the flour to the mixture and pulse until blended, scraping the sides and corners now and then.
Scatter shortbread dough evenly (do your best) around an approximately 153 square cm (60 square inch) pan- such as a 20cm x 20cm (8″ x 8″). Press down the dough firmly, trying to maintain a level top.
Bake in preheated 325°F (163°C) oven for 25 minutes – until edges are starting to brown. Remove from oven.
Prepare the topping: In a small saucepan, melt together the chocolate chips and condensed milk over low flame. Once the chips are nearly all melted, remove from heat and stir in the almond extract. Stir off-heat until all chips are completely melted. Pour over hot shortbread, spreading evenly.
Sprinkle on reserved toasted almonds. Lightly press into the fudge so they stick. Let cool, then refrigerate to firm up. They can be stored covered in either the fridge or on the counter.
a crisp crust (but not rock hard) that allows the cookie to be safely held
the cookie should be 1/3 crust and 2/3 filling
the filling should be firm enough that it doesn’t ooze, but not Jello-like
the filling should be tart
no stove-top cooking of the filling – oven bake only
whole eggs only rather than yolks, if possible
Is that too much to ask? It took MANY attempts but, as it turns out – no, it’s not.
As far as the crust goes, the keys were to use granulated sugar (rather than the often used confectioner’s sugar), and melted butter (rather than soft). Also, freezing the patted out dough for 5-10 minutes, followed by docking it (piercing it with a fork) before par-baking, kept the crust flat.
For the filling, remember – tartness comes from the lemon zest. Adding extra lemon juice only dilutes the curd. Pack the zest when measuring – don’t worry about the zest marring the creaminess, you’ll strain it out before baking. When I got down to the best number of eggs, I could either go with 2 whole eggs plus 2 yolks, or 3 whole eggs. Because the fillings were equal in consistency and flavor (although the ones with yolks were yellower), I went with 3 whole eggs since it was easier.
I started my Lemon Bars journey using a glass 8″ x 8″ pan. In my research, someone wrote metal pans lead to a crispier crust. I happened to have a metal 8″ x 8″, so I switched over. Of course, there were other variables I was doing to the dough, so I’m not sure how important the metal vs glass is. Use what you’ve got before buying something new.
The final piece of the Lemon Bar puzzle was removing them from the pan. I had a heck of a time. I watched tons of videos and they always seemed to just pop out – Ina Garten didn’t even use parchment! – so it may just be me. My problem may have been that I didn’t grease the pan before placing the parchment slings, nor did I grease the parchment itself. When I did grease the pan and the parchment, I was able to pry them out.
I, also, concocted a method of using one large piece of parchment to limit leakage (and using slightly less parchment!). I’ve fine-tuned my folding method since I did my last bake. Pictures and instructions of my latest fold method are at the end of this post, following the recipe. If you have a better method, by all means, use that.
Note: I put measurements in grams, cups, and ounces – use what you like.
115 g (1 cup / 4 oz) all-purpose flour
3 g (3 T / 1 oz) granulated sugar
1/8 tsp salt
85 g (6 T / 3 oz) butter, melted
287 g (1½ cups / 10 oz) granulated sugar
19 g (3 T / ½ oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1½ T lemon zest – packed (don’t be stingy)
4½ T lemon juice (bottled or fresh)
3 eggs, beaten in a small bowl
1/4 tsp baking powder
confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit / 177º Celsius
Grease an 8″ x 8″ pan (I prefer metal). Line pan with parchment and grease the parchment. You can use the folded 1-sheet insert method (instructions below after the recipe), the 2-sheet sling method in which you have a parchment strip going north-south, and the other going east-west, or any other method you choose.
Start by combining the filling in order to draw out the lemon flavor from the zest: In a bowl, stir together the 287g sugar, 19g flour, 1/4 tsp salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, and beaten eggs. Set aside while you make the crust. The baking powder will be added just before pouring into the crust.
To make the crust, stir together the 115g flour, 3g sugar, and 1/8 tsp salt, then pour in the melted butter. Using a fork, stir just until all the flour is incorporated. Sprinkle small clumps of dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan, then press dough to evenly cover bottom. Smooth it as best you can to lessen finger indentations. Freeze 5-10 minutes to firm up.
When oven is heated to 350 F/ 177 C, remove crust from the freezer and liberally dock the crust (pierce it with a fork) to prevent it from rising.
Bake until well-browned – about 19-22 minutes (it needs 21 minutes in my oven). Remove from oven.
When the crust comes out of the oven, stir the baking powder into the filling, then pour through a strainer into a clean container. Stir the filling in the sieve with a spoon to help the filling flow. Don’t forget to scrap off the filling clinging to the underside of the sieve! (Waste not, want not!)
Discard the bits of zest and egg that remain in the sieve. Yuck!
Pour filling onto the hot crust.
Bake at 350 F / 177 C until the very center of filling still has a slight wobble – 19-21 minutes. (Keep an eye out – the filling cooks quickly at the end). Remove from oven and let rest in the pan for 10-15 minutes.
Run a dull knife between the pan and parchment – the filling tends to leak before it solidifies and needs to be gently dislodged. Gently (notice I use this word again – the crust is still very soft and you don’t want to break it), begin to lift up the bars out of the pan. You’ll probably have to work your way around the parchment ears, lifting….gently. Once it breaks free, place the bars on a wire rack, then peel down the sides of the parchment and let cool completely. Yes, the sides look raggety, but you can cut those away later (or not).
Once the bars are completely cool (and I mean completely!), flip them over by sandwiching them between another wire rack or flat plate. Peel away the parchment and flip them back to right side up.
Slide them onto a flat surface and cover (I have a square Tupperware, or you can use the baking pan.) Refrigerate at least 24 hours. (I know that sounds like a long time to wait, but they need that time to come into their own.) Sprinkle liberally with confectioners sugar and slice away the ratty-looking edges (you can still eat them).
For appearances sake, it’s best to slice the bars with a non-serrated long knife, cutting straight down, using a rocking motion when you get down to the crust. Some people wipe the knife clean after each slice, but I’m not that particular.
INSTRUCTIONS FOR FOLDING A PARCHMENT INSERT
I’m using wrapping paper for this demonstration so you can see which side of the paper goes where. The final product will look like this:
To line an 8″ x 8″ pan, cut out a 14″ x 14″ square (8″ for the pan, plus 3″ for each border. Draw an 8″ x 8″ square in the center of the paper (you don’t have to write the numbers). This will become the bottom of the insert – you don’t want food touching the pencil or ink marks.
2. Fold each border in so the edge meets the ink mark. This fold will be 1.5″ for an 8″ x 8″ pan. There’s no special order to the folding.
3. Flip the paper and fold in each side border, creasing at the ink line. The side border will be 1.5″ tall, double folded. You will now have an 8″ x 8″ square.
4. Unfold the fold you made in Step 3. In each corner you’ll notice a 1.5″ square created by 2 outside edges and 2 creases. Cut one of the 2 creases in each of the 4 corner squares to the corner point (see the neon green lines in the photo below). It doesn’t matter which of the 2 creases you cut in each square, but only cut 1 crease per square.
5. Unfold the paper from each corner flap.
6. Fold each corner flap underneath the side border next to it.
7. Unfold the side border and nestle the flap inside the side border so it fits snuggly.
Due to my frugal nature (some may say, ‘cheap’), I found myself with an abundance of frozen egg whites. It turns out there are many more recipes that call for an extra egg yoke than an extra egg white. Due to my aforementioned frugal nature, I froze the unused whites rather than throw out perfectly good food.
I’d always scoffed at the humble angel food cake – it just seemed so blah. However, I had an America’s Test Kitchen recipe that called for 12 egg whites in their angel food cake. This would make a significant dent in my frozen egg white stockpile, so I made it.
I was stunned at how good it was. A bonus being there are a lot less calories in an angel food cake compared to an equal sized slice of an iced butter cake.
Note: Ideally, you should use an angel food cake pan because it’s tubular, thus providing more surface area for the batter to climb and attach to. Also, it has little legs to allow air to flow underneath as the cake cools. (Angel food cakes are cooled upside down so they don’t collapse.) Use a bundt pan, if you don’t have the proper pan and elevate it.ANGEL FOOD CAKE
3 oz (1 cup) cake flour
10 oz (1½ cups) granulated sugar, divided
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
12 egg whites
1½ tsp vanilla
1½ tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp almond extract
Preheat oven to 325º Fahrenheit.
Make a liner for the cake pan bottom by placing the pan on parchment paper open side up. Run a pencil around the outside of the pan bottom and cut out the circle. Flip the pan so the bottom of the pan is up, and place the cut-out circle on top. Firmly hold the parchment in place and trace the center tube outline with a pencil. Cut out and discard this inner circle. Very lightly grease the BOTTOM ONLY of the cake pan. (Don’t grease the sides – the batter needs to be able to grip it in order to rise.) Line the bottom of the cake pan with the parchment and press it down. The parchment will help the cake release.Into a bowl, sift together the cake flour and 5 oz (3/4 cup) of the sugar. Set aside.
Into another bowl mix together the remaining 5 oz (3/4 cup) sugar, the cream of tartar, and the salt. Set aside.
Into a small bowl, mix together the vanilla, lemon juice, and almond extract. Set aside.
Pour the egg whites into the large bowl of your standing electric mixer. Beat on medium. Large bubbles will form at first, then they’ll decrease in size after about a minute. With the mixer still running on medium, start adding the sugar/cream of tartar mixture to the whites 1 tablespoon at a time. Once all the sugar/tartar has been added, increase mixer speed to high until soft peaks form. Turn off machine, pour in the vanilla mixture, then quickly mix together on low. Here’s where your jaw may drop. If you read other angel food cake recipes, they’ll tell you to FOLD in the flour mixture gently in order not to deflate the meringue. I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to bother. Simply add 3 T of the flour mix to the batter through a sieve, then turn your mixer on the lowest speed for a few seconds to incorporate the flour, running a spatula along the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn off the mixer, then add another 3 T flour to the batter, turn on the machine to low and mix to incorporate for a few seconds. Continue until all the flour is added and incorporated.
Once all the flour is incorporated, gently pour batter into the cake pan, smoothing top. Rap pan a couple of times on the counter to dislodge any air bubbles (I’m not sure if this is a myth, but it can’t hurt.) Put into the oven and bake about 45-50 minutes – until golden brown and cake springs back when you press it with your finger. Remove from oven and immediately turn upside-down. Let cake remain like this until completely cooled – about 3 hours. When cool, run a dull knife around the sides of the cake (including the tube), making sure you get all the way to the bottom. Flip the cake onto a plate – hopefully, the cake will fall out. (If not, run the knife around again.) Carefully, remove the parchment and let cake sit to completely cool before serving.
I’ve been on another quest. (For some reason, my quests usually involve chocolate.) This time I was on a search for the perfect brownie recipe.
The three adjectives most often used with brownies are: chewy, cakey, and fudgy. People have their preference, but I’m guessing we all switch teams in a pinch. While I didn’t want a dry cakey brownie, I didn’t want a gooey fudgy one either. I wanted something in between – chewy.
It’s taken me the past year and MANY batches to get it right, but worth the effort!
CHEWY BROWNIES – made in 8″ x 8″ pan (or the equivalent)
1½ oz (1/2 cup) pecans
2¼ oz (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
8 oz 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking bar, broken (I use Ghirardelli)
2+3/8 oz (1/3 cup) butter
5+1/8 oz (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
3/8 oz (1 T) water
1 tsp vanilla
4 oz (2/3 cup) mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestles)
optional: fleur-de-sel to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 325º Fahrenheit.
Grease and flour an 8″ X 8″ glass baking pan (I use Pyrex).
NOTE: If you want to have neatly sliced brownies (which I never do), then line your baking pan with parchment paper, grease and flour the paper, then pour in the batter. That way, you can lift out the baked brownies and peel down the parchment so a long knife can be used to slice evenly.
Chop pecans and lightly toast them in a toaster oven or dry skillet. Set aside.
Place broken pieces of 60% chocolate bar in a medium sized bowl. (The smaller the pieces, the better for melting quickly.)
In a small saucepan, over very low heat, melt together the butter, sugar, and water, stirring often until bubbles start forming around sides of pan.Immediately pour hot liquid into bowl with chocolate, stirring to melt chocolate completely. Allow to cool 10 minutes, stirring now and then. (You’re going to be adding eggs, and don’t want to cook them.)
In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda – set aside. Beat the eggs in a small bowl. Once the chocolate mixture has cooled, stir in approximately half of the eggs and mix in completely. Pour and mix in the remaining egg. Stir in the vanilla.Add in the flour mixture, pecans, and mini chocolate chips. Mix just until all the flour has been incorporated. Pour into prepared baking pan, smoothing batter flat. If desired, sprinkle on fleur-de-sel. Bake at 325º F for about 28 minutes. (They start to look done at around 25 minutes in my oven, but I let them go a few minutes more – otherwise they’ll sink too much as they cool and be a little too gooey for my taste.)Remove from oven and let brownies completely cool several hours before cutting. (This takes a LOT of self-control!!) Note: They’ll still sink a little at 28 minutes, but not as much as they would at 25 minutes.
I’m not sure when it happened but, for better or worse, every year new foods become pumpkin flavored during Autumn.
Pumpkin pie? Sure – I’ll eat that maybe once a year…unless there’s a better choice.
Pumpkin ravioli? Yeah – a small amount encased in pasta is fine… now and then.
BUT, Pumpkin Scones? Heck, yeah! I’ll have those anytime – especially with a maple drizzle.
Scones are super fast and easy to make – the less you mess with them, the more tender they are! So jump on board the pumpkin trend and try these delicious Pumpkin Scones!
Note: As self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, I feel obliged to suggest (or nag) you freeze the unused pumpkin in portion sized amounts for future use. This recipe only requires 1/2 cup, so there’s plenty leftover from the can.
PUMPKIN SCONES – makes 8 scones
8½ oz (240 g) (2 cups) all-purpose flour
2 oz (57 g) (1/3 cup) dark brown sugar
1½ tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 T milk (any kind – I use nonfat)
2 tsp vanilla
Maple Drizzle – recipe follows at the end
Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Cut the cold butter into small pieces and add to dry ingredients. Cross-cut using 2 knives to break up butter into pea-sized pieces.
(If using the food processor, place butter with dry ingredients and pulse about 8 times – until the butter becomes pea-sized. Empty into a medium sized bowl.) In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, pumpkin, milk, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently fold to mix. Empty onto a well-floured counter and knead about 5 or 6 times. (I use a bench scraper to help since the dough is sticky.) With floured fingers, pat dough into an 8″ circle (try to keep the dough to an even thickness) and cut into 8 wedges.Place on a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet (I prefer a dark sheet that’s greased.) Bake at 400º F with the rack in the middle position for about 16 minutes. They’re at their best when they’re slightly dark on the bottom. The last time I baked them, I thought I overcooked them (see photo), but they were amazing – a slight crunch on the outside and perfect chew inside. So when you check them for doneness, look for slightly dark sides. Then remove from oven onto wire rack to completely cool before icing.
1 T butter
about 1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 T maple syrup (use the pure syrup)
1/2 tsp vanilla
Melt butter. Stir in confectioners sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla. Blend well, smashing any sugar lumps. If icing is too thin, add more sugar; if too thick, add a little milk.For easier control over the drizzle, pour icing into a spouted cup or a pastry bag with a small circle tip. Design as you wish.Allow icing to harden before serving.
My introduction to Morovian Sugar Cake was a little bittersweet.
I found the recipe in a newspaper (this was well before the internet!) and it sounded intriguing. Being very young and inexperienced in the kitchen, I didn’t allow myself quite enough time. I was able to get it in the oven before I needed to go to work, but my roommates were left in charge of removing it.
All that remained when I got home was one 3″ X 3″ square. They said it was so good they couldn’t stop eating it. I ate the remains, and it was magnificent. In fact, I was amazed they were able to leave me any.
Note: Don’t repeat my mistake – allow enough time for rising!
MOROVIAN SUGAR CAKE
1 cup water 100º – 104º Fahrenheit
2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes flakes
1/4 cup instant dry milk
1 tsp + 1/8 tsp salt, divided
6 T + 6 T butter, melted, divided
about 4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
1 tsp cinnamon
In a measuring cup stir the water and yeast together. Let proof for 5 minutes.
In the food processor, pulse together the granulated sugar, potato flakes, dry milk, and 1 tsp salt. Add in 6 T butter and eggs. Process to blend.With machine running, pour in the proofed yeast water. Add 3½ cups to processor and blend. Add flour one tablespoon at a time, processing after each, until dough starts pulling away from sides of the work bowl. Stop adding flour, and run machine another 30 seconds to knead the dough. Pour dough into a greased rimmed baking sheet (jelly-roll pan) and pat dough to fill the pan evenly. Cover with a tea towel and let rise about 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
While dough is rising, in a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, and 1/8 tsp salt. After dough has risen, create pockets with your fingertip, the handle of a wooden spoon, or something else that’s about 1/2″ diameter. Sprinkle the sugar topping over the entire cake. Drizzle the remaining 6 T melted butter over all. Bake at 350º F for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool at least 5 minutes before serving.
My mother used to love to buy lady’s club cookbooks. You know the ones – they’re made up of the members favorite recipes. Once I left home, she would buy them for me, too. This was years before the internet. Back then, we had to rely on cookbooks, magazines, and recipes passed on from friends and family.
Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake became an instant favorite of mine. Not only is it delicious, but it’s made in a bundt pan, which makes serving easy.
I feel obligated to disclose that back when I was very young and could afford the calories, I would top my serving of Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake with vanilla ice cream, followed by chocolate sauce. Amazing!!!
CHOCOLATE CHIP COFFEE CAKE
1/2 cup + 1 T butter at room temperature, divided
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups + 1 T all-purpose flour, divided
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle’s)
1/3 cup dark or light brown sugar (I use dark)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped & lightly toasted
2 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
Prepare the bundt pan by melting 1 T butter and stirring in 1 T flour. Using a pastry brush, paint flour/butter thoroughly on bundt pan – getting into all the crevices. In an electric mixer, cream together 1/2 cup butter and granulated sugar for 3 minutes (don’t cut this time short). Beat in eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the 2 cups of flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. On low speed of mixer, beat in 1/2 of sour cream (don’t worry about being exact). Beat in 1/2 of flour mixture, then beat in remaining sour cream, followed by remaining flour. Stir in chocolate chips. (The picture below shows vanilla being added now – I forgot to add it earlier with the eggs.)In a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, powdered sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon. Spoon half of batter on bottom of bundt pan, gently spreading it out evenly.Sprinkle on half of brown sugar mixture, then spoon on remaining batter, spreading it evenly. Finally, sprinkle on remaining brown sugar mixture. Bake at 350º F for 45-60 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean (it’s okay for there to be chocolate from the chips). When done, remove from oven and let cake sit in pan for 20 minutes before removing to a wire rack to completely cool. Sprinkle on powdered sugar, if desired.
There are easily hundreds of chocolate chip cookie recipes. For years my go-to recipe was the one on the Nestle’s chocolate chip bag. While it’s absolutely delicious, I decided to see if I could improve on it.
Let me just say, there really is no such thing as a bad chocolate chip cookie. BUT, some are definitely better than others. As usual, I started with an America’s Test Kitchen recipe, tweaking it to suit my taste.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES – makes about 21, depending on size
6 T butter, divided, cut into 1 T pieces
2 + 3/4 oz (1/2 cup) shortening (I use Crisco)
4 + 1/4 oz (3/4 cup) dark brown sugar
3 + 1/4 oz (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
8 + 3/8 oz (1¾ cup + 2 T) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 + 3/4 oz (1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet)
2 + 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle’s)
2 + 1/2 oz (3/4 cup) pecans, chopped and lightly toasted
Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.
In a small light colored skillet (so you can see the color change – I used an aluminium pan), melt 4 T of the butter over medium/high heat. It will begin bubbling.Start swirling pan until butter is browned (turns reddish/amber) – it happens fast, so don’t leave unattended! (You may need to turn down the heat a bit or raise the pan off the flame.) Immediately pour into large mixing bowl of your electric mixer. Add in the remaining 2 T butter and stir until melted. (This will cool down the butter.) Let melted butter cool at least 15 minutes. (You don’t want to melt the shortening.)
Add in Crisco and, on low speed, beat until shortening is incorporated. (It can be a little lumpy – don’t worry, it will become creamy soon.) Add in the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla. Beat on medium 2 minutes. Don’t shortchange the 2 minutes – it aerates the batter. Add in whole egg and yolk and beat on low for 30 seconds. Let rest 3 minutes. USE A TIMER! (You’ll be doing this for a total of 3 times.) Beat on low for 30 seconds, then let rest another 3 minutes. Finally, beat on low for 30 seconds (this is the LAST time, I promise!) and let set 3 minutes.
Add in the flour and baking soda. Mix on low until flour is almost incorporated (don’t overmix). Add in the chips and pecans, and mix on low until they are evenly disbursed and all the flour is incorporated. Line cookie sheets with parchment or grease. Use a 3 T ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup filling it 3/4 full. Drop dough onto cookie sheet, spacing them far apart – you should get no more than 9 per sheet. Bake in a preheated 375º F oven 8-11 minutes. (Check at the 8 minute mark – they cook faster on a dark sheet.) You want the edges to look done, but not the center (unless you like crispier cookies). The cookies will continue to bake on the hot sheet. Remove from oven and let set on the hot cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Slide onto a wire rack to finish cooling.It’s tempting to eat them right away, but try and resist. The flavor improves as they cool and firm up.
There is a reason people say, “easy as pie”. Making a pie IS easy. Of course, making a great pie is as easy as making a bad one, so it’s important to have a great recipe.
There are 3 components to pies: crust, filling, and topping.
Crust: You want it flavorful, but not overpowering. You don’t want soggy-bottoms, but you don’t want crunchy (unless it’s a graham cracker crust, of course.) Yes, you can buy pre-made and it will be okay, but homemade is so easy and world’s better…with the right recipe.
Filling: The key to apple pie filling is…apples. There is a myth that you should use Granny Smith or some other crisp, tart apple for apple pie. NOOOOO! Why would you want a tart and crunchy apple pie? I’ve found that the absolute BEST variety is Red Delicious (or possibly Golden Delicious). It will NOT get mushy, as some people seem to think. The pieces will soften somewhat during the bake, but will still retain their shape and individuality. And they’re sweet!
Topping: I’m not a fan of the double crust – a bottom crust is enough for me. A streusel topping provides added flavor (apples really don’t have that much flavor), with a nice crunch.
Caramel drizzle: I guess this is optional, but drizzling on caramel adds an additional layer of flavor.
1/4 cup rolled oats (either old fashioned or quick-cooking)
1/4 cup butter, cold
about 1/3 cup caramel ice cream topping
Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.
Have ready a cooled, par-baked pastry crust. The best recipe I’ve found is America’s Test Kitchen’s Vodka Pie Crust (Don’t worry – the vodka evaporates away.) Recipe follows at bottom.
In a very large bowl (use large so you don’t spill as you stir in the apples), mix together the granulated sugar, 3 T flour, salt, and cinnamon. Working quickly, peel and core the apples. Cut 3 of the apples into 1/8″ thick slices, and the other 3 a little thicker. Make sure they’re bite-sized for ease of eating – you don’t want long strips of apple. Add apples into the flour mixture and blend well. Pour into the cooled pie crust – there’s a lot of filling, so you’ll have to pile it high towards the middle. Make sure none of the apple pieces sit on the crust edge. To prevent over-browning, cover the pie edge with foil or purchased pie edge protectors (see photo of what I use). Bake at 375º for 25 minutes.
While pie is baking, prepare the streusel topping. Into the food processor put the remaining 1/4 cup flour, brown sugar, and oats. Run machine about 20 seconds to grind the oats and break up any hard brown sugar lumps. Cut cold butter into about 5 pieces or so, and add to processor. Pulse about 10 times to blend. When the pie has cooked for 25 minutes, remove from oven. Evenly sprinkle on streusel and remove the edge protectors. Return pie to 375º F oven and bake another 20-25 minutes. Don’t let the top get too brown or it will make slicing difficult to cut through. Place pie on a rack or stovetop and drizzle on the caramel topping. Let set at least 1 hour, preferably longer, or you’ll have a lava flow when you slice it.
VODKA PIE CRUST(AMERICA’S TEST KITCHEN RECIPE – amended) – makes 1 crust
Note: This needs to be made in a food processor.
3/4 cup + 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1½ T granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 T butter, cold
4 T Crisco (or any shortening), cold
2 T vodka
2 T water
In the workbowl of your food processor, pulse together 3/4 cup flour, sugar, and salt. Add in the butter and Crisco. Run the machine (don’t pulse) 15 seconds. The dough will come together into a creamy mass. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse about 8 times. Empty into a bowl.
Pour in the vodka and water. Gently (so it doesn’t splatter) fold together to incorporate the liquid into the dough. This is a very well dough. Press it together into a lump, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Empty the cold dough onto a very well floured, flat surface. Sprinkle flour on top and on your rolling pin. Begin rolling dough from center outwards. Keep flouring the dough and the rolling pin lightly, so there’s no sticking.
Once the dough is rolled out large enough to cover the pie plate, with an inch to spare for crimping, you’re going to have to transfer the dough. Take your time – this is a wet dough! My favorite method is to take my bench scraper and go around underneath the dough a little at a time, lifting up the dough and pushing some flour underneath as I go. Once I get to the center, I lift up one side and fold dough in half. Then I carefully lift folded dough from sides and place in pie plate (Make sure you have it very close by!)
Unfold the dough and nudge it into the corners (don’t press the dough down – you’ll stretch it). Arrange the dough so it’s not folded anywhere. Fold over-hanging dough and crimp. Refrigerate 1 hour to prevent shrinkage.
Preheat oven to 375º.
Line cold dough with waxed paper or parchment, then fill with pie weights. (I use metal washers topped with uncooked beans.) Bake for 10 minutes. Remove paper and weights by grabbing the 4 corners of paper and gently rocking the weight package back and forth to loosen, then rocking it up and out. Return dough to oven and continue baking until browned – about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on dough, particularly when you return it to the oven to make sure the crust stays flat. If you notice it rising, gently press down with the back of a fork.
Once the crust is golden brown, remove from oven and let cool to firm up.
Being the loving husband his is, my friend, George, was whipping up a batch of fat-free blueberry muffins for his wife, Kathy, while we were visiting. I was curious about his recipe and what was used instead of the fat.
Turns out he uses a boxed mix. Sigh!!! Besides being costly, boxed mixes contain 12-letter ingredients that can only be pronounced by a chemist. I knew I could do better! All I had to do was come up with an easy, tasty, and fat-free muffin. Piece of cake….or muffin!
After several batches, I had a winner. I’m not going to lie and tell you this Fat-Free Blueberry Muffin is the same a the full-fat kind. It’s not. It has a spongy texture – which isn’t a bad thing…just different than the crumbly texture of regular muffins. But if you’re watching your cholesterol and calories, this works great.
NOTE: The calorie count per muffin is between 125 – 140, depending on how much sugar you sprinkle on top.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: When I’m making something that only calls for an egg yolk (custards, cookies, etc), I always freeze the unused egg whites. This is a perfect recipe to use them up. Conversely, I believe you can freeze unused egg yolks, but I’ve never actually tried it.
FAT-FREE BLUEBERRY MUFFINS – makes 12 muffins
2 cups (9 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
4 egg whites
1¼ nonfat milk
1 T lemon zest, packed into spoon
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup small blueberries (I use frozen)
Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit.
Grease well a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil.
In medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a larger bowl combine whites, milk, zest, 1/2 cup sugar, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low, a hand-crank egg beater, or whisk until bubbles form on top – it takes about 30 seconds. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and gently combine, until most of the flour is incorporated. Don’t overmix or you’ll get tough muffins. Add in the blueberries and fold in, just to combine. (Frozen blueberries – which I use – tend to bleed.) Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tin, dividing batter equally. (An ice cream scooper is perfect for this.) Sprinkle about 1 tsp of sugar onto each. Bake in preheated 400º F oven for about 16 minutes, rotating them halfway through to cook evenly. They should be firm with slightly browned edges. Remove from oven and let set in tin about 2 minutes. To remove, run a rounded knife around sides, then start pushing in around the bottom with the knife to help release the muffin. Set muffins on a wire rack to cool a bit before eating.