Sometimes, you can’t improve on a baked-from-scratch classic, like this Apple Pie. Apples, flaky pastry, and a bit of cinnamon is all that’s needed…except maybe a scoop of ice cream.
I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday and came across two videos of recipes being prepared in fast-motion. They weren’t special recipes – one was carrot cake and other was banana bread. I was astonished to realize the banana bread recipe had received over 8 million hits. Eight…million…hits – for banana bread. My blog is over 10 years old and I haven’t reached 8 million hits total, let alone for one post.
I have online presence envy.
The truth is that I’ll probably never have 8 million hits for a post. Those videos are for people who want a recipe that’s fast…and easy…with as little fuss as possible…and doesn’t require a special pan or spice…and results in something the whole family will love. Those videos are for what I call “Everyday Cooks.” You know who they are. After a full day at work, these folks are expected to arrive home and whip up something soul-satisfying and delicious day after day after day. God bless them. I could never do that – it would suck the joy of cooking right out of me.
Instead, I write for the food enthusiast, culinary explorers who learn about different cultures through preparing and eating their food, who are enamored by new ingredients or cooking techniques, and are willing to sacrifice gluten sensitivities and sugar phobias for the perfect slice of homemade apple pie. We relish the fuss – handmade crusts, apples harvested from the garden. We are a special breed, our numbers are small, but our passion is deep.
For my fellow enthusiasts…
Classic Apple Pie
This crust recipe, my favorite and from The Pioneer Woman, makes three crusts. Not sure what to do with the extra crust? Freeze it and use it for a single-crust pie later.
- 4-5 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- zest from ½ lemon
- Juice from ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup Crisco
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 5 Tablespoons cold water
- 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
- 3 cups All-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 Tablespoon sugar, preferably turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw
- In a medium bowl, combine apples, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Toss to coat. Set apple filling aside.
- Chill butter and Crisco until very cold by placing both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and Crisco to flour and pulse on/off until mixture resembles coarse meal (you can also combine the flour and fats using a pastry blender if you don’t want to drag out your processor – more effort, less clean-up). Scrape mixture into a large bowl, add egg mixture, and stir until combined. Don’t overwork dough.
- Separate the dough into thirds (If you prefer a more substantial crust, separate in half) and roll into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze for about 15 to 20 minutes to chill. (If you will be storing the dough in the freezer for a longer period, form dough into a disk and seal in a Ziplock bag. Thaw 20 minutes before using).
- Preheat oven to 375⁰. Sprinkle crust with a bit of flour and then, in between two sheets of waxed paper, roll out the bottom crust, starting at the center and working your way into a 11” – 12” circle. Once the dough is the correct size, peel off the top layer of waxed paper and, using the bottom sheet, transfer the dough to a 9” pie pan. Flip the dough over, peel off the bottom sheet, and gently press the dough into the pan. Go around the pie pan tucking the dough to make a clean edge. Freeze until second crust is rolled out. Roll out the second crust into a 12” circle between two sheets of waxed paper and transfer to freezer until ready to use.
- Remove the bottom crust from the freezer. Sprinkle with panko crumbs (this helps avoid a soggy bottom crust). Fill with apple mixture, but do not include any juice/liquid that may have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl; Dot filling with bits of unsalted butter. Remove top crust from freezer. Peel off top sheet of waxed paper, flip crust on top of filling, and trim top pie dough so that overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only about 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath bottom crust and crimp decoratively. Cut a few decorative vents on top of pie. Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
- Bake at 375° for 50-60 minutes or until crust is brown and filling is bubbly. If edges brown too quickly, cover edges with foil. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Extra apples? This easy slow-cooker apple butter requires minimal stirring and fuss – and makes the house smell wonderful while it bubbles away.
Blame it on baking ADD, but when I spied a few empty jam jars piled next to the basket of homegrown apples, my thoughts quickly turned from classic apple pies and apple frangipane tarts to jars of thick, slow-simmered, spiced apple butter. Since the slow-cooker does most of the work, I was back to baking in no time while the scent of slow-cooked apples wafted through the house.
Slow-Cooker Spiced Apple Butter
Extra apples? This easy slow-cooker apple butter requires minimal stirring and fuss - and makes the house smell wonderful while it bubbles away.
- 2 lbs. apples
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Peel, core and dice apples. Place in a slow cooker on low. Cover apples with sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, Chinese 5-spice, and salt.
- Let simmer on low for 10-12 hours, stirring every hour or so, until very dark and very thick. Spoon in jars and refrigerate. Keeps for 3 weeks. Freeze for 6 months.
Blame it on this sight.
Fresh summer fruit keeps this Nectarine Coffee Cake moist. Try substituting the nectarines for other seasonal fruit like cherries or pears.
The nectarine tree in the front yard is pregnant with fruit. The firm, juicy orbs are days away from their peak ripeness. The bounty came late this year. The heavy clusters already snapping a large branch, an annual occurrence. I should cull them in March, but I feel guilty not giving each one the chance to ripen. A few sun-soaked fruit are ready to burst. This weekend, I plucked two of these soft, round globes of goodness and consumed them sun-warmed and straight from the tree – juice dripping unabashedly down my chin. A handful more made it into this moist nectarine coffee cake.
Nectarine Coffee Cake
Fresh summer nectarines keep this cake moist. Try substituting the nectarines for other seasonal fruit like cherries or pears.
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 ¼ lbs. nectarines, cut into ½ inch wedges
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch nutmeg
- ⅓ cup apricot jam
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9” springform pan. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until combined. Stir in flour (batter with be thick).
- Spread batter in prepared pan. Press nectarine wedges halfway into batter in concentric circles, spacing slightly apart. Combine remaining sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkle over nectarines. Bake until cake is golden and tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes. Release pan sides. Cool for 10 minutes.
- Warm apricot jam in microwave 30 seconds. Sieve jam and brush over coffee cake. Serve warm or room temperature.
Adapted from Cinnamon-Sugar Plum Cake
This Quiche with Hash Brown Crust is a flavorful and savory addition to any brunch buffet and a great way to use up leftover meat and veggies. And, it’s gluten-free.
With a record high of 114 degrees today, I’ve decided to forgo my late-morning walk and midday backyard gardening. With the air-conditioning cranked on high, I’m retreating to my kitchen instead. My friends think I’m crazy to bake on a scorcher like today, but as longer as I keep the A/C to oven temp ratio just so, it becomes a normal baking day just like any other – and the ideal opportunity to whip up something special like this brunch classic – with a hash brown twist.
Quiche with hash brown crust
A flavorful savory addition to any brunch buffet and a great way to use up leftover meat and veggies; Also tasty for dinner with a lightly dressed salad.
- 3 cups frozen shredded hash browns, thawed and blotted dry with paper towels
- 4 Tablespoons melted butter
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 cup meat such as bacon, ham, or chicken (I used sweet Italian sausage)
- 1 ½ cups vegetables, thawed if frozen (I used frozen artichoke hearts and spinach)
- 1 cup cheese, divided (I used mozzarella)
- 4 large eggs
- ½ cup half-and-half
- 1 (rounded) Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a bowl, toss hash browns, butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper until combined. Press in the bottom and up the sides of a 9” pie plate to form a crust. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crust begins to turn golden brown and crisp along the edges. Remove from oven and gently press on crust to compact slightly (I use the bottom of a glass or measuring cup). Let cool for 5 minutes. Reduce oven to 350 degrees F.
- Meanwhile, in a large pan, sauté meat until beginning to brown. Add vegetables and sauté until all moisture has evaporated and meat is cooked through. Let cool for 5 minutes and then arrange on top of crust. Cover with half the cheese.
- In a bowl, beat eggs with half-and-half. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over meat and vegetables.
- Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and continue baking for 10-15 minutes until top is set and egg mixture is slightly wet when pierced with a sharp knife (egg will continue to cook). Cool 5 minutes, slice and serve plain, with tomato sauce or guacamole.
This Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese elevates a humble vegetable to new heights.
Sometimes, I can’t help but equate my never-ending search for the perfect Bed and Breakfast purchase to online dating. I start out searching for geographic desirability (location is key), then I’ll notice a photo that sparks my interest, maybe smile a bit when reading the “bio” – ocean views, fireplaces, large owner’s quarters, commercial kitchen – only to be disappointed when faced with the reality. I found another Inn for sale this week in an ideal location along the Mendocino coast, only to be told by my broker that, according to the financials, it’s most likely a “lifestyle B&B” (read: not making significant income). This is the equivalent in the online dating world to “still lives with his mother.” Sigh.
Enough daydreaming for today, Julie. Back to the monotonous suburban daily grind that is slowing sucking away my soul – and the safe harbor of happiness called my kitchen. This is another recipe from Joshua McFadden’s cookbook, Six Seasons. I love that he takes humble, quotidian vegetables, like carrots and, in this case, celery, and gives them a starring role like in this crunchy celery-centric salad.
Celery Salad with Dates, Almonds and Bleu Cheese
A crisp, refreshing salad that pairs well with cold poached salmon or cold roast chicken.
- 8-10 celery stalks (depending on size), leaves reserved, tough fibers peeled off, sliced on an angle, ¼ inch thick
- 4 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- ½ cup roughly chopped toasted almonds
- 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 oz. mild blue cheese, crumbled
- 4 Tablespoons Good quality olive oil
- Soak sliced celery pieces in a bowl of ice water for about 20 minutes to heighten crispness. Strain, pat dry, and place in a dry bowl (I dried out the same bowl).
- Add the celery leaves, dates, almonds, lemon juice and red pepper flakes and toss together. Season well with salt and black pepper. Adjust seasoning, if needed. At the blue cheese and olive oil. Toss gently and adjust seasoning again, adding more olive oil, lemon juice, salt or pepper as needed.
- Let chill for 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine.
On a side note, I was pleased to find my Cranberry Bakewell Mini Tarts featured on the Shari’s Berries site this week. Thanks for the shout out!