Classic Apple Pie

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.

Apple Pie from Scratch

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

  • Servings: One 9” pie
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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.


Ingredients

    FILLING
  • 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
  • CRUST
  • 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

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine apples, brown sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Toss to coat. Set apple filling aside.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Raspberry-Rose Viennese Whirls

As pretty as they are delicious – Raspberry-Rose Viennese Whirls.

Viennese Whirls
If baking is Love made edible, then these Viennese whirls are my billet-doux to St. Valentine, himself – layers of homemade raspberry-rose jam and vanilla buttercream sandwiched between delicate melt-in-your-mouth Viennese cookies. Will you be mine, Valentine?


Raspberry Rose Viennese Whirls

Love made edible – slightly adapted from Mary Berry’s recipe.

Ingredients

    Jam
  • 7 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 7 oz. sugar
  • 4 teaspoons rose water
  • Cookies
  • 9 oz. unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 ¾ oz. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • ⅛ teaspoon table salt (not kosher salt)
  • 8 oz. all-purpose flour
  • 1 oz. cornstarch
  • Buttercream
  • 3 ½ oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 7 oz. confectioner’s sugar, sifted plus more for dusting
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add rose water. Transfer to a small container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.
  2. Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment. Using a 2” round cutter as a guide, draw 8 circles on each sheet of paper, spaced well apart. Turn the paper over so the pencil marks are underneath.
  3. Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour and cornstarch and beat until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle. Pipe 24 swirled rounds (not rosettes), inside the circles on the baking sheets. Refrigerate cookies for 15 minutes before baking (this will help cookies retain their shape).
  4. Bake in the center of the oven for 13—15 minutes, until pale golden-brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. Make Buttercream: Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle.
  6. Assemble: Spoon a layer of jam onto the flat side of 12 of the cookies and place jam-side up on a cooling rack. Pipe an equal thickness of buttercream over the jam and sandwich with the remaining cookies. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Share the love.

Walnut Cake with Cherry Filling

Rich Walnut Cake with tart Morello cherries pair well in the layer cake for a special occasion.

Walnut Cake
With a natural design esthetic that falls along the line of Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, it’s challenging to content myself with royal icing roses and buttercream doll cakes. I realize, however, as an utter decorating novice, I’m obliged to acquire the basic skills first. I’ll discover my particular decorating style once I’ve mastered gum paste pigs and delicate string work. Today, I’m struggling to learn a technique called “brush embroidery,” although the final product reminds me of porcelain rather than embroidery. I’ve learned much on my initial flawed attempt.

With my first cakes, I’ve been practicing rolled fondant. While I appreciate the smooth finish fondant delivers, I’m not an admirer of the lackluster, tooth-achingly sweet flavor. When served a slice of fondant-covered cake, I typically peel off the fondant before eating the naked cake. As a counterbalance to fondant’s sweetness, I came up with this minimally sweet walnut cake and tart Morello cherry filling; no fondant peeling needed.


Walnut Cake with Cherry Filling

Use your favorite vanilla buttercream recipe with this cake

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs beaten, room temp
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Vanilla Buttercream
  • 1 jar Morello cherries in light syrup (available at Trader Joe’s), drained and dried on paper towel.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in walnuts.
  2. Pour batter evenly into pans.  Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a few moist crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
  3. Fill cake with buttercream and a layer of Morello cherries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired.


Cake Decorating

Practicing “Brush Embroidery”

Lemon Verbena Shortbread

Lemon Shortbread
When someone learns I’m a chef and food blogger, one of the first questions is usually, “What is your specialty?” I’m never quite sure how to respond – Everything edible?

If I’m honest, I should respond that I’m really, really skilled at whipping up a batch of cookies somewhere around midnight because, well, it amounts to the almost nightly use of my oven. One bowl, a handful of ingredients, a sheet pan and, viola, late night sweet treats – to the detriment of my waistline.

Take, for example, these Lemon Verbena Shortbread cookies, last night’s recent addition to my “Cookies at Midnight” series.


Lemon Verbena Shortbread

  • Servings: 16 cookies
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If you don’t have access to lemon verbena, these would also be tasty with a ¾ teaspoon of lemon zest instead.

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 8 to 12 lemon verbena leaves
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 6 Tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • ¼ t. salt
  • Colored crystal sugar for decoration, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse sugar with lemon verbena leaves until sugar is highly fragrant and flecked with green. Add leaves as needed to get desired flavor.
  2. Add flour, cold butter, cornstarch and salt and pulse until mixture resembles fresh breadcrumbs (dough will be very dry).
  3. Pour dough into an 8” spring form pan and press down firmly. Sprinkle liberally with crystal sugar and press into dough. Pierce dough all over with fork.
  4. Baked until pale golden, about 35-40 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, release sides of pan and then cut shortbread into 16 wedges. Using a spatula, carefully transfer shortbread to a platter or cooling rack.

Easy Shortbread

Shiksa’s Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup Recipe
He strode over to our brightly lit booth and asked if he could take our photo. He was a photojournalist snapping pics for a book called “A Day in the life of America”. The date was May 2, 1986 – the time, 3:40 a.m. Dressed in black with heavy eyeliner, we would erroneously be called “goth” today, but actually we were paying homage to Steve Strange and bands like Visage. “Of course,” we said. “Who wouldn’t want to take our photo,” we thought. We were young and invincible, a stylish knot of fashionable alternative kids huddled in Canter’s Deli slurping matzo ball soup in the wee hours before dawn. For us, it was truly just another Friday night – a ritual of underground clubs followed by a nosh at Canter’s. At that time of the morning, it was always an eclectic mix in their dining room – clubbers, rockers, blue collar workers, and the local older Jewish community unable to sleep – all there for a bowl of their rich chicken soup surrounding one humongous Jewish dumpling. Comfort in an unbreakable melamine cafeteria bowl.

For me, even 30 years later, matzo ball soup still conjures those early mornings spent at Canter’s. The book came out several months later – our photo disappointingly left on the cutting room floor. This recipe is dedicated to those kids in 1986 – intoxicated by life, in love with late L.A. nights and shimmering with uncontainable youth.


Shiksa’s Matzo Ball Soup

I prefer to make my matzo balls smaller and serve two per bowl rather than the classic single humongous dumpling.

Ingredients

    Matzo Balls
  • 4 large eggs, well beaten
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 cup matzo meal (such as Manischewitz)
  • Soup
  • 2 carrots, cut into ½” rounds
  • 2 celery ribs, cut ½” thick
  • 1 small onion cut into ½” cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups shredded chicken
  • Salt and white pepper to taste

Directions

  1. To make matzo balls, beat together eggs, oil, stock, parsley, zest, salt and pepper until combined. Fold in matzo meal and stir until fully combined. Cover and chill mixture.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium soup pot or Dutch oven (not too big – stock will need to be 4” deep to cook matzo balls), sauté carrot, celery and onion until softened but not brown. Add garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and thyme and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the matzo mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten your hands with cold water and quickly shape the mixture into 8 smooth balls. As you form each ball, drop it into the simmering soup. Cover soup and cook for about 30 minutes longer, turning matzo balls over half-way through cooking. Cook until carrots are tender and matzo balls are fully cooked.
  4. Remove garlic cloves, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. Add shredded chicken and season well with salt and white pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, divide matzo balls evenly.