Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cherry Pie

Many years ago I was a pastry chef in an European-style bakery in Palo Alto, California. We made beautiful cakes, pastries, cookies, and breads, but we didn't make pies or tarts. Over the years I have made countless on my own, but I have to admit I have always been a little afraid of the crusts. It can be intimidating to find the right balance of mixing just enough to keep the dough flaky and rolling it out at the correct temperature so as not to fight with the dough. This Thanksgiving everything seemed to be in perfect alignment and I felt after many years of practice it all came together correctly.

While you can make pie crust by hand, in a food processor, or in a standing mixer, I achieve the best results with my standing mixer - at least in the shortest amount of time. Making pie crust by hand does make a very tender crust and is therapeutic when you need a tactile experience, but when speed is important choose the mixer.

Chilling the dough for an hour is the perfect amount of time for it to rest and still be pliable enough to roll out without a battle. I roll the dough between parchment sheets.  It allows me to manipulate the dough easily. Parchment sheets are available from a number of online retailers. If you do a lot of baking you might consider purchasing a pack. I use them to line pans, sift ingredients on and roll out doughs.  Mine are full sheets, but they come in half-sheets, as well. I think they work better than parchment on a roll because they are wider and don't curl.

The pie crust is a recipe adapted from Ready For Dessert by David Lebovitz. If you aren't familiar with David Lebovitz, he was a pastry chef for many years at the famed Chez Panisse restaurant. He has written several cookbooks and writes a fabulous blog about his life in Paris. David's cookbooks are so thoughtfully written. Not all chefs, pastry or otherwise, readily share their culinary secrets, but David is so generous with his knowledge and conveys it to his readers with an entertaining and clever writing style. I have made several recipes from his cookbooks always will spectacular results.

This is a great basic pie crust recipe. It makes one, double-crust 9-inch (23 cm) or 10-inch (25 cm) pie or two, single-crust 9-inch (23 cm) or 10-inch (25 cm) pies. I agree totally with David on using only butter in the crust. After all, butter is king in the pastry world, it can't be beat for its flavor.

The cherry pie recipe is adapted from my mother's recipe file. Often fruit pies use flour as a thickening agent. I learned from Jim Dodge, the pastry chef of San Francisco's Stanford Court Hotel to use tapioca instead. It allows the juices to thicken, but remain clear and produce the purist taste without any hint of flour. Use minute tapioca, which is pulverized, or grind regular tapioca in a food processor.

Pie Crust
Adapted from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

2 1/2 cups (350 g) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces/226 g) cold, unsalted butter
8 tablespoons (120 ml) ice water

In a standing mixer with a paddle attachment mix flour, sugar, and salt. Cut butter into 1/2 pieces and add. Mix until butter and flour look like coarse meal. With the mixer slowly running add 6 tablespoons of water just until the dough comes together. If it looks dry add another tablespoon or two.

Work the dough into two disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for an hour.

Cherry Pie

6 cups (3 pounds/1 1/2 kg) fresh or frozen (pitted) sour cherries
1 cup (200 g) sugar
2 tablespoons (30 g) minute tapioca or regular tapioca pulverized in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons (1 ounce/30 g) butter
Cream and coarse sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 400℉ (200℃). Roll out the pie dough on a floured surface or between lightly floured parchment paper or waxed paper making two disks. Lightly spray the pie pan with non-stick cooking spray. Fit one disk into a 9-inch (23 cm) or 10-inch (25 cm) pie pan.

In a large bowl mix cherries, sugar, tapioca, and almond extract together. If using frozen cherries they can be frozen or thawed. Put in crust and dot with butter.

Cut the second crust into strips with a crimping wheel or knife. Weave the strips to make a lattice top on the pie. Crimp the edges to seal. (Alternately, place the second crust whole and uncut over the top and crimp edges to seal.) Brush the lattice top or the whole top depending upon which you use with a little cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired. If using a single crust make two vents in the top crust with a sharp knife.

Bake in the center of the oven until the juices are thick and bubbling. If using fresh cherries bake for 40-50 minutes. If using frozen cherries bake for 50-70 minutes. If the crust gets dark too quickly cover loosely with aluminum foil. It is a good idea to bake on a pie ring or put a pan on the lower shelf of the oven to catch any run-away juices.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Joy of Running Water

I felt overwhelming joy the first time I turned on the new faucet and water sprung forth and it went down the drain and not all over the floor.  Plumbing is like so many things - great when it works - useless when it doesn't - like cars, computers, phones, garage door openers...

Now that the cabinet bases were in place, Addison and Maddie put in the drawers and installed cabinet doors, followed by the handles, baseboards, and trim.

Cabinet doors

The cabinet next to the dishwasher has a pull out deep drawer for the trash.  We were missing the correct parts, so another trip to IKEA was needed.  They were getting to know us there.

Hiding the pipes

Cabinet handles

A helpful hint when installing the handles - use a block of wood flush against the back side of the cabinet door or drawer to keep the paint or finish from coming off when you drill the hole for the handle.

More handles and under-cabinet lights

The electricians returned to install under-cabinet lighting.  Both the ceiling lights and the under-cabinet lights are LED soft white lights.  They don't produce heat, so the kitchen stays cool.  They are supposed to light for thousands and thousands of hours.  I figure I will be long gone before they burn out.

Trim hiding under-cabinet lights

Baseboards under cabinets

One unexpected pleasure of the kitchen remodel was the shear appreciation I gained for all the simple things we often take for granted until we no longer have them.  The first time I made eggs, bacon, and toast after the new stove was installed we marveled at how delicious it tasted.  Was it the new stove?  Or, the new pan?  Both are great, but we decided it was because we had been eating lots of take-out and fast food (not that I'm slamming them), having honest home cooked food after a long absence sure tasted good. Or, perhaps it was the bacon.  After all, what doesn't taste great with bacon?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No Dishwasher, No Sink

Let's face it, a dishwasher is a luxury.  Although extremely nice, it isn't a necessity.  On the other hand, a sink is pretty essential.  We tried to demolition the kitchen in sections, so it wouldn't be a complete disaster all at once.  But after going without a stove for longer than I had hoped, I felt slightly panicked as I looked at the sink unceremonious tossed on the back porch next to my sadly neglected tomato plant.

The entire contents of the kitchen were now stored in boxes lining the dining room walls.  To make anything to eat you first had to find what was needed from one of the open boxes.  Once we removed the sink and dishwasher you had to go in the opposite direction to use the laundry room sink to wash anything.  Making food of any kind became a lengthy affair.

We tried to make this part of the process move as quickly as possible, but we hit some obstacles.  We had been given a wrong upper cabinet, so a trip to IKEA was needed, only to discover after our return that the counter tops that had been delivered were damaged and needed to be exchanged.  That was followed by discovering we were a foot short with the counter tops, thus another trip was needed.  Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal, but the nearest IKEA is a two-hour drive.  Needless to say our progress was slow.

Maddie built cabinets, Addison hung cabinets, and I supervised and asked the dreaded question - 
"Are they level?"  

Finally, all the cabinets on the L-shaped wall were in place.  Addison installed the dishwasher and put in the counter tops and sink.

Now if we only had plumbing...

At least we were clearing out the contents of the living room.

Some helpful hints:

Photograph everything.  We took photos of the walls when there were open.  It helped us locate studs when we hung the cabinets.  We also took pictures of the plumbing.  It was a great reference when Addison did the new plumbing.

Use a new saw blade if you use their counter tops.  It can be difficult to get a clean cut.  Addison used painter's tape and cut from the top-side.  Cutting from the bottom and without tape seemed to cause more splintering.  He cut slowly and let the saw do the work.  Ask at your hardware store for advice on cutting them correctly.  The counter tops are IKEA (white).

If you do an IKEA kitchen, check and double check and recheck everything - and then, check it again.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sugar Pie

When I was a little girl, I loved to spend time in the kitchen watching my mother bake.  She would make cookies and cakes and all sorts of delicious treats.  Whenever she made pies there was always a little dough left over.  She never threw it away.  She would fit the scraps into a miniature pie pan to create a snack for my sister and I to share.  If there was any pie filling left, she would add it or she might put in some apple slices.  But more often than not, she would just sprinkle cinnamon and sugar in the crust and call it 'sugar pie'.

While I was baking for Thanksgiving I remembered mother's 'sugar pies' and it made me smile.  So, I gathered up some left over bits of dough and made a baby sugar pie and a little apple bundle for Addison and Maddie to share.

So, here is to fond memories and for being thankful for all the blessings we have.  May you enjoy the love of family and friends on this cherished holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is It Level?

"Is it level?"  "Is it straight?"  "Are you doing it correctly?"  Much to the annoyance of my children, these became the catch phrases I uttered all summer.  Addison was the engineer and general contractor, Maddie was the cabinet builder, and I was the foreman asking all the questions.  Not surprisingly, I was also a one-woman maintenance crew.

Maddie building cabinets

Maddie built all the cabinets.  I did try to help, once, but on my first attempt I made a mistake, so I was quickly fired.  If you are wondering, I didn't do it on purpose.

IKEA has a clever system for hanging the upper cabinets that make them easy to install.  First you hang a metal bar, then you attach the cabinets to it.  As long as the bar is level the cabinets will be, too.  We just had one little problem - we had to work around the pipe.  Addison had to make cuts in the upper cabinet to accommodate it.   We had planned for the cabinets to go all the way to the ceiling, but the position of the pipe wouldn't allow it.  There was going to be an inch or two difference.   We decided to let the cabinets 'float' on the wall and add molding to the top.

Installing the microwave was difficult because it is so heavy.  Maddie and I held it while Addison attached it to the wall and the upper cabinet.  We were grateful we didn't drop it.

Addison installed the stove and lower cabinets.  If you look closely you will see a small level in some of the photos.  After being asked over and over if things were level he decided to leave it in place, so I could see for myself.  Everything was level.

Now that I had a working oven, after a long absence, I did what any baker would do.  I made cookies.

Sweet and spicy, Snicker doodles are tasty on their own, but when you add the glaze, in the word's of Maddie, "You seal the deal."  It takes the cookies from mmm, to MMM.  But be warned - it is difficult to eat just one.

If you chill the dough before baking the cookies, they will be thicker and softer.  If you need to 'speed' chill them, put the tray of cookies in the freezer for five minutes before baking them.

Glazed Snicker Doodles

1/4 cup (50 g) sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Mix together in a shallow bowl that is large enough to roll the cookie balls in.

1 cup (8 ounces/225 g) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups (385 g) flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).  Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla.  Mix in dry ingredients.  Form balls and roll in cinnamon sugar mixture.  Bake on prepared cookie sheets for 6-8 minutes.  While cookies are baking make the glaze.


1/4 cup (2 ounces/57.5 g) butter
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (62.5 ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cup (175 g) powered sugar, or more if needed

Melt butter, granulated sugar, and milk in small saucepan.  Add vanilla and powered sugar.  Stir until smooth.  Remove from heat.  When cookies are cool enough to handle dip the top in the warm glaze.  You may have to rewarm the glaze, as it cools it will thicken.  Allow to set-up on a cooling rack.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Let There Be Light


The electricians installed the ceiling lighting and Addison finished the drywall. He taped the seams and applied the drywall mud, let it dry, sanded it, applied more mud, let it dry, sanded it, etc. etc., until he had a nice, smooth finish. It is a tedious process that is fun for the first few minutes, then quickly gets old. I did a partial coat of drywall mud, joking that it was like icing a cake. I soon found, like many tasks, it is harder than it looks.

Drywall Mud

We taped sheets of plastic over the doors to keep the drywall sanding dust from permeating the entire house. Unfortunately, it didn't help much. There was dust everywhere - in our hair, on every surface, and even in the refrigerator. I was constantly cleaning to no avail.

A First Coat 

Another Coat

And Another

With the upper cabinets gone, I primed and painted the room. The painting was my job. We each had our tasks. In the South, they often paint the ceilings of the wrap around porches light blue. I was told it is so birds don't nest in them thinking it is the sky. I like the look, so I tried it in my kitchen. I used the paint color 'Atlantis' by Pratt & Lambert (satin finish). I always use P&L paint because the colors are beautiful and the paint is very durable. The finish has an iridescent shimmer that reflects light.

When I designed the kitchen I went through a folder of pictures I had torn out of magazines over the years and looked at countless photos on the Internet. I found that over and over I was drawn to white cabinets with shades of gray either in the counter tops, tile, or walls. Since my cabinets were going to be creamy white, I chose Pratt & Lambert 'Old Silver' for the walls.

Primed Walls

Aqua Ceiling

Gray Walls

The ceiling color is very subtle against the gray. You hardly notice that it is anything other than white.

Paint Finished

The stove was gone, but luckily I still had a sink and dishwasher - at least for a little while longer. When it came to food, if you couldn't toast or microwave it, you were out of luck. We ate a lot of take-out.

Microwave or Toaster?

What all can you put on toast? We discovered quite a lot actually. My favorite was avocado. Addison preferred peanut butter, bananas, and chocolate chips, and Maddie chose Nutella.