“Paulie’s piled-up plate two and a half hours ago hadn’t been enough; he was now eating Lemon Lust pastry bars and Killer Zebras. Any normal human ought to have a gut he’d have to carry around on a wheelbarrow, the way he ate.” -Sunshine
Tangy, zinging lemon bars are one of my all time favorite bake sale treats. But I’ve long since learned that the ubiquitous yellow square is too often chalky on the bottom, gritty in the middle and wet on top. The whole spectrum of human disappointment could probably be mapped to the quality of a lemon square. But when it’s good? Dear gods of lemon zest, when it’s good…
A firm buttery base, creamy lemon-blessed center, and a pristine snowy top that melts into your mouth…
“This crazy came in during the lull between the late-afternoon muffin-and-scone crowd and the early supper eaters so there weren’t too many people around.” -Sunshine
Today’s bout of flour and butter madness is brought to you from the snows of Boston. Guest starring in this episode of incredible edibles is the infallible food connoisseur Cassie. She’s eaten some of the best food in the world (and luckily for me I was cooing and scarfing next to her for some of it) and she’s finally decided to start her own food blog: Ditch the Cilantro. Check it out if you’ve ever wanted to read wisdom from someone who’s eaten more Michelin stars than her age, but can wax poetic about craft beer.
Cassie is one of those lovely people who just happens to have a big container of currants and several pounds of butter on hand right next to an eager cherry red KitchenAid. So when it started to snow this morning, there was really only one thing to do. Scones. Continue reading Scones
“On Friday and Saturday I make pies. Even Charlie doesn’t know the secret of my apple pie. I suppose the secret would be safe with you.” -Sunshine
How does that saying go? Desperate craving is the mother of invention? There was a glorious slice of time during college when I had both time and an oven. What I didn’t have was a pie pan. And when October rolls around, pie is pretty much the only dessert I have on the brain. So what’s a college girl in the middle of the countryside going to do? Something desperate. One tiny pan substitute that transforms the whole dessert brilliantly. So today, dear eaters, I give you: Deep Dish Apple Pie. Sunshine would totally approve.
9 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 ounces vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5-7 tablespoons moonshine
18 ounces all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 tablespoon vanilla sugar
*See end of post for updated crust recipe
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
8 small Granny Smith apples
3 small Fuji apples
I have a confession: I mostly use store bought crusts. *cringe*
I know! It’s terrible, I’m sorry. My half-sane reasoning is pie crust is amazingly bad for you so if I don’t see what goes into it, I won’t feel bad when I end up staring at a half-empty pie pan.
Okay, okay, I hear the crazy. Self-made crust is bad, but it’s still better for you than crappy store crust.
Plus pie crust is one of those easier recipes since everything gets dumped into the food processor in sequence. Not that an easy recipe means I whipped together my crust with no problems. There were problems. But it started off pretty smoothly.
Netflix recently released Good Eats onto the interwebz for mass consumption and I’m re-learning some incredible recipes, techniques and science from my oldest food sensei. And because his version of pie crust has applejack/moonshine the temptation was just too great.
So I took the Good Eats recipe and upped it by 50% since I always err on the side of crust
After reading the excellent article about the science of pie crust in Food Lab I realized that the problems in the last crust weren’t due to getting the dough drunk on moonshine (turns out inebriated crust is supposed to be sloppy like a biscuit. Who knew?). There were two big problems with the original crust (and they’re related):
Batch too large for the food processor.
When trying out the new dough recipes, I remembered in the proto forms of this pie I used the secretshame store-bought regular sized pie doughs, so I stuck to the original batch size to see if it would support a whopping 6lb pie. It did.
Experimental Dough #1 aka Buttercup
I was feeling pretty defeatist at this point, so I didn’t really take pictures. Of course I should have because it all worked out alright in the end. For the first experiment, I tried to follow the Food Lab Easy Pie Dough recipe. There was a very clear explanation as to why I would get what, but of course life isn’t that easy.
See, I’ve gotten pretty okay with the general unhealthiness of pie crust by now. It smells too good and you get kind of desensitized to it after a while. But–and there’s no way to sugar coat this–one Deep Dish Apple Pie takes roughly one pound of butter. And most of that is in the crust. I have long resigned myself to the fact that at the rate I bake it doesn’t make sense to buy in anything other than Costco quantities. Which is the extremely long way of saying…all my one pound butter bricks live in the freezer.
Which means when I followed the recipe to the letter, pulsing 25 times, that wasn’t enough pulsing. There should have been frozen-butter-chunks-pulsing instead of the cool-as-a-cucumber-in-the-fridge pulsing.
As it turns out, using frozen butter and the Easy Pie Dough recipe yields not the easily replicated paste-to-flake magical pie crust recipe. Instead it yields a perfect regular pie crust consistency rife with eyeballing drops of liquid. I added lemon because the acid helps keep the crust tender and because I missed the tang from store bought crusts which accompanies the granny smiths so well and put in a couple tablespoons of moonshine as an extra bit of insurance, then added water a tablespoon at a time until the dough barely stuck together and chilled it in the fridge. Visually there were little nuggets of butter speckled throughout which didn’t resemble any dough I remember.
Experimental Dough #2 aka Pastehead
Armed with another frozen block of butter I pulsed the new dough into frosty submission. I think I still did it wrong because it took less water, but more than the 6 tablespoons called for in the recipe.
For the actual pie it was tricky to test in halves, so I used Buttercup on top and Pastehead on the bottom, understanding several pounds of apples would likely squelch the flake out of Pastehead, but the sides could make an expressive substitute.
Buttercup blossomed in the oven, rising and crisping so beautifully it was like a crosshatch churro. Despite my high hopes for the scientifically proven Pastehead, it was widely regarded as inferior. I thought it might have been product of pie placement, but I took the leftover dough and made some Chicken Pot Pies. Half of the total crust recipe makes two chicken pot pies, so I topped three with Buttercup and one with Pastehead. The results? (I stuck with the name Pastehead, so it’s not like there’s a lot of hope here)
Winner and crisp, flaky champion!
Since deleting whole sections is confusing, I’ll leave my error-riddled crust below, just in case there was something in it that really worked for someone. Feel free to skip ahead.
“Our first customers arrive at six thirty and they want our Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head and I am the one who makes them. I put the dough to rise overnight and it is huge and puffy and waiting when I get there at four-thirty.”
“I [give] myself tendonitis trying to persuade stiff, surly thirty-hour-refrigerated dough that it’s time to loosen up….but I don’t mind. I love working with yeast and flour and sugar and I love the smell of bread baking.”
This is the big one. The biggest baked good in the list from a metaphorical, literal, anticipatory and alliterative perspective. They started my baked good obsession and remain my favorite food to make, sweet or savory. So I really should have built up the suspense and waited a bit to make them, but I couldn’t help it. This whole blog is an homage to these delicious creations.
But make no mistake: these babies take commitment. They require kneading and rising and assembling and patience. But the feel of warm, elastic dough under your knuckles is like the first sip of cider in the fall. The smell that wafts up from a damp washcloth after the yeast underneath has been basking in the sun is a million times better than the bread aisle at the store. And crumbling dark brown sugar and cinnamon on butter-brushed dough with your fingers is just about the best activity in the history of fingers.
Seriously, cinnamon rolls are worth the effort.
I tried a lot of recipes when I was first starting out, and I ruined a lot of batches because I didn’t know much about baking. So if it doesn’t work the first, second or fifth time, don’t despair. They’re tricky. And by batch three you’ll probably produce something that’s better than store-bought, even if it’s not exactly perfect.
So without any more ado we start with the most legendary baked good of them all:
Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
Use fresh yeast. The worst part of making any kind of yeast food is waiting an hour for the bread to proof and coming back to lifeless blob of dough. Old yeast is just a bunch of dead yeast-y creatures in beige form. Fresh live yeast sometimes jumps around on its own and is a little terrifying if you think about it too hard. You can pick up a bag you will never get rid of for like $4 at Costco.
Milk Bit of a snafu on the milk here, didn’t realize it was the wrong one until after I’d taken this picture. With the benefit of hindsight, the milk is noticeably sweeter than regular milk and might have caused the cinnamon rolls to be too sweet. Will have to investigate further.
Flour Bread flour has more protein/gluten than all-purpose flour. It makes the dough more elastic, so the bread-y insides are fluffier and more fragrant. I usually use bread flour with yeast recipes. Supposedly you can buy vital wheat gluten to add to all-purpose flour, but I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t recommend it until I have. This recipe works pretty well with all-purpose if it’s all you have on hand.
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the butter; stir until melted. Add water and let cool until lukewarm.
Proof the yeast in a small bowl. For active dry yeast, the water temperature should be between 105 and 110 degrees. Especially if you’ve never proofed yeast before, it’s worth using a thermometer until you can gut check the temperature. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the milk/butter liquid along with some pinches of the sugar and stir until the yeast has dissolved. In about 5-10 minutes it should be foamy on top and triple the size.
If this doesn’t happen, you either have yeast that’s too old or the temperature is off. (Too cool and the yeast won’t activate. Too hot and it kills it.)
In a large bowl, combine the milk mixture, yeast, white sugar, salt, eggs and 2 cups flour; stir well to combine.
Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
I used the dough hook for a few minutes to cheat a bit on the kneading (I know, I know, poor form) since the dough was a bit wet.
Because the dough was so wet it took roughly 3/4 cup of flour to make it manageable.
Place dough into an oiled bowl with a damp washcloth over the top. Set in a warm place for 2-3 hours to rise. For simplicity, I just stuck it back in the mixer bowl and put the bowl in the sun.
While you’re waiting, you can clean a bit, watch an episode of Downton Abbey, go to the store to buy ingredients you forgot about and/or prep the filling. The difference between two and three hours is pretty much what fits into your schedule. There will be another chance for the dough to rise, so don’t stress about the timing here too much. And for cinnamon’s sake, don’t just sit around and wait–let the little yeasties to do their thing and get on with your life.
This is the tipping point of the recipe for me. Starting from this point onward, everything is amazing. The smell of just brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl is unbelievably intoxicating. Then you melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave and the whole kitchen starts to smell like kitchens were always meant to smell. Utterly marvelous.