Perfect Pie Crust

November 8, 2012 9:54:33 AM PST
With the holiday season upon us, at home chefs will be in the kitchen whipping up pies and other delights. While you can take the easy route and buy already prepared pie crusts, you might be surprised that they're easier to make from scratch than you might think. Food writer and stylist Rebecca Miller Ffrench says creating your own perfect pie crust is easier than you might think. She shares the recipe and a few other favorites from her new book "Sweet Home: Over 100 Heritage Desserts and Ideas for Preserving Family Recipes." It's available in select book stores and online.

Sweet Home's Flaky pie crust dough

Makes enough dough for 1 double-crust pie
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons cold organic non-hydrogenated shortening, such as Spectrum Naturals
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces 6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Pulse several times.
2. Sprinkle the shortening and butter over the flour mixture and pulse 8 to 10 times until the fat clumps are the size of peas.
3. Next, open the top of the processor and sprinkle the water over the flour mixture. Pulse 8 to 10 more times. Stop the processor immediately and see if the dough sticks together when pressed between your thumb and forefinger. (If it doesn't, pulse a few more times or add another teaspoon or two of water. Do not allow the dough to come together in the food processor bowl.) If the dough does stick together when pressed, turn the mixture out onto a piece of parchment or wax paper. Using your hands, gather up the paper around the mixture and shape the dough into a ball. Divide the ball in two and flatten each one into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the wrapped disks in the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour before using.

BROWN SUGAR GLAZED CARDAMOM CAKE
Cardamom perfumes the halls of our local elementary school when Ann McGillicuddy walks through the doors with her famous cake in hand. She makes it often for bake sales and class functions--a gift to many. Of Finnish descent, Ann is a kindred Scandinavian spirit. She so kindly shared this treasured recipe that was passed down from her grandmother in Finland. This dense, moist cake keeps for days; in fact, the spices deepen and the flavor gets better over time. However, the cake gets eaten so quickly I can't really promise it will last.

Serves 12
CARDAMOM CAKE
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted
butter, melted
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
BROWN SUGAR GLAZE
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
for dusting (optional)

1. Make the cardamom cake: Preheat the oven to 350?F. Butter and flour a decorative 10-cup bundt pan.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugars on medium speed until thick and pale yellow in color, about 3 minutes. Add the melted butter and beat on low for about 20 seconds. Add the half-and-half and vanilla extract and beat for another 20 seconds on low, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula.
4. Add the dry ingredients and mix well on low for 20 seconds, then increase to medium speed for another 20 seconds.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. If the top of the cake starts to become a dark brown color after 40 minutes of baking, but the center is not yet set, cover the cake with foil while it finishes baking.
6. Let cool in the bundt pan for 15 minutes; then turn out onto a rack set over wax paper to cool for 1 hour.
7. Meanwhile, make the brown sugar glaze: Place the brown sugar, half-and-half, and butter in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
8. Slowly drizzle the glaze over the cake, allowing it to run down the sides. Or in lieu of the glaze (which Ann doesn't use), place the confectioners' sugar in a sifter and sprinkle over the cake.

PEAR CRANBERRY CRUMB TART
Pumpkin pie is a given for every Thanksgiving spent with my family; there will be one, if not two or three, pumpkin pies made following the instructions straight off the back of a Libby's Pure Pumpkin can. Don't get me wrong, the recipe yields a tasty pie, but I enjoy variety. I like to have a few other desserts, including this Pear Cranberry Crumb Tart, on the dessert table. Tart cherries, pears, and cranberries tossed with ginger, cinnamon, and a slight hint of orange make a bright, zesty combination--the perfect complement to a predictable yet essential pumpkin pie. After all, Thanksgiving is all about bounty.

Serves 8
Crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) cold unsalted
butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons water
1 large egg yolk
Filling
1 cup fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice
11/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried cherries
2 pears, peeled and sliced (about 11/2 cups)
1/4 cup cranberry chutney, such as
Crosse and Blackwell brand
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter,
cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1. Make the crust: In a bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar.
2. Put the butter chunks in the bowl with the flour mixture.
Using a pastry blender, work the butter into the dry ingredients until coarse crumbs form. 3. Whisk together the water and egg yolk and slowly add to the flour-butter mixture, stirring until moist clumps appear.
4. Gather the dough into a ball and press evenly into a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan. Put the crust in the freezer while you prepare the filling.
5. Preheat the oven to 350?F.
6. Make the filling: Put 1/2 cup of the cranberries, the sugar, orange zest, orange juice, ginger, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 6 to 8 times, or until the cranberries are roughly chopped. Transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining cranberries, the dried cherries, pears, and chutney. Add the flour and cornstarch and toss well. Set aside.
7. Make the topping: Stir together the flour, brown sugar, and salt in a bowl. Add the butter chunks and mash together with a fork. Using your fingers, make some clumps in the mixture.
8. Remove the crust from the freezer and spoon in the filling. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the entire crust.
9. Place the tart pan on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 50 minutes, or until bubbling and golden. Remove the tart from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before removing the outer ring. Cool completely before serving.

SPICED APPLE CIDER DOUGHNUTS My eleven-year-old daughter, Anna, is a doughnut hound and I truly believe she comes by it genetically. I too am crazy for those fried cakes--and so were my forebears. When my grandmother was young in the early 1930s, she baked with her grandmother for a Women's Exchange in Madison, Wisconsin, frying upwards of 20 dozen doughnuts on Saturday mornings. This recipe, adapted from that one, involves several steps but is well worth the effort. I've added apples and cider to impart the taste of fall while bringing a favorite family tradition into our home, for Anna.

Makes 20 doughnuts

Doughnuts
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely diced peeled apple, such as Honeycrisp or Gala
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Topping
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. Make the doughnuts: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and eggs until thick and creamy. Add the butter and mix on low until fully incorporated.
2. Combine the buttermilk, cider, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt. Alternately add the flour and buttermilk-cider mixture to the egg batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Combine thoroughly. Fold in the apple.
3. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of parchment or wax paper. Fold the paper over to cover the dough and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. The dough will be very sticky but will firm up while freezing.
4. Meanwhile, make the topping: Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a brown paper bag. Set aside.
5. In a large pot, start heating 3 to 4 inches of oil to 360?F, as measured by a candy or deep-fry thermometer. It will take about 15 minutes, and will be ready when your doughnuts are formed. If you'd rather wait, put your cut doughnuts in the refrigerator while waiting for the oil to heat.
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the firm dough to 1/2 inch thick. Cut 21/2-inch circles with 1-inch center holes (or use a doughnut cutter). The dough will be soft, which makes light, tender doughnuts when fried. Let the cut doughnuts rest for 5 minutes on a cookie sheet.
7. Fry 3 or 4 doughnuts at a time for about 11/2 minutes per side, or until golden brown. (Be sure to maintain the temperature of the oil, lowering or raising the heat accordingly, or the doughnuts will get hard instead of light and fluffy.
8. Shake the fried doughnuts in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Serve warm.

APPLE CRISP AND CREAM PARFAITS
I have several toothsome apple crisp recipes, including one from my mother, but this one is my fave. It comes from my good friend Chelsea Mauldin, who, just like this crisp, is dependable, comforting, and a true classic. I say the crisp is dependable because it always turns out tasty (this is a very forgiving recipe). The silky cream paired with the satisfying crisp makes it comforting, and the pure apple-and-oat flavor makes it a classic--no bells, no whistles, no hard-to-find ingredients here. The only thing you may not have is a parfait glass. In that case, use any 8-ounce glass. Even a juice glass can be dressed up for dessert. I love serving these parfaits at dinner parties. I assemble them right before guests arrive. If you prefer the crisp warm, enlist a guest to help you put them together right before the last course. As for Chelsea, my thanks go to her for being as reliable as this crisp!

Makes 8 to 10 parfaits
Filling
5 medium (about 21/2 pounds) Granny
Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut
into 3/4-inch dice (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 375?F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
2. Make the filling: In a medium bowl, toss the apples with the brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Set aside.
3. Make the topping: Put the flour, oats, brown sugar, and salt in a bowl and stir.
4. Cut the butter into 1-inch pieces and add it to the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or two forks, mix together until small clumps appear. Then gently squeeze the topping mixture in the bowl with your fingers to create some large clumps.
5. Spread the filling in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Put the large clumps of topping over the filling and spread the rest of the loose topping evenly over the entire surface of the fruit.
6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is crisp and browned. At this point, you can serve it as is, scooping out spoonfuls into bowls, or move on to step 7.
7. Make the whipped cream: In the chilled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream until stiff. Stir in the confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract. 8. To assemble the parfaits, scoop two spoonfuls of crisp into an 8-ounce parfait or juice glass. Top with a large spoonful of whipped cream. Repeat until there are 3 layers total of both the crisp and cream, starting with the crisp and ending with the cream. There should be enough crisp and cream to make 8 to 10 parfaits.

GREAT-GRANDMA'S CHOCOLATE DATE CAKE On the torn, stained pages of my great-grandmother's journal are many recipes using dates: There are four types of bars, cookies, fillings, and a cake. I asked my mother why she doesn't bake with dates, she told me she used to, but guessed my sister and I didn't like them and stopped using them. "In fact," she said, "our groom's cake was a date cake. Grandma insisted we have one at our wedding." Not knowing what to expect, I made the cake, as directed by my mother. This modest cake may not have a glossy buttercream or show-stopping fruit topping, but it does have a memorably rich, ambrosial flavor. The super-moist crumb has a gratifying chocolate taste. I doubt most tasters of this cake will recognize the dates, and will instead ask what makes the cake so moist. Dates are higher in potassium than bananas and higher in antioxidants than blueberries, and packed with health benefits. If you are on the fence about dates, I encourage you to try this cake--it's extremely tasty and will restore dates to their rightful place in your baker's pantry.

Serves 12 to 14

1 cup chopped dates
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350?F. Grease and flour a 10-inch springform pan using baking spray.
2. Put the dates in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let stand completely covered in water until cool, then stir in the baking soda.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the egg and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
5. Slowly add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt and beat on low. Increase the speed to medium and beat until thoroughly incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the vanilla extract and beat to combine. Stir in the date mixture, including all the unabsorbed water. Stir in 3/4 cup of the chocolate chips.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Combine the remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and the walnuts, if desired, in a small bowl and spoon over the cake.
7. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed with your finger. Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan. Gently open the springform pan and serve.


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