Posts Tagged ‘pie’

Shirley Pie


Before we tell you about the next phase of our Shirley Project, we need to congratulate Shirley on winning the annual James Beard Baking and Dessert award for the very book we’ve been using, her fabulous BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking (Scribner, 2008).  If you have even the slightest interest in baking, you should run right out and buy this book.  It’s warm, brainy, and full to the brim with insights and explanations that will transform your relationship with your oven.

Our project, the Shirley Project, is to cook every recipe in the book.

Responding to some grumbling about eating so many similar cakes in a row, we’ve decided that we’re going to cook every recipe in BakeWise, but not in book order.  We’ve done five different pound cakes, I did an angelfood cake, summer fruit season is at hand, both Margaret and I consider ourselves expert pie-makers, so onward and upward with pies it is.  (Margaret’s taking off the summer from 2 Takes, but she’ll certainly be making some pies, and I can interview her on her experiences.)

As I said, I do consider myself a pretty darned good pie-maker, but I know only one crust, and I just make that crust over and over.  I’m excited about learning more, and also about understanding what I already know in practice.

So the first pie I made is the first pie in the pie chapter, a fresh blueberry pie with a cookie-crumb crust and honey mascarpone whipped cream topping.

With cakes, I made the full-sized version first and then scaled it down;  I had so little experience of baking cakes that I was afraid my small versions would be travesties (although that proved not to be the case).  With pies, I feel confident about scaling back right from the beginning.

So I whipped out my favorite pie pan for making a pie just for Mark and me.  It’s a shallow 8″ Pyrex, and sure enough Pyrex doesn’t seem to be making it any more, so as soon as I finish this post I’m off to eBay to stock up.  I made 2/3 of the crust, 1/2 of the filling, and the whole recipe for the topping.  Not bad for a first try, but I’d make a little less of the crust next time.  We didn’t like the crumb crust as well as our regular flaky piedough, but it made a nice change, and my heavens how fast and easy crumb crust is.  I plan always to have some good cookies on hand so I can crush them and whip up a crumb crust on the spur of the moment.

Besides making my first crumb crust ever, I learned a wonderful new technique for making a glaze for uncooked fruit.  Like everybody else, I’ve always used a seedless jam as a glaze, but this time Shirley had me add a tiny bit of gelatin and cool the fruit off before I spooned it into the crust.  The gelatin made all the difference — the fruit was so much easier to handle, especially all those little blueberries that want to run away and be rambunctious.

And the topping!  Honey and mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) and whipped cream — ambrosial.  I made extra (in proportion to the rest of the pie) and so found out that it keeps perfectly.  Won’t go flat.

I was also quite surprised at how well the crumb crust held up.  The 8″ Pyrex pan makes six servings of a sweet pie for us (four of a savory pie), which gave us three days of desserts.  Day 2 the crust was a little soggy but not unpleasant, and day 3 was the same as day 2.

Before I close, I want you to follow this link and watch the Shirley video.  Smart, articulate, with bounteous good spirits, she’s a wonderful good lady.


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Last Night at MB’s


For Christmas dinner this year I wanted to save myself from a trap that I inevitably fall into … setting myself tasks that are too time-intensive or complicated for me to actually want to do.  Christmas is supposed to be about spending time with family, not hanging out alone in the kitchen cooking.

So this year I made a beef stew from an Ina Garten recipe, a bread wreath, and a pecan pie.  A nice meal, but not a giant mess of work for me to be dealing with.

The pecan pie I made the night before, nice and simple.  It was good, but definitely not the best pie I’ve ever made.  Next time I’d stick with fruit pies, something I’m quite good at.

The bread wreath I made on Christmas day, but since I made the dough in the bread machine, it was incredibly simple.  Almost no work at all!

I chopped up all the ingredients for the beef stew the night before, so that I’d have my mise en place all ready to go when it was actually time for cooking.  The beef got marinated over night in red wine and garlic, so that was fairly easy as well.  When it came time to do the actual cooking, all I needed to do was flour the meat, brown it, fry up the veggies, put everything into a dutch oven, and let it bake for 2 hours.  Simple, delicious, hearty, and very Christmasy.

Hope everybody else’s was as good as mine!

M-C: I love the way your whole menu fits together, orchestrating the work as well as the meal.

Most cookbooks want you to cook whole meals from their recipes.  The appetizer is on page 38, the main dish is on page 127, the sides are on pages 243-244 and 276, and the dessert is on pages 302-303.

Too many recipes.  Because I’m working on a book about cookbooks, I have to cook meals using more than one recipe.  It’s that or live to age 203.  But for anybody not writing a book about cookbooks, it’s insanity to cook more than one recipe per meal.  For big blow-outs (which may or may not involve invited company), two recipes per meal, one to do ahead, one to do that day.

Everything else in the meal should be non-recipe.  Salad with your house dressing.  Ice cream with cut fruit.  Good broth with veggies cut tiny.  Steamed veggies.  An omelet.  Pasta with an easy sauce.  Rice pilaf.  Things you can cook in your sleep.  Those plus your one recipe.  The recipe can be one of a series designed to improve some part of your cooking skills.  Eventually many dishes pass from the realm of recipes into non-recipes.  They get to be so familiar you don’t have to crack a book to cook them.  And then you can start working on another recipe.

I do use menus from cookbooks, but I strip-mine them.  One of my favorite menu cookbooks is Nava Atlas’s Vegetarian Celebrations (Little, Brown, 1990), because I like to plan meals around fruits and vegetables in season rather than around meat or fish.  Here’s her Southwestern Brunch for New Year’s Day:

Jalapeño Corn Bread
Baked Spanish Eggs
Marinated Black-Eyed Peas
Grapefruit & Avocado Wedges
Pineapple, Raisin, & Rum Bread Pudding

Corn bread + bread pudding is too bready for me.  I can make bread pudding standing on my head, and I like the sound of pineapple, raisins, and rum, so that’s the keeper and the cornbread goes away.  Black-eyed peas cooked in the pressure cooker plus oil and vinegar and onion dressing while they’re hot; no problem.  Grapefruit and avocados, great, but Mark shouldn’t have grapefruit because he takes statins, so go to oranges instead.  No leaves, got to have leaves in every meal, I’ll stew some escarole.

Notice that all this time the only things I’ve looked at are the recipe titles, not actual recipes.  But now I have a nice shape of a meal, so for the first time I look at the recipe for Baked Spanish Eggs.  Ah, Spanish in the Southwestern sense, meaning mild, with tomatoes and garlic.  Then I read the recipe and decide whether I’m going to cook that or something else with eggs or something else altogether.  Atlas’s menu serves as an organizing tool for me, but I don’t feel committed to it, and I certainly don’t feel committed to its recipes.

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