Pie Crust

We went blueberry picking recently and got a ton of blueberries.  So we made blueberry muffins and blueberry pie — a family favorite.  We like blueberries so much that I once tried to plant several bushes in my yard but it was a constant struggle with the wildlife.  I would watch out my window looking for the sneaky birds that would try to grab my two blueberries that were ripening (that’s in the whole yard not per bush).  As soon as I would see a bird swooping in I would run out like a crazy woman screaming at the birds.  Imagine the Alfred Hitchcock movie but in reverse.  I put netting over my blueberry bushes and would dole out one blueberry per child (I only had two children at the time).  But then I trapped a snake in my netting and I really didn’t want to see those blueberry bushes ever again.  So now, instead, we drive an hour to pick blueberries.

I recently posted my rules for a successful pie crust but I am posting them again today along with a video tutorial for making the dough.  I will post another tutorial soon about rolling out the dough and assembling the pie so stay tuned. The pie dough recipe itself is not the key to success.  So you can use any straightforward recipe you like that has flour, salt, butter, water and sometimes sugar.  There is no need for vinegar or vodka or the like that is added to shorten the gluten strands and make it easier to roll out.

The whole process of making the dough took less than 15 minutes.  I’ve obviously trimmed the video so that you actually still want to make pie by the end as opposed to falling asleep.  You can make the dough ahead of time and leave it in the fridge for 2 days or make it and use it after 30 minutes of chilling.  Either way, I have found the most success when the dough is at 60F before rolling it out.  Sometimes that means using it right out of the fridge but if it has been there for 2 days you might need 30 minutes or longer to get it to the right temp.

  1. When making pie dough a “minimal touching” approach is best.  Most pie dough recipes usually have a butter content of around 60% (butter to flour, that is) which means temperature control is key.  The butter needs to stay cool  during the entire process of making the dough.  Also, achieving a flaky crust means maintaining pockets of butter between layers of dough.  When that dough then goes in the oven the steam from the butter “inflates” the layers of dough thereby creating the flakiness.  If you knead that dough or overwork it you are eliminating those precious pockets of butter and essentially creating a mealy cookie dough.  Which is ok if you are making pate sucree but not a flaky pie crust.  So, keep your hands off the dough.  You are just going to gather the dough into a ball then smear it briefly.  That’s it.  Don’t worry if it looks rough.
  2. The other important factor in making pie dough is moving the dough while rolling it. On a well floured surface, start rolling it out into a circle, then pick it up and move it a quarter turn.  Make sure it’s not sticking to the surface by flinging more flour underneath if necessary.  Keep rolling and turning it until you get it to size. If its too warm the fat will start to soften and it will be difficult to roll out.  Put it back in the fridge for a few minutes.  If you have a digital thermometer you are looking for a dough temp of about 55-60F.  If it is too cold it will start to crack.  Give it another five minutes on the bench. 
  3. Let’s talk fat.  The butter should be diced into 1/4″ cubes (I’m serious about this, use a ruler).  Also ,the fat has to be well chilled before using it because you will be working it into the flour and that will create heat.  You can do this in the food processor which will be faster. But doing it by hand will give you a better feel for it.  Imagine that every bit of flour needs to be coated with fat but you don’t want the fat pieces to be so small that it just turns into a cookie.  So in this tutorial you will see that I rub in 3/4 of the butter until the mixture resembles cornmeal but the rest of the butter is left pea-sized. 

Whole Wheat English Muffins in Your Bread Machine

English muffins practically make themselves.  And if you have a bread machine, its even easier because you can do other things while the dough gets kneaded and goes through its first proof.  We got this bread machine about a year ago and I have not bought supermarket bread since then.  It is so easy to make bread in this machine you can’t come up with an excuse not to — even when you’re tired after work.  So I make the sandwich bread for the kids’ lunches, I use it to make brioche dough when I’m in a hurry and even naan dough.  I do love to make bread by hand but this is great when you’re trying to bring a lot of components together quickly.

I also love this this bread machine cookbook and use it exclusively : I adapted the recipe for my whole wheat English muffins from the one in this book.  I really needed one that would turn out good English muffins consistently.  As you may know I like to buy kitchen gadgets and the last one I convinced my husband to buy was this lovely item:
Now it really is awesome but the first thing he said when we got it was “I hope you can keep up with the English muffins or I’m going to have to buy them from the store” or something to that effect.  He knows that no 5-word phrase gets my blood boiling like “buy them {it} from the store.”  It is like waving a red flag in front of a bull.  Needless, to say I can’t keep up with the English muffins every week but when there are no homemade English muffins then I make sure that the breakfast sandwich maker somehow magically disappears.

These are the English muffin rings I use:
Here are the step by step pictures but the video is much more entertaining in my opinion:

Once dough cycle is complete, turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface.

Divide into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls.

Flatten slightly and let rise in the English muffins rings on a griddle. After the final proof, set the griddle on a cold stove, then bring to medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes on each side.



Mozart Torte

Another beautiful offering from The European Cake Cookbook and probably one of my favorites, the Mozart Torte.  Take a look at the book if you haven’t seen it yet:

We have a new rotating schedule at church which means I cannot sign up for dessert every week but have to wait for my turn to come up in the schedule. Which means…I am going bananas.  I can’t make dessert for my family that often because a) they can’t keep up and b) I’m a pediatrician and it would reflect poorly on me if I were to spread chocolate buttercream on their pancakes (although I’m sure they wouldn’t mind). If you can’t relate to my obsession, think of yourself as an exercise enthusiast who has been barred from the gym across the street.  It is an itch that I have to scratch.  So I’m asking people if I can bake something for them like a new mom looking for a caffeine fix.

I have stopped trying to defend the time I devote to my hobby.  I learned long ago from watching my father in medicine and others that you need something that you can lose yourself in outside of work.  When my mind is flashing the “No Vacancy” sign it goes to baking land.  Unfortunately, my husband cannot detect the flashing “No Vacancy” sign on my forehead to let him know that my mind is in baking land so this is usually what happens… just replace “driving” with “baking”:

I am telling you, “grape pie” diatribes are my life. Now, enjoy this short baking video.  Thank you for watching.


How to Shape a Bastard of a Bread

Updated: 4/13/18

That got your attention, right?  But I didn’t give it that unfortunate moniker, the French did (of course).  Only the French would come up with a name like that for a baked good.  The batard (Eng: bastard) got its name because it is not quite a baguette and not quite a boule.  It has more crumb than a baguette but not as much as a boule.  It happens to be my family’s favorite particularly for that crust to crumb ratio.  You get that crust to crumb ratio by folding and sealing the dough fewer times than you would a baguette.

If you are going to be making French bread often you might consider investing in a baguette pan like this one.  It will help the baguettes or batards retain their shape as they ferment.

Please enjoy these short videos on how to do the stretch and fold method for dough and how to shape a batard:







Chocolate Raspberry Zefir Cake: Updated with Recipe

Exciting times… Christ is Risen, Christos Anesti! Beautiful liturgy last night followed by feasting today!

Also, I had some Barnes and Noble credit and treated myself to a new cookbook which I love, The European Cake Cookbook by Tatyana Nesteruk from TatyanasEverydayFood.

It is full of classic European tortes and cakes which are my favorite because they entail so many essential patisserie techniques: meringues, sponges, European buttercreams, curds, etc. and there’s a recipe for Esterhazy Cake which is a Hungarian favorite. DH is Hungarian and we are going there this summer! 

For our Easter picnic today I wanted to make the beautiful Chocolate Raspberry Zefir Cake. Per Tatyana’s recommendations I was able to make the zefir (marshmallow) a couple of days ahead of time and store at room temperature.  I made and assembled the cake and stored it in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap a day ahead of time.  I also made the chocolate garnish a day ahead.  So this morning, I just had to make the glaze and decorate the cake. I then let it come to room temp before the picnic.  

I also made the Esterhazy Cake because I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough dessert at the picnic.  I was able to squeeze that in today before the kids woke up and during the little one’s nap so it was super easy!

I also recently bought some new acrylic cake boards and scraper from Cake Safe that I loooove! I am so tired of having to trim my cakes in order to give me some frosting space on the traditional cake boards.  I ordered cake boards from cake safe that are 1/4″ wider and I now have a little extra space for frosting my cakes.  But I am in love with the scraper.  I have been through so many scrapers looking for the ideal one.  I even designed one myself and had an acrylic store make it for me but it wasn’t exactly perfect.  I will have to review all my cake scrapers in a post one time.  Anyway, this one is perfect. 

My lovely daughter told me all about time lapse videos so this is my first go at it.  And of course, my DH set up the tripod and the camera for me.  Unfortunately, some of the clips were sideways.  I don’t know why.  I think it was his fault.  He tried to apologize but no need…all sins are forgiven today.  





Vegan Vanilla Cake with Aquafaba

I just made a cake with bean water.  That’s right — bean water.  Chickpea water to be exact.  Otherwise known as aquafaba.  This recently discovered proteinacious liquid that is derived from chickpeas is being used to replace eggs in the culinary world.  It can be whipped up into a meringue and it can be used as a direct substitute for eggs in cakes.  First, Google aquafaba then come back here and read about the cake I made with it.

Incredible, right? I found it fascinating and unbelievable too.  There are not a lot of recipes out there yet using aquafaba and I really don’t like it when my baking projects fail so I gave this a lot of thought.  A lot.  My routine to and from work is AudioDigest Pediatrics on the way there and Coffee Break Spanish on the way back.   (There is actually a method behind my madness — my mind just cannot take anymore medicine after 5:30PM so I listen to this delightful Scottish professor and his student teach Spanish instead).  I was a lifelong NPR devotee until my husband and I watched “Blacklist” on Netflix and now I find the news questionable at best.  I’m really off topic now.  Back to aquafaba. I turned off the audio in the car on my way home yesterday and thought about aquafaba instead.  It does not have the same protein content that egg whites do so how could it possibly perform the same in an all-white cake?  I was afraid to try.

Thanks to this brave lady who made 18 cakes in one day to find the right egg substitute for her egg-allergic child I conquered my fears.  Husband got me three cans of chickpeas.  I was also armed with Earth’s Balance vegan buttery sticks and soymilk.  We are still in Lent so this was going to be another vegan cake.  Actually, these cakes will be turned into petit fours so stay tuned for the next post.  We shall see if they withstand stacking and icing for petit fours! Or should I say, ya veremos!

All you have to do is drain the liquid from a can of chickpeas — you will get about 200ml of aquafaba.  It is suggested that you agitate the can first.  Two tablespoons of aquafaba will substitute for one egg white.  Three tablespoons aquafaba will substitute for the whole egg.

So, how did it turn out?  First, the rise:  I made one-inch sheet cakes so I could really assess the aquafaba’s contribution to the cake’s rise and structure.  It did not rise the full inch I would have expected from this cake.  It rose to just a titch over 3/4″.  I can live with that.

Second, the texture and flavor: it had a slightly more delicate crumb but the flavor was very good.  I chose unsweetened soymilk for its fat and protein content but you could also use full-fat coconut milk if you don’t mind a little coconut undertones.

I was happier with the stability and taste of this cake than more traditional oil-based vegan cakes.  Overall, I was very impressed.  This is exciting stuff.  I was afraid this aquafaba thing was going to be vegan voodoo but not at all.  Other advantages to using aquafaba over other egg alternatives include the price (you would probably throw that liquid down the drain anyway and now you can use the liquid and the chickpeas!) and the ease of use (as opposed to grinding flax seeds for a flax egg).  It will definitely be my go-to egg substitute from now on.  Let me know what you think …