Pie Time Revisited

Oooooooooh Pie Eaters I have missed you!!!!!! I thought when summer was over that pie days were over too. Not true! I have made two new pies since summer. (And I have made, like, 12 salty honey pies. No exaggeration.) I wanted to make some season appropriate pies when fall started and the first one I want to tell you about is Cranberry-Sage Pie.

I made it for a dinner party. It was tart, for real, but it was topped with some maple-parsnip ice cream that Naomi made! The sweet ice cream balanced out the tartness of the pie perfectly. You could also make some fresh whipped cream with some maple syrup added to cut the tartness. Doooooo it!

Ok Pie Eaters, time for a botany moment. Let’s do a little guided visualization. Close your eyes and picture the plant that cranberries grow on…did you do it? Were you thinking evergreen dwarf shrubs? Oh, wait…you were? Oh, I was picturing a long, thin, slimy stem rising up from the bottom of a bog with one lone cranberry at the top (not joking). You win again Pie Eaters!

Cranberries are pretty special little guys. According to Wikipedia:

“By measure of the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity with an ORAC score of 9.584 units per 100 g, cranberry ranks near the top of 277 commonly consumed foods in the United States.”

Basically this means that cranberries are high in antioxidants. Because “antioxidant” is a term that is thrown around a lot about food that is good for us, I want to give you a quick and dirty idea of what that means. In chemistry, the process of oxidation produces a free radical (actually more like this). This means an electron that has a high level of attraction, a force that can act on other molecules to change their structure. Anti-oxidants essentially put a cap on those free radicals, making them neutral and potentially protecting us from harmful molecular destruction. Hey, thanks cranberries! (But guys, it’s way more complicated than this, so don’t quote me!)

Next time I’ll tell you about (corn syrup-free) pecan pie! Less stressful to the planet and more yummy in your tummy! (Yes, I did just say that.)

Magic Sorbet

Well, folks…the time has come.

The leaves are changing, people are finally making the dreaded switch from iced coffee back to the hot stuff, and style mavens everywhere are heralding the arrival of fashion’s favorite season (who doesn’t love a sweater?). Yup, fall is finally here – and with it comes flu season.

Over the course of my nine years of friendship with Ora, co-Ceci, I’ve had my share of colds, coughs, and flus. And if I ever come over to Ora’s house when I’m sick, I know she’ll make me the best concoction a sick person could ask for – Magic Drink.

Magic Drink is simple and natural: it’s hot water (though I sometimes make it with ginger tea) steeped with tons of fresh ginger, honey, lemon, and cayenne. All of the ingredients either aid the immune system, soothe the throat, or some combination: ginger, along with its many other magical properties, is an anti-microbial; honey eases a sore throat; lemon is packed with vitamin C; and cayenne is nature’s potent Kleenex. And on top of all that, it’s delicious – both warming and nasal-passage-clearing.

So – given my love for Magic Drink, you can imagine my excitement when, paging through my new copy of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home one day in September, I came across a recipe for “Influenza Rx Sorbet.” It sounded suspiciously close to Magic Drink, so I looked through the ingredients. Sure enough, this was it – Magic Drink in sorbet form!

I didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity to try it out. A couple of weeks later, just before Rosh Hashanah, Ora and her sister / my honey Shalva both came down with nasty colds. I tossed together the very easy recipe in about half an hour and froze it overnight. And as “luck” would have it, by the time I brought it over to Ora’s house the next day for Rosh Hashanah dinner, I wasn’t feeling too hot myself.

After services, we came home and flopped onto the couch: three achey, cough-y, runny-nosed people (plus one healthy friend), sorely in need of some Magic Something. When we popped open the sorbet, the verdict was unanimous – “Whoa, this is totally Magic Sorbet!”

And it was exactly what we’d hoped for – the sweet cold felt good on our throats, the citrus was refreshing, and the cayenne definitely cleared our passages, to say the least. As it turns out, Magic Sorbet is a rare treat – a dessert that not only tastes good when you’re sick, but feels good, too.

P.S. Apparently sick bloggers are not good at remembering to take photos, so this post is sadly photo-free. But – if you make this recipe, send us a picture! We’ll post it on The Big Ceci and fawn over your loveliness.

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Magic Sorbet (adapted from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home)

A note on cayenne – I stupidly assumed that, given the wide audience Jeni was writing this recipe for, she probably hadn’t included enough cayenne to satisfy my heat-loving palate. So I upped the cayenne, from a level 1/8 teaspoon to a heaping 1/8 teaspoon. And though the sorbet was delicious, I think Ora’s declaration of “Mmm…my lips are kind of burning” is probably an indication that Jeni’s original 1/8 teaspoon probably would have been just right.

Ingredients

2 cups fresh orange juice (from 5 to 6 oranges – make sure they’re not over-ripe, unless you like your sorbet very sweet)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger (I might try to replace this with fresh ginger next time)
One 3-ounce packet liquid fruit pectin (use the natural stuff – or make your own!)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 to 4 tablespoons bourbon (optional – I left it out this time, but I will definitely be trying it in the future!)

Instructions

1. Combine orange and lemon juices, sugar, honey, and ginger in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.

2. Add the pectin, cayenne, and bourbon, if using. Pour into a bowl, let cool, and then cover and refrigerate until cold.

3. Freeze in an ice cream machine until it is the consistency of very softly whipped cream. Then pack into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment paper directly against the surface (this is Jeni’s very good suggestion to keep your sorbet from forming ice crystals!), and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

Sunshine Pie

Hello Pie Eaters!!! I just woke up on this blustery and soggy Sunday morning and ate a piece of Stone Fruit Pie for breakfast and, let me tell you what, I’m never going back to cereal!

When I was upstate a few weeks ago I ate a lot of peaches and plums and, folks, when you get your mouth on a good stone fruit it really is like eating sunshine. I was so enamored
with the juicy goodness…then my sweetie’s mom, Lori, told me about a stone fruit pie recipe in this month’s Bon Appetit and I said, HOT DAMN sign me up! This recipe was really fun to make and when the fruit was all cut up in the bowl it looked like a sunset. The recipe has you add sugar to the fruit, let it sit for an hour and then drain off the juice. This is a really helpful step if you want to have a non-runny filling. As a little pre-pie treat I added the extra fruit drippings to my iced tea and it was bangin’! I was feeling a little nervous about the lattice top but then I just looked the lattice top in the eye and said, “I will master you!”…and that’s just what I did, Pie Eaters. I used this helpful video as a little Lattice Top 101 and went for it. It wasn’t so hard! If you have been wanting to try a lattice top, now is the time!

So I don’t know if you have been picking up on all of my sun references in this post but it was a little foreshadowing for this week’s geeky science lesson on PHOTOSYNTHESIS! Don’t be afraid, I’m gonna break it down real simple-like. Photosynthesis is the bomb! It’s the process where plants take CO2 (carbon dioxide – the stuff we breathe out as waste), water and sunlight, and turn those things into sugar! Now if that’s not magic, people, please tell me what is. So when you bite into a fresh-picked nectarine or peach that is literally made from sunlight and still warm from the sunshine, and the juice fills your mouth and drips down your chin, it’s like you are tasting the sun. Then that fruit becomes a part of you as your body breaks it down, and in that process the sun becomes a part of you too. Do you see how lucky we are? This might not be how a scientist who believes in science would explain it, but I’m a scientist who believes in magic and that’s how I see it.

I also want to tell you that in the process of photosynthesis the light is absorbed into the plant mostly by way of a pigment called chlorophyll. It is present mostly in the leaves of plants and is what gives them their green color. Chlorophyll is best at absorbing light from the blue portion of the light spectrum, followed by the red portion. However, chlorophyll does not use the green portion of the light spectrum very well and that is why the color green is reflected from the leaves. Doesn’t that blow your mind?! The leaves absorb all the colors of the light spectrum but green, so that is what color the leaves seem to us. We associate green with life and health, but really it’s the least useful part of the color spectrum as far as our food source is concerned. Nature! You win!

See you next week, Pie Eaters!

p.s. Thanks Molly for taking the wheel while I was out! Your pies looked yummy! Wish I could have had a piece!

p.p.s. Thanks Olivia for the photos. You made the pie feel famous!

The Art of Improvisational Desserts (aka winging it and hoping for the best)

If I had a cookie for every time a great cook has told me they don’t/can’t/won’t bake desserts because they “don’t like to follow recipes,” or they “like to improvise,” or they “can’t be precise” (or some other reason along these lines), I’d be set for life.

I’ve never really understood the apprehension cooks have about desserts.  Cooking and dessert-making have always seemed connected to me.  Perhaps that’s because I have a huge sweet tooth and started baking before I ever started cooking anything too interesting, but nevertheless…

In today’s post, I’m going to share a dessert-making story from this week that will hopefully debunk some of the myths about dessert-making being strict and rigid (while perhaps reinforcing them too. You’ll see what I mean shortly).

I just returned from a month of touring with my band Red Baraat, so I’ve been excited to have more time to get down in the kitchen and enjoy the summer’s bounty now that I’m home.  By my second day back, I had a few projects lined up.  One was making a banana pudding for a friend who cat-sat for me while I was out of town, and the other was making a dessert for a small gathering that evening.  With my puddingy reputation, I figured I’d go pudding all around, hoping to pull off a blueberry pudding pie with fresh mint.  I felt confident in my pudding abilities, so I winged it.  I made a double recipe of vanilla pudding (using the seeds from a vanilla bean), saved half for the banana pudding, and then added a puree of a handful of New Jersey blueberries and a sprig of mint from my fire escape (the only food I can manage to grow with my touring schedule) to the other half.

Suddenly my beautiful, creamy vanilla pudding looked like a blueish liquidy disappointment.  I stuck it in the fridge with the hopes that it might set, but I was feeling pessimistic.  Something about the little bit of blueberry puree seemed to undermine the thickening properties of the cornstarch (other hypotheses are welcomed).  Sure enough it was soon clear that the blueberry pudding was a failure, and I needed to rethink my strategy.  I had already been to the grocery store once and didn’t want to go again (and didn’t really have time either).

I still had half a pint of blueberries that I was determined to use and a couple of limes in the fridge.  Then it dawned on me.  Perhaps I could adapt my go-to (key) lime pie recipe!  I didn’t have enough limes, but I did have some bottled organic lemon juice (for emergencies like this one) and a carton of OJ.  So, I zested and juiced my two limes, and added lemon juice and a little orange juice for the remaining liquid, and made a mixed citrus pie filling.  I stirred in the whole blueberries before pouring it all into a vanilla wafer pie crust (I bought the vanilla wafers for the banana pudding) and baked it.

I was a little nervous, but when I took it out of the oven it looked beautiful, and the crowd was quite pleased with the results.  I failed to take any pictures, so you’ll have to take my word for it – it was a success in improvisational baking!

creamy blueberry mint ice pop

As for the aforementioned failure, there is a silver lining.  I bought popsicle molds a couple of weeks ago (inspired by the ridiculous heat wave), into which I poured the liquidy pudding. I apprehensively tried the makeshift pops the next day and was pleased by the creamy texture and refreshing blueberry-mint flavor. Disaster averted!

So the take-home message here is you CAN freestyle, change recipes, and experiment creatively in your dessert-making (just like you do in your cooking), but practice will show you what does and doesn’t work – which is also a lot like cooking, right?  I’m sure we’ve all had some failed attempts at creativity in our savory cooking (that would be a fun post – worst cooking experiments ever?), so there’s really no need for baking anxiety.

Without further delay, here is how I made the Citrus Pie with Blueberries. I encourage you to change the recipe.

Ingredients

For crust:
35-40 vanilla wafer cookies (or ginger snaps or graham crackers)
Half a stick of butter

For filling:
Half a pint of fresh blueberries
3/4 cup of citrus juice (mine was mostly lime and lemon juices with a little orange)
the zest of 2 limes (the more zest the more limey, or lemony)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs

For topping:
Fresh whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Crush the cookies in a food processor, blender or by hand.  Incorporate the melted butter.  Press buttery crumbs into a pie dish with your hands, using the bottom of a glass to help you smush it down and up on the sides of the pie dish nicely.  Bake the crust for about 8-10 minutes until it begins to brown.

While the crust is baking whisk together the eggs, and add the condensed milk, citrus juice, and zest until smooth and creamy.  Gently stir in the blueberries.  Pour the filling into the crust and bake for about 20 minutes until set.  Cool completely in the fridge and serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened (or unsweetened) whipped cream.

Pie Time: Key Lime Pie

Thanks Molly for having me as a guest pie blogger!

My first memory of key lime pie takes place in Key West, Florida. My 11- or 12-year-old self wondered about how the lime made it to Key West, Florida. In addition, I could not figure out what the difference was between a lime and a key lime. So in my journey of baking a key lime pie last week, I searched for the answers. A few googles later…the limes that we now call “key” are native to Malaysia. The limes came over with the Spanish to the now Florida Keys in 1500 and thus became known as “key limes.” The limes we typically find in the grocery store are Persian limes. In the 19th century a woman named “Aunt Sally” first made a Key Lime Pie, which is a funny coincidence cause I have an Aunt Sally. The pie was a big hit at the time because it required no milk, no refrigeration, and no ice, items not available in the Keys until the 1930s.

When looking for a good key lime pie recipe, remember it is not necessary to have key limes to make the pie. Unless you are living in the Florida Keys, in which case shame on you if you don’t use the local limes. There are several ways to make a key lime pie. I chose to go with a graham cracker crust, which is pretty simple to make. You can either crush up graham crackers or go with the pre-crushed. Whisk together 5 tablespoons of melted butter with 1½ cups of graham cracker crumbs. Press the crumbs into a pie plate and bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine 2 14-ounce cans of condensed milk, 1 cup of lime juice, and 2 whole eggs.

Let the crust cool a bit and then pour in mixture. I found that I had leftover mixture for a 9-inch pie so I ended up quickly throwing together a little more crust and making a small heart-shaped key lime pie tart.

Now, for many this could be the end of your key lime pie baking journey. You could bake the pie for 15 minutes and then let it chill for a couple of hours and eat. I chose to make a meringue to put on top. If you want to go this route, beat together 2 egg whites and ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (found in the spice section of your grocery store) until peaks form. Then blend in ¼ cup of sugar. Finally fold in about a teaspoon of lime zest. Spread on top of pie and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until meringue is golden brown. If you want to dig in right away, try to at least let it cool for about 45 minutes. If you have some more time let it chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

In sum, this is a great summertime desert. Refreshing. Light and tangy. For me, the best part of baking is sharing. I shared the little tart with my girlfriend. I then brought the pie over to a dinner gathering the following night. The rest of the pie then served as a thank you to Jose for painting my office last week.

One final note: if you love key lime pie and are not so into making it yourself and you are in the New York City area, I highly recommend Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I like that Steve calls his place authentic…perhaps, Red Hook is the Key West of New York City. No matter what, Steve’s got good key lime pie. Enjoy and B’tei Avon (Hebrew for Bon Appetit!).

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

Okay Pie Eaters…this week’s pie was Salted Caramel Apple and it was really really good. Maybe one of my favorites so far! For real! My friend Maggie came over to help me make the pie, as she is an experienced pie maker, and she gave me some good advice. As I was running around the kitchen like a ding bat she stopped me and said, “Molly, you know what you need to do to make a good pie? RELAX! No one wants to eat your stress pie!” Point taken Maggie, I DO get really stressed out when making my pies, and it can really take all the fun out of it, and fun is truly my favorite.

As far as the pie goes, I added all the lemons the recipe called for and it made for a sweet but tart pie that was refreshing instead of syrupy and I left the skins on the apples because I like it better that way. I also left out the bitters but if you wanna make this pie and add the bitters let me know how it turns out!

I should tell you that I was going to make a peach pie this week but my plan was foiled. My mom taught me when I was younger that if you want fruit to ripen quickly you should put it in a brown bag with a piece of fruit that is already ripe. Then when I was in college botany I learned why this is. There is a plant hormone called ethylene that has lots of functions, which include bringing about the ripening of fruit, the opening of flowers and the shedding of leaves. So if you have a ripe piece of fruit, it is already giving off ethylene and if unripened fruit is exposed to it, that fruit will begin to ripen too! The fruit is communicating, people – how cool is that!?!

What you should also know is that ethylene is the highest produced organic chemical in the world. When I say organic here I mean it is a molecule with a carbon backbone, not organic in the sense of sustainable farming. This synthetic ethylene is actually used by “big-agriculture” to quicken the natural process of ripening. They will bring fruit into big “ripening rooms” and gas them with ethylene to induce ripening. I have a lot of feelings about these kinds of agricultural practices, but I won’t get into all of them here. I will say that this is the kind of thing that happens when we get farther and farther from our food source.

In the end my peaches rotted in the bag. I think they were overly communicative with their hormones due to the heat, so the peach pie will have to wait. Also, for the next two weeks I will be on vacation (biking around the Finger Lakes and then working as a camp nurse!) so another Molly has stepped up to write the next pie post. When I first met her we were both wearing pink wigs, unplanned! I think it was a sign that we would one day be the Pie-Makin’-Mollys!! I’m excited to read your posts Molly! Take it away!!

Sweet Cherry Pie

Pie eaters, when you wake up grouchy and feel like listening to Cat Steven’s “Oh Very Young,” making a sweet cherry pie can feel like an impossible task. However, because I’m working on a deadline (and the thought of eating cold buttery crust dough made me feel like getting out of bed) I forged through. The hand pitting of the cherries felt meditative but the grouchies followed me into the process of rolling out the dough, and when it ripped halfway through I almost cried. It wasn’t until I pulled the finished pie out of the oven to cool that I remembered that pie making is a creative process, not an exercise in perfection. The pie was delicious, beautiful and a joy to share with everyone at the party I took it to.

With this pie, I made the dough the day before so it could sit in the fridge over night. I’m still having a confusing time trying to figure out how long to let the dough warm up after it’s chilled before rolling it. Anyone out there in Pieland have any suggestions? When I watch videos of Martha rolling out dough I mostly feel like punching her and then I have a hard time focusing on what she is doing (OK, I don’t really want to punch her but I would like to be the one to reveal to the world that she is actually a robot). I’m wondering if anyone out there would like to barter a crust making tutorial in exchange for some nursey skill I could offer, like assessing the functioning of your cranial nerves (actually don’t watch the link, it’s really boring).

Moving on, for this post folks, instead of discussing the hard science of botany, I would like to turn your attention to the flimsy science of the US Farm Bill. I wanted to include this because we talk a lot about food here at Pie Time, but I think it’s also really important that we talk about farmers and farmland, as without them, there would be no pie. I’m not gonna lie people, the government-agricultural complex is super complicated. As an example from my personal life, my family’s farm in Ohio is subsidized by the government through the Farm Bill. A few years ago, my younger brother and I were talking about starting a vegetable garden on a part of the farm that had not been in cultivation for 40 years. My father told us if we planted crops for human consumption on that land, we would lose our farm subsidy. The crops that grow on our 100 acres currently (corn and soybean) are for cow feed only. If we started growing food that we could eat, the government would no longer subsidize us. Am I the only one that thinks this is WAY sketchy? I found this really helpful article about the subsidy conundrum, if my story has created an itch that you would like to scratch. The article had some really good suggestions about changing farm subsidies that made me rub my hands together really fast! (Something I do when I get excited.) So, if you want a similar feeling you know where to go.

p.s. Dear Reader, this week’s Pie Time post is in honor of my good friend Ryvka. I heard through the pie-loving community that she might enjoy a cherry pie on her birthday and, though I could not share a piece with her as she is currently north of the border, this pie was made with lots of love for you, Ryvka.

p.p.s. Mondays are official Pie Time Post Days so watch out!!!!