ANNOUNCING: Change is part of life, and apparently, it's part of blogging, too. As of September 5, 2013, I'm merging The Virtual Goody Plate with Disco Mom Takes on the World and whatever else may henceforth spill from my fingertips (and kitchen), into one great new blog. I hope you'll join me there in exclaiming, "THIS IS AWESOMELAND."

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Salted Peanut Bars

It was Teacher Appreciation Week at my daughter's preschool and I was looking for something kid-easy we could whip up for her teacher. These were a sure bet, with only three ingredients (all of which are yummy to snitch while making.)

These look a bit peanut-brittley but they are nice and soft. Not gooey, but definitely elastic. Take a bite and pull your arm full length almost before it stops stretching. The fabulously marshmallowy chewy texture, with the rich caramel flavor and crunchy salty peanuts is a sure bet anytime. Isn't it Self-Appreciation Week?
Salted Peanut Bars (print recipe)
Nonstick cooking spray
2 1/4 cups coarsely chopped roasted salted peanuts
50 store-bought soft caramel squares, unwrapped (about 14 oz.)
1 cup mini marshmallows

1. Lightly coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhand on all sides, then lightly coat parchment with spray. Cover paper with 1 1/4 cups peanuts.

2. In a medium pot, combine 1 T water, caramels and marshmallows over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until caramels and marshmallows melt and mixture is smooth, about 8 minutes. Immediately pour over peanuts, then top with remaining 1 cup peanuts. Let cool until set, about 2 hours, then cut into 16 bars. (Store in an airtight container with parchment in between layers, up to 2 days. Longer than that, they will start to spread and lose shape.)

Recipe from Everyday Food

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Light Whole Wheat Bread (with BONUS Strata Recipe!)

Unfortunately, after three renewals, my time with The Bread Lovers' Bread Machine Cookbook was up and I had to return it to the library. But not before I had made a few loaves, and copied some recipes for future.

I made this delicious loaf one night, thinking to use it for dinner sandwiches. But when several fixings were lacking, I regrouped and went for a strata. I used part of this, part store-bought sandwich bread in the strata, then sliced up the rest of this to eat on the side, with blackberry jam. What a great, flavorful, substantial-but-not-heavy basic loaf - definitely a keeper for that bread machine cookbook I'm going to write someday...

Light Whole Wheat Bread
(print recipe)
1 cup water
1 large egg
2 T vegetable or nut oil
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 T dry buttermilk powder
2 T dark brown sugar
1 T gluten
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast

Assemble ingredients in the order suggested by bread machine manufacturer. Choose a medium or dark crust setting, BASIC cycle. When it is done, remove immediately to wire rack and cool to room temperature before slicing.

Recipe from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

Skillet Strata with Sausage and Gruyere (print recipe)
1 T butter
8 oz. raw, crumbled breakfast sausage (we used elk sausage because, sigh, that's what we have)
1 onion, minced
Salt and ground black pepper
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp fresh minced thyme
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
5 slices high-quality sandwich bread, cut into 1-inch squares

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Melt butter in 10-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, swirling to coat skillet, until foaming subsides. (*The only 10-inch skillet I have is cast iron, so I just used it and it didn't stick much.) Add onion, sausage and 1/2 tsp salt and cook until onion is softened and sausage is browned, about 6 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk eggs, milk, thyme, and 1/4 tsp ground pepper together. Stir in cheese and set aside.

3. Add bread to skillet and, using rubber spatula, carefully fold bread into onion mixture until evenly coated. Cook bread, folding occasionally, until lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.

4. Off heat, fold in egg mixture until slightly thickened and well combined with bread. Gently press on top of strata to help it soak up egg mixture.

5. Bake until edges and center are puffed and edges have pulled away slightly from sides of pan, about 18 to 25 minutes, and serve.

Recipe adapted from The Best 30-Minute Recipe by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Chocolate-Banana Cream Pie with Speckled Oreo Crust (a.k.a. Pie of Love)

Well this is just an easy-peasy downright fun and stupendously crowd-pleasing pie of love. My brother made it for - you guessed it, "Pi(e) Day" - March 14 (get it, 3.14?) - and took it into work where it was mobbed and gobbled, and he had to take another in a few days later.

All it is, is delicious crust, instant pudding, bananas and whipped cream, but we don't always think of such ease, do we? Sometimes we need a cool food blog with fancy pictures (do I flatter?) to tell us, "Not only is it OK, but it's cool, to make a pudding pie." And if you're going to make one, you should make this one because it's from Dave so it's extra cool.

You can make the crust with original Oreos, golden Oreos, or a combination like I did. Be sure to cut the bananas nice and chunky, and to make sure they get totally covered with the top pudding. You probably have all this stuff in your house right now, so go whip up some love for your family.

Chocolate-Banana Cream Pie with Speckled Oreo Crust (print recipe)

9 original Oreo cookies
9 golden Oreo cookies
3 T butter, melted


1 (3.4 oz.) box chocolate instant pudding
1 (3.4 oz.) box vanilla or banana cream instant pudding
3 cups milk
3 bananas, sliced into 1/2-inch chunks
1 cup whipping cream
1 to 3 T granulated or confectioners' sugar

Finishing Touches:
Shaved chocolate and/or 1 chocolate and 1 golden Oreo

1. Preheat oven to 400. To make crust, pulse chocolate and golden Oreos in the food processor until totally crumbly. Turn processor on and pour melted butter in while whizzing. Scrape sides and bottom and process until sandy. Press crumbs into a 9-inch pie plate, using clean buttered hands or a glass measuring cup buttered on the bottom to press crust tightly along bottom and up sides of pie pan. Bake for about 10 minutes. Cool completely to room temperature.
2. Whisk chocolate pudding mix with 1 1/2 cups milk for 5 minutes; pour into crust. Place sliced bananas all over pudding. (This is a fun task for kids to help with.) Whisk vanilla/banana cream pudding mix with 1 1/2 cups milk for 5 minutes. Pour over bananas and spread to edges using a rubber spatula; make sure all bananas are completely covered so they won't brown. Chill until ready to serve.

3. Right before serving, whip cream and sugar until fluffy. Pipe or spread over banana pudding. Garnish with shaved chocolate, leftover whole or crushed Oreos, or whatever else sounds good.Recipe from my brother Dave

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with Whipped Caramel Ganache Frosting

Again, yes, sorry no individual picture for this Dessert Club winner - it's in the middle of this one, though, with the creamy piped topping and gold stars on:Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes (print recipe)
6 ounces (170 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I preferred this with bittersweet)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) (86 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) espresso or instant coffee powder, optional
3 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons (97 grams) sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 to 12 Lindt truffle balls, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9 standard-size (3-ounce) muffin cups with paper liners. Stir chocolate, butter and espresso powder together in heavy medium saucepan over low heat mostly melted, then remove from the heat and whisk until it is fully melted and smooth. (I like to put the butter underneath the chocolate in the pan, so that it protects the chocolate from the direct heat.) Cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally.

2. Using electric mixer (a hand mixer, rather than a stand mixer, actually works best here because the volumes are so small) beat egg yolks and 3 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl until mixture is very thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Briefly beat lukewarm chocolate mixture, then vanilla extract, into yolk mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and all of the salt, beating until medium-firm peaks form. Fold whites into chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Divide batter among prepared cups, filling each three-fourths of the way. (You might find, as I did, that you had enough leftover for a extra half-cake. That’s your “taste tester”. It’s a, uh, very important part of the process.)

3. Place one Lindt truffle ball on top of each cup and push gently in, maybe one-third to one-half way. It will sink in as it cooks.

4. Bake cakes until tops are puffed and dry to the touch (some may crack, embrace it) and a tester inserted into the centers comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan on a cooling rack, where the cupcakes will almost immediately start to fall. It will be all the better to put your frosting on. Makes 9 to 12 cupcakes.

Recipe adapted from

Whipped Caramel Ganache Frosting
1 lb. dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
2 T light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, softened but still cool
  1. Combine 1/4 cup water, sugar, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the mixture reaches 350 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 10 minutes.

  2. In another small saucepan add cream and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

  3. When the caramel mixture has reached 350 degrees, remove from heat and allow to rest for 1 minute. Add the hot cream to the caramel; stir to combine. Let cool 5 minutes. Place chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer and pour caramel sauce over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute before stirring from the center until chocolate is melted.

  4. Attach bowl to electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low until the bowl feels cool to the touch. Add butter and increase speed to medium-high until mixture is well combined, thickened, and slightly whipped, about 2 minutes. Recipe from

To Finish: Fill each sunken top with a big dollop or piping of whipped frosting and top with shaved chocolate or, my favorite, ed-i-ble glit-ter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Per your requests, I'll be posting some of the cupcake recipes from Dessert Club. These Lemon Meringue Cupcakes were spectacular in both taste and presentation.

D.C. member C.C. says: "This recipes calls for caster sugar, which I just put regular white granulated sugar into a coffee grinder to make it finer. Also for the meringue, it whips up faster if the egg whites are brought up to room temperature. I also made a double batch of the lemon curd and was pretty generous in piping it into the cupcakes."Lemon Meringue Cupcakes (print recipe)

1 cup pure cream
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon

Lemon curd:
1/2 cup lemon juice
100g butter (about 7 T)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg
3 egg yolks


3 egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180′C. Place 12 patty cake liners in a 12 hole 1/2-cup capacity muffin pan.

2. Place cream, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Gradually add flour and zest and continue whisking until mixture is thick and smooth.

3. Divide mixture between prepared liners and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cakes spring back to touch. Cool in muffin pan.

4. For lemon curd, heat lemon juice and butter in a small saucepan and simmer until butter has melted. Add sugar, egg and yolks and cook, whisking continuously until mixture becomes thick and glossy. Pour into a shallow oven tray to cool.

5. For meringue, beat egg whites in an electric mixer until firm peaks form, gradually add sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until sugar has dissolved between each addition. Spoon meringue mixture into a piping bag.

6. To serve, preheat grill to medium-high. Cut a small hole in the top of each cupcake and fill with 1-2 teaspoons of lemon curd. Pipe a swirl of meringue mixture on the top of each cupcake and place under heated grill for 60-90 seconds or until golden. Arrange on a serving plate with spoonfuls of lemon curd if desired.

Recipe from Masterchef via Dessert Club Member C.C.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

French Toast & Bacon Cupcakes

Well these are just fanTABulous and I'm more than a little irritated I didn't make something so good myself for Dessert Club this month. I'm having a hard time getting over my boring and disappointing cupcakes. Especially when I could have, and should have, gone here for inspiration.

But these, these are like total genius. I love French toast - oh, with fresh nutmeg! And, like any good overweight American, I love bacon - especially when it gets a little maple syrup on it, hello! And I am delighted to finally have a great Maple Buttercream recipe. This post has it all!

Over and over the tasters exclaimed, "It tastes like breakfast!" A good breakfast, like a long weekend breakfast, or an eating out breakfast. An indulgent breakfast. The best kind. Have milk and orange juice nearby. YUM!French Toast & Bacon Cupcakes (print recipe)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine salt
1/2 cup milk, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
Maple Buttercream Frosting, recipe follows
6 slices crisp bacon

1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line a standard 12-cup muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

2. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Raise the speed to high and mix until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the sides of the bowl down with a rubber spatula.)

3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and vanilla, and also set aside.

4. Add the egg yolks to the creamed butter one at time, waiting for each one to be fully incorporated before adding the next.

5. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Alternately, add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions, waiting for each to be fully incorporated before adding the next (scrape the bowl down occasionally). Raise the speed to medium and mix briefly until a smooth batter is formed. Transfer the batter to a large bowl.

6. Thoroughly clean the bowl of the mixer and put the egg whites inside. Whip the egg whites on high speed, using the whisk attachment, until stiff peaks are formed.

7. Working in 3 batches, using a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter, until just incorporated. Divide the batter evenly among the cups in the muffin pan. Bake, rotating the pan once, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

8. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool completely. Makes 12 cupcakes

Maple Buttercream Frosting
Yield: about 1 2/3 cups, enough for 6 large or 12 regular cupcakes
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tsp heavy cream, at room temperature
3/4 tsp maple extract

1. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the butter and sugar on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

2. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the heavy cream and maple extract.. Raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Crisp Bacon
Bacon works well baked in an oven at 425 degrees on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake 12-15 minutes, drain grease, and bake another 5-7 minutes or until crisp. You can do it in a pan as well.

Finally – Frost the cooled French Toast Cupcakes with the Maple Buttercream Frosting and top with a Crisp piece of Bacon! Break/crumble the bacon over the cupcake to get a little in each bite.

*And how do you like my little cupcake pedestal? My mom gave it to me for Christmas. Just knew it would come in handy!

Recipe from via Dessert Club member A.M.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dessert Club - CUPCAKES

It was inevitable. Cupcakes are hot. Cupcake blogs abound. Cupcakes are the perfect individual size and, in the best cases, boast obscene amounts of frosting, and sometimes filling, too. So it was inevitable.

OF COURSE Dessert Club was going to do a cupcake night. Plus they make such pretty pictures!

One of the things I love about our Dessert Club is the range of palates. People have such different tastes, so we inspire each other to try new things, and are amazed at what others achieve. Cupcake night was no exception. Behold:

White Chocolate Cupcakes with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

French Toast & Bacon Cupcakes (my personal favorite of the evening!)

Black-and-White Cupcakes with Truffle Topping (mine - I was a little disappointed)

Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes - gorgeous!
Sprinkles Strawberry Cupcakes

French Chocolate Cupcakes with Orange-Infused Creme Fraiche (gluten-free! Unbelievable. She made the creme fraiche from scratch, a several-day process. AND she came straight from work so she brought all her components in a cooler and plated them at my house. I am taking presentation lessons from her.)

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

Orange Chocolate Cupcakes (vegan!)

Coconut Cupcakes
And I am embarrassed and disappointed to tell that the evening's winner does not have a photo! She must have come after I'd done the pictures, or I got distracted and forgot! But they are on the glass pedestal in the center of the picture, and center of the group photo at top: Chocolate Souffle Cupcakes with Whipped Caramel Ganache Frosting. Phenomenal.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fresh Citrus Granita with Yogurt

Is your weather warming up yet? We have had a few warm days, and while I dread the looming misery that is summer in Virginia, I am thoroughly enjoying the perfection of spring. Warm enough to play outside, no bugs yet, you can go for a walk without steaming in your own clothes.

The other night we ate dinner al fresco, with this sweet, light treat for dessert. It came from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, which, as you know, I got in the Best Package Ever. I wasn't sure if the girls would go for it - it's not pudding, not ice cream, not popsicles. Kinda rustic-sophisticated. But they really loved it and, if I remember right, licked their bowls clean.

I thought about saving this for summer, but why hold back? If we're having it, you should have it, too. Though it will be great to whip up on July nights when I just can't bear to turn on the oven.

Fresh Citrus Granita with Yogurt (print recipe)
1 bag or tray of ice cubes
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh mint
1 lemon
1 lime
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
1 pink grapefruit
2 to 3 cups plain, vanilla or lemon yogurt
Raspberries and/or extra mint sprigs, to garnish

1. Half-fill the food processor with ice cubes. Add the leaves from 3 or 4 mint sprigs. Finely grate in the zest of the lemon and the lime and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, then leave to blitz to a sort of snow. While processing, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated or caster sugar and squeeze in the juice of the lemon and lime. Once the mixture is like snow, spread it over a serving platter or 8x8 pan and put it in the freezer for 20 minutes to an hour.

2. Take the platter or pan out of the freezer. Use a fork to fluff up the ice and squeeze over the juice of the pink grapefruit. Serve with yogurt and raspberries. Delicious!Recipe from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Zucchini & Carrot Muffins

Honestly, I really do post something healthy-ish once in awhile! It's just been...awhile. But these have 4 cups of shredded veggies, and if you do the math (stay with me), that's 12 muffins, which means 1/3 cup of veggies in each muffin! Healthy! Wheat flour, flax seed - healthy(-ish)!

My 6-year-old said that even though they have vegetables and "look a little bit gross", they "taste like sugar", which is her stamp of approval.

And listen to this. There were genuine tears when these were gone, and begging for me to make more. That almost never happens, even with the most delicious desserts! So I pulled out my last zucchini and the bag of carrots and whipped up another batch. And then a few days later, more begging! Are you kidding? I will make these for the kids ANYTIME they want. So stow this away for the summer's bounty, or better yet, share some with me so we can all have lots and lots of muffins.

*Bummer about the pictures - they were either too golden with sunshine or too blue in the shadows and I was too lazy to get my light out. You get the gist.

Zucchini & Carrot Muffins (print recipe)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 cups grated zucchini (about 1 large or 2 small)
2 cups grated carrots (about 4 medium)
1/2 cup dried pineapple or cinnamon chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 3/4 cups King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed (also called flax meal)
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon Coarse sugar, optional

1. Preheat oven to 375°F; Line 12 cups of a standard muffin tin with papers, or grease each cup.

2. Whisk together the sugar, oil, salt and eggs.

3. Add the zucchini, carrots, dried fruit (or cinnamon chips) and nuts.

4. Whisk together the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the batter. Stir till just combined.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Let the muffins rest for 10 minutes before placing them in the oven. Sprinkle each with coarse sugar, if desired (it makes a nice crunchy top.)

6. Bake the muffins until the edges are lightly browned and they feel firm if gently pressed, about 18 to 25 minutes. A cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin should come out clean.

7. Remove the muffins from the oven, and cool them in the pan for 10 minutes; transfer to a rack, and cool completely. Makes 12 muffins

Recipe from the King Arthur Flour website

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blueberry Pie

So as my daughter's 6th birthday approached last month, I asked her what kind of cake she would like - chocolate, strawberry, chocolate chip, vanilla... And then she asked me, "Mom, do you know how to make blueberry pie?"

Of course the only answer to that question is "Yes." Never really made one, and the word "pie" sends my heart into nervous palpitations, beads of sweat forming at the memories of failed crusts gone by. But I answered confidently, "Of course I do! Is that what you'd like?"

It may seem like an unusual request for a 6-year-old, especially one whose Mom has a history of pastry disasters. But I knew exactly where it came from. We have an ADORABLE book called The Blueberry Pie Elf on the girls' shelf, and it gets read a lot. In it, an elf named Elmer lives in a house with a family, but they cannot see or hear him. One day the people make a blueberry pie, and when Elmer sneaks a taste, he is obsessed. He stuffs himself and dreams of it that night. In the morning, he discovers the people have eaten the rest for breakfast (my kind of people), and he is beyond distraught. He spends the rest of the book fantasizing about blueberry pie and trying to get the people to make another one, though it's tricky because they can't see or hear him. I love the illustrations - vintage - and luckily, several pies later, there is a happy ending.

In Elmer's obsession, his descriptors make all our mouths water - rich, juicy, melting, delicious, etc. It's no wonder Hazel's curiosity was piqued.

So of course I said I could make one. But with the disappointment of my Thanksgiving pie attempts still smoldering deep, I turned to the most reliable source I could think of - America's Test Kitchen.

Baking Illustrated's brownies were pretty darn impressive, so I flipped to the pie chapter and read about crusts very carefully. Definitely learned a thing or two. For example, I knew the fat - in this case, a combination of butter and shortening - must be chilled, but I had not ever thought about how cutting it with the flour by hand might warm it up; hence, a food processor is used. And that folding in the ice water with a rubber spatula rather than pulsing in the processor "allows for the smallest amount of water to be used (less water means a more tender dough) and reduces the likelihood of overworking the dough." Once made, the dough must be chilled for at least an hour, a step I have definitely skipped in the past, leading to sticky dough that tears when rolled and falls apart upon transfer to the pan.

But not this dough. It was truly, literally perfect. Just like they said. Just like the pictures. And look at my fluted edge! The instructions for achieving that perfection - rather than the uneven, torn crust I usually get that allows juices to spill out and burn in the oven - is in step 4 of the pie recipe below.And the crust is just the beginning. This blueberry pie filling is just right. Lots of fruit, lots of sugar, a tad of lemon juice and zest, and a smidgeon of allspice and nutmeg (cinnamon is too overwhelming.) And for thickening? Potato starch. Which I just amazingly happen to have from when I made Coconut Cupcakes with Lime Buttercream Frosting! Flour and cornstarch were prohibitive, for the amount it would take to thicken dulls the taste and appearance of the filling, a compromise the Test Kitchen does not make. And if you can't find potato starch, you can use tapioca, pulverized in the food processor.

The pie was a hit. Hazel loved it, as did our other family birthday guests. I was puffed up proud as a peacock about it. We lit it with sparklers, and later the girls bullied my cousin Katy into reading them The Blueberry Pie Elf.I'm pretty excited about summer, and then fall, coming up, from a pie perspective. All that fruit! Crossing my fingers this wasn't a fluke, and I can actually make a good pie again. And again. My mouth is watering just thinking about it...

Basic Pie Dough (for 1 double-crust 9-inch pie) (print recipe)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1 tsp salt
2 T sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
12 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
6 to 8 T ice water

1. Process the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the shortening and process until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture; cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about ten 1-second pulses. Turn the mixture into a medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle 6 T ice water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to mix. Press down on the dough with the broad side of the spatula until the dough sticks together, adding up to 2 T more ice water if the dough will not come together. Divide the dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or up to 2 days, before rolling.
Blueberry Pie (print recipe)
1 recipe Basic Pie Dough (above)
Flour for dusting work surface
6 cups (30 oz.) fresh blueberries, rinsed and picked over
1 cup plus 1 T sugar
2 tsp juice and 1 tsp grated zest from 1 lemon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
4 T potato starch or Minute tapioca pulverized in food processor
2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg white, lightly beaten

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position, place a rimmed baking sheet on it, and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Remove one piece of dough from the refrigerator (if refrigerated longer than 1 hour, let stand at room temperature until malleable.)

2. Roll the dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate by rolling the dough around a rolling pin and unrolling over the pan. Working around the circumference of the pan, ease the dough into the pan corners by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into the pan bottom with the other hand. Leave the dough that overhangs the lip of the pie plate in place; refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate.3. Toss the berries, 1 cup sugar (3/4 if you want it tarter), lemon juice and zest, spices, and potato starch in a medium bowl; let stand for 15 minutes.

4. Roll out the second piece of dough to a 12-inch circle. Spoon the berries into the pie shell and scatter the butter pieces over the filling. Place the second piece of dough over the filling. Trim the top and bottom edges to 1/2 inch beyond the pan lip. Tuck this rim of dough underneath itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. Flute the edge or press with fork tines to seal. Cut 4 slits in the dough top. If the pie dough is very soft, place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Brush the egg white onto the top of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 T sugar (I used Penzey Vanilla Sugar - I love it on fruit!)

5. Place the pie on the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake until the top crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue baking until the juices bubble and the crust is deep golden brown*, 30 to 35 minutes longer.

6. Transfer pie to a wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours.*If it appears the edges are cooking too fast, and in danger of burning before the pie is cooked, try this technique. Lay out a square of foil slightly larger than the pie; fold it in half to form a rectangle. Cut an arc that is roughly half the size of the pie. When you unfold the foil, you will have cut out a circle from the middle of the sheet. This open circle exposes the filling, while the surrounding foil covers the crust and protects it from coloring further. Genius!
Recipe from Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion for the Home Baker (with 350 recipes you can trust) by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On Pie (and Pi)

All this time, my friends, with over 400 posts on this blog, pies have eluded me. Maybe you haven't noticed. But I have. There are only nine pies on this whole blog - one is a pot pie, one a quiche with store-bought crust, one is really a cobbler, and most of the others are chilled pies with cookie crusts. Cookie crusts I can do. But the real crust, the flaky pastry thing, has been beyond my reach, despite countless endeavors. My lemon meringue is really the only "regular" pie worth posting, and it's good. But again, I have just used frozen crusts from the store. Because I can't make one for nothing.

And the fillings haven't been much better. My two experiments at Thanksgiving - a pear-cranberry pie with oat streusel topping and a chocolate-pecan pie - were mediocre. Before that I made a lime-marshmallow meringue and a macadamia-banana cream. Eh-to-bleh. These caused me to question, what is the darn problem???

1. Can I truly not make good pies? Very possible.

2. Are these pies actually fine, and I just think they're bad because I don't like pie, and not know it? Maaaaybe.

3. Or have I just picked bad recipes? Over, and over and over? Possible, but frustrating.

The reason for this post, is that I have finally made A Great Pie. A really spectacular, honest-to-goodness, all-American, contest-winning pie. With a double crust. That I made myself. But I have other things I want to say about it, so I didn't want to burden that post with this preamble. It feels like a revelation, a miracle, a breakthrough. I CAN MAKE PIE!!! (Don't worry, it will be the next post. And it will be grrreat.)

So I suppose #3 must be correct. Because now I've proven I can make a good pie, though it is a very particular, tricky business. And I've also established that I DO like pie. I guess from now on I just need to be very, very discriminating in my recipes. And if they're dumb, not let them get me down. 'Cause I am a pie-maker.

And...I totally hated the book Life of Pi. Actually, it was really good until the ending, and then I hated it. Really, really hated it.

And. My dad and his engineering buddies at Cal Tech had a chant, which I learned very early in life:

Cosine! Secant! Hyperbolic sine!

Quite thought I was the bees' knees when I got to high school and learned what all those things meant. I remember my 7th grade math teacher scolding me for using five decimal places for pi - "3.14 is sufficient," she said. Sufficient, my butt. Obviously, her dad did not go to Cal Tech. And she is not getting any pie.

And. Someone should get me this. I would do it honor.
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